Sundance and O Pioneers!

Greetings, it’s been a while. Last week we were on a road trip to Park City, Utah, to meet up with my sister and brother-in-law there. It took two days of driving 8 hours plus, but we made it even after a snowstorm caught up to us in central Montana. Wisely we stayed over in Butte. On the road we listened to a 2011 WWII history called “Inferno: the World at War 1939-1945” by British author Max Hastings. It’s quite an epic one-volume history of the entire war (both politically and militarily) and paints the gruesome global toll of it all. We’re still only a part of the way into it but had to take breaks from the bleakness it portrays. Still it’s well done — both detailed and wide-ranging — and adds a lot of information that I hadn’t known before. We hope to finish it for a trip we’re taking  later in the year to a few WWII sites.

Meanwhile we took along our yellow Lab, Stella, so she could meet up with her half-sister, Sadie, who lives with my sister. The dogs had never met so it was fun to get them together and let them run alongside us as we took to the cross-country ski trails. They’re quite different dogs but got along well, so it was nice. (See Sadie on the left, and Stella on the right). Park City is a cool town that I hadn’t spent much time in before, but by happenstance the Sundance Film Festival, which showcases independent (and often lower budget) films, was going on while we were there — and by some miracle, considering the massive crowds, I got in off the wait list to see two movies. It turned out to be a bucket-list kind of experience.

The first one was a drama-mystery film called “Nancy” about a woman who starts to believe she’s the daughter of a married couple whose child went missing thirty years ago. Oh it’s a bit strange and dark, the thirty-something girl (played by Andrea Riseborough) is quite down-and-out and you’re not sure if she’s up to tricks but she’s also sad and you start pulling for her — as well as the couple that she seeks out to meet in hopes that she is their daughter.

It’s an unsettling tale of two affected parties who come to help each other in unexpected ways. I was impressed by the script by filmmaker Christina Choe and by the performance by Andrea Riseborough as Nancy, which is quite eerie and tough. I last saw her in “Battle of the Sexes” and now after this, think she’s quite a talent and rising star. It’s a smaller-budget film but worth its sad weight.

I also saw at Sundance the documentary “RBG” about the life and work of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ohh it’s quite excellent and emotional too. If you get a chance: run … do not walk to see it. The path Justice Ginsburg helped pave for women’s rights, especially in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, is pretty extraordinary. Her personal, family life too is quite a story.

Which reminds me: I need to put the biography: “Notorious RBG: The Life and Time of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” on my list this year; I’ve heard it’s good. It’s no wonder RBG is capturing such a huge resurgence in popularity these days at 84. She’s rocking. A two-time cancer survivor and an icon for human rights — she has a sly wit about her too. She laughs at her portrayal on Saturday Night Live by Kate McKinnon, which does seem pretty funny. And she works out with a trainer too, who says she’s as tough as a cyborg. Is there anything, she can’t do? Go RBG, Go.

Next up, I finished the audiobook of Willa Cather’s 1913 novel “O Pioneers!.” I had remembered Cather’s book “My Antonia” fondly from my youth so I thought I would try this one out too. It’s considered the first novel in Cather’s prairie trilogy and is about a family of Swedish-American immigrants who struggle to make a life farming in Nebraska  at the beginning of the 20th century. Oh I wanted to like this one just as much, but for some reason it fell a bit short for me.

Granted, there’s much to admire about Alexandra, the daughter who is given control of the farm once her father dies. She steers her three brothers into keeping the family farm despite the hardships they face and eventually they are able to make it prosperous. Alexandra is a seemingly strong character (perhaps ahead of her time) who postpones love to devote herself to making the farm a success. I liked too how Cather’s writing about the land is quite evocative of the time and place — and life on the wind-swept prairie.

Yet at the same time the story comes off a bit plotless and meanders along sort of undramatically until … wham a violent dramatic event occurs at the end in which Alexandra sides with a jealous husband over her beloved brother and neighborhood friend. I guess the end confounded me a bit or seemed out of place, though it’s likely I’m viewing it through today’s lens instead of the societal mores of the times. Still it’s unfair how Alexandra’s ultimate turn at love and marriage contrasts with her brother’s though perhaps that’s the point. It reminded me slightly of Edith Wharton’s “Ethan Frome,” which came out just two years before this and I recently read, but that tragic story was stronger to me and put together better. But I haven’t given up on Cather. I’ll try out some of her others in the future and probably reread “My Antonia.”

Lastly, when we got back, my husband and I saw the movie “All the Money in the World” based on the true story of the 1973 kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III in Rome whose mother tried desperately to convince his oil tycoon grandfather to pay the ransom, which he scoffed at despite his vast wealth.

Oh it’s quite a doozy of a story, played out quite expertly by Christopher Plummer as the grandfather and Michelle Williams as the mother. (I hear she’s playing Janis Joplin soon.) You might not remember the case, but it’s best to go into it blind so I won’t say much more: other than the movie moves along at a good pace and the Getty family surely was dysfunctional. Someday I plan to get to the Getty art museum in Los Angeles and visit its Villa, which is a re-creation of the Villa of the Papyri from the Roman world. Till then this movie gave me a glimpse into the man behind it.

What about you — have you seen any of these films or been to Sundance, or read any of Willa Cather’s — and if so what did you think?

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22 Responses to Sundance and O Pioneers!

  1. JaneGS says:

    How fun to see some Sundance movies–that’s on my bucket list too. Just put Notorious RBG on my reading list–heard such great things about it, and now there’s a film too! Nancy sounds intriguing–I like stuff like that, sort of a Daphne du Maurier pyscho/identity riff.

    I remember the Getty kidnapping from when I was in junior high, and I followed the story in the newspaper and Time magazine–I was horrified. I think the movie would be good, and Christopher Plummer would be great in that role. I’ve been to both the Getty Villa and the Getty museum, and both are magnificent.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Jane, great feedback. Sundance was really fun; I’d think about going next year. And I must get to the Getty Museum & Villa sometime, perhaps this year. I think you’ll like the Getty movie (as well as “Nancy”); it seems to follow the kidnapping case fairly closely.

  2. Judy Krueger says:

    Wow! You got to see two movies at Sundance!! That is awesome. Thanks for the reviews. I will get to see the RBG movie asap, but both of the others sound good too.
    I think My Antonia is the only Cather I have read. I loved it too. That is unfortunate about O Pioneers. I am just now reading about a pioneer family in Australia: The Secret River by Kate Grenville, lots of plot and reads fast, and the first of a trilogy. What is it about trilogies?

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Judy, yeah Sundance was a real treat; I was lucky to go. RBG is a great doc and a must see. And I loved My Antonio from long ago though mostly I just remember the sod house they lived in — so it’s time for a reread. I enjoyed Grenville’s The Secret River a few years ago but haven’t read #2 book. Thx for reminding me it’s part of a trilogy, good grief I forgot. Will add it back on the list. Enjoy.

  3. Sarah says:

    Excellent write-up of our time at Sundance and especially the RBG film. She indeed Rocks. I think besides picking up Notorious RBG, I will read Ginsberg’s own biography, In My Own Words.
    It’s funny you returned to Willa Cather now. Our book group has chosen to read her “One of Ours” for our April selection. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 (although was thought a weaker book than My Antonia! which was nominated for the first-ever Pulitzer in 1917 but didn’t win it).
    I also followed the horrendous story of the Getty kidnapping through the newspaper accounts back in the 70s — as well as the Patty Hearst kidnapping and Watergate coverage. Those were the days of REAL news, haha. Which reminds me I will try to see “The Post” this week with Meryl & Tom…!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Sarah, I need to credit you in the post for Sundance! & making it all possible. Ha, it was truly a bucket list time. I remember enjoying My Antonio much better than I did O Pioneers but perhaps I’ve become jaded with age. I’ll have to see if My Antonio stands the test of time. You’d probably like the Getty movie — I still need to see The Post too, but will wait for RM who is away. Enjoy!

  4. Carmen says:

    Sundance, eh? How exciting! 🙂 And Stella finally met her half-sister. The trip seems to have been wonderful.

    Nancy sounds very good. I’ll put it in my wishlist just in case Google Play releases it for rent. Andrea Riseborough’s star has been steadily in ascent for a few years now: she was Walllis Simpson in Madonna’s-directed W.E.; she was Vika in the sci-fi/adventure Oblivion (2013) opposite Tom Cruise, and was lately in Battle of the Sexes. She is quite an actress but unfortunately underrated.

    I’ll be watching All the Money in the World when it comes up for rental in a few months. Unfortunately Michelle Williams wasn’t nominated to the Oscars; she always delivers quiet, powerhouse performances. I saw Jessica Chastain was snubbed too. what a travesty!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Yeah all good points Carmen. & thanks: our trip was wonderful. I had no idea I’d get to go to Sundance; it was really lucky. I thought Michelle Williams should’ve made the Oscar nominations and probably Chastain too but I haven’t seen Molly’s Game just yet. I know she’s strong in it though. You’re right too about Andrea Riseborough — Wow she’s quite an actress: she single-handedly delivered the movie Nancy. I will follow her roles in the future. Perhaps I should see her as Wallis Simpson and rent that. Thx for the tip.

  5. Brian Joseph says:

    There was time when I called myself a film buff. Sadly limited time has curtailed my film watching over the past few years. I would still love to see some films at Sundance.

    My wife read Notorious RBG and really liked it.

    I have also heard that Inferno was a dark but very worthwhile read.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Brian — glad your wife liked the RBG book — I must get to it! The Inferno book is quite epic & vast / comprehensive look at the war. I’m tempted to pick up the print version after listening to half of the audiobook. It really gets across the toll globally and is quite dark / best taken in small parts.

  6. So glad you got in to see some films at Sundance… definitely a bucket list experience! I’ll keep an eye out for RBG. Notorious RBG was very good and I’d also recommend Sisters in Law, a dual biography of RBG and Sandra Day O’Connor and a read/listen combo for me. Their paths to the Supreme Court were very different!

    I remember liking O Pioneers! better than My Antonia but, reading your thoughts, I can’t recall many details. Cather’s writing is wonderful and the trilogy might be a good follow up to the Dust Bowl book I’m reading now.

    Love the photo of the pups!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi JoAnn: thanks for the comments. I’m curious about rereading My Antonia — will it be much different for me in later life? Hmm, I bet. It won’t be for a while though. You always mention good books about the Supreme Court — which are fascinating. I still want to read the Jeff Toobin S.C. book — and Sandra Day interests me as well. I’ll jot down Sisters in Law. I want to plan to get to the Toobin book this year. Thx for the tips.

  7. Ti says:

    Your trip to Park City sounds grand. Especially the Sundance part! I love how your pup got to come along for the trip too. My friends have a new puppy right now who reminds us so much of our pup when she was young. I am dying for them to have a play date but my pup is nearly 8 years old. Not sure how she would do with a young pup. She’s very active and puppy like but gets jealous easily.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Ti, oh puppies are such fun, but who knows what your 8 year dog would think. Hmm. Our dog will be 6 in July. Taking her on the trip was really great. That’s the only reason we drove — I’m afraid to fly her.

  8. Naomi says:

    Your trip and your experience at the Sundance Festival sound great! You always make me want to see more movies. 🙂
    I love the picture of Stella and her sister!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Naomi. The movies at Sundance were quite interesting. I will likely add another photo of Stella & Sadie soon. Funny dogs.

  9. John Wright says:

    Glad you did the Sundance event. Didn’t get that report. Awaiting the review of “The Post!”

    • Susan Wright says:

      Getting into a movie Sundance was quite a procedure / somehow got through the massive crowds on the wait list to see 2 movies! You’ll see my Post review up above — just finished putting it on.

  10. Amy Brandon says:

    I was trying to read through all of Willa Cather’s novels a few years ago and let myself get dereilaed after O Pioneers! I don’t know why now. Just too many other things to read, I guess. I liked O Pioneers, but I remember loving My Antonia. My husband just read My Antonia for the first time. I hope to get to re-reading it soon, and I hope I love it as much the second time around. I’ve read quite a few of Cather’s works. While the Praire Triology books are similar, the others are quite varied, which I find interesting.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Amy, thanks for your tips on the Cather books. I am looking forward to rereading My Antonia which was a favorite in my youth. I will see if it holds up. O Pioneers was good but the ending shooting was abrupt and changed the course quite a bit. I think I want to read her Death Comes to the Archbishop sometime.

      • Amy says:

        I remember liking Death Comes for the Archbishop, but it’s been decades ago that I read it. I’m still planning to read all of her works in order so I will get back to it eventually. I’m not very good at remembering to check comments on blogs, so if you ever want to discuss books, email me!

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