Film Review: The Man in the Moon

The Man in the Moon I recently watched The Man in the Moon on Hulu (for free), a 1991 indie drama starring Sam Waterston (from Law and Order fame) and Reese Witherspoon in her first movie role (at about age 15).

It’s 1957 on the Louisiana farm owned by the Trant family. Young Dani Trant (Reese Witherspoon) is a 14-year-old carefree tomboy who looks up to her older sister, Maureen. Mother Abby is pregnant with her third child and father Matthew (Sam Waterston) is the strict, hard-working head of the household. Everything changes when the Fosters move into the farm next door, as both girls fall in love with Cort Foster, the 17-year-old eldest child and acting head of household since the untimely death of his father.

It’s a slowly unfolding coming-of-age story for both girls, with a biting left hook at the end that delivers all of the impact promised by its slow and steady build-up. I liked it a lot. It also featured impeccable acting from all of the principals, but especially from a very young Reese Witherspoon.

Now, this isn’t my usual type of story. I lean towards thrillers, action dramas, crime stories and science fiction. But I also like stories with realistic characters, stories that grab you by the heart and deliver a real emotional impact. The Man in the Moon does this, and it doesn’t have to rely on stunts, CGI, flashy editing or any of the usual tricks of today’s MTV-inspired movies.

Obviously, this movie isn’t going to resonate with all of my friends or readers. Still, if the description sounds at all interesting to you and you have a couple of free hours, there are far worse ways to spend your time (any Transformers movie would be just about the worst).

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Carolyn Ives Gilman at Capclave

David Keener and Carolyn Ives GilmanI had a chance to talk to Carolyn Ives Gilman at Capclave 2013. It’s amazing who you can get a chance to talk to when everyone else is in line to get an autograph from some guy named George R. R. Martin. Anyway, she’s written two of the most interesting novellas that I’ve read in recent years:

  • “The Ice Owl” (2011)
  • “Arkfall” (2008)

The first time I ever saw a story from her was when “The Ice Owl” was nominated for the 2012 Hugo award. As a Hugo voter, I had access to all of the nominated stories in PDF form. I thought at the time: I’ve got to find more stories by this author because I liked the story so much.

She’s one of those writers who tackles ambitious stories with a great deal of quiet but powerful emotional intensity. She’s been writing genre fiction since 1986, but she’s never been very prolific. Nevertheless, a number of her works have been nominated for the SF field’s highest awards, including both of the stories I previously mentioned.

The Ice Owl by Carolyn Ives Gilman“The Ice Owl” is an excellent coming-of-age story about a young girl realizing both the limitations and importance of her family as she inadvertantly stumbles across the lingering ripple effects of a long-ago genocide. It was powerful, evocative and captured the sweep and flow of history excellently. It was nominated for the 2012 Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novella, and is available as an ebook or in a very nice but economical print edition from Phoenix Pick.

I also came across an excellent interview online in which the author discusses the genesis of the story.

Arkfall by Carolyn Ives Gilman“Arkfall” tells the story of Osaji, a young adult who must try to earn a living while taking care of the aging grandmother that nobody else in her family wants. She lives on the planet of Ben, a Europa-like planet covered by massive ice sheets with a liquid water ocean underneath. The planet’s population lives within that internal ocean, far underneath the ice. Osaji’s people have adapted to the close, confined spaces of their undersea existence by developing a culture of deference and cooperation. Her culture and her need to care for her grandmother have limited her opportunities and left her completely frustrated with her life. When a crisis occurs, the ensuing events may change her life completely, as well as having a lasting impact on her entire world.

“Arkfall” was nominated for the 2009 Nebula award for Best Novella. The story is available as an ebook or an economical print edition from Phoenix Pick.

I can’t recommend these stories highly enough. What affects me the most about these stories is how real they make their respective worlds feel and, consequently, how involved you become in the the lives of the young protagonists. Both stories are part of Gilman’s very loosely connected “Twenty Planets” series of stories.

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