Tag Archives: Indie films

Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You're Working Too Hard

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Sometimes it’s the off-hand comment that really gets you thinking.

So there I was in the playground yesterday, about to pick my daughter up from school, when I started talking to a friend who was also waiting for her son. We were midway into a vague, “How’s it goin’?” sort of chat, when she suddenly commented, seemingly out of nowhere: “You seem so busy. Do you ever eat lunch?”

I laughed, reassuring her that I did, even while suppressing the memory of stuffing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into my mouth but two hours earlier as I galloped up a hill towards a bi-monthly appointment with my life coach (whom I see to help me…relax.)

But it gets better. As we talked some more about my work schedule, my double-school-run-afternoons and my husband’s recent business travel, she asked – in all seriousness – “Do you ever watch TV?”

She meant it in the nicest way, of course. She’s a really nice person. But, still, it cut me like a knife.

I mean: Do I ever watch TV? Am I so busy that the image I now project is that of a pop-culture-bereft, ready-meal-popping freak show who zips around North London on her collapsible bicycle desperately trying to keep up with her life? (Don’t answer that question. And by the way, does falling asleep to the Director’s Cut of Pride and Prejudice count as “watching TV”?)

So I gave it some thought. And I realized that I have been working too hard lately and trying to do too much. And I really need to relax. Here are five other tell-tale signs that you need to take a break:

1. Strangers tell you that you look rushed. It’s one thing when a friend tells you that you seem over-worked. But when even a stranger expresses concern that you’re too busy, it’s really time to take note. I was in the pharmacy the other day – where, because of the multitude of medical problems afflicting my family – the pharmacists are basically my extended family. Again, seemingly out of nowhere, the owner of the shop stepped forward and observed: “You always seem to be in a rush.” (“Why do you say that?” I wanted to reply. “Because I just knocked 42 of your contact lens solutions on the floor when I whooshed in here to grab my prescription while – literally – jogging?”) Once again, she meant it in the nicest way. This lady brings the descriptor “kindly” to a whole new level. And that made her remark all the more telling.

2. Muscle pain migrates to new corners of your body. Remember my piriformis syndrome? Thought I had that licked, didn’t you? Nope. It’s back. Only it has inexplicably migrated to the left side of my body. As soon as the pain started about six weeks ago, I recognized the symptoms instantly. And for a while, I ignored it. (Even though you should never ignore pain. You heard it here first.) But you know it’s time to cut back on what you’re doing when your body is basically screaming: “Hey! Pay Attention to Me!”

3. You feel relieved when you *have* to read your favorite magazine. I love The New Yorker. But despite my Sabbath Saturday resolve to devote more time to reading this magazine, I’ve fallen off the wagon. There are three – quite possibly, four – issues sitting in my magazine rack as we speak. One day last week, I found myself waiting for one of my kids for an hour with nothing to do but read my New Yorker. And I felt…relieved. As in: “Thank goodness this hour presented itself miraculously in my life!” Not as in: “Gee, I love the New Yorker and I think I’ll spend an hour reading it this afternoon because I want to.” What’s wrong with this picture?

4. You mistake tragedy for comedy. I love Indie films. The bleaker, the better. So when I recommended Winter’s Bone to some friends recently, I was puzzled when one of them, while passing me on the school run, shouted out: “Hey, thanks for the movie recommendation. We had a lovely evening. But it was a bit…grim, no?” To which I responded: “Grim? Really? I found it kind of uplifting.” When I recounted this exchange to my husband later that evening, he looked at me as if I were smoking crack. Like me, he also loved the movie. But “uplifting”? To paraphrase his reaction, when you mix poverty, drugs, murder and rural American sub-cultures, that’s not generally characterized as “uplifting.” Just sayin’.

5. You read Nora Ephron. I like my books much like I prefer my movies: heavy and (often) dark. (For me, the Dragon Tattoo series constitutes “light.”) So when my book club chose Nora Ephron’s Heartburn as its selection this month, I was initially disappointed. Not my cuppa, as they say. Boy, was I wrong. It’s not a great novel by any stretch. In fact, it’s not so much a novel as an extended rant by Ephron against her ex-husband for cheating on her when she was seven months pregnant. (And who can blame her?) But, man is Ephron funny. She has a terrific voice. And sometimes, we all just need to laugh.

Fortunately, I will have a chance to take a break later this month when I travel with my family – and my mother – to Berlin, one of those European cities I’ve always wanted to visit. Let’s just hope that whole terrorist threat thing has lifted by then. Speaking of grim…


I was very grateful for this shout-out on the New York Times Freakonomics blog for my recent piece on health care reform in the U.K.

Image: Eat On The Run by Brave Heart via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons Fish Tank Is For Grown Ups

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Here’s a suggestion for what you ought to do over the upcoming Memorial Day (U.S.)/Bank holiday weekend (U.K.): rent a little movie that came out last year called Fish Tank.

It’s often billed as the U.K.’s answer to Precious. Which is to say that both films treat the subject of poverty, sexuality, dysfunctional families and abuse within an urban setting. But the American film has more of an uplifting, Oprah-esque touch while the British film is raw and bleak. (A bit like the difference between the American and British versions of the television show, The Office.)

I haven’t seen Precious yet, so I can’t speak to the comparison. But I can say that as someone who likes her films sunny side down, Fish Tank really spoke to me and has stayed with me long after I finished watching it.

And I think – like Up In The Air, but for entirely different reasons – it’s also a film about adulthood. Here’s why:

1. It’s about toughness and vulnerability. Once you set eyes on the film’s protagonist – Mia- a scrappy 15-year-old whose life is upended when her mother’s new boyfriend moves in, you won’t take your eyes off of her. Part of this is the fresh, compelling performance by the young actress, Katie Jarvis. But what makes Mia so appealing is that she is in equal measure both tough (she punches a few faces along the way) and vulnerable. (Beneath the toughness we see how painful she finds her social isolation, her verbally abusive mother, and her sexual longing for someone out of her reach.) And that’s what growing up is all about, isn’t it? Learning how to live with disappointment and fear, but also how to protect ourselves from getting hurt.

2. You fall in love with the wrong people. Love Stinks, as the immortal J. Geils Band once told us. And it’s true. At some point in your life – and possible more than once – you inevitably fall in love with the wrong person. They’re too old. They’re too young. They’re married. They’re gay. They’re straight. They live in Timbuktu. It doesn’t matter why. It just can’t work out.  And when Mia looks at her lover who can’t remain her lover for all sorts of reasons, your heart will sink along with hers in recognition of this fundamental truth.

3. Alcohol heals and damages.  When you’re young, it’s liberating to finally sneak that first sip of alcohol. And let’s face it, as you get older, it’s fun to get drunk once in a while. And sometimes – when you’ve been dumped or fired or just had a really bad day – a drink can really help. But when Mia’s 9 or 10 year-old sister starts sipping from a beer can – and you’ve already seen what drinking has done to Mia and especially her mother – you recoil from the image. And you just want to rip the beer can out of her hand. It’s such a fine line, drinking. It’s fun and yet  it can so easily get the best of us. But it takes awhile to figure that out. Ditto sex. But I won’t spoil the movie.

4. Social Class matters. As I wrote in an earlier post about why The Elegance of the Hedgehog is for grown ups – social class is one of those concepts that you can only appreciate once you’re grown up. The idea that where you start often determines where you end up. The idea that if you have no role models they are difficult to invent. The fact that societies don’t often know what to do with the so-called “underclass” – even when it lives right down the road. All of these themes are explored in this film.

5. Having a passion helps. If there’s an uplifting note in this movie, it is Mia’s love of dance. Even though she usually dances alone – in an abandoned council flat (public housing apartment) while drinking beer – dancing brings her joy and may well be her emancipation if she can just figure out what to do with it. It is even one way she manages to connect with her mother. I’ve written before about how important it is to start with what you like and what you’re good at if you want to make a meaningful change in your life. You don’t have to be Baryshnikov. You just need to be passionate about something. Anything. And start there.

Image: Tiny Dancer by Tiziano Caviglia via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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New Oscar Voting Rules: Will They Favor Grown Up Films?

For Oscar lovers like me, the usual nail-biting anticipation that accompanies the Annual Academy Awards is all the greater this year. Not only are there more films up in the category of Best Picture, but the rules by which that movie is selected have also changed. And so, the big question on everyone’s mind is: who benefits?

Today, I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about these new rules and what they might mean for the future of “grown up” (read: Indie) films. Have a look.

Image: I’d Like To Thank The Academy by IceNineJon via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Indie Films Worth Renting

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I ran into a friend the other day at a party. She was on her way out the door to see a movie, but she looked sad. “What’s wrong?” I asked, seeing a scowl upon her face.

“We’re going with another couple,” she explained. “I really like them, but we have totally different tastes in movies. And they *only* like sci-fi.”

I knew exactly what she meant. It’s such a bummer – not to mention expensive! – to go see a movie that you’re not psyched about.

Which is why I ‘m so happy that my husband and I see eye to eye where movies are concerned. Just the other night, we popped Frozen River into the DVD player (you know you’re middle aged when you’re watching *last year’s* Oscar nominees on New Years Eve.) And as the acoustic guitar twanged, the female vocalist kicked in and the camera cut to a bleak close-up of a beleaguered working mom’s face, my husband said, “Yup, it’s our kind of movie.”

So if , like me, you like your films like you like your eggs – e.g. sunny side down, here are five movies worth renting now:

1. Frozen River – The plot – about a single mom struggling to make ends meet who starts smuggling immigrants into the U.S. for cash – is a bit far-fetched. But the rawness in Melissa Leo’s performance – etched into the very folds of her skin – brings new meaning to the word “spare.”

2. Sugar – We got (literally) frozen out of seeing The Hurt Locker in a cinema the other night, or I’m sure I’d be posting about that here. Instead, we came home and watched Sugar. (Note to self: be sure *not* to order the X-rated film by the same name!) Sugar is a small but moving film about a kid from The Dominican Republic who gets drafted for the minor leagues and how he fares when he actually lives the American Dream. Keep an eye on this actor: Algenis Perez Soto. His face speaks volumes even though he is remarkably laconic.

3. Sherry Baby – I don’t know why Maggie Gyllenhaal wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for her performance in this film, which tells the story of a young mother who gets out of rehab and tries to resume her parenting duties. It ‘s painful to watch, but oddly heartening, and reminds you why New Jersey is such a great place to set a film.

4. The Wrestler – In an earlier post this year on why I like movies with a certain “feelbad feeling,” I singled out The Wrestler as exemplary. It tells the story of a down-and-out “has been” pro-wrestler who tries – and fails – to turn his life around by reconnecting with his estranged daughter, falling in love and leaving his profession. What I liked about this movie most was that it wasn’t afraid to have a sad ending.

5. I’ve Loved You So Long – Yep. You guessed it. Here’s another film about one person’s (often doomed) efforts to overcome the odds and turn their life around. But this one’s French (bonus) and it stars Kristin Scott Thomas (double bonus). It’s about a woman who struggles to re-connect with her family and find her place in society after spending fifteen years in prison.

Well, bet you’re all feeling chipper after that round up. Anything I’m missing?

Image: Zim Eggs by World Megan via flicker under a Creative Commons License.

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Beam Me Up, Scotty: Are Sequels an Escape from Adulthood?

In case you haven’t heard, the summer movie season has officially begun.

Two weeks ago X-Men Origins: Wolverine opened. And last weekend Star Trek hit the Cineplexes.

Many of the current releases are either some version of a franchise, a re-make or an adaptation. And, for some, this trend is a veritable assault on adulthood.

Dennis Palumbo of Huffington Post bemoaned the current dearth of movies for adults, urging those of us who go in for more serious cinematic fare to “get off the couch” as it were (he’s also a psychotherapist). His point:  no one’s going to make movies for adults if we don’t actually go see them.

Another blogger, Lorrie Lynch, made a list of the serious Indie films coming out this summer and then wrote “Grown ups, read on.” (True confessions: I bookmarked the page post haste. I mean, c’mon. Atom Egoyan? In the summertime? Sign me up…)

I must say that I’m sympathetic to some of these concerns. The sight of grown men and women parading around theatres in their velour-insigniad Starship Enterprise tunics and Vulcan ears does give one pause. (For a particularly thoughtful review of the entire Star Trek franchise, read this article by Chicago Reader critic J.R. Jones. He argues that the original TV show was actually quite mature in its subject matter – with its mixed-gender, multiracial crew and Cold War overtones. Over time, however, the series – and movies it spawned – were dumbed down considerably to appeal to kids.)

But for me, the most interesting analysis of this trend was an article in the Washington Post by Hank Stuever examining the effect of  extreme fans (of the lightsaber bearing sort) on the making and marketing of these blockbuster-type movies.

The central question he asks – and I paraphrase here –  is why we feel compelled, as a society, to compulsively remake The Dukes of Hazard or our favorite books from fourth grade. Is it a lack of creativity? Nostalgia? Escape?

I don’t have an answer to that question. But as someone who’s quite prone to nostalgia myself, I can say that I, too, find it moving to revisit signature cultural artifacts – books, movies – from my childhood. I don’t necessarily need to don Lieutenant O’hura’s mini-dress in order to do so. But I understand the impulse.

So go ahead and beam me up, Scotty. But be warned: I’ll be looking for the Indie screening room on the Starship Enterprise when I get there.

Image: Trekkies by San Diego Shooter via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Help! I'm Over the Hill: And Other Lessons Garnered while Cooking Beef Stew

I’m feeling old today. And I know why.

It all began when my husband and I watched a movie we rented over the weekend entitled, In Search of a Midnight Kiss. Let’s start with the premise of said film, which is basically a boy meets girl kinda thing with two sad, lonely protagonists desperate not to spend New Year’s Eve alone, who meet through an ad in Craigs List and spend the afternoon and evening together. That’s pretty much it. But it’s been so long that I spent New Year’s Eve alone – or worried about kissing someone other than my spouse (and I don’t really worry about that too much) – that it was like taking a trip back in time even to get myself a place where I could remotely identify with the protagonists.

Or maybe I could have, if the protagonists had been cynical middle-aged divorces, recently separated and gamely looking for a night out on the town (there was one character like this in the film – in a scene that lasted maybe 15 seconds – but he was really there as fodder for our laughter and derision, and other than him, there was no one over thirty in the movie except the main character’s mother, herself getting a boob job to feel younger).

I have no problem with any of this. The movie was made by someone who’s probably barely 30 himself and I’m sure the whole thing resonates with his target audience. In fact, I actually liked the film (I’m a sucker for sad endings…or at least wistful ones). But with its indiscriminate drug and alcohol use, random hook ups and fleeting moments of intimacy, it did make me feel, well…old. Anthony Lane, in an improbably long review of this film for The New Yorker, argues that the movie is a poster child for the “Indie” romance wherein “all the inhabitants of the indie universe…are like children, playing at adult life.”

Amen, brother.

It’s kind of like how I feel when I read the “Gen Y” portions of Penelope Trunk’s insightful and entertaining blog, Brazen Careerist. I’m sure these posts connect with their intended readership, but I’m so firmly ensconced in Gen X that I no longer even bother skimming them.

Which brings us to the end of the weekend, when one of my husband’s new colleagues and his fiance stopped by our house to say hi with three friends in tow. It was around 6 p.m. on a Sunday night and they’d all just come from Paris where they’d spent the weekend – en masse – and were about to go out and “catch some dinner” before heading back to their collective crash pad. As it happened, I was making beef stew when they showed up. I was also in my pajamas since I’d taken a late afternoon run and couldn’t be bothered to get dressed for the evening: picture a sort of Target-esque red and black tartan pajama bottom with…it must be said..a black dog on the pajama top. Now to be fair, I’m not normally a beef stew/doggie pajama kinda gal. But that’s exactly what I looked like when they showed up with tales of the Rodin Museum and strolling through the Left Bank.

And, as I was saying, I just felt really old.

So tonight I’m thinking of rassling up some fajitas and buying some tequila and maybe I’ll even wear that new teal camisole I bought…What’s that you say? Oh, right. It’s book club. With my forty something friends. To talk about Amos Oz’ memoir. Guess not…

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