Category Archives: Books

Hello, Mr. King

Tomorrow night I will attend a Q&A event with Stephen King. He will perform a reading from his latest novel, Revival, and, if I’m very lucky, I will go home with a signed copy.

I’m terribly excited. In anticipation, I’ve been re-reading King’s autobiography (which is also a brilliant guide for aspiring authors), On Writing. I’ve also been thinking about my favorite movies based on his works. I’ve collected the following list. Keep in mind these are simply the titles for which I feel the greatest amount of affection, not necessarily the best examples of high-quality cinema.

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Delicious

Last weekend I saw Chef on the recommendation of my best guy friend, a.k.a “BFF.” And as he predicted, I did indeed love it. I loved it as a searing metaphor for writer/director Jon Favreau’s relationship to the Hollywood machine, and I loved it for itself: a savory-sweet concoction of joyfulness. Such a happy-go-lucky little movie. And I really appreciated seeing a story about an adult taking the time to teach a child things that are worth knowing.

As I sat watching the credits and absorbing what I’d just watched, I realized during the credit cookie that Chef amounted to an easy slam-dunk for me not just because it’s good, but also because it’s way up my alley. There are certain types of movies that are hard to ruin for me. One is a twisty amnesia mystery. Another is any movie that involves lovingly filmed scenes of food preparation.

This is a Cuban sandwich. There's no avoiding eating one after you see Chef. Do yourself a favor and get one lined up in advance. This one comes from Paladar in Rockville, MD.

This is a Cuban sandwich. There’s no avoiding eating one after you see Chef. Do yourself a favor and get one lined up in advance. This one comes from Paladar.

I make no claims to “foodie” status. I enjoy squirt cheese too much for that. But, for better or worse, I am an emotional eater. Scenes that imbue food with that sensibility hit me where I live. It’s not just movies either. My favorite scene in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon is where Pilate teaches her nephew how to cook a perfect soft-boiled egg. I still vividly remember reading that book in my twin bed in my college dorm. After I came to that passage, I got no farther on my reading assignment that night because I just kept re-reading that part over and over again. It triggered the sweet spot in my brain.

To hit the sweet spots in your brains, here are some other food-centric movie moments for your viewing pleasure:

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I’m back with The Way, Way Back!

Watching The Way, Way Back called to mind those Diary of a Wimpy Kid books*. How can that be when one is a tenderly vulnerable coming-of-age drama and the other is a series of deliberately unpolished, brashly misanthropic illustrated books for the elementary school set? I know it’s an odd connection to make, but bear with me.

Once upon a time, I worked as a children’s librarian, and that was during an era when the Wimpy Kid was A) insanely popular and B) controversial. The series drew scorn from a certain type of parent for all the usual reasons:  It isn’t a “timeless classic” they read as a kid. It models inappropriate behaviors. It’s completely insubstantial (i.e., “they’re just cartoons”). It’s junk food for kids’ brains. Blah, blah, blah, hell, hand basket, something, something**.

Anyway, because it was my job to have an informed opinion on such things, I read all of the books that existed at that time (I think there are at least twice as many by now). And I actually thought they were terribly clever, but at the same time, I found them too frustrating to be truly entertaining. And here’s where we arrive at the point. What TWWB and the Wimpy Kid share is keen observation of the reality of youth. They remind me of the lives children really lead every day, and they put me back in a kid’s shoes. And that is somewhere I never want to be again. Ever. I’ve heard so many otherwise seemingly intelligent adults claim that they wish they could go back in time and be a kid again, and that level of delusional nostalgia blows my mind.

For starters, how can they not appreciate this? When I was a kid, I thought being a grown-up would be completely awesome. And I was correct. Spare me your whining about jobs, bosses, bills, and taxes. To me, it all seems like a fair trade. You don’t have to win the Nobel Prize. All you have to do is manage to achieve a baseline level of functional adulthood. Provide for yourself, and cooperate with the rest of society. That’s it. And in exchange for that, there are cars. And meals in restaurants. Vacations. Pets that you get to name. Relationships with people who actually choose you. Making your own decisions. Taking naps in your own living room on a couch you paid for. And reading whatever books you like, dammit.

Secondly, and more importantly, childhood blows. Yes, adulthood involves chores, but I remember having chores as a kid. Yes, adults have problems. But I had just as many problems when I was a kid, compounded by no control over my own life and thus zero ability to solve them. You could never in a million years convince me to go back to that. And that’s why it’s so uncomfortable when a piece of art can truly make me see life again through younger eyes with all the tiny injustices and huge misunderstandings. And that’s TWWB.

Look at his face if you don't believe me.

Look at his face if you don’t believe me.

The first half-hour of TWWB is cringe-worthy. I literally watched some parts through my fingers like it was a horror movie. Because isn’t that an apt descriptor for the life of a 14-year-old trapped in a beach house with his meek mom and overbearing would-be step-father? But it’s worth sticking with the film for the sweet and believably low-key transformation the main character undergoes, as portrayed by Liam James. His Duncan will never be a cool kid, but he can find his crowd. And amazing performances abound with a cast list filled with notable character actors. It’s impossible to talk about this movie without bringing up the great Sam Rockwell, but everyone contributes in their own way to a memorable experience. I’m quite fond of this movie. I seriously doubt I’ll ever re-watch it, but it’s probably going to stick with me all the same.

 

* The movies based on them are unwatched by me.

** You folks at home can’t see it, but I’m making a jerking-off motion with my hand. I’m allowed to do that now because I am no longer a public servant.

Recap: Summer 2013 Roundup

Even though I was too busy the last couple months moving and working and traveling and whatever else to broadcast my reactions on the Interwebs, I still wasn’t too busy to make it to the movie theater. I’m very rarely too busy for that. So here is a quick run-down of the new releases I’ve seen recently, along with the 30-second version of my verdicts on them. I do feel wistful that I’m not taking more time to engage in meaningful conversation about some of these titles – particularly Man of Steel. My complex emotions about just that one could probably fill an entire book. But realistically, more movies get released each and every weekend, I’ve started watching a new-to-me show (more on this later), and this fall television season just might see a genuine attempt by me to watch a current show or two for the first time in a very long while. So this is all you get.

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