Category Archives: Watching

Cozy distractions in the time of Corona

Even if you’re healthy and safe at home, you may be losing your mind right about now. I’ve put together a list of things (in no particular order) that might brighten your mood during this surreal quarantine from the rest of humanity.

— First of all, complete your 2020 Census! It may not be a cheerful activity, but it doesn’t take long and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when done.

— Please visit Sampy and friends in Finland. Seriously, CLICK THAT LINK! You can’t help but cheer up when you see Sampy, Hiskias, and Elmeri cavorting in the snow. They are magical creatures and they always fill my heart with joy.

— Pre-order The Jane Austen Society. Yes, there’s a new Austen-themed novel coming out, and Richard Armitage* is reading the audiobook! The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, with starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal, is “a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works.” Doesn’t it sound lovely? Speaking of sound, here’s a snippet of the performance by Armitage. The novel releases on May 26 in the U.S.

*NOTE: If you’re a fan of Richard Armitage’s voice, check out all the Audible books he has narrated. I was gobsmacked!

— Listen to Shedunnit, “the podcast that unravels the mysteries behind classic detective stories.” The latest episode is about Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and thus of particular interest to me, but there’s much more you’ll wish to explore.

— If you’re a fan of Hallmark movies, particularly the Christmas ones, fill out the Merry Madness Christmas Bracket. You can create up to 10 brackets and maybe even win some cash. This form of March Madness may not be as exciting as the NCAA basketball tournament, but it’s a nice distraction.

–ALSO, Hallmark’s Spring Fling starts March 28. In the meantime try to catch a repeat of In the Key of Love or watch it online. We loved it.

— Reorganize your tea cabinet. (Or any cabinet/drawer that contains magical things but has become untidy.) Trust me, it feels SO GOOD. I started with my tea cabinet and then moved on to every cabinet in the kitchen. But really, I only moved on to the other, less interesting cabinets because I was still on a high from tidying my teas. Check it out:

–Watch Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. It’s adorable, but you do have to give it a couple of episodes before you connect to the characters. This show makes me so cheerful, and sometimes (more often in later seasons) it’s so poignant that it makes me cry. Another great option: Playing House. This is my ultimate comfort show. I have downloaded all three seasons to my phone, and I often watch it on airplanes when the turbulence is rattling me. Maggie and Emma are a lovable pair of friends, and the actresses are besties in real life.

— Read the Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffiths, or download the audiobooks from Audible.com. This incredibly appealing series of cozy mysteries will distract you from the harsh realities of our world. (Or just save you from boredom.)

— Make cocoa with marshmallows. I love this recipe from Epicurious.

— Take a long walk. It’s good for your body and will clear your mind. If the quiet streets freak you out, go home and drink more cocoa.

— Work a puzzle. There must be at least one of them lurking in a closet somewhere.

— Meditate. I like the guided meditations on the Calm App. They have wonderfully soporific sleep stories, too, if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night.

— Learn. Surely you’ve seen the ads for a free month of “The Great Courses” online? Go here for more information.

— Start or end your day with journaling. I’m addicted to this practice, and it has become my morning therapy. If you have no idea where/how to start, google “journal prompts” and you’ll find endless lists of questions and suggestions. As I’ve mentioned before (here, for instance), I love the journals from Paperblanks. But any old notebook will do.

— ETA: If all else fails, watch this: Coronavirus Rhapsody

Have a suggestion for this list? Do share in the comments!

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Featured image credit: ID 85961367 © Stanislav Salamanov | Dreamstime.com

A Horror Interlude for February

This past week I visited Dallas for the Highland Park Literary Festival. The festival volunteers always put on a great event, and the highlight for me was spending time with the HPHS students who signed up for my presentation, “How to Build a Horror Hero” (a companion to last year’s “Building the Perfect Monster”). As you might imagine, I had a splendid time talking horror with these enthusiasts and eagerly scribbled down their recommendations.

They did not steer me wrong! Here are the three films I watched:


HOSTILE (2017)
Juliette, a lone survivor of an apocalyptic era, fights to survive against hunger, thirst, a broken leg and strange, disturbing creatures that only come out at nighttime.
When a student recommended this one, I’m afraid I confused it with Hostel, which I never want to see. Eventually, however, it got through my thick skull that she was describing something completely different, and I’m just flabbergasted that this film hasn’t shown up on my radar until now. If you like horror with character development, tension, and alternating timelines, give this one a chance.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing


THE THING (1982)
A research team in Antarctica is hunted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of its victims.

Why did I wait so long to watch this horror classic? It’s a clever sci-fi variation on the “And Then There were None” sort of mystery, and the old-school special effects (rather than CGI) make it all the more horrific. Kurt Russell is fabulous.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing


CREEP (2004)**
Trapped in a London subway station, a woman who’s being pursued by a potential attacker heads into the unknown labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city’s streets.
This one will resonate for those who have spent a lot of time in Tube stations, particularly late at night. Franke Potenta (a favorite of mine since Run Lola Run) is appealing as a “party girl” who ends up locked in the subway station overnight. Guess what? She’s not alone down there.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing

**NOTE: there is a more recent horror film titled Creep with Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice, and it is well-reviewed, but I couldn’t make it to the end because I love Duplass and couldn’t bear him being so annoyingly evil.

Highland Park High School students–thank you for the great discussions and recommendations! Feel free to comment with more. 🙂

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Featured Image credit 89675574 © Tharin Sinlapachai – Dreamstime.com

Part II: Ghostly and Gothic SPOOKY films

Oh, how I love a good GHOST film! Ghosts and/or related paranormal entities feature in each of the following recommendations.

All film synopses are from imdb.com.


The Wind (2018) — Rated R
A plains-woman faces the harshness and isolation of the untamed land in the Western frontier of the late 1800s. This film, written and directed by women, is visually arresting and emotionally harrowing. It’s also non-linear and requires active viewing. I’ve long been captivated by pioneer narratives and the “romance” of homesteading, but this film really brought home how difficult such a life could be. It also added a lovely Gothic twist to the mix. I will watch this one again.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 66


Don’t Leave Home (2018) — Not Rated
An American artist’s obsession with a disturbing urban legend leads her to an investigation of the story’s origins at the crumbling estate of a reclusive painter in Ireland. This one had me at “crumbling estate”! I’ve never encountered a story quite like this, and I can’t tell you too much about it without spoiling. It’d be better if you just watched so we can talk about it later. This is another one I plan to see again.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 65


Astral (2018) — Rated TV-MA
A detached university student faces the consequences of astral projection when he uses it to reconnect with his dead mother. This is not your glossy, high-budget sort of horror film, and all the user reviews on IMDB indicate that no one liked it. But I had to watch because I’m rather obsessed with the narrative potential of astral projection. Also, the lead actor played Tom Riddle and is the RADA-trained son of Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones, and much more). Viewing this required patience, but the story eventually builds into something rather dramatic. I thought it was worth watching and I enjoyed the fact that most of the action takes place at Royal Holloway. (Do I need to watch Fear the Walking Dead now?)
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / No Metascore


Haunted (Hjemsøkt) (2017) — Not Rated
After her father’s death Catherine travels back to her old family estate in winter time Norway. When locals start telling stories of disappearances and possible murders, she is forced to confront her family’s mysterious past. There’s nothing particular ground-breaking about this ghost story–it doesn’t have any special bells or whistles–but I loved it all the same. The Norwegian setting is gorgeous. (Just look at that still above.) The lead actress is a pleasure to watch. The story held my attention to the very end, and I look forward to watching it again. I have one quibble that I’m longing to discuss, so do let me know if you watch.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / No Metascore


Clara’s Ghost (2018) — Not Rated
Set over the course of a single evening in the Reynolds family home in suburban Connecticut, Clara’s Ghost tells the story of Clara Reynolds who, fed up with constant ribbing from her self-absorbed showbiz family, finds solace in and guidance from the supernatural force she believes is haunting her. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I started watching this. It features a hilariously dysfunctional family of actors who decide to gather in order to torment each other AND celebrate their dog’s birthday. Bad behavior ensues. This is another film written and directed by a woman, and I absolutely love the fact that it was a family project. I look forward to Bridey Elliot’s next film.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 66

BONUS! Ghostly films I enjoy watching again and again:
The Haunting (1963) — Previously discussed here.
The Changeling (1980) — Previously discussed here.
The Others (2001)
The Eclipse (2009) — Previously discussed here (scroll all the way down)
The Awakening (2011) — Previously discussed here.
The Conjuring (2013)

Part I: Family Friendly SPOOKY Films

I’m launching this year’s festivities with a few movies the whole family might enjoy. Please check the Parental Guide for each title. If you’re new to the blog and have younger children, you might check my 2016 post that includes solidly PG films, and don’t forget last year’s family viewing options. If you have tweens and teens interested in watching horror, the following options might appeal. Of course, you are the best judge of what your kids can or can’t handle in a scary film.

PLEASE NOTE: if you crave 500 jump scares per film, you may be disappointed by my recommendations. For more context on this, check out Chris Stuckmann’s youtube video, The Problem with Horror Movies Today–he makes a great point.

As usual, all film synopses are from imdb.com.


The Hole in the Ground (2019) — Rated R (not sure why?)
A young mother living in the Irish countryside with her son suspects his increasingly disturbing behavior is linked to a mysterious sinkhole in the forest, and fears he may not be her son at all. This is a bit slow to start, perhaps, but your patience will be rewarded. You’ll also be pleased to see the ubiquitous and always delightful James Cosmo. This film is both familiar and unique, and I loved the setting.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / IMDB Parental Guide /
Metascore: 63


Wait Till Helen Comes (2016) — Rated TV-14
When a reconstructed family moves to a converted church in the country, 14-year-old Molly, must save her new troubled step-sister from a dangerous relationship with the desperate ghost of a young girl. Raise your hand if you loved this book by Mary Downing Hahn! I’ve read it twice, and I thought this adaptation was pretty strong–spooky and tense without being gruesome, vulgar, or gratuitously violent. Great family fare, but not recommended for the little ones.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / No metascore


The Witch in the Window (2018) — Not rated
When Simon brings his twelve year-old son, Finn, to rural Vermont to help flip an old farmhouse, they encounter the malicious spirit of Lydia, a previous owner. And now with every repair they make – she’s getting stronger. This is my favorite of the family viewing options, and it’s one of my favorite spooky movies viewed this year. It’s so wonderfully character-driven and felt like I was getting a view into the world of a real family–a family I cared deeply about. Speaking of jump scares, there’s a well-earned one that made me squeak!
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / No Metascore

Perhaps best for 14-up due to language & violence:


The Dark (2005) — Rated R
In mourning over the tragic drowning of their daughter Sarah, James and Adèle are visited by Ebrill, a young girl who claims she died 60 years ago – and bears a startling resemblance to Sarah. Maria Bello and Sean Bean (!) star in this dark and creepy mystery set on the Welsh coast (but shot in Ireland, of course). It’s a good-looking film with lots of cool Gothic trappings, and yet a bit darker than the options listed above. Based on the novel Sheep, by Simon Maginn.
Watch the Trailer / Options for viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / No Metascore


Summer of ’84 — Not Rated
After suspecting that their police officer neighbor is a serial killer, a group of teenage friends spend their summer spying on him and gathering evidence, but as they get closer to discovering the truth, things get dangerous. Very reminiscent of Stranger Things, this film offers mystery and thrills without the paranormal content. Fair warning: crude language and teen boy humor abound, and the finale is grim.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / Metascore: 57

Stay tuned for ghostly film recommendations!

Friday Flashback: Reading Gaskell’s North & South

This post is a continuation of my Friday Favorites post on North & South (2004) and perhaps will only be interesting to those who are already fans of the mini-series. (Or maybe it will inspire potential new fans? One can hope.) In 2006 I read the novel and had great fun comparing it to the series in two Livejournal posts.

Jan 11, 2006

If you’ve listened to the commentary for N&S, you already have a good idea of what they’ve changed, added, or deleted in order to adapt the novel into a film. The main differences I see so far:

— Mrs. Hale was not happy in Helstone. She’s just generally malcontented. You learn that her sister married for status & money (and hated her husband), but Mrs. Hale married a poor clergyman for love, and has always mildly resented her lowered standard of living. (And Dixon is very sympathetic to this, of course.)

— Mr. Thornton is NOT beating the crap out of people in the sight of young ladies

— There are no union meetings with Higgins rallying the workers. This makes me sad. I found those scenes very moving in the film.

— Bessie isn’t quite as sassy and snarky — more the typical lower class Victorian invalid.

Various interesting passages:

Henry Lennox to Margaret:

Well, I suppose you are all in the depths of business — ladies’ business, I mean. Very different to my business, which is the real true law business. Playing with shawls is very different work to drawing up settlements. (10)

What a self-important prig! Do you think Gaskell’s female contemporary readers would have been equally irked by that? Or would they just have accepted it as “separate sphere” sort of bantering? I have to believe that this is Gaskell telling her readers “Sure, this would be a socially appropriate partner for Margaret BUT TRULY HE’S JUST THE PRACTICE ROUND!”

Margaret’s physical description:

Sometimes people wondered that parents so handsome should have a daughter who was so far from regularly beautiful; not beautiful at all, was occasionally said. Her mouth was wide; no rosebud that could only open just enough to let out a “yes” and “no,” and “an’t please you, sir.” But the wide mouth was one soft curve of rich red lips; and the skin, if not white and fair, was of ivory smoothness and delicacy. If the look on her face was, in general, too dignified and reserved for one so young, now, talking to her father, it was bright as the morning, — full of dimples, and glances that spoke of childish gladness, and boundless hope in the future. (17)

And then there’s the scene of Mr. Thornton having tea with the Hales. This passage, in which he contemplates Margaret, seems almost erotic to me:

It appeared to Mr. Thornton that all these graceful cares were habitual to the family; and especially of a piece with Margaret. She stood by the tea-table in a light-colored muslin gown, which had a good deal of pink about it. She looked as if she was not attending to the conversation, but solely busy with the tea-cups, among which her round ivory hands moved with pretty, noiseless, daintiness. She had a bracelet on one taper arm, which would fall down over her round wrist. Mr. Thornton watched the re-placing of this troublesome ornament with far more attention than he listened to her father. It seemed as if it fascinated him to see her push it up impatiently, until it tightened her soft flesh; and then to mark the loosening — the fall. He could almost have exclaimed — “There it goes, again!” There was so little left to be done after he arrived at the preparation of tea, that he was almost sorry the obligation of eating and drinking came so soon to prevent his watching Margaret. She handed him his cup of tea with the proud air of an unwilling slave; but her eye caught the moment when he was ready for another cup; and he almost longed to ask her to do for him what he saw her compelled to do for her father, who took her little finger and thumb in his masculine hand, and made them serve as sugar-tongs. (79)

Margaret’s perception of Thornton:

Now, in Mr. Thornton’s face the straight brows fell low over the clear deep-set earnest eyes, which, without being unpleasantly sharp, seemed intent enough to penetrate into the very heart and core of what he was looking at. The lines in the face were few but firm, as if they were carved in marble, and lay principally about the lips, which were slightly compressed over a set of teeth so faultless and beautiful as to give the effect of sudden sunlight when the rare bright smile, coming in an instant and shining out of the eyes, changed the whole look from the severe and resolved expression of a man ready to do and dare everything, to the keen honest enjoyment of the moment, which is seldom shown so fearlessly and instantaneously except by children. Margaret liked this smile; it was the first thing she had admired in this new friend of her father’s . . . (80)

Now, the first bit agrees quite nicely with the film version, but I don’t think Richard Armitage ever smiles so much that all his teeth show. And I’m rather glad of that. It’s much more powerful when he lets slip those rare wee smiles.

Jan 18, 2006

Over the weekend I told a friend that the most illuminating thing about the novel was the opportunity to get into Thornton’s head. In the film he’s quite enigmatic in his brooding, glaring silences. I suppose we see his vulnerability in the scenes with his mother, but as with Pride and Prejudice (book AND film versions) we usually don’t comprehend the pain suffered by the hero during his difficult moments with the heroine. But in Gaskell’s novel, we get both viewpoints during the scenes that involve Margaret and Thornton interacting with each other — AND we get their private assessments of the interaction later on. What delights!

As he waits to propose to Margaret:

Mr Thornton stood by one of the windows, with his back to the door, apparently absorbed in watching something in the street. But, in truth, he was afraid of himself. His heart beat thick at the thought of her coming. He could not forget the touch of her arms around his neck, impatiently felt as it had been at the time; but now the recollection of her clinging defense of him, seemed to thrill him through and through, — to melt away every resolution, all power of self-control, as if it were wax before a fire. He dreaded lest he should go forwards to meet her, with his arms held out in mute entreaty that she would come and nestle there, as she had done, all unheeded, the day before, but never unheeded again. His heart throbbed loud and quick. (193)

Oh! It kills me when he imagines holding out his arms to her in “mute entreaty” and thinks of her “nestling” there. Such tenderness. And doubly touching because we know what’s about to happen!

After the proposal:

When Mr. Thornton had left the house that morning he was almost blinded by his baffled passion. . . He had positive bodily pain, — a violent headache, and a throbbing intermittent pulse. He could not bear the noise, the garish light, the continued rumble and movement in the street. He called himself a fool for suffering so; and yet could not, at the moment, recollect the cause of his suffering, and whether it was adequate to the consequences it had produced. It would have been a relief to him, if he could have sat down and cried on a door-step by a little child, who was raging and storming, through his passionate tears, at some injury he had received. He said to himself, that he hated Margaret, but a wild, sharp sensation of love cleft his dull, thundering feeling like lightning, even as he shaped the words expressive of hatred. His greatest comfort was in hugging his torment; and in feeling, as he had indeed said to her , that though she might despise him, contemn him, treat him with her proud sovereign indifference, he did not change one whit. She could not make him change. He loved her, and would love her; and defy her, and this miserable bodily pain. (207)

Why do I love to read about Thornton’s torture and angst? There are many similar passages after this, particularly after he sees Margaret with Frederick at the train station. Oh, how he does work himself into a mental frenzy over that! I won’t quote it here — you simply MUST read the book!

I’ll conclude with this funny little moment — I think we can all relate to Thornton here:

They found Margaret with a letter open before her, eagerly discussing its contents with her father. On the entrance of the gentlemen, it was immediately put aside; but Mr. Thornton’s eager senses caught some few words of Mr. Hale’s to Mr. Bell.

“A letter from Henry Lennox. It makes Margaret very hopeful.”

Mr. Bell nodded. Margaret was as red as a rose when Mr. Thornton looked at her. He had the greatest mind in the world to get up and go out of the room that very instant, and never set foot in the house again. (332)