Live Well: Reliving Childhood - Eleanor & Park + Boyhood

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Entirely coincidentally, I spent this past weekend stuck firmly in childhood and adolescence. On Friday night I finished reading Eleanor & Park and on Saturday we went to see Richard Linklater's Boyhood. Each is a very well-regarded work on what it means to grow up - here's my take on them:

First up, Eleanor & Park. Truth be told, I was so excited to start reading this book after hearing rave reviews from many, many sources that I trust. A well-told teenage love story pulls at the heartstrings of everyone, so I couldn't wait to dive in. However, I have to say that I found most of the book underwhelming. The story was well-written and a very authentic depiction of what your first relationship is like when you're sixteen years old, but I wouldn't describe it as a masterpiece. And after everything I'd heard about it, I don't think I could have been satisfied with anything less.

All of that being said - the end was truly touching. But much of that has to do with my own personal bias (I think). Without giving away too much, the book ends with the two main characters being separated after one has to move. The description of how intensely sad each of them were in the move's aftermath hit too close to home for me - I cried myself to sleep after finishing the book just reliving what it was like when my now-husband (then-middle school boyfriend) moved away before eighth grade. Again, I think Rainbow Rowell did a great job conveying what those emotions feel like when you're that age and dealing with those changes...but I don't think I came away with a better understanding of life and love because of the book. And that deeper understanding is what I was hoping for.

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Luckily, a better understanding of life and love is exactly what Boyhood delivered. I know having a favorite director is probably the most pretentious thing on the face of the planet, but I don't care - Richard Linklater is my favorite director, and I will see everything he makes for the rest of his life. Y'all - Boyhood was spectacular. Run, don't walk, to go see it.

For those of you who haven't heard about it yet, over the course of twelve years Richard Linklater got the same group of actors together for two weeks every year to film a story about a boy growing up. Ellar Coltrane, the star, starts out as a six-year-old, and the movie progresses until he leaves for college. We watch Ellar, his sister (Lorelai Linklater, Richard Linklater's daughter), and his parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) age in a time-lapse fashion - the characters get older, people come in and out of their lives, they make mistakes, they try their best, they're real people. The experience is something I can barely describe - you really have to see it for yourself.

This movie will be enjoyable for anyone who grew up during the 2000s, but it will be particularly enjoyable for everyone who, like me, grew up in Houston in the 2000s. Almost their entire childhood is filmed in Houston, which led to my husband and I whispering excitedly in the theater every time they showed a different Houston location. I would argue that the movie is even better than home movies for transporting you back in time - the music, the scenery, the props - for a few minutes, you are truly living in a year gone by, and each time it feels so good.

I could go on endlessly about my admiration of this movie, but I'm going to cut it off here. I hope you don't need more convincing that this movie is worth your time, money, and brain space - if nothing else, I can tell you that you won't see anything like it ever again (with the possible exception of the Before movies - another Linklater masterpiece).

Have a spectacular day, everyone.

Live Well: All About Oscar

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Friends, you are lucky enough to know someone who has seen all nine of the 2014 Best Picture nominees (hint: it's me). In the lead-up to Sunday's highly-anticipated Oscar ceremony, I thought I would provide you with a few opinions about this year's nominees, just in case you haven't seen any of these movies but want to seem knowledgeable during Academy Award conversations (that's what I'm here for!). So, I present to you: four random things I want to say about this year's Oscars.

1. If you only watch two movies.....

I would recommend that they be Her and Dallas Buyer's Club. Don't get me wrong - all nine of these movies are very good. But for me, Her and DBC transcended "good" and made impacts on my brain that will still be there ten years from now, albeit for very different reasons.

With Dallas Buyer's Club, I left the theater thinking "I would like to see that movie again." Not only did DBC get Texas so right (it took me a few minutes after it ended for me to remember that I was in San Francisco and not in Houston - true story) but it's a wonderful, stirring example that hard work, perseverance, and plenty of charisma can get you a lot of places in life. I just loved it.

Her was almost on the opposite side of the spectrum - it left me with a bone-level deep kind of sadness. Maybe that doesn't make you want to run out and see it, but bear with me - in the end, I don't think it had a thoroughly pessimistic view of humanity. Her is a movie that tests the boundaries of human relationships so thoroughly and so enjoyably that you will not be able to stop thinking about it for days. Add to that its absolutely gorgeous aesthetic, amazing soundtrack, and spot-on humor and you have what can only be called a masterpiece. Seriously, you need to watch it.

2. Make it the year of Matthew McConaughey.

Alright, alright, alright.

It's been interesting to see the reaction to Matthew McConaughey's nomination for Best Actor. For many, I would imagine that it seemed laughable that the guy who once melted hearts in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days would even be considered for an acting award. However, for those of us who have been following his work over the past few years, this seems immensely well-deserved.

Starting in 2011, Matthew McConaughey started appearing in or at the helm of every good movie made about Texas or the South. BernieMudMagic Mike, and finally Dallas Buyer's Club all painted pictures of a way of living that rings true in the hearts of all Texan and Southern children (and stirred deep homesickness in the hearts of certain Texan expats - not naming names). And he's done even more work in this realm - Killer JoeThe Paperboy, and True Detective all fall in the same category. What McConaughey was once to romantic comedies, he is now to movies about the Southern experience - and he's somehow made every character an entity all to themselves. To see him win that Oscar would, for me, be a the best reward for watching him return to his roots - by which I mean movies like Dazed and Confused, obviously.

3. It's all about the boys.

Take a look at those movie posters. Do you see a lot of women? You know the answer. This year's Best Picture nominees largely told the stories of men - something I find interesting (and undoubtedly worthy of far more analysis). But now is not the time for that analysis - I just think it's worth noting that only two of the nine Best Picture nominees were about a central female character (Gravity and Philomena) which means that basically every woman that appeared in a major role in the nine films above received an acting nomination (not including Margot Robbie, who played the second wife in Wolf of Wall Street [a role that wasn't exactly Oscar-worthy] or Scarlett Johansson who played the voice of the operating system in Her [and it's a total shame that there isn't a great award for that]).

Contrast that with the intense competition in the Actor categories - I mean, we're living in a world where Tom Hanks and Joaquin Phoenix didn't even get nominated. A world where Christian Bale is expected to have zero shot at winning in his category. That's craziness. While I enjoyed all of these movies, I can't help but hope that more movies about women are made, recognized, and rewarded next year.

4. And after it's all over...

Before Midnight will still maintain it's special place in my heart. It was one of only two movies that weren't nominated for Best Picture to be nominated for Best Screenplay (Blue Jasmine is the other), an honor that is 100% deserved. I don't think the Academy Awards have rewarded Before Midnight and the body of work it's a part of enough, but whatever. That trilogy doesn't need awards to cement itself in hearts and minds.

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Did you guys watch these movies? If so, what did you think? I'd love to hear what you loved, what you hated, and what you think will win.

Have a great day!

Live Well: My Favorite Things of 2013

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At first, I was just planning on writing a post today about a good book I read recently. But then I realized that it's December 31st, a date that demands we reflect on the previous 364 days. (Telling you guys about Untouchable can happen later.)

Since I've done enough reflecting on my own blog already this year (here and here), I thought it would be more productive to reflect on my favorite bits of pop culture that I consumed this year. That way maybe you guys can enjoy a few of the things that made 2013 so special for me!

So, without further ado, here's the list:

Favorite book I read: The Razor's Edge

Favorite movie I saw: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight (with an honorable mention to Dallas Buyer's Club for being amazing)

Favorite TV show I watched: Orange is the New Black (sorry, Breaking Bad)

And finally, because for me food and entertainment are inextricably linked:

Favorite meal I ate (after eliminating The French Laundry from the running because, well, that's just not fair): Our two meals at Rich Table (with honorable mentions to Flour & Water, AQ (Spring, not Summer), State Bird Provisions, and Sushi Ran).

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You'll have to let me know - what are your favorite things of what you read, watched, and ate in 2013? I can only hope that you had as much fun as I did.

Have a wonderful new year's - see you in 2014!

Live Well: Before Obsession

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"Before Obsession" doesn't accurately describe my current state of being in reference to the three wonderful Before movies. As I mentioned in Monday's post, this past weekend my husband and I watched Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight in quick succession. I heard about these movies on Pop Culture Happy Hour (yet another fantastic recommendation!) and they sounded right up my alley. First off, they're written and directed by Richard Linklater, who made some of my absolute favorite movies including Dazed and ConfusedSchool of Rock, and Bernie. Secondly, the Before movies chronicle the love (and challenges facing that love) of Jesse and Céline, and you KNOW star-crossed lovers are pretty much my favorite subject ever (remember this post?). 

My favorite thing about these movies, though, is the extent to which they reflect my own experience with falling in love. I'll get to why that is, but first a quick rundown of the Before plot:

In Before Sunrise, Jesse and Céline meet on a train. They're 23. He's from America, traveling around Europe, and she's from Paris. After talking for awhile, Jesse convinces Céline to get off the train with him in Vienna. He was planning on walking around the city all night because he doesn't have enough money for a hotel room and has to catch a plane back to the U.S. the next morning. He tells Céline it will be more fun if she's there. As you can imagine, love ensues.

Not to give too much away, Before Sunset features Jesse and Céline nine years later. They haven't seen each other since the night in Vienna. In Before Midnight, another nine years have passed, and the two are together with twin daughters.

The most incredible thing about these movies is that they are 95% conversation. The first two movies consist almost exclusively of Jesse and Céline walking around Vienna and Paris, talking to each other. There are no hallmarks of typical romantic movies - no dance scenes, no protracted love scenes, no costume changes, not even conversations with other characters. It's literally just them, talking. This might sound boring, but if you've ever fallen in love, met "that" person, you know just how true-to-life this portrayal is. I met my husband when we were 19 years old. We had just finished our freshman years of college, and we were both at a house party where we were the only ones not drinking. We'd known each other as children - that got the conversation started - but after that first acknowledgment of our shared past, we spent the next few days talking nonstop about everything and nothing in particular.

I think Before Sunrise rings so true for me because the first couple nights we knew each other, my husband and I sat up every night until 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning, discussing family, college, life philosophy, favorite memories, anything. We never ran out of things to say, and we never wanted to stop or pause the conversation. That's the experience that's portrayed in all three of the Before movies, and those are the memories I love recalling. But the movies inspire more than recalling memories - because everything is so genuine, it feels like you're living that experience again. You laugh, you hope, you ache with them. It's an incredible story in an incredible movie and I just can't get enough.

And just like Jesse and Céline, my husband and I faced near-impossible circumstances: he went to Stanford, I went to Rice. His family lived in Austin, my family lived in Houston. We hadn't even started our sophomore years of college yet, so we were looking down the barrel of at least three years apart. Minimum. When you're 19 and you're slowly realizing that you found the love of your life, that is a very hard situation to swallow. But, unlike Jesse and Céline, we made it work. In the movie, they discuss how they don't want to try to force a long-distance relationship to work, because the relationship will inevitably fizzle and die. I had the exact same reaction in the beginning - I didn't think we should be exclusive, and I told him that he shouldn't feel like he had to call me. But, surprising both him and myself, I called him the first night he was back in Austin and we called each other every single night from there on out. We made the relationship happen. The fact that we persevered through that at such a young age will always be my proudest achievement.

My husband and I were boyfriend and girlfriend in middle school. Everyone thinks that that's the single most incredible part of our story, and I often agree. But after watching the Before movies, I'm reminded that the truly remarkable part of our story is that we met by chance, and stayed together by force. Beyond meeting, love is not something best left up to the ways of the universe - you have to chase it, twist it, wrestle it to the ground. Our relationship never would have happened if my husband hadn't insisted on walking me home that first night. Our relationship never would have happened if he hadn't asked me out to dinner at the end of that walk. And it never would have happened if I hadn't picked up the phone and called him because I missed him terribly the first night he was back in Austin. By all means, leave finding someone else up to chance. But once you do, don't let them get away. Before Sunset is the best warning tale on that I've ever seen.

I hope this hasn't been too sappy, too rambling, too boring. These days, I feel like so much of who I am is shaped by the experience of meeting and pursuing things with my husband. If you don't know my story, I feel like you don't know me. So, to all of my wonderful readers - this is who I am. Love is the most important thing in my life, full-stop. I relive the heady memories of falling in love over and over again, and I will never tire of watching the Before movies for that exact reason. I can only hope that you'll enjoy them as much as I did.

See you back here tomorrow - have a great day!