Kit Kittredge

We are not in a Depression. Not even close. We are simply, possibly on the verge of one. Keeping that in mind, you may want to consider giving your kids a lesson in spunk, to prepare them for riding the rails and selling apples on street corners.

To that end, I highly recommend the movie Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, which will be coming out on DVD on October 29th. This is a surprisingly nuanced movie. In keeping with the mission of the American Girl dolls, it goes to great lengths to be historically informative in an accurate and sensitive way. We get terrific glimpses of everyday life during the Depression: how people shopped and dressed and made dinner. Most importantly, for kids, are the complex portrayals of what it felt like to be a kid back then, with the fear of losing everything hanging over your head. The kids whose families have slid from respectability are mocked by some of their better-off classmates, and those with no family at all live their lives in the shadows, at the mercy of the kindness of strangers.

Kit begins the movie as a girl who is kind to those less fortunate, but terrified of becoming one of them. When her father's business collapses, and he has to leave town to find work, she is realistically mortified that she is going to become one of those kids that she used to pity. Abigail Breslin, who was so brilliant in Little Miss Sunshine, is really wonderful in this. She has said in interviews that she is a big fan of American Girl dolls, and that comes through in the heart, depth and intelligence that she brings to the role. Kit's spunk is real and earned after pushing through dark and troubled feelings.

The care and craft that went into this film is clear. The cast is terrific, and the script nicely balances information and emotion with some zaniness to keep the kids' attention. The visuals are lovely without a sepia-toned romanticism. All-in-all, it made me hope that my daughter will become interested in the American Girl dolls, so I can play with them with her, and continue to see the movies.

The timeliness of the film is, as mentioned, a side benefit. With luck, you can use this film to open up discussions on money, class, markets and how historical events can suddenly scoop us up like tornadoes, then drop us into a changed and challenging world.

How have you discussed our recent economic events with your kids? Have the volatile markets affecting you, and how are you coping with that?

Hulu? You do!

It is lucky that Huxtabled's Diana Fisher and I live less than a mile from each other and can arm wrestle periodically, because the line between television and movies continues to blur. If I watch Slap Shot on a television through free On Demand, per Diana's recommendation, am I watching TV? A movie? Both? Has this question taken on the dimensions of a Zen koen at this point?

The internet has further complicated things. My daughter watches both Enchanted and the Mary Tyler Moore Show on my laptop and doesn't quite grasp why we old folks call one a movie, and the other a TV show.

All of this is merely an attempt to prevent a beat down from Diana for discussing how thrilled I am that the Dick Van Dyke Show is available for free on Hulu (which I first heard about from G. Xavier Robillard, but let's not bring him into this).

I love the Dick Van Dyke Show. No, that's not strong enough. I have been obsessed with the Dick Van Dyke Show to varying degrees for years. By all rights, I should have a Doctorate in the Dick Van Dyke Show at this point. My entire thesis could be written about the episode "My Mother Can Beat Up My Father" in which Laura uses Judo to defend Rob, who's been knocked out cold. When Rob says it's not that he wants to beat up his wife, it's that he wants to know that he could, he brilliantly encapsulated the gender anxieties of his times, of all times. This is neither the time nor the place, but one day I will write out my theory that Mad Men is the Dick Van Dyke Show as drama.

At the moment, Hulu only has season 1 online, so you can't see this episode, or the racial-barrier breaking That's My Boy?? [UPDATE: BOTH EPISODES NOW ONLINE AT HULU!!! - 12/15/2010] (the first middle-class black people on television, drinking coffee with Rob and Laura in their home, sitting on their couch!). But you get the amazing Punch Thy Neighbor, Sally is a Girl, and the first episode with flashbacks to the army camp where they met, Oh How We Met the Night That We Danced. And, of course, there's the classic episode about parental guilt: The Sick Boy and the Sitter.

You also get the all-time classic Where Did I Come From? in which Dick Van Dyke gets to really work his brilliant physical comedy technique. The business with the hat is hilarious.

And what is Hulu? With a very simple web 2.0 format, Hulu gives you access to a bunch of TV shows and movies for free with "limited commercial interruption". The library is small but satisfying. Besides the Dick Van Dyke Show, they have Bob Newhart, Saturday Night Live sketches, Kojak, and lots of other comfort fare, along with a wide swath of current network shows. It's fantastic. Just last night, I watched the Bob Newhart episode A Love Story, in which Howard falls in love with Karen Finley's mother. Bill Daily was a genius.

What will you do on Hulu?

Casino Royale

I'm watching Casino Royale on Showtime and there's this great parkour chase toward the beginning. Bond is chasing some guy through Madacascar, first to a building under construction, then up scaffolding, from beam to beam, picking people off as necessary. These are crazy things you shouldn't watch if you suffer from vertigo in any way.

Daniel Craig is icy and British and hunky, and the other guy is scarred and up to no good. I have no idea why he's being chased or what Bond is up to, and even if I find out later what's going on I'll never remember, just like I don't remember the plot line of any Bond movie I've ever seen, aside from there being some mean guy bent on world domination, and any number of choice birds who can't resist Bond and may or may not be trying to kill him. Bond movies are all about chase scenes and making out.

We know this.

What I can't get past is the vast number of henchmen, local cops and innocent bystanders who are slaughtered in all the excitement. We always see them get picked off, and they usually get a certain look of surprise as they fly backwards. We don't see them fall; we've already moved on. We stick with 007.

That is, we're supposed to stick with 007, but since I was kid I have always gotten caught in that look of surprise they get. What's that last thought that they're having? Are they regretting their career choice, remembering their poor mother who had always urged them to go back to college? Are they thinking they should have gone ahead and had that second helping of cheesecake?

What of the extras playing these parts? Are they given a demonstration, is there a coach: "Mouth open a little more, and I need a little more confusion in the eyes, and regret. Remember, your mother wanted you to be a pianist. Good! Now you've got it. And... fly back!"

When is there going to be a movie about these poor suckers? Somebody get Tom Stoppard on the horn!

The Bank Job

The Bank Job was not the movie we intended to see. Diana and I had every intention of seeing Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, because, as you all know by now, I really, really love Amy Adams. At the ticket counter, however, we discover that Miss Pettigrew is not playing. Crap. We scan the list of movies. They all look horrible, except the Bank Job. I have some glimmer of a memory that it was supposed to be good. It has a later starting time, so after we buy tickets, mine at a student rate, and Diana gets her parking validated, we run across to Starbucks for a quick chat. Diana has brought chocolate with her, so we just need beverages. Eating outside chocolate at a Starbucks table feels like a mini-heist, especially after getting two bucks off on my movie ticket. We feel like bandits. We stride back into the movie theater all cocky so, after a quick pee break, we take seats at the front of the second section, to stretch out our legs, like small-time hoods might.

The movie is perfect for our mood. It's clever and British with plot twists and small bursts of violence. There's plenty of T&A and cynicism about humanity. Almost everyone is crooked and slowly converging onto one spot at Paddington Station, landed gentry and Soho porn kings all thrown together in sordid corruption. It's fantastic! Everyone you've ever seen on Masterpiece Theater and Mystery is there calling each other buggers and wankers and ordering chicken and chips. Rumpold of the Bailey commits unspeakable acts, and at a climactic moment a compromised character responds to staggeringly terrible news with a clipped, Oxbridgian "Oh, dear." Heaven!

The performances are earthbound and complex, showing real stuff going on underneath what could be trite stock characters. Motivations are at once both clear and bent, and we see the way hearts are pulled the way they are pulled no matter what we do. It's an underlying theme that rings very true.

That this is based on a true story makes it even more fabulous. It is truly gripping, and I was on the actual edge of my seat several times. Then again, I am a sucker for British quasi-political thrillers. With the historic setting, this really feels like one of those 70's movies like the French Connection, but mixed with witty British skepticism.

Diana and I had a great time. Check it out, if you get the chance.

101 Dalmatians

Cruella DeVille is a great villain. When I was an earnest freshman at my first college, in Iowa, I went by myself to see 101 Dalmatians at the town's one screen theater. A couple of rows in front of me was an upperclassman who I recognized as being one of the prominent out gay men at the school. When Cruella came on the screen, he began to laugh archly and applaud pointedly. Throughout the show, it became increasingly clear to me that she was his favorite part of the whole movie.

Now, I grew up with a lot of gay men, and yet I had somehow missed out on Camp. Perhaps campy humor had been going on around me for years, but like the sweet smoky smell from my mother's parties in the 70's, I didn't clue in to what it was until I went to college.

My daughter, on the other hand, seems to understand it instinctively. For weeks before I recieved the DVD, she was telling people how excited she was to see "Dwu-ella DeVille," the mean lady who wanted to make puppies into coats. And then when she finally did see her for the first time, and I asked her opinion, she said "She seems nice."

As the movie progressed, she admitted that Cruella really was very mean, but I could tell that she enjoyed the villainess more than she did the puppies. That's my kid for you.

It's a beautifully drawn movie in that cool, early 60's way, especially in the beginning shots of the city. There's a square hipness to their neighborhood, complete with the resident beatnik artist and her doppleganger dog.
My daughter is 3-and-a-half, and got a little shifty in the middle part, when the dogs were doing their barking communication chain. It was a little over her head. But, the cool car chase and, of course, more Cruella made up for the brief lull. The puppies are adorable; that goes without saying. There's a brief shot of the puppies in the back of a truck that made my daughter and I both a little giddy and giggly with the cuteness.

Oh, yes, and there's smoking! Cruella smokes, using a long cigarette holder, naturally. The smoke is green and choking and nifty to watch. Because of this, there is an anti-smoking ad before the movie starts. Why not an anti-fur ad? Surely PETA could have drawn up something involving Cruella's pubic grooming!
It's a film well worth showing the kids. It's not my favorite Disney, but it's very good. Cruella really is fun to watch. Heck, watch it with a bunch of gay men and swig cocktails. Smoke cigarettes out of long holders. Make a night of it. Do a double feature with Sunset Boulevard.

The world was such a wholesome place until Cruella, Cruella de Ville!
The two-disc Platinum Edition DVD of 101 Dalmatians is available now, for the first time this decade, for a limited time only.

Gone Baby Gone

I avoided seeing Gone Baby Gone. I can't see things about children being hurt or killed or anything anymore. I don't even like to see headlines about it. However, Disney was kind enough to send me an advanced copy of the DVD this weekend, with the request that I review the movie. So, I watched it. On DVD. At home. This is hard for me. I had to wait until my daughter was asleep so I could properly focus. Then I had do do some dishes, and tidy a little. Finally, I sat down to watch with a cup of tea. My daughter was coughing in the next room, and after five minutes I had to pause the movie to bring her some milk. She sounded terrible. I got her tucked in, and headed back out to the couch and started to watch again, although I was still half-listening for coughing. After some time passed, I got caught up in the movie.

This is a very interesting movie. At its base, it is a hard-boiled detective movie, with true twists and turns. It also is dark, with really rotten characters. Dennis Lehane has set up another morality play, like Mystic River, in which right and wrong flip around on each other, slippery like fish just pulled from the water. Patrick (Casey Affleck) quotes his priest, who gave him this scripture when he asked about getting to heaven when surrounded with so much evil in the world: followers of the Lord are sheep among wolves, and must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. He sees Amanda McCready as a sheep among wolves, and then tries to strike his balance between serpent and dove. His associate and girlfriend, Angie (Michelle Monaghan), doesn't want to get involved for the same reason I didn't watch the movie: she is scared of what she might see.

The balancing act between the Church's notion of good and evil and the day-to-day reality of slippery fish is blown apart in a climax in which Patrick has to make a terrible choice. He makes the wrong right choice, and we watch him do it knowing how wrong he is. Or is he? It's hard to keep hold of what's right.

The praise heaped on this film was not undeserved. Ben Affleck really did do a wonderful job of directing what must have been a difficult film to make, in many ways. He has proved again that he has a gift for capturing his hometown. I had heard complaints from some that the characters were extreme with unrealistic accents, but I was born and raised in Boston, and I didn't find that to be the case. These characters were familiar to me; stylized, but familiar. When we first meet Amanda's mother, Helene (Amy Ryan), her friend Dotty (Jill Quigg), slumping next to her on the couch says to Angie that she remembers her from high school and can see that she's "still a little bit conceited.""Conceited" is just one of those Boston words. I was taken right back to sixth grade when Dotty said that. I would swear that Dotty was two years ahead of me at school, and once told me that I was conceited too, in exactly that nasty tone. And Helene was standing next to her, snapping her gum and laughing.

Helene is a nasty human being and a truly loathsome mother. She is so neglectful and thoughtlessly cruel that it's a laugh line when she says "It's hard bein' a mother." We know that it's just something she's heard about. She has enough junky self-pity to get worked up when it hits her that she may be responsible for what has happened to her child, but she bounces back quickly. There is great poignancy in Patrick's search for a glimmer of maternal feeling in Helene. I won't spoil the ending by letting you know if he ever finds it.

This movie didn't get to me like I thought it would. With all the twists and turns, it was hard for me to get really emotionally involved. There is one pretty disturbing scene, but the rest was more of a thrill ride, aside from the deep weighing of morals involved. If anything, I was left feeling that my child was in little danger of kidnapping because I am nowhere near as crappy a mother as Helene. The coughing had long since stopped by the end of the film, so I went into my daughter's room only to hug her and pull the covers up. Maybe the film compelled me to do that, but I probably would have anyway. I'm no Helene.


The movie Juno, as most of you know by now, tells the story of a high school girl who gets pregnant and has to decide what to do about it. She is headstrong and independent and on her own finds a couple to adopt the child in the Penny Saver, after a discouraging flirtation with abortion.

Juno's abortion clinic scene is controversial, and in the controversy I have noticed a generational split. My mother was pissed about it, and a friend of the family said that movies like this and Knocked Up were "playing into the hands of the right wing." Maybe. But, as I explained to this friend of the family, these movies were made by people in my generation, who, as children, were cannon fodder in the culture wars of the 70's. We were the casualties of the perfect storm created by the twin risings of the sexual revolution and second wave feminism. Mom was reading Betty Friedan while Dad checked out Penthouse, and at some point one of them needed to find themselves and/or get laid. The next thing we knew, we were sitting down for a talk about how Mommy and Daddy still loved us, and still cared about each other, but they were going to be living in different places now. Thirty years later, we're making movies like Knocked Up and Juno, if not The Squid and The Whale. Can you blame us?

The story is artfully told through Juno's eyes. My opinions of the characters changed with Juno's opinions. I laughed along as she derided her step-mother's career as a nail-technician, then grew to see how amazing her step-mother is, and how fierce, as does Juno. She goes from an adolescent belief that she knows exactly how everything works, to a surprised discovery of the true order of things: the "cool" people are rarely the ones you can count on when you do something stupid. Those lame people who plug away at their dumb jobs and plan for the future and talk about boring things are the ones who tend to be ready to throw down when things don't work out as planned. Juno's journey reminds us of that timeless truth.

Diablo Cody's narrative choice makes this movie difficult in the way that Huckleberry Finn is difficult. When Juno enters the abortion clinic, early in the movie, we get her take on the set up. The receptionist is a detached and nasty young hipster chick who treats Juno as an inconvenient interruption in her day. There is no support, no sisterhood, no guidance. I had to laugh, because I've had an abortion, and the receptionist at the Planned Parenthood was kind of like that. But I was older than Juno, and I knew the context: when you enter a women's clinic that performs abortions, you are entering a war zone. There are metal detectors, security procedures. I desperately wanted my partner in there with me during the procedure, or at least in the recovery room, but he wasn't allowed past the waiting room. Nobody was. We recovered and mourned alone, in a strange reverse image of a birthing celebration.

But I understood. This clinic was within two miles of the clinics whose friendly receptionists were shot and killed in 1994. Visitors rarely come to the receptionist first at a clinic anymore, they see the security guard, but a person has to be pretty stoical to sit there behind that reception desk these days. It's on the front lines in a protracted battle, and I knew that and could deal with it. When the doctor asked if I would allow residents to observe the procedure, I said yes, reminding myself that this moment in time was part of something larger, even though every bone in my body said no.

Juno doesn't know what I knew. She's a kid. She's still thinking she can do it all alone, just deal with the whole thing and move on. The clinic will be just another stop in her travels around the neighborhood. But when her schoolmate tells her that the tiny thing growing inside her has fingernails, it's like she stuck a knife in one of those Pilsbury biscuit packages: Juno's hard shell is ruptured, the soft, gooey stuff is pushing out through the seams. She enters the clinic in that state, and it bowls her over. She has no defenses against that tough, sad place; and I have no trouble believing that a clinic in her little town would be tougher and sadder than the clinic in my urban, liberal enclave.

Not that the rupture lasts for long, and I did have a little trouble buying Juno's character. She seemed like a bit of a fantasy to me, like an updated version of Jodi Foster in the Bad News Bears. I saw this film with the lovely and talented Diana Fisher, and as women who've given birth we both felt incredulous that Juno's would have such a lack of connection to what was going on inside her. And, despite the rave reviews, neither of us were terribly impressed by Ellen Page. As Diana put it "I felt like I was watching Ellen Page act the whole time." The truly brilliant performances in this were Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, who were so wonderfully subtle in their transformations, and Allison Janney, whose stepmother was the most grounded and complex of all the characters. Diana and I both found the father's character to be a bit unbelievable. Could he really be that detached about never seeing his grandchild again? There was some piece missing there, and it nagged at us. I did love him in the meetings with the adoptive couple, so clearly loving his daughter while guiding her through this difficult situation and wanting to throttle her and hug her at the same time.

If it is all through Juno's eyes, it would explain the missing pieces. Her father wouldn't burden her with his sadness, so she doesn't know about it. In her telling of the story, she might downplay any emotional connection she was developing with he baby growing inside her. Or maybe Diana and I just didn't get it. My mother was adopted, and when I was pregnant I thought a lot about my biological grandmother and how it must be to carry a baby to term knowing that you're going to give it up. Do you have to lock up those tender feelings in a little box until it's all over? I become sad to my very core thinking about it. It's something I chose not to do.

While writing this piece, I saw a friend read from his book on the Magdalen laundries in Ireland. I was reminded that it was not very long ago that a woman pregnant out of "wedlock" (an appropriate word for what the institution of marriage was for women at one point) was doomed to at best a life of shamed secrecy or, in many societies, a life of institutionalized isolation. Upon discovery of her fallen state, institutions would take over and determine the outcome. The most striking aspect of Juno - and its companion piece, Knocked Up - is that there is never any question that the pregnant woman gets to decide her own path. We may not like their choices as an audience, but we can not dispute that they make the choices themselves. The societal shift is astounding.

I liked Juno. It had its problems. When it was over, Diana and I found that we both wanted to prevent our daughters from seeing it until they were long past adolescence. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. Is it the best of the five best picture nominees? I don't know yet. I'll keep you posted.

Age Appropriate?

A. O. Scott has an interesting piece in the NY Times today about taking kids to films that may not be "age appropriate." You can read it for yourself:

Take the Kids, and Don’t Feel Guilty

My husband and I have only taken our three-year-old daughter to see three movies in the theater: Enchanted, Ratatouille, and Mr. Bean's Holiday, all of them proper for her age group. At home, however, she has seen many things that might not be considered children's fare. She and my husband have watched The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly multiple times, and she loved Sleeper when she and I watched it together, although I had to draw the line at her request for a picture of Woody Allen in her room. What would people say?

Monster movies are standard father-daughter fare in our household, which made me nervous at first, but which doesn't seem to affect her adversely at all, except that she enjoys pretending to be a monster. She also makes up some pretty amazing monster stories. She might just be a weird kid, though. About a year and a half ago, I took her to Bugaboo Creek. The talking moose made her cry, but the minute he stopped talking she'd say "Please, more!" Like her father, she seems to enjoy the adrenaline rush of being scared.

In our home, then, we are fairly liberal with what we'll let her watch. I am more censoring than her father, but we generally agree. Where I part ways with A. O. Scott is on the promotion of taking children to age-inappropriate movies in the theater, and this is for purely selfish, grow-up reasons.

I saw Amistad in a theater. Directly behind me was a rather upscale family; in my memory's eye the father was dressed in a tux, although I think I'm exaggerating in retrospect. At any rate, they were extremely well turned out. Between the mother and father sat two little girls, probably around 6 and 8. The girls asked a million questions, and the parents answered them all, in great detail. Intricate explanations of the Atlantic slave trade and racism and the American Revolution were given in patient and thoughtful tones. Perhaps this is what they did when they were home in their media room, sharing an edifying family experience while cook tidied up from supper. I did not find the experience edifying. When I would turn to glare, the father would give me a little shrug with a "Gosh, I'm sorry my adorable children have so many precocious questions" smile. In the end, I moved forward several rows, but spent the rest of the movie seething.

Perhaps A. O. Scott's children have been properly trained in movie theater etiquette, but why on earth is he encouraging the narcissistic parents of gifted children to spoil my future viewing of Persepolis?

My adorable, gifted and precocious child not be attending the new Woody Allen film with me. She will attend matinee showings of children's movies where her whispered questions and my whispered responses blend into the general cacophony of temper tantrums and sugar meltdowns. Grown-up movies can wait until she can sit straight though to the credits before turning to me in the lobby to say "It just wasn't as funny as his earlier work."

The Ten Movies I Saw This Year in a Theater

Main Screen at the Coolidge Corner Moviehouse

In trying to put together a list of favorite movies I had gone to see this year, I had a hard time coming up with a list of ten. This does not reflect a pickiness on my part, but rather the limits of my schedule now that I have a child. For the sake of this column, I'm not going to mention the countless movies I have watched sitting on the couch at home while my family slept. The title of this column is Matineer, as in one that valiantly goes to matinees, which implies something about the movies I should be discussing.

As it turns out, after a quick scan of a list of movies that came out in 2007, I seem to have seen exactly ten movies in a theater this year. Therefore, my year-end wrap-up list is entitled:

Movies I Saw This Year in a Theater (in no particular order)

1. Knocked Up

When my husband and I saw that this was coming out, we knew immediately it was a no-brainer date movie. Our darling daughter was a marvelous surprise, and changed our life around in ways that made our head spin. We bought life insurance! This movie made us laugh. A lot.

2. Juno

For the same reasons listed above, I had to see this one, as well. This time, I went along with my lovely and talented Offsprung colleague Diana Fisher. You'll see my review and her reaction shortly.

3. Enchanted

You already know my feelings about this movie. It marked the first time that my daughter and I cried together watching a "chick flick." I can't wait to show her Terms of Endearment.

4. Ratatouille

Another fantastic family date night. My husband is a chef, so this was an easy choice for our daughter's first movie in a theater. She was great, and in complete awe of the giant screen. We got her the little kids combo box and she looked so cute and sophisticated balancing it on her knees while sitting up really straight. The flipping seats were a little frightening, but otherwise things went well. Oh, and the movie was great. But you already know that.

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

A movie night with my mom-friend, Nagmeh, who rarely lets herself leave the house. I lured her out with Harry Potter, which she loves. Her husband, Farsheed, reads the books to her at night as she falls asleep, or while she's nursing their second child. The man talks a macho game, but what a softy! It was a fun film, and she had a blast. We had the usual awkwardness of going out with a mom friend when you're not with the kids. It throws off the whole conversation rhythm. This will be discussed further in my piece about my date with Diana.

6. Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten

Another great date with the husband. We saw it at the Coolidge Corner Moviehouse, the greatest movie theater on the planet. My first job ever was selling tickets and popcorn at the Coolidge. I worked there for many years, so going back is like visiting a house that used to be my home. I am old now, and no one knows me there anymore. I have become a Yuppie That Doesn't Really Understand Film in a Deep Way to the young employees, and that's fine. The popcorn was great, as always. For my impressions of the film, see my previous review

7. Margot at the Wedding

A recent date with myself for the column. Prepare to hear more about the film, and the glories of going to the movies alone.

8. Evan Almighty

Ed Helms' sister is a mom-friend of mine, so I went with her and some others to see this. We cheered whenever he came on the screen. I can't really give an unbiased review, since Uncle Ed is in it, but I did think it was fairly enjoyable, and I'd show it to my daughter. Good, old-fashioned fun!

9. Mr. Bean's Holiday

As it turns out, I would have preferred to spend the 90 minutes having small shards of glass removed from my back with tweezers than watch this. My mother and her boyfriend forced my brother and I to attend a Jacques Tati film festival when we were children. They said it would be fun. They also said the hermit bars were just like cookies and the red zinger tea was just like juice. It's another episode in my bohemian childhood that is too painful to talk about. Let's just say that seeing this Mr. Bean movie almost sent me back into therapy. Still, it wasn't about me: this was about my daughter having a movie date with her best friend, L. She and L. sat next to each other, sharing popcorn. L's dad, Berwin and I book-ended them and exchanged aren't-they-ridiculously-cute looks over their heads. The girls made the 90 minutes bearable.

10. The Queen

Okay, I know, the Queen came out in 2006. But I don't think I got to see it until 2007, and it was my favorite moviegoing experience of the year. I saw it at the Coolidge, by myself. It was bliss. As the movie started, I realized that I had been dying for a movie to be made about this subject and hadn't even realized it. I have never forgotten the Queen making her little televised speech about Diana's death, and I remember being moved by her reserve and sense of duty. Helen Mirren captured what I had seen so well, and riffed on it so beautifully. It has to be on my 2007 list. Let's not be too linear about this.

There you have the ten (or nine) movies I saw in the theater this year. The best part of this new Matineer gig is that I now have a very good excuse to see movies in the theater on a regular basis. Here's hoping my 2008 list is one that's been narrowed down.

Happy New Year to All!

Date Night: Joe Strummer

When one finds oneself able to leave the house sans children for a night out, wasting the night on a crappy movie is pretty depressing. Ideally the date night movie should make you feel like edgy, hip single people, even if you never were before you had kids. With that in mind, I intend to make some recommendations in this column for movies that are smart without being very, very depressing, and evocative of clever youth. With any luck, it will also make you feel a little hot for your partner, which can't hurt.

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten is not a 101 course. A certain amount of knowledge about the Clash is required before viewing. Julian Temple does not hold your hand and ease you in to the story.

Instead, he puts you around a bonfire, where you hear from other people who loved Joe Strummer. Temple really did set up bonfires in several locations and filmed Strummer's friends and prominent fans as they sat around exchanging memories and drinking. It's really lovely, which is not an adjective I would have expected to use in a review of a movie about Joe Strummer. There are no labels, so you have to figure out who the people are on your own. I am still not sure how I feel about this approach. I was pulled out of the story at times as I wracked my brains as to whether this person was an aged Sex Pistol or that person was a former wife of Strummer's. Still, it did make the movie feel intimate and informal, as if the viewer was eant to be sitting by one of the bonfires, too.

The bonfire interviews are intercut with Clash footage, photos, old interviews, the usual documentary stuff. There is a wild artistic bent to the assemblage. Images flow into and out of each other. Animations of Strummer's doodles and drawings that are used throughout to tell stories are clear influences on the style of the movie. They also reveal in their grooviness a hippie soul inside Strummer that was hidden well in his Clash years.

This hippie soul is revealed again in Strummer at the end of the movie, as he becomes more and more involved with raves staged in the British countryside, centered around giant bonfires. This, we see, was the inspiration for the structure of the film. Strummer talks about his love of the primal feeling he got sitting around these bonfires, how he felt connected to the humanity that came before him. After we ride through the cold, detached years of Clash superstardom with Strummer, we understand his craving for this basic human connection.

The music is, of course, excellent. There is plenty of great concert footage, with a very hot Strummer shouting into the mike. I came out of the movie humming "White Riot," and did plenty of head-bobbing throughout. My husband did, too, and began to look to me like his 19-year-old spiky-bleached-hair self again. It was an excellent date night.

I Loved Enchanted, Deal With It

Disney has a giant marketing machine set up to sell their Princesses to little girls. There, I’ve said it. Now, can we move on? Raising a kid in this country and keeping them from marketing is like raising a kid in India and shielding them from mangoes. It’s not just nearly impossible and foolish to attempt, but is detaching the child from a major part of the culture.

From nearly the moment that I knew I was having a girl, people were pushing the Paper Bag Princess on me as a way to counteract any vapid princess dreams on the part of my daughter. I couldn’t stand the message of the book. The prince is an idiot? It’s like one of those Dr. Mom cold medicine ads.

Still, when my daughter did first discover the Disney Princesses, I was prepared to be really mad about it. I expected that her interest in them would inspire a feminist rage within me, an anger about the manipulation of my daughter’s mind. Instead, I found that I liked what they were making her think about, and the conversations we were led into. When she first learned the Cinderella story, we first discussed meanness. Why did the step-sisters tear her dress apart? Why were they being mean? My daughter even tried being mean for an afternoon, upsetting her friends at the playground. They let her know that they weren’t going to want to be her friend if she was mean. My daughter thought that through. We looked at Princess Diana together, and models on the front of magazines, and she realized that sometimes women were sad even though they were wearing a tiara. We talked a lot about people falling in love and getting married, and what that was about. We’ve dressed up in our fancy clothes, and her Daddy, our prince, accompanied us to a fancy dinner at Chef Chow’s. All of this has come from her love of the Princesses, in particular Cinderella, and I have loved nearly every minute.

The primary complaint against the Princess marketing juggernaut is that it divorces the princesses from their stories, reducing them to ladies who dress up in fancy clothes and kiss princes. Fair enough, although this problem can be easily remedied by parents and their story-telling abilities, or viewings of the movies themselves. Nonetheless, Disney is clearly attempting to address this complaint head on with Enchanted. It opens with Giselle as a feminist’s nightmare, vapidly singing about the most important thing in the world: a true love’s kiss. The crux of her problem summed up nicely in the first stanza: “I am dreaming of a true love's kiss/And a prince I'm hoping comes with this.” The prince would be nice, but is not required. She’s a classic girl in love with the idea of being in love and getting married.

When she ends up a real person in New York City, there are the required scenes of innocent-girl-meets-mean-city - although not that mean: this is a kids’ movie. The scene where she cleans the apartment with her help of her animal friends will remind you of the cute but genuine creepiness of the rats in the kitchen in Ratatouille (which has just been released on DVD: damn, Disney is good at marketing!).

And we kind of think we know where this is all going. She meets the cranky, no-nonsense New York divorce lawyer, played by Patrick Dempsey, and the expected transformations take place. And yet, the script allows for natural progressions, and the actors do a fantastic job of letting things become more complex. There’s a very sophisticated exploration of the romance/love confusion that adults go through. Don’t get me wrong: it’s no Bergman film. But I was so happy that it really addressed the deep questions that the princesses bring up in little girls.

Amy Adams is brilliant in this. With a lesser actor, this could have been a pretty shallow movie. But Adams really made me believe the whole kit and kaboodle. Her initial cluelessness is sweet, and as she woke up to things, I really could see the transformation happening. And I love that she doesn’t lose her magic. When the giant, silly musical number in Central Park started out, I was as uncomfortable and embarrassed as Patrick Dempsey’s character, and then I got swept up in it just like he does, along with everyone else in Central Park. And it’s all because of Adams. I lived in New York for nine years, and I could actually believe that she got people engaged in the fun of the dance.

Most importantly, my daughter was weeping during the big romantic ball scene, and, I won’t lie to you, I shed a few tears. Susan Sarandon is fabulously Susan Sarandon as the Queen, and she turns into this great dragon that my girl loved. She told everyone about it the next day. The biggest emotional hook for my little girl was the relationship between the lawyer’s daughter and Giselle. When I asked what her favorite part was, she said “when the princess comes back to the girl,” and that Giselle becomes a non-wicked step-mother at the end of the movie is another sweet nod to the fears that princess movies stir up.

Bottom line: If you hate musicals, you won’t like this, but if you’ve ever had even a secret spot in your heart for musicals, you’ll appreciate how well this one works. For kids, this should be a fun movie unless they don’t care about princesses at all, in which case it might not mean that much to them. I was skeptical going in, but Disney impressed me. Those crazy Mouseketeers know how to make a Princess movie.