Julie A. Swanson

Purer and Purer Streams…

Category: movies

Beasts of the Southern Wild

imgresI’m not sure what to say about this movie. The little girl who plays Hushpuppy was adorable and there was a lot of good food for thought, but it’s hard to figure out what I thought of the movie. My feelings on it were mixed. I can’t truly say I liked or enjoyed it, and yet I was very interested in it and wanted to watch it all despite my discomfort. It was unpredictable and original.

I felt like I was carsick for much of it, not sure if it was the filming–much like a home video the way the camera moved all over–or if it was just that some of it was  hard to watch. I’m prone to motion sickness and often  get a queasy stomach watching a film where the camera isn’t held steady. But there was also a lot of stuff in in that was just gross, or unappealing. The way the people ate, the squalor they lived in, the dead carcasses floating in the floodwaters, the sweat and grime and alcohol guzzling… And there are things scenes you just don’t want to watch–the little girl hiding in a box while her ‘house’ burns down around her, a little girl being neglected, hit, a little girl with almost zero emotional support…

But still, it was good. I’m glad I watched it. Makes you appreciate what you have, makes you think about the way some people have to live. It’s a movie, yes, but that kind of poverty exists, and it doesn’t get enough attention. And there was a lot of heart in the movie.

It was right up my alley in another way, too. Hushpuppy flexing her little guns, with her daddy who wouldn’t let her cry and who was trying to toughen her up for her own survival once he was gone–well, Hushpuppy  definitely qualifies as a tomboy.


Les Miserables, the movie

I don’t usually like musicals–the only ones I’ve ever really enjoyed are The Sound of Music and Mama Mia–but I’d heard Les Miserables was good so I was willing to give it a chance. Yesterday I finally found someone willing to go with me and I was excited about it (Steve’s been dragging his feet on this one for some reason: I think because he’d heard it was sad, and because he doesn’t seem to be big on musicals either). But then we got in the theatre and the movie started and there was that first scene with the men down in the water tugging on the thick ropes–singing!–and I thought, Oh, no, I don’t think I’m going to be able to get through this. 

I didn’t even want to look over at my 15-year-old son S who I’d somehow gotten to go along with me, because I was sure he was thinking the same thing and didn’t want to meet his glare of, What did you get me into? So I just stared straight ahead and tried to pretend I was into it.

And, you know what? Pretty soon I was. At some point it was like I forgot they were singing, or maybe it was more that I knew I had to pay attention to the singing–that it wasn’t something superfluous but that the words of the songs were critical to my understanding of what was going on. And before I knew it, I wasn’t just listening intently to the singing, I was enjoying it, marveling at how well the characters could sing, admiring the very real emotion they were able to put into it. Who knew Russell Crowe could sing?

So many actors/characters were good, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, the comical couple, the little boy, little Cosette and big Cosette, and the young man who falls in love with Cosette, Ebony…

My son was quite sick this week  (perhaps this was why he was willing to go with his mother to a movie like Les Miserables; anything to get out the house after 6 days) and is getting over a bad cough, so we sat in a top corner, where his occasional hacking wouldn’t bother people as much. I needn’t have worried; instead of coughing, I cried. I didn’t look over to see if S was crying because I didn’t want to embarrass him, but I did hear him sniffle a few times. It was, as I discussed in a previous blog post about why people enjoy movies or books that make them cry, not so much that it was always sad in a bad/negative way. Just as often I felt sad in the good way of having been touched, when your tears are about  your heart strings getting plucked or your heart swelling with a great feeling of love, inspired by un-selfish and altruistic love shown in the movie.

As we sat there in the dark with the credits rolling, I asked S how he liked the movie. I expected him to shrug, which I’d interpret as, “I liked it but I don’t want to admit how much.” But instead he simply said he liked it, that it was good, which to me meant he really liked it, possibly even as much as I had.

I give it a 5 out of 5.

BRAVE: ‘a failure of female empowerment?’ No!

imgresWe watched the Disney Pixar movie Brave over the holidays and I really enjoyed it. As a kid, I would’ve LOVED it, as it’s exactly what I was starving for… A tomboy princess rebels against her over’bear’ing mom (if you haven’t seen it, bears figure into the story), a mom who reminds me of my own and how she was with me, both the good and irritating. A tomboy princess identifies strongly with her dad, a dad enjoys and encourages that; again, a dad who reminds me of my own, and how he was with me (but showing only the good side of that). Sure, I would’ve wished Princess Merida could have worn something other than the long dresses she wore, but even as a kid, I would’ve realized she was a product of her times.

Before watching Brave, I’d read several reviews with titles like, “Just Another Princess Movie,” and “Why Pixar’s Brave Is a Failure of Female Empowerment”… ( http://ideas.time.com/2012/06/22/why-pixars-brave-isa-failure-of-female-empowerment/) These reviews piqued my interest.

“Just Another Princess Movie”-http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/just-another-princess-movie/is a long essay/post with a thorough analysis of the movie and its motives and messages, and while it’s got interesting points and I actually agree with much of it, it’s confusing. The title of the post and the beginning of it are quite negative, yet  it goes on to appreciate the movie and all that can be found in it if you look deeper than many of its critics have (or if you don’t try to overanalyze things?). A point it makes that summarizes my feelings on the story is, “It’s in its exploration of the relationship between mother and daughter that the film really shines.”

Although many of the criticisms I read in reviews wouldn’t have occurred to me, it’s always interesting to see how others see things, and I get some of the complaints, especially this one; we need more girl main characters that fall between the extremes we’ve been presented with by movie makers. Historically we’ve been shown girl leads who are valued for their crowns and/or beauty, and we’ve recently had a few girl protagonists who are amazing with the bow-and-arrow or who can fight with the boys like Mulan or ‘bend it like Beckham,’ but we need to show more ‘normal,’ average types of girls and their stories, girls who are celebrated neither for being extremely feminine nor for their masculine prowess, girls who are not princesses or orphans. But Brave was a refreshing, non-stereotypical tomboy movie (although hardy, Merida was physically feminine) and another step in the right direction. Just maybe not as big a step as some were hoping for.

Life Is Beautiful, and why we like movies and stories that make us cry



My daughter has to take a language proficiency test in Italian so in her free time she’s been watching Italian movies. A couple days ago she called while halfway through Life Is Beautiful (with subtitles in English). She was loving it but had to interrupt her viewing of it to go somewhere and couldn’t wait to get back home where she could continue it on Netflix. She asked if I’d ever seen it and I said, yes, it’s a great movie–I loved it, too.

A while later she called back sniffly from crying and saying she’d just finished the movie and that she thought she just might watch it over and over again until she had to take her language proficiency test. She thought it was that good.

We talked about how odd it is that we would love a movie that makes us cry. While there are definitely parts of the movie that make you smile and are happy or lighthearted or at least uplifting, it is very sad. Which reminded me of my school visit the night before, my presentation to the Henley Middle School 7th graders, and their parents, who’d read my book Going for the Record. My book, based in large part on my dad’s death, is sad, too, and makes people cry. And what my daughter and I were discussing had come up with the Henley kids so I told her about it…

During the Q&A part of my presentation, a boy raised his hand and asked me which part of the book was the most fun to write. I smiled and hesitated and said something to the effect of, “I’m not sure if you want me to answer in terms of fun as in ‘I smiled and laughed and had a really good time writing it,’ or if you’d be OK with me telling you which part was my favorite part to write. Because a lot of the story is sad and I know it might sound weird to say that you enjoy being sad or crying, but Read the rest of this entry »

Tomboy, the Movie

This is a beautiful film about a 10-year-old girl who finds herself in a position where she can pretend she’s a boy so she decides to enjoy that and get away with it for as long as she can. It’s quiet, yes, simple, spare, in French with subtitles…but if you are/were a tomboy, or if you know one and want to understand her better, you’ll want to watch this. I loved it. Can’t say I could relate to all of the main character’s experiences in the movie, her motivations, the things she did–there are as many different types of tomboys as there are anything else–but the basic essence of being a tomboy that it portrays, yes, and this does that better than maybe anything I’ve ever watched or read. It was so true, so Read the rest of this entry »