Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Nightingale

For its September selection, my book club chose The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. The novel takes place during the occupation of France during World War II and depicts the lives of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, as they cope, very differently, with the horrors of war. There is a framing device involving an elderly woman in present day who discovers a trunk of memorabilia from the war and then recounts the story of the sisters.  Vianne is rendered almost helpless as her husband, Antoine, joins the army and eventually ends up in a POW camp.  She spends the war trying to keep life and limb together for herself, her daughter, and her Jewish neighbor, doing whatever is necessary, even exploiting her relationship with the German officer billeted in her home.  Isabelle, restless and headstrong, joins the Resistance and leads downed airmen back to safety through the Pyrenees Mountains. The unknown woman, once again in present day, then travels to France for a reunion with several of the characters. The reader does not know which of the sisters is depicted in this framing device until the very end and that definitely kept my attention throughout. However, I thought this novel was good but not great. I enjoyed reading about the perspectives of women fighting the war at home but many of the historical details didn't ring true to me (The Nazis didn't advertise that Jews were being sent to concentration camps on posters).  Certain events seemed too coincidental to be believed (Did everyone in France have a secret place in their homes where Jews and resistance leaders could hide?).  I sometimes got the impression that Hannah thought of every horrifying event that happened in France during World War II and then applied it to these two sisters and the town of Carriveau (Why were there so many German officers in this little town?).  I also found the romances to be cliched and melodramatic (Of course Vianne will develop feelings for the handsome German officer so far from home who is only following orders.  Of course Isabelle will fall for a dashing resistance fighter after a dramatic brush with death). Most people will probably enjoy this novel; in fact, everyone seems to be gushing about it but, in my opinion, it does not equal All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (which it is often compared to) or Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky.  I would recommend reading those.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Shop 'Till You Drop

I do not like shopping!  I am completely undone by salespeople and I have actually had panic attacks in stores with particularly aggressive salespeople.  I once told a saleswoman at Bath & Body Works that I was definitely going to make a purchase as long as she left me alone.  When she kept on bugging me, I told her that she had just lost a sale and walked out of the store.  I am a minimalist.  Too much stuff around me makes me nervous and everything must be put away in its proper place or I can't sleep at night.  Consequently, I usually don't get very attached to things.  I would rather spend money on experiences than on things.  Finally, I am very frugal (when it comes to things, not experiences).  When given the choice, I almost always choose the cheapest item.  With the exception of my sleigh bed and my sectional sofa, most of my furniture was given to me by friends and family as hand-me-downs or gifts.  I've always been nervous about spending money and I've usually settled for something less, thinking that someday I would get what I wanted.  My new house is a very different color palette than my old house and I decided to get a new comforter for my bed.  I found one online at Target and I went to get it on Saturday...with my sister.  Once I found the comforter, my sister convinced me that I needed all new bedding to match and, even though I thought my pillows were perfectly fine, apparently they were not and I had to get new ones.  Then I needed all new towels and my sister literally forced me to get the most expensive ones (they are absolutely wonderful).  I shudder to think about what I spent on towels alone!  Then I found a ruffly accent pillow for my bed.  Marilyn was openly weeping about the fact that I spontaneously selected a completely frivolous item!  Then I needed rugs for the bathroom.  Not just one rug, but two!  I was practically hyperventilating over how much money I was spending but Marilyn told me not to think about it because I had the money to spend.  She told me that I have worked really hard all of my life and that I deserve to have exactly what I want for my new house.  I think she has created a monster!  I have always wanted a black pub table for my dining room and I found it at R.C.Willey.  I have always wanted industrial metal bar stools and I've ordered them along with a charcoal gray club chair that I couldn't resist.  I'm going back to R.C.Willey to get a console table that I fell in love with (it's expensive but I want it) and I'm getting the bookcases and desk I've been pining over at IKEA.  Pretty soon I will have the house I've always imagined in my mind and I can't believe how much fun I have been having shopping!  I think Marilyn put a spell on me...

Note:  Next weekend I will be buying a new TV and I'm terrified.  I've never bought a TV before.  When I moved into my first apartment I took the TV I had in my bedroom as a teenager.  When I received my Master's Degree, my parents bought me an upgrade as a graduation present.  When that TV died, my sister gave me one that was left over from a benefit auction at her work.  I figure it's time for a flatscreen so I can, as my sister says, join the 21st Century.  Wish me luck!

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Temporary Home

The closing on my old house was scheduled for Sept. 24 but the buyer wanted to do a final walk-through so I needed to move out before then.  The closing on my new house was tentatively scheduled for Sept. 28 (today) but this is the week of parent teacher conferences and I knew it would be unrealistic for me to move while I was busy at school.  I also didn't want to move on a school day because I didn't want to take any time off (if I am going to use a personal day I want it to involve going to Denver to see the Colorado Avalanche).  With all of that in mind, I scheduled a moving company to move me out of my house on Saturday, Sept. 19 and move me into the new house on Saturday, Oct. 3.  That left me with two problems which were both solved by my Dad.  First, where could I put all of my stuff during those two weeks?  My Dad ended up renting me a storage unit and I had the movers take everything there.  Second, where would I live during those two weeks?  My Dad told me that I could live at his house but then he came up with the idea of parking the motor home at an RV park near my new house.  My Dad is the best!  I looked at it as an adventure but I have actually really enjoyed being here for the past week (I will be here another week because, even though the closing on my new house was moved up, I thought it would be easier to stay with the original plan).  The motor home is incredibly comfortable with a kitchen, bedroom (with an amazing bed), bathroom, living room with a TV and DVD player, and dining room.  The RV park is like a resort with anything you could possibly need.  I feel like I'm on vacation.  The people that I've met here have been so friendly.  Many people live here for months at a time doing construction jobs and then move on to another place when the job is complete.  I am in limbo right now but, surprisingly, it has been a very pleasant experience!

Note:  I usually inhabit the motor home with two dogs who enthusiastically greet anyone who opens the door.  Over the years, I've learned to brace myself for their greeting as I come in.  Even though they are not with me right now, I still automatically brace myself whenever I open the door.  I kind of miss them!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rollercoaster

I am posting this photo at the beginning so that you will know that this story ultimately has a very happy ending.

At the end of the school year my sister randomly showed me a townhouse that was for sale.  She drove by it every night and thought it would be perfect for me.  I looked at the website every day for weeks but didn't do anything about it.  Just when I had made up my mind to make an appointment, the house went off the market.  I was so upset but, mostly, I was angry with myself for not taking action.  I knew that I really needed to sell my house in South Jordan (I had been unhappy there for years) but I only complained instead of doing anything about it.  Suddenly, the house came back on the market because the buyer's financing fell through.  I made an appointment to see it within the hour!  Once I saw it, I immediately fell in love with it and made an offer.  However, even though my offer was an aggressive one, it was contingent on my house selling.  The sellers didn't want to take a chance and accepted another offer (I understand this decision now).  I was upset but decided to focus on selling my house first so I would be in a better position to make an offer on another property.  

My agent thought my house would sell very quickly because South Jordan is a prime location and, once it was on the market, I immediately had requests for showings, sometimes four and five a day.  At first this was really exciting but it got old quickly.  I had to be ready to vacate the house at a moment's notice and it was sometimes hard to find a place to go, especially if I had showings back to back.  I ended up at the library a lot!  After six days on the market my house went under contract!  I was thrilled because I didn't really believe my agent when she said it would sell quickly.  

Now it was time to find me a house.  My agent spent an entire day taking me to showings and I found another townhouse that I really liked.  The next day I decided to make an offer and I found out that my offer was accepted several days later when I was on the bus to a Leadership Conference in St. George with my students.  They all cheered when I found out!  On the last day of the conference, my agent called me to tell me that the buyers of my house had backed out of the contract.  I really wanted to cry but I was with my students so I had to keep it together.  My agent immediately put my house back on the market and I had several showings scheduled by the time I got back to town.  I had an offer the next Saturday and I accepted it but, after thinking about it over the weekend, they backed out on Monday.

The sellers of the townhouse I was under contract with decided to put it back on the market but they would give me 72 hours notice to counter if they received another offer (which I thought was very generous of them).  I really hoped that my house would be under contract again before they got another offer but they had one within days.  I ended up losing it.

So my house went back on the market and, after some interest, I had two weeks go by without any showings.  I decided to lower the asking price.  I had quite a bit of equity in the house and stood to make a substantial profit any way so at this point I just wanted it sold!  After the price reduction, I had so many showings scheduled that I decided to join my parents on a week-long vacation to Southern Utah.  While I was there I had multiple offers and accepted one of them.  I signed the paperwork on my phone while waiting to see a play at the Utah Shakespeare Festival!

I didn't want to rush into making an offer on another house until my buyers reached some important deadlines in the contract but my agent started to panic because school was starting and I wouldn't have much time any more.  She called me one day because a townhouse that she thought I would like had just gone on the market that morning and I would be the first to see it.  Of course I fell in love with it and made an aggressive offer (at the very limit of the amount I was pre-qualified for) that afternoon.  By that evening the seller had multiple offers and didn't accept mine.  I was starting to feel really dejected.  The weekend before school started my agent decided to take me to see every house I had liked on her website.  One particular townhouse was one I had looked at online several times but I was very lukewarm about it.  As soon as I walked in, I noticed that the entire house had recently been painted a soft gray with new carpet throughout and new travertine tile in the kitchen and bathrooms.  There were all new fixtures and new stainless steel appliances.  This townhouse had been on the market since early June (longer than mine) without an offer so the owners decided to do some upgrades and that made all of the difference.  I fell in love with the loft above the living room because I thought it would make a nice library!  I made an offer that same day and, even though there were multiple offers, mine was accepted!

Things were proceeding with both sales and I anticipated closing on my old house the second week in September and the new house shortly after that.  I took one weekend and packed my entire house to be ready to move.  Then my agent called to say that the people buying my buyers' house had their financing fall through so my buyers couldn't proceed until their house was under contract again.  This would most likely put the purchase of my new house in jeopardy because I obviously couldn't proceed unless my house was under contract.  It was a domino effect and it was the last straw.  I cried for days but I had to make a decision.  Should I give my buyers two more weeks to get their house under contract again or should I put it on the market and start all over?  Instead of thinking logically I reacted very emotionally and decided to cancel the contract.  My agent wisely decided not to do anything so I could think about it over night.  Luckily I came to my senses and decided to give them an extension and their house went under contract two days later.  The sellers of my townhouse agreed to extend my contract as well!  My agent did some fast talking on that deal, I am sure!

In the end I am actually glad that everything was postponed for two weeks!  Even though it was difficult living with all of my possessions in boxes, there is no way that I could have moved during Homecoming!  I also locked into a better interest rate on my loan by waiting two weeks!  My agent kept telling me that I would end up where I was meant to be and now I really believe that.

This whole process was definitely challenging, with lots of ups and downs, but I am so glad I did it!  I got the keys yesterday and I can't wait to move in next weekend!  Definitely a happy ending!

Friday, September 25, 2015

42nd Street

The Broadway in Utah 2015-2016 season began with 42nd Street and I got to see it last night.  What a fun show!  The story is about a young dancer from Allentown trying to make it big in a brand-new show called Pretty Lady during the Great Depression, but more than that, it is a singing and dancing extravaganza featuring many familiar songs such as "You're Getting To Be a Habit With Me," "I Only Have Eyes For You," "We're in the Money," "Lullaby of Broadway," "About a Quarter to Nine," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," and "42nd Street."  The young performers are absolutely amazing, many making their debut during this tour, and it almost seems as if their experience performing in this show mirrors that of the characters they play.  All of the big production numbers are completely over-the-top with dazzling choreography and sparkly costumes.  At the beginning of the show, when the curtain slowly rose to reveal row upon row of tap-dancing feet, the entire crowd cheered.  Matthew J. Taylor (Julian Marsh) has a fabulous voice and can really belt it out and Kaitlin Lawrence (Peggy Sawyer) is an incredible dancer and I especially loved her performance in "With Plenty of Money and You."  I definitely recommend this high energy musical for a really fun night out.  It plays at Capitol Theatre through Sunday.

Note:  If you get tickets you might want to go early because parking downtown is really tricky due to Salt Lake Comic Con.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fiddler on the Roof at PTC

Pioneer Theatre Company chose to open its 2015-2016 season with the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof.  I had the opportunity to see it last night and, in my opinion, they couldn't have picked a better to show to start the season!  Fiddler on the Roof is one of my all-time favorites (I even played Fruma Sarah many years ago) and I loved absolutely everything about this production.  Every song is instantly recognizable ("Tradition," "Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man," "Sunrise, Sunset," "Far From the Home I Love," and "Anatevka.") and I had to try really hard not to sing along!  All of the actors are simply wonderful and I was particularly impressed with Michael Thomas Holmes as Tevye.  His characterization is quite different from other actors I've seen in the role and I loved all of his dialogues with God and his interactions with Golde (Tia Speros).  His rendition of "If I Were a Rich Man" is absolutely hilarious, with most of the audience laughing out loud.  I also thought that Kim Sava (Tzeitel), Nadia Vynnytsky (Hodel), and Mandy McDonell (Chava) had lovely voices and I thoroughly enjoyed "Matchmaker."  The choreography is absolutely incredible!  The Russian dancers in "To Life" and the bottle dancers at the wedding took my breath away and resulted in many cheers and whistles from the audience.  I also thought the choreography involving the Fiddler, who interacted several times with Tevye and then again with Chava during the "Chava Sequence," was quite effective.  The stark set features bare trees and the various houses and shops of Anatevka all appear to be crooked or leaning (emphasizing the precarious nature of their lives as Jews living in Russia).  Even though I have seen Fiddler on the Roof more times that I can count, my attention never once wavered during the entire show and I was completely caught up in the emotion of the story (I had tears streaming down my face during "Sunrise, Sunset").  Trust me, you definitely don't want to miss this beloved classic!  Get your tickets here!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Beethoven Festival

For the first time in about fifteen years I missed the Utah Symphony's opening weekend last week (because of a little thing called Homecoming).  To celebrate its 75th Anniversary, the Utah Symphony opened the 2015-2016 season with a Beethoven Festival consisting of four concerts featuring all of Beethoven's symphonies.  While I missed the first two concerts, I was able to see the third one last night and I certainly enjoyed it!  The orchestra began with Symphony No. 1.  I really liked it because it reminded me a lot of Mozart who was a big influence on Beethoven during the period when this symphony was written.  I particularly enjoyed the second movement because it had a light and playful theme featuring the woodwinds and the horns.  After the intermission, the orchestra played Symphony No. 3, which is known as "Eroica."  This piece is believed to be written about Napoleon Bonaparte, who Beethoven viewed as a hero.  I think it is absolutely amazing with themes which are very dramatic and stirring.  I especially loved the second movement because I thought was highly emotional.  It was such a lovely evening, one that was very much needed!  Even though I really enjoyed watching the Utah Symphony perform in outdoor venues throughout the summer (Go here, here, and here), I was so happy to be back at Abravanel Hall and I look forward to many more wonderful evenings throughout the rest of the season.

Note:  I really need to study composition to find out what it is about the second movement that appeals to me so much in symphonies!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Maze Runner Double Feature

Last night I spent most of the evening in a darkened theater watching a double feature with a very rowdy crowd and I had so much fun!  It began with the re-release of The Maze Runner which I enjoyed even more than the first time I saw it.  Then came a screening of the sequel, The Scorch Trials.  This book is my least favorite in the trilogy (does the prequel count?).  In fact, I stopped reading it in the middle because I had a difficult time imagining what was going on.  So, once again, rather unusually, I liked the movie much more than the book because it is visually stunning!  The Scorch Trials begins exactly where The Maze Runner ends (so it was advantageous to see both movies back to back) with Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and the other Gladers being rescued by a paramilitary group led by Janson (Aidan Gillen) and taken to a subterranean bunker.  They learn that the earth has been scorched by the sun and a plague, known as the "Flare," is decimating the population.  Thomas and the others are immune to the plague which is why W.C.K.D. put them into the maze in order to study them.  Janson promises them that he will keep them safe from W.C.K.D. but Thomas grows suspicious and eventually helps the group to escape when he learns that Janson really works for them.  While on the run they must brave a hostile environment, such as dust storms and lightning storms, as well as "Cranks," those suffering from the "Flare," and rival gangs out to turn a profit as they look for a resistance group called the Right Arm hiding in the mountains.  Not a lot of plot advancement happens in this movie but it sure is entertaining to watch the characters run from one disaster to another.  As I mentioned, the special effects are amazing, especially during a chase scene with "Cranks" (who look a lot like zombies) through a toppled skyscraper!  Once again O'Brien gives a great performance as Thomas but the other characters kind of fade into the background (I was disappointed not to see more of Minho), other than Brenda (Rosa Salazar), who has some fantastic action sequences.  It has been quite a while since I read the book (and I struggled to finish it), but it seems like there are a lot of differences between it and the screenplay (the Right Arm?)  Purists might disagree but I think the changes are all for the better because I really did enjoy this adaptation more than I thought I would, definitely more than the book.  I would recommend this movie with the following provisos:  it might be better if you haven't read the book and it might be helpful if you watch The Maze Runner again before you see it.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Homecoming Dance 2015

My officers picked the theme "Into the Woods" for the Homecoming Dance at one of our very first meetings shortly after they were elected last spring and they never wavered from it.  I was pretty excited about it myself because it is one of my favorite musicals (maybe the recent movie had something to do with their choice) and I saw lots of possibilities.  Ultimately, we decided to turn the concrete columns in the Commons area into trees and we created a waterfall as a focal point (all with the help of my friend Courtney who works at Modern Display).  The decorations definitely involved the most ambitious projects I've ever taken on for a dance (I had to buy 24 bunches of curly willow special ordered from a wholesale florist, 14 cans of black spray paint, chicken wire, 10 rolls of duct tape, and LED light bulbs) but I think the effect was very dramatic!  I've been telling the students in my classes that the decorations would be spectacular if we could pull it off.  So many came up to me last night to tell me how much they liked them that I think it's safe to say that we did, indeed, pull it off!  My officers spent hours on Friday putting up all of the decorations (they took them all down in record time) and I'm so proud of their hard work and dedication.  We sold a lot of tickets throughout the week and we sold many more at the door.  I've never seen so many people at a dance before!  It was really crowded and hot and we couldn't keep the water containers filled but it seemed like everyone was having a good time.  My officers are really happy with the outcome and so am I but I am also definitely glad that Homecoming is over for another year!  Remind me to never schedule Homecoming for the third week of school!

Note:  Ninth grade boys (we have the ninth grade at HHS this year) are incredibly immature!  They were running around chasing each other and they caused several mishaps at the refreshment table.  I think they should be banned from all future dances!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Homecoming Queen

My Student Body Officers and Class Officers worked so hard this week getting ready for Homecoming.  One of their jobs was to ask clubs and organizations for nominees for Homecoming Royalty.  As usual, we had many football players, cheerleaders, drill team members, leads from the upcoming school musical, and other popular students nominated.  However, I also received a request from one of the special education teachers asking that one of his students, who is autistic, be nominated and I agreed.  At the beginning of the week one of my officers took pictures of each nominee and this girl asked if she could have her picture taken the next day because she wanted to curl her hair!  So adorable.  The student body voted each day at lunch and this teacher brought his whole class down to vote for their classmate.  By the middle of the week she had quite a few votes and then the momentum hit.  Students began campaigning for her so she ended up winning by a landslide!  It made me so proud of our student body!  Calling her mother to tell her that her daughter had won will always be one of my very favorite experiences!  Let's just say the tears were streaming!  She was crowned yesterday at the Homecoming Assembly and her whole family came to see her.  Her grandfather broke down in tears when her name was announced!
She was so excited!
I was so proud of the young man voted as King!  He made her feel so special and even bought her some pink roses.
I'm also proud of the other couples in the Homecoming Court who were so willing to let her have the spotlight.  Being Homecoming Queen is a big deal and I think these girls were very gracious!
I mentioned on Facebook that I was so proud of the students of Hunter High for electing a student with special needs and a friend from high school, who works at KUTV, saw my post.  He contacted me about having a TV crew come film the assembly.  Needless to say, my officers were very excited and Emily, the Student Body President, was even interviewed on camera.  We were able to watch the feature (go here to see it) during our student government class.  After we saw it Emily said, "All the stories before ours were all about bad things.  It was nice to see a story about something good.  There are still good things in the world."  Indeed.
The Homecoming Royalty was honored during halftime at the football game (which we won 42-14).  She was so excited to ride in the back of the truck and our King took very good care of her, telling her where to wave!

My officers have done so much work to make Homecoming a success this year (the Spirit Can was a big hit at the assembly once again) and I am very honored to work with them!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

2015-2016 Student Body Officers & Class Officers

This year I am working with the Class Officers as well as the Student Body Officers and I am loving every minute of it!  Here are some of the pictures taken by my friend Lesa at the International Peace Gardens a few weeks ago.
SBOs & Class Officers
Student Body Officers
Senior Class Officers
Junior Class Officers
Student Body Officers
Senior Class Officers
Junior Class Officers
SBOs & Class Officers

Being the student government adviser is a lot of work (we are in the middle of Homecoming and I just now picked up $343.00 worth of curly willow from a wholesale florist because my group wants to turn the dance floor into a forest and don't even get me started on the pinata) but it is also so much fun!  They make me laugh every single day!
2014-2015
2013-2014

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Labor Day Weekend 2015

Labor Day weekend is generally considered to be the end of summer and I, for one, am glad to see the end of it!  I spent the long weekend with my Mom, Dad, and sister at our favorite KOA in Fillmore and I saw signs of fall all around.  The afternoons had a golden glow, some of the leaves were starting to turn, and the nights were quite cold (observe below)!  
It was absolutely lovely to relax for a few days before my life gets crazy (it is Homecoming next weekend and I am moving the following weekend).  Even though I will be really busy for the next little while, I am really looking forward to fall, my favorite season, for lots of reasons.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

1989

I started this summer with a U2 concert in Denver and I ended it with a Taylor Swift concert last night at the Energy Solutions Arena.  Not too shabby!  I will tell you right now that this ticket was ridiculously expensive and I can't even justify the expense, like I could for Paul McCartney, because I am a relatively new fan.  My only excuse is that I love the Red album and I seriously regret not seeing that tour when it came through SLC so, in a fit of madness, I bought a ticket for the 1989 tour.  I am certainly glad that I did because the show was spectacular!  Worth every single penny!  It included pyrotechnics, backup dancers with intricate choreography, multiple wardrobe changes, a runway (which eventually elevated Taylor high above the crowd), and bracelets which lit up in sync with each song for everyone in the crowd.  The setlist included "Welcome to New York," "New Romantics," "Blank Space," a sultry version of "I Knew You Were Trouble," "I Wish You Would," "How You Get the Girl," "I Know Places," an acoustic version of "You Belong With Me," "Clean," "Love Story," "Style," "Bad Blood," a rock and roll version of "We Are Never Getting Back Together," "Enchanted/Wildest Dreams," and "Out of the Woods."  For the encore, she played "Shake It Off" which turned the ESA into a huge dance party!  My favorite moments of the evening were her light-up dress and the light-up umbrellas used by her dancers for "How You Get the Girl," her performance of "I Know Places," which is my favorite song on 1989, and her bad ass performance of "We Are Never Getting Back Together," complete with black leather catsuit and electric guitar.  I also really loved all of her inspirational messages throughout the show, especially when she said that you are not the opinion of someone who doesn't know you.  Preach it, girl!  Taylor Swift is an incredible performer and she definitely knows how to work a crowd.  She always seemed to know where the cameras were and would frequently flash a look that whipped the crowd into a frenzy!  I sang every single word and I think the woman my age sitting next to me (who was only there because her young daughter was in the crowd with her friends) thought I was crazy.  I don't care because I had such a great time and it is a night that I won't forget any time soon!  Like I said, worth every penny!

Note:  Many of my students, especially my officers, were really jealous that I was going to this concert.  When I was in high school, I couldn't imagine any of my teachers doing anything this cool!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

On Sunday night my weekend film trifecta was complete when I saw The Diary of a Teenage Girl.  In my opinion, seeing three movies in three nights is a perfect way to spend your time!  I saw Diary of a Teenage Girl at Sundance this year but I wanted to see it again because it is incredibly powerful with an astonishing performance by Bel Powley.  Minnie Goetze (Powley) is a typical teenager, who enjoys drawing comics and lives in San Francisco during the late 1970s.  Her mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) is a party girl and leaves her to her own devices most of the time and her father is not in her life.  One evening, as she is roughhousing with her mother's boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), she inadvertently gets him aroused and feels a tremendous sense of power by her ability to excite him.  She then pursues him and loses her virginity to him.  They have an on-again off-again affair because Monroe knows what they are doing is wrong but can't seem to help himself.  Minnie really enjoys her new-found sexuality and begins a relationship with a boy at school and even pretends to be a prostitute to make Monroe jealous.  When she receives a response to a fan letter from Aline Kominsky encouraging her to continue drawing comics, she realizes that she has more to offer than just her body and says goodbye to Monroe.  I love so many things about this movie!  Minnie narrates the story into a tape recorder as an audio diary so we hear everything from her perspective, including all of her teenage delusions about love, her insecurities, and her inconsistencies.  I love that no one rescues Minnie from her behavior.  She sees for herself that she is not emotionally ready for a sexual relationship and that Monroe is weak and not worthy of her.  Powley, who is in every scene, is absolutely brilliant as Minnie and her portrayal is real and honest.  I loved the 1970s rock and roll soundtrack and the art direction is fabulous (her house has a sort of Wes Anderson vibe to it).  Some people may object to the subject matter (there is a lot of sex and nudity in this movie) but Minnie's journey is ultimately so empowering, especially for girls, that I would highly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Meru

While waiting in line for screenings at Sundance I had some amazing conversations about independent film with people from all over the country.  Inevitably, I would ask them about their favorite films from the festival and, more often than not, people would mention Meru.  I didn't know anything about this documentary but when I saw a trailer for it a few weeks ago, I immediately remembered these conversations and decided that I needed to see it.  As I mentioned, I tried to see it last Friday but it sold out all day because Jimmy Chin, one of the filmmakers, was giving a Q&A after each screening.  (Now that I've seen the film, I'm a little bummed that I missed hearing him talk about it).  I tried again on Saturday night and, I'm happy to report, I was successful.  The documentary is literally breathtaking and I found the story of the climb to be not only inspiring but also extremely compelling.  Meru follows climbers Conrad Anker, Renan Ozturk, and the aforementioned Jimmy Chin as they attempt to be the first to conquer the Shark's Fin on Meru Peak near the mouth of the Ganges River in India.  Interspersed with spectacular footage of the actual climb (shot, unbelievably, by Chin and Ozturk as they climbed) are interviews with the climbers and their loved ones telling the backstory of what led each of them to attempt something so dangerous as well as narration from Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air (which I have my sophomores read), about the specifics of big-wall climbing in the Himalayas.  All three of them are fighting inner demons and are almost obsessed with conquering a peak so challenging that Krakauer says that it's not meant to be climbed.  There are moments when they are in genuine peril and I found myself holding my breath!  When asked about why climbers put their bodies through so much, Anker answers, "The view, man.  The view."  The view from my seat at the Broadway was absolutely amazing so I can only imagine what it must have been like at the top.  Do not miss this epic adventure!

Note:  Meru won the U.S. Documentary Audience Award at Sundance this year.  Good stuff!
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