Journey To The West

Journey To the West PosterN and I recently watched Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons.  I love a good kung fu movie and Stephen Chow makes some of the best.

Journey to the West is the story an aspiring Buddhist demon hunter.  In the course of trying to protect a village he gets thrown together with another demon hunter and develops complicated feelings for her.  Hijinks and epic battles ensue!

The movie is visually stunning with great effects and fight choreography.   and it’s very funny.  It also made me want to find out more about the classic Chinese story that it’s a prequel for.

We didn’t let the kids watch it with us.  There are some intense scenes and some of the encounters with the demons rack up a lot of victims.  Maybe 12 and up?  I dunno.

Anyway, check out Journey to the West if you get the chance.  Even if you’re generally not into kungfu movies it’s very entertaining.

Sundance Recap 1

The weekend went by in a blur but it was an interesting, happy blur.  N and I saw five movies at the Sundance Film Festival and on Sunday we celebrated Mimi’s fourth birthday with N’s parents.

So far I’ve been impressed with all the movies we’ve seen.  The first movie we saw was What Happened, Miss Simone?, a documentary.

Right to left: The director Liz Garbus, Nina Simone's longtime guitarist Al Schackman, crew, and a producer
Right to left: The director Liz Garbus, Nina Simone’s longtime guitarist Al Schackman, crew members, and a producer.

I had heard of Nina Simone but didn’t know much about her life or music. But the documentary did a great job covering her life and music and placing it in the context of the times she lived in.  It took a subject I knew little about and made it fascinating which I think is a sign of a successful documentary.

The second movie we saw on Friday was Bronze, an edgy comedy about an washed-up Olympic gymnast living in her small town milking her former glory for all it’s worth. It was written by wife and husband team Melissa and Winston Rauch as a vehicle for Melissa to star in it.

They did a Q&A after the film with the director and Thomas Middleditch (whom I like from Silicon Valley on HBO ) who plays a love interest.  Melissa and Winston said that the idea for the movie sprang from a moment when Winston told Melissa, “You know, you’re really short.  You could play a gymnast!”

Left to right: director Bryan Buckley, actor Thomas Middleditch, writer/actor Melissa Rauch, and her husband and co-writer Winston Rauch.
Left to right: director Bryan Buckley, actor Thomas Middleditch, writer/actor Melissa Rauch, and her husband and co-writer Winston Rauch.

The movie is very very very funny, but definitely not for the faint-of-heart.  The Q&A after was fun–it was neat to hear Melissa and Winston share about working together as a married couple and unbelievable to hear that the movie was made in just 22 days.

All of the movies we saw this weekend except for one had Q&As afterward which was great.  So far I think this might be the best year we’ve had at the festival.

Sundance Week One

The Sundance Film Festival begins later this week and N and I have tickets to some shows!  It’s a fun thing that we try to make time for every year.  This year we’re going to see 10 films (in 4 days, gulp.)

Our ticket package was limited to showings in Salt Lake City and N’s work schedule/our babysitters’ availability limited us to movies on Fridays/Saturdays so our choice of films was somewhat constrained.  There were things we wanted to see but couldn’t find a convenient showing of which was a bit of a bummer.  But I’m looking forward to seeing some movies that I normally wouldn’t have the chance to see and spending a few days hanging out with N.  Here is what we’re seeing this Friday and Saturday.

**The summaries are taken from the Sundance Festival Program.**

What Happened, Miss Simone?
A classically trained musical genius, chart-topping chanteuse, and Black Power icon, Nina Simone is one of the most influential, beloved, provocative, and least understood artists of our time. On stage, she was known for utterly free, rapturous performances, earning her the epithet “High Priestess of Soul.” But amid the violent, day-to-day fight for civil rights, she struggled to reconcile artistic ambition with her fierce devotion to a movement. Director Liz Garbus sensitively explores the constant state of opposition that trapped and tortured Simone—as a classical pianist pigeonholed in jazz, as a professional boxed in by family life, as a black woman in racist America—and in so doing, reveals a towering figure transcending categorization and her times. The film stays true to Simone’s subjectivity by mining never-before-heard tapes, rare archival footage, and interviews with close friends and family. Charting Simone’s musical inventiveness alongside the arc of her Jim Crow childhood, defining role in the Civil Rights Movement, arrival at Carnegie Hall, self-imposed exile in Liberia, and solitary life in France, this astonishingly intimate yet epic portrait becomes a non-fiction musical—lush tracks and riveting story resonating inextricably. —C.L.

The Bronze
In 2004, Hope Ann Greggory became an American hero after winning the bronze medal for the women’s gymnastics team. Today, she’s living in her father’s basement in her small hometown—washed up, largely forgotten, and embittered. Stuck in her past glory, Hope is forced to reassess her life when a promising young gymnast who idolizes her threatens her local celebrity status. Will she mentor the adoring, hopeful protégé, take her down, or both?

In the summer of 1968, television news changed forever. Dead last in the ratings, ABC hired two towering public intellectuals to debate each other during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. William F. Buckley, Jr. was a leading light of the new conservative movement. A Democrat and cousin to Jackie Onassis, Gore Vidal was a leftist novelist and polemicist. Armed with deep-seated distrust and enmity, Vidal and Buckley believed each other’s political ideologies were dangerous for America. Like rounds in a heavyweight battle, they pummeled out policy and personal insult—cementing their opposing political positions. Their explosive exchanges devolved into vitriolic name-calling. It was unlike anything TV had ever broadcast, and all the more shocking because it was live and unscripted. Viewers were riveted. ABC News’ ratings skyrocketed. And a new era in public discourse was born.

In early 2000, in a tiny village in one of the poorest mining valleys in Wales, Jan Vokes, the barmaid at the local men’s club, hatches a crazy plan to take on the “sport of kings” and breed a racehorse. She gathers together a group of locals who each agree to pitch in 10 pounds a week. They raise their foal on a hillside made of slag from the coal mine and nurture it to maturity. Reflecting their pride and flights of fancy, they name their horse Dream Alliance. To the astonishment of the racing elite, Dream becomes an unlikely champion, beating the finest thoroughbreds in the land. Then, in one fateful race, the horse—which embodies the plucky band of misfits’ hopes and dreams—has a near-fatal accident. Nursed back to health through the love of his owners, Dream makes a remarkable recovery, returning to the track for a heart-pounding comeback.

In 1996, shortly after the publication of his groundbreaking novel Infinite Jest, acclaimed author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) sets off on a five-day interview with Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). As the days pass, a tenuous yet significant relationship develops between journalist and subject. Lipsky and Wallace bob and weave around each other, revealing as much in what they don’t say as what the say. They share laughs, expose hidden frailties, yet it’s never clear when or to what extent they are being truthful. The interview is never published. Five days of audio tapes are packed away in Lipsky’s closet, and the two men never meet again.

*tap, tap, tap*


Is it too late to post about Sundance?  Things around here have been either happily-but-stressfully hectic or frustratingly dull and tiresome; both of which I’m afraid are not very conducive to faithful blog-posting. But I still wanted to share about some of the movies we saw this year at Sundance.

The eight movies we saw included documentaries, dramas, comedies, and a thriller.  All of them were well-made, most of them were excellent, and a few of them were visionary but Austenland was by far the most fun.  

Austenland is the story of Jane, a lonely single woman and obsessive fan of Austen’s work who in  a last-ditch effort to bring some excitement and romance into her life blows her savings on a vacation at an immersive English Austen-themed resort.  Hijinks ensue!

The movie has a great cast.  Keri Russell is the lead; Jennifer Coolidge is hilarious as a fellow vacationer; and Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords is funny (and always a treat to watch).

The movie is based on a book by Shannon Hale which I’ve read and directed by Jerusha Hess who co-wrote Napoleon Dynamite with her husband. From the moment Jerusha came out on stage and introduced the movie she had the audience in the palm of her hand. During the film there were times when I couldn’t hear some of the dialogue because the audience was laughing so loudly. It was fun to be in such an enthusiastic audience.

After the movie Jerusha Hess and Shannon Hale came out on stage and did a Q&A.  Hess talked about what a riot it had been working with the actors, especially Bret McKenzie and Jennifer Coolidge who had ad-libbed most of her lines.  She also mentioned that Keri Russell had been 6 months pregnant when they had filmed at which there was a collective gasp from the audience.

It has a few minor issues but Austenland is a playful romantic comedy tailor-made for the English-major set and anyone who’s ever sighed over Mr. Darcy. Check it out when it’s released in theaters!

Sundance Film Festival 2013

photo via

The 2013 Sundance Film Festival kicked off yesterday. Every year N and I try to see at least a few films; it’s something we’ve done since we were dating.  Now it’s a fun way to spend some kid-free time together and as locals we get a decent deal on ticket packages. Attending the festival is usually one of the highlights of my year.

We prefer going to showings in Salt Lake City rather than making the drive to Park City. While we miss out on star-gawking and some Q&As I think we more than make up for it in ease of parking, plentiful places to grab a bite between showings, and the extra money we’d have to pay a sitter  🙂

This year we’re going to 8 films which I’ll try to post reviews about later.  We are seeing:

How about you? Are there any festivals where you live that you like to attend? 

Movies We’ve Watched Lately

In the evening after the kids go to bed N and I often watch a movie together (unless it’s Wednesday and then I make N sit through 2 hours of So You Think You Can Dance with me, heh).

We have a Netflix subscription and two separate queues so we take turns watching our movie picks which can kind of be all over the place.  This is what we’ve watched recently.

Working Girl (Mine) – I had never seen this 80s work place comedy starring Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, and Sigourney Weaver.  I enjoyed the period costumes and sets (those huge computers!) and the story was funny.  It was also fun to see the much-younger versions of a lot of well-known actors (Alec Baldwin, Joan Cusack, Oliver Platt, Kevin Spacey, David Duchovny, etc…) 

A Separation (N’s) – A beautiful, stunning film about the separation of an upper-class Iranian couple.  Brilliant script, great performances.  Can’t recommend it enough.  

The Man From Nowhere (Mine) – I’ve seen Won Bin, the star of this gritty Korean revenge thriller, in a few other movies (Tae Guk Gi, Mother) but this performance is my favorite–so good (and hot).  Very violent and not for the sensitive. 

Point Blank (N’s) – Classic crime thriller with Lee Marvin being a total badass.

Barking Dogs Never Bite (Mine) A movie by Bong Joon-ho who is probably my favorite Korean director.  He made Memories of Murder, Mother, and The HostBarking Dogs Never Bite is a social satire and absurdly funny at times.  (Mindy/Ken–it features a running kick like his other movies, too!)

Melancholia (N’s) – Lyrical and occasionally baffling/frustrating.  Reminded me somewhat of The Tree of Life which is one of my favorite movies of the last few years. 

The Help (Mine) – Great performances but I find the white-person-solves-black-people’s-problems story line somewhat problematic.  I love Emma Stone in everything, though.

So that’s what we’ve been watching lately.  How about you?  Seen anything you’ve liked?

SPOILER: The Odd Life of Timothy Green

***If you’re planning on seeing the movie The Odd Life of Timothy Green and don’t want the ending to be spoiled, don’t watch this video!***

I thought this video was hilarious but watching it reminded me of how I cried when I watched Old Yeller or read Where the Red Fern Grows. I sobbed and sobbed and felt my heart break in a way I can still remember.

What was the first movie/book/show that broke your heart as a child?  

Hungry Mad Men

Our showing of The Hunger Games last night was fun. N and I grabbed a quick bite to eat and then went to the theater and said hi to his coworkers. We had snagged some extra tickets for N’s parents so they joined us too.

Back when the mania over the books was going on I read them to see what everyone was talking about. I thought the first book was by far the best, with book two being okay but with three being a hot mess. But I thought even the first book had some issues, particularly with the ending. But the setting and the survival-thriller aspects of the story were engrossing and I thought it was a fun read.

The movie wisely emphasizes the best part of the story and leaves out some of the more mystifying details. The best parts like the characterization of Rue are taken directly from the book while they leave out bits that seemed odd in the book like the faces of the dead kids being incorporated onto the mutant dogs.

The production design is great but the best thing about the movie is Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. She is great. I’ve liked her ever since we saw her in Winter’s Bone at Sundance a few years ago.

In Winter’s Bone she plays a no-nonsense Ozak mountain girl who has to track down her deadbeat drug-dealer father in order to keep her family together. It’s a great movie (with mature themes) and in hindsight it seems like it was an 100-minute audition tape for Lawrence’s part in The Hunger Games.

So yeah, even if you haven’t read the books I think it’s worth seeing The Hunger Games.

I hope you have a nice weekend. Ours is going to be pretty low-key. The highlight will probably be watching two hours of Mad Men.

And on that note, an Nintendo-style Mad Men game just for you:

Sundance 2012 – The Queen of Versailles

Every year N and I try and make it to a few films at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s pretty affordable and easy to do thanks to locals’ tickets and there being several festival venues in Salt Lake City.

On Saturday we saw two movies, one of which was The Queen of Versailles.

The Queen of Versailles is a documentary that follows billionaires David and Jackie (his 30-years younger wife) Siegel as they set out to build their dream house, a 90,000 square-foot replica of Versailles complete with ice-skating rink and grand ballroom. It will be the largest home in America.

However, once the 2008 economic crisis hits, the time-share empire that Jackie and David’s wealth is based on starts crumbling and then falls fast and hard. Their opulent lifestyle is thrown into chaos.

Lauren Greenfield’s deft touch is evident throughout the whole film. Greenfield walks the fine line of mining the absurdity of the Siegels’ life for laughs while still humanizing her subjects so when their fall comes you still see them as family thrown into crisis and not merely symbols of the 1%.

If there is any flaw in the movie it is that Greenfield does not hold David and Jackie as accountable for their own downfall as she could have. The Siegels, billionaires at the beginning of the film, are by the end talking about how their kids will have to get loans if they want to go to college.

On camera they talk about how their bad fortune is the fault of conniving bankers. Greenfield lets them expose their delusions with their own words rather than confronting them with it which is a valid choice but it does mean at times you just want to grab Jackie and shake her by the shoulders.

The film has the arc of a classic Greek tragedy and is epic in scope but unfolds its story by capturing the most telling details–the painted fantasy portraits of David and Jackie as warrior and princess, the dead fish floating in the scummy tank, the piles of dog crap on the expensive carpets.

As I was watching the film I kept exclaiming to myself, “I can’t believe they got this footage!” The access the documentary crew had is astounding and speaks to Greenfield’s talent of connecting with her subjects.

The Queen of Versailles is funny and charming and thought-provoking. I heard it got purchased so it will be hitting theaters in a year or so. If you get the chance it’s definitely worth watching.

Super 8

Things have been hectic but fun around here lately. On Saturday N and I saw Super 8. I thought it was really good. The plot is familiar but the kids in it do a great job and the action is nicely paced. I was baffled when the credits started rolling and the guy sitting in front of us turned to his wife and gave it a dramatic thumbs down. Really? I have no idea what he was expecting. It’s one of the best summer movies I’ve seen in a while.

While it’s fun it’s definitely not for little kids because of the intense action. Maybe 13+? Anyway, if you go be sure to stay in your seat for the credits!