The Visitor and Little Bee

Two of the most powerful stories that I recently encountered were stories about immigrants and refugees. One was in a film and the other was a novel, but both left a strong impression on me.

In the film, The Visitor, a widowed, burnt-out professor in Connecticut, Walter Vale, (played to perfection by Richard Jenkins, who garnered a Best Actor nomination for the role) travels to New York for a conference and finds two strangers in his Manhattan apartment. Someone rented his apartment to this young couple, and when Walter enters at night he is accosted by the young man, Tarek, (Haaz Sleiman) who believes Walter is breaking in. When Walter lets Tarek and his girlfriend Zainab stay until they find a new place, their lives become intertwined in ways they never would have expected. Walter forges an unlikely friendship with Tarek, and his secret love of music flourishes. Walter learns that Tarek, who fled Syria with his mother, and Zainab, who fled Sengal, are both illegal and fear deportation. The more he gets to know Tarek, the more he cares about his fate, and it is this growing compassion that grounds the film.

Directed by Tom McCarthy, who also directed The Station Agent, another understated, charming independent film, The Visitor feels like a short story. It is riveting, artful, restrained—and over too quickly. Its strengths are the subtlety in its storytelling, and its clean focus on the characters and their relationships. There is no happy ending here, but Continue reading “The Visitor and Little Bee”

Long Way Round and Down

Do you like learning about the world? Do you like motorcycles? Do you think that Ewan McGregor is easy on the eyes? If you have answered yes to any or all of those questions, then keep reading.

In 2004, actor Ewan McGregor, who some may know from Trainspotting, the Star Wars prequels, or Moulin Rouge!, and his good friend, actor Charley Boorman, decided to ride around the world on motorcycles. Starting in London, their journey took them through France, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia, Alaska, Canada before arriving 115 days later at their final destination, New York City.

 Ewan and Charley met on the set of a film and have been friends ever since. Their obvious love and care for one another, their kind-hearted ribbing and enthusiasm for meeting new people and seeing new things make Ewan and Charley the most congenial of hosts. You will truly want to follow them anywhere.

Ewan and Charley also made their dream of riding around the world on motorbikes into much more, by becoming involved with UNICEF. They visit orphanages and rehabilitation centers at many points along the way, and you learn about the wonderful work UNICEF is doing for children and families.

Watching Long Way Round, you almost feel as though you are on the adventure with Ewan and Charley, hitting the tarmac or the remote, rocky roads with them. I used to love the show Amazing Race, when it was still about seeing different countries and learning about different cultures. This has the same adrenaline, the same fun and excitement, but you get a much richer portrait of the places visited (of course!) than on a reality show. However, you will notice that Ewan and Charley are not proper travel documentary hosts, in the sense that they don’t know the names of all of the animals or flora and fauna; in other words, it’s no David Attenborough. But the hosts’ lack of encyclopedic knowledge just makes them all the endearing.

If you enjoy Long Way Down, you will be able to follow Ewan and Charley on another amazing trip. In 2007, they rode from Scotland down through the continent of Africa, ending at Capetown. You’ll get to see Libya, which doesn’t allow American tourists, and learn about the great continent of Africa, visit the gorillas in the mist in Rwanda, see wild zebra and elephant and meet a lot of interesting people along the way. The view that you get of Africa is breathtaking. As a result, my husband and I are now daydreaming about how to go there someday.

So check out Long Way Round and Long Way Down on DVD, or check out the accompanying books Long Way Round: Chasing Shadows Across the World and Long Way Down: An Epic Journey by Motorcycle from Scotland to South Africa by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman for some fantastic world travel.

From the Page to the Screen: Revolutionary Road

Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road is a novel that has been lauded by critics and adored by other writers, but it has not garnered the same attention it deserves from readers. Sure, readers keep discovering Yates, but he doesn’t get the same kind of name recognition as other American writers like John Updike and John Cheever. But finally a film production of Revolutionary Road will be hitting the big screen this December, and it’s already generating Oscar buzz.

Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in their first film together since their blockbuster turn in Titanic, Revolutionary Road the film will delve viewers into Yates’ view of 1950s American suburbia: a veritable wasteland where broken dreams are marked with paving stones. Leo and Kate play Frank and April Wheeler, a young couple with two children who yearn for life beyond the confines of their quaint Continue reading “From the Page to the Screen: Revolutionary Road”

Parenting in the Wired Age

Parents today have so many networks and resources available to them. It can be daunting, but it can also be reassuring.

There are so many decisions to make, so many styles to choose from. Do you breastfeed or bottle-feed, or both? What bottles should you use? Cloth or disposable? Co-sleeping or crib? Those first months as a new parent can be so overwhelming. What helped me? Books and blogs.

Reading about how other parents made the decisions they made, how they prepared for birth, grew into their mother or father roles, and what informed their choices around parenting helped me not feel so overwhelmed or alone.

But one thing that I didn’t expect as a new parent was Continue reading “Parenting in the Wired Age”

Too Much Coffee & Lots of Books: Missing the Gilmore Girls

The Fall 2008 TV season has begun, and while there are many new and returning shows that look interesting, all I can think of is how much I miss The Gilmore Girls.

Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, the show centered around the mother-daughter duo of Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and her namesake daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel) in the fictitious Stars Hollow, Connecticut, and ran for seven seasons (2000-2007).  The writing was witty and densely packed with one-liners and countless pop culture and literary references.  Stars Hollow was an idyllic hamlet filled with off-beat, quirky characters that could be charming and exasperating in equal measure. The dialogue was quick and, at times, as biting and razor-sharp as the old screwball comedies of the ’30s.  But the heart of The Gilmore Girls was the relationship between Lorelai, a stylish and scrappy single-mom, and her brainy, bookish daughter, Rory. Much depth and angst was provided by the true Gilmore matriarch, Lorelei’s wealthy, imperial mother, Emily (Kelly Bishop). The acting of Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel and Kelly Bishop was also consistently overlooked (Entertainment Weekly often said they were outright snubbed) when the Golden Globes came around, which is Continue reading “Too Much Coffee & Lots of Books: Missing the Gilmore Girls”