Snapshots - #42: Thor: Ragnarok, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, LBJ

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), (♦♦♦♦½): Thor has saved earth twice by now and has, for the last two years, wandered the universe searching for infinity stones. He hasn't found any. He has, however, become prisoner of an enemy of Asgard, Surtur, who tells Thor that his visions of Asgard engulfed in flames is a premonition of Ragnarok—the destruction of Asgard, which is already in motion. Thor frees himself and arrives at home to find Loki sitting on the throne, passing as Odin, and neglecting his duties to protect the Nine Realms. With Odin's exile, Asgard's enemies have been reassembling, but Odin's death may just free Hela, a goddess against whom neither Thor nor Loki are enough.
It was in Thor: The Dark World where Loki, an antagonist, first threatened to steal the show. He became the villain that Marvel fandom loves to hate. While Loki is at his most charming in this film, the director, with the help of a sparkling screenplay, has very much exploited the great chemistry of t…

Circe by Madeline Miller (♦♦♦♦)

Granddaughter of Oceanus, daughter of Titan Helios and sea nymph Perseid, Circe was different from the start. While her siblings discovered their unique gifts very early on and gained their independence—either by claiming their inheritance, like Perses and Aëstes, or by marriage to a wealthy demigod, like Pasiphäe—, Circe remained among her family in the halls of the gods. Her love for young fisherman Glaucus changed everything. Circe used a potion to transform Glaucus into a worthy suitor. Glaucus, seeing his station changed, fell in love with one Circe’s cousins, a sea nymph named Scylla. Out of jealousy, Circe put a potion on Scylla’s bath and, unintendedly, transformed her into a monster. Circe’s confession forced Helios to go to see Zeus, for witchcraft is something that gods fear can tip the balance of power. Zeus declared an eternal banishment for Circe from the halls of the gods to the island of Aiaia.

Exile was not easy but, as Circe learned, it had its advantages; being away f…

Snapshots - #41: Murder on the Orient Express, Thank You for Your Service, Blade Runner(s)

Murder on the Orient Express (2017), (♦♦♦♦): A shady businessman is murdered during the night aboard a closed, packed wagon of the opulent Orient Express. The director of the train asks famed detective Hercule Poirot, a passenger on holiday, to conduct an investigation before they reach their next stop.
This 2017 adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel, is a lavish production directed by Kenneth Brannagh, who also stars as the famed detective Hercule Poirot. Brannagh has a star-studded supporting cast with some of the best actors/actresses in the business whom somehow are given so little room to shine individually that it seems almost as criminal as the killing that takes place aboard the train.
Nonetheless, don't underestimate the spell of this movie. If well it is true that we don't care much about the fate of the victim, once the case gets going it is an enthralling and complex mystery. The audience gets the information along with the detective. The winter scenes—accentuate…

Snapshots - #40: The Man Who Invented Christmas, The Breadwinner, Thelma

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017), (♦♦♦♦): In 1843, three flops after Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) was up to his eyeballs in debt, with a child on the way, and in desperate need of a hit. He conceived the outline of a Christmas story, to be released that Christmas, but his publishers expressed doubt; who would be interested in such a thing? Dickens then decided to hire an illustrator and a binder and release the tome on his own.
The Man Who Invented Christmas is a delightful, warm, and mostly funny story of the creative process that Dickens must have taken (perhaps) to write A Christmas Carol. Along his relationship with his kids and wife, we also get to enjoy his quirky interaction with a young servant who may have awaken his muse, and the somewhat fractious relationship with his father.
I particularly enjoyed the apparitions of the imaginary Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) and the discussions he had with Dickens about the fate of Tiny Tim and the ending of th…

Snapshots - #39: Coco, Pitch Perfect 3, Star Wars: Episodes VII and VIII

Coco (2017), (♦♦♦♦): Miguel, a young aspiring singer, is afraid to defy his family's forsaking of music. On the Día de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday to celebrate the dead, Miguel is, unwillingly, granted night passage to the Land of the Dead, where he meets his ancestors and gets valuable life lessons.

This Disney/Pixar production has great animation and music, is colorful, fun, has endearing characters (both living and dead). Coco also has meaningful lessons about the value of traditions, the importance of family, loyalty, and honoring one's ancestors, all in a very entertaining package. Don't let the fact that it is an animated movie deter you from enjoying this gem. Coco is a great story to ponder for kids and adults alike.

Pitch Perfect 3 (2017), (♦♦♦♦): The members of the a cappella singing sensation ‘The Bellas’ have graduated from college and are realizing that they suck big time at real life. They miss the singing, the mischief, and the camaraderie. The father of on…

Snapshots - #38: Only the Brave, Jane, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Only the Brave (2017), (♦♦♦♦): Based on the true story of the effort it took to get a municipal crew of firefighters from Prescott, Arizona, certified as Hotshots. After battling thousands of wildfires since their inception, the Granite Mountain Hotshots answered a call to battle the Yarnell Hill fire—about 30 miles away from Prescott—along with several other crews. How they got to that point and what happened is what this movie is about.
Only the Brave is a drama with some thriller on the side, and excellent performances to boast of. It's got a dynamic pace, engaging plot, amazing shots of wildfires, fun camaraderie, and great music to underscore the action. As an audience, we care for the journey of that crew, individually and as a group, and as heartbreaking as the closing scenes are, we stand in awe at the sacrifices that firefighters and their families make every day of their lives. Only the Brave is a darn great tribute to them, and elite firefighters such as the Granite Moun…

The Cloister by James Carroll (♦♦♦♦)

In the second decade of the 12th century, at the height of his fame, Church scholar, theologian, Benedictine monk Peter Abelard engaged in a passionate love affair with his young disciple, Héloïse. For them, their carnal love was an expression of the divine, but their liaison was thwarted in more ways than one, for Héloïse’s uncle avenged that debt of honor, while Church authorities banished Abelard from the pulpit, first, for his desecration of his chastity vows, and, twenty years later, for heresy—his emphasis on reason to explain Church doctrine, his rumored friendship with the Judaic community of France, and his vehement defense of it against the sanctioned practices of the Church, were points of contention.
In modern day Manhattan (c. 1950), Catholic priest Michael Kavanagh is celebrating a Mass when a friend he hadn’t seen since his days as a Seminarian refuses to take communion from him. Father Kavanagh follows his friend to Inwood Park, where, amidst a sudden rainstorm, he take…

Snapshots - #37: It, Breathe, Mark Felt – The Man Who Brought Down the White House

It (2017), (♦♦♦♦): Four inseparable friends in middle school bond with other three newcomers. They all have in common that they are bullied by the same people. Over the course of one summer they'll fend off bullies and face a centuries-old demon in the form of a clown, named Pennywise, whom has been disappearing kids and terrorizing the town of Derry, Maine, every twenty-seven years since the town was founded.
Based on Stephen King's novel of the same title, It is a movie with a smart script and a sympathetic ensemble of nerds that deliver light humor, and deep thrills. It doesn't hurt that each and every character has his or her own arc, thus one gets to know their motivations and fears before Pennywise enters head on into the picture.
In a nod to 1980s movie classics such as The Goonies, and the Brat Pack ensemble, the newest adaptation of It takes place at the end of that decade, when it seems, at least from the Hollywood perspective, that every kid harbored a genius insi…

A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin (♦♦♦♦)

Milo Andret, only child of a rather unusual couple, grew up in the woods of northern Michigan in the 1950s. His parents’ lack of supervision gave him the freedom to roam the woods at length, and an unusual depth of mind and unique orientation skills developed in consequence. With the years, Milo developed an interest in mathematics and was admitted to UC Berkely as a graduate student. The Chairman recognized himself in Milo and steered him towards the research field that would him eventually earn him the Fields Medal.
Though not entirely popular, as a graduate student at Berkely and later as an assistant professor at Princeton, his savant mind garnered him praise, but in the California of the 1970s, Milo discovered the pleasures of the flesh and the dangerous allure of drugs and alcohol; the latter would become a demon that would derail his career and affect two more generations of his descendants.
I seem to have gravitated towards books on ‘people fighting their demons’ since the start…