Showing posts from 2011

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…

Happy New Year 2012

  Happy New Year to those who have read this blog throughout this year. Hope you come back for more reading in 2012...

Born to Die by Lisa Jackson (♦♦♦♦½)

Before Thanksgiving, a thirty-five year-old B-movies actress named Shelly Bonaventure is found dead in L.A. She dies of an apparent suicide but the detective in charge of the investigation suspects otherwise. Days later, Jocelyn Wallis, a grade school teacher of about the same age, falls from a precipice in Grizzly Falls, Montana. She barely survives the fall, but dies from internal injuries at the local hospital.

Dr. Acacia “Kacey” Lambert begins hearing ever more frequently about accidents involving women that are “dead ringers” for her. When a recent patient of her also dies in a mysterious traffic accident, Kacey starts wondering if there is more to the story of the dead women who looked like her.

Kacey involves a friend from her past in the digging of old records and what she discovers is enough to make her contact police detectives Regan Pescoli and Selena Alvarez, who are already suspecting the clusters of young dead look-alikes. To top it all, Kacey is attracted to a handsome…

War Horse (♦♦♦♦)

Ted Narracott, Albert’s father, buys a spirited young horse at a market auction. Few farmers would give any money for that horse, but Ted sees potential in it and wins the bid for thirty guineas. World War I comes along and horses are in high demand, so to save his family from ruin, Ted sells Joey, Albert’s horse, to a British officer.

When the officer loses his life in an ambush against German forces, Joey changes hands becoming a German war horse. Over the course of the conflagration, Joey changes hands over and over, until after overcoming terrible obstacles, he is recovered by British soldiers towards the end of the war.

The cinematography in this film is fantastic and so is the photography. The sweeping English countryside is vastly and beautifully captured.

The war scenes are very graphic yet drag along endlessly, almost making you forget the title of the movie. Just then the horse reappears and makes the last half hour of this film poignant and epic.

There are not great perfor…

A Dangerous Method (♦♦♦)

Directed by David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises, A History of Violence), A Dangerous Method explores the personal relationship and professional rivalry between prominent psychologists Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), the father of psychoanalysis, and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen).

With the method that Freud pioneered, Jung treats Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a very disturbed Russian patient who dreams of becoming a doctor herself. Once Jung cures Sabina, they become lovers. Years later, already become a psychologist, Spielrein sides with Freud, who by that point has ended his personal relationship with Carl Jung.

This movie is well acted by all three leading characters, being food for the mind since the audience is treated with dissertations on psychology’s most important theories of the era.

There are scenes of physical punishment during sex, but aside from that, the film lacks action which makes it feel extremely slow despite running for only 99 minutes. Besides, the discuss…

Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol (♦♦♦½)

An IMF agent--is killed by a female assassin for hire in Budapest--while carrying classified documents. His killer gets the documents and escapes.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), after escaping from a Russian prison, is given the mission of stealing nuclear codes from the Kremlin. However, the mission goes terribly wrong and a rogue, Swedish nuclear extremist, gets away with the codes while bombing the Kremlin. Russian’s authorities suspect Americans are behind the attack. Thus, the president disavows all IMF agents and activates Ghost Protocol. Without resources or backup forces, Ethan Hunt and his team have to retrieve the codes.

This is a stylish, grand motion picture with beautiful photography and globetrotting adventure. Tom Cruise has never been in better shape, proof of that is his mind blowing stunt on the outside of the 120th floor of the tower hotel in Dubai. The scene where Jeremy Renner jumps towards a slowing giant fan in a tunnel is reminiscent of Cruise’s famous incursion at …

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (♦♦♦)

Professor Moriarty, an evil genius and Holmes’ nemesis, has been planting bombs all around Europe to cover up the assassinations of arms industrialists. The idea is to force the fighting of nation against nation to create demand for weapons and Moriarty would then supply them. Sherlock Holmes figures out as much and has the fight of his life against Moriarty, all to save Europe from war.

This second Sherlock Holmes installment is darker than the first, both in humor and plot. Unfortunately, it also feels long and somewhat convoluted. I had a hard time following the story and it has been eons since I read the books, so I had to rely on the movie.

There is good acting by the entire cast and there are humorous moments throughout, but not enough to call it a fun time at the movies.

My Week with Marilyn (♦♦♦♦)

In 1956, during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, Marilyn Monroe charmed Colin Clark, a third assistant director in the production. As a consequence, the dynamics of the relationship that ensued are explored, as well as her interaction with her co-star and director Lawrence Olivier and the rest of the cast.

If with Blue Valentine Michelle Williams earned a well deserved Oscar nomination, My Week with Marilyn certainly consecrates her as a screen royalty. Michelle Williams not only physically resembles Marilyn Monroe, but displays her charming screen persona as if possessed by Marilyn herself.

Williams, with the help of an amazing script, successfully manages to portray Marilyn in all her human complexities: as a magnetic actress able to command the cameras at will, but also as a drug addict and insecure belle, who thanks to a neglected childhood needed all the adulation in the world to feel wanted and noticed.

Also noteworthy is the acting of supporting characters key to th…

The Descendants (♦♦♦)

When his wife has a boating accident and falls into an irreversible coma, Matt King (George Clooney) must cope with the loss of his wife and fill the void of the missing parent by taking care of his ten year-old daughter Scotty and seventeen year-old Alexandra. Meanwhile, Matt, as the trustee of his family land, must make the decision of whether or not to sell his ancestors’ estate to the brother-in-law of the man with whom Matt’s wife was having an affair.

The Descendants is a family drama about a few issues: loss of a parent/spouse, marital betrayal, good parenting and ultimately forgiveness. These points are very well stated though the movie is rather slow.

There is something worth mentioning about the plot which is a line delivered by George Clooney at the start of the movie: just because you live in paradise doesn’t mean that life stops happening. That is also a successful point throughout the film. Beautiful Hawaiian seascapes contrast with the seriousness of the situation the K…

Daughters of Isis by June L. White (♦♦)

Cousins Samantha, Alexandria and Megana are descendants of Queen Cleopatra and protected ever since by the Goddess Isis. It was prophesized by the goddess that three female descendants of Cleopatra were going to fight a great evil and make the land holy again, all during a spring solstice. Sam, Alex and Meg are the chosen females, who are to be aided by three males, descendants of the Medjai Society of Protectors of the Goddess Isis. These protectors since Cleopatra’s time have married their protégés and fought together against evil forces aiming to control the world.

I didn’t like this book. First, it is poorly written. The author switches back and forth between verbal tenses in the same sentence and it’s difficult to know whether the action is past or present. Second, the book is full of grammatical errors and poor word choices. There are some books that readers who are non-native English speakers can read out loud and even if the word is wrong you know what the author meant, this …

Altar of Bones by Philip Carter (♦♦♦♦)

A homeless woman named Rosie is assassinated in the streets of San Francisco. Her attacker has been searching for clues of the existence of something called the “altar of bones”. Before dying, Rosie reveals a mysterious message and the story begins.

Eighteen months prior to Rosie’s fatal stabbing, a man named Mike O’Malley makes a startling confession to his priest son about a film that he must find if he is to keep alive. After that confession, Mike O’Malley dies and his priest son is killed for not having the film.

Ry O’Malley, Mike’s other son, survives an assassination attempt and infiltrates the Russian mafia in California, in an effort to find the film that can guarantee his life. Ry joins forces with Zoe Dmitroff, a gutsy attorney with blood ties to the stabbed homeless woman, in order to find the film and ultimately the altar of bones and discover its secrets.

I liked this book. It is a non-stop adventure, full of interesting twists and unexpected turns. The story is a rich t…

Breaking Dawn – Part I (♦♦♦♦)

In this installment of the Twilight Saga, Bella and Edward celebrate their nuptials on the Cullens’ estate. The well-kept secret honeymoon spot is an island off Rio de Janeiro’s coast. There, under the moonlight, Bella and Edward consummate their love. Fourteen days into the honeymoon, Bella finds out she is pregnant, but…Surprise, the baby, or whatever is growing in her belly, is killing her.

In an effort to save Bella, the lovers fly back to Forks to be under Carlisle’s care. Unfortunately, the baby is stronger than Bella and she is adamant about having him/her. Edward doesn’t want anything to do with the baby if Bella dies, but listening to the baby’s thoughts makes him realize that he/she has goodness in him/her.

Meanwhile, Sam and his pack of werewolves are determined to kill Bella and her baby, which prompts Jacob to defect from the pack accompanied by Seth and Leah. Jacob swears to protect Bella and joins the Cullens in their effort to do the same.

Special attention was devote…

J. Edgar (♦♦♦♦)

J. Edgar chronicles the beginnings of the FBI from the fight against communist radicals in the 1920s and 1930s until Hoover’s death in the 1970s. From his point of view, Edgar Hoover describes his relationship with his mother, his devotion to his career, his power struggles with politicians of the era, and his lifelong relationship with Clyde Tolson, the second man in the FBI.

A major faux pas in this movie is the rather ghastly makeup applied to the aging characters of Hoover, his secretary and Mr. Tolson. However, if one overlooks that flaw and focuses on the acting, then one is up for a real treat. Leonardo DiCaprio delivers his best performance yet, and Armie Hammer is equally amazing as his lover-friend. Judi Dench and Naomi Watts have minor roles but fundamental in J. Edgar’s life: Hoover’s controlling mother and his loyal secretary.

The much discussed and anticipated kissing scene between DiCaprio and Hammer is rather minor and, in my opinion doesn’t justify the hype. The movi…

The Skin I Live In (La Piel que Habito) (♦♦♦♦)

Marked by the tragic deaths of his wife Gal and his daughter Norma, Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon, begins to experiment transplanting transgenic skin to Vera, a patient he keeps secluded in his house. The genesis of his experimentation and the patient herself, predate but are very much intertwined with Norma’s death.

In this suspenseful thriller, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar has outdone himself. The movie keeps the themes of sexual preferences and transgender issues—so common in his previous works—to a minimum. In this film, however, the constants are marital betrayal, revenge and the use of scientific inventions for personal gain.

Despite being filmed in interiors almost in its entirety, the movie doesn’t feel claustrophobic, but surprisingly intimate. As audience, we don’t know at all times where the story is going, but we take the plunge just the same with astounding results. The conclusion of the film will resonate with you.

Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya and Marisa Parede…

Anonymous (♦♦♦½)

This film puts forth the theory that the literary work of William Shakespeare was penned by nobleman Earl of Oxford and given to a lesser known author for profit in exchange for his discretion regarding the provenance of the manuscripts. Groomed to succeed Elizabeth I as monarch of England, the Earl of Oxford committed two sins as a youth: wrote poetry, which was considered seditious, and he engaged in an illicit affair with the queen despite himself being married to the daughter of Elizabeth’s state counselor. A child was conceived by the lovers, but their romance was doomed due to state affairs.

Despite having a great premise, I found the story rather confusing, at least the political subplot. The theory involving the true origins of Shakespeare is rather tantalizing.

Good movie but confusing, better to be watched on DVD.

The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand (♦♦♦♦)

The summer in Nantucket came with promise…But on June 20, Tess and Greg McAvoy sailed away for a day to celebrate their twelfth wedding anniversary and drowned instead. Their six closest friends (Andrea and Ed Kapenash, Delilah and Jeffrey Drake, and Phoebe and Addison Wheeler) were devastated by the news, some more than others. But nothing could prepare Tess and Greg’s seven-year-old twin children for the loss of their parents.

Tess and Greg had weathered a rocky year in their marriage, thanks in part to a student accusing Greg of sexual misconduct, which was later withdrawn. The lies or half truths haunted their relationship ever since. Tess left Greg for a week, but decided to take him back; Andrea asked Tess to. On their anniversary they had little to celebrate, but wanted to mend fences and start again stronger than ever.

Andrea Kapenash, the chief of police’s wife, was Tess’ first cousin. They practically grew up together, thus Andrea always felt protective of Tess, almost as T…

Josephine by Leslie Micone (♦♦♦)

Thirty-five year-old Betty Morrison, a native of New Jersey, lost her father ten years ago. Her mother, still reeling from the loss of her husband, has moved to Florida. Furthermore, her maternal grandmother has moved to New England and lost touch.

One night, Betty roams the streets of her hometown and ends up in Maple Tree Lane, an unknown street where she sees the ruins of a mansion that appear to have a strange effect on her. In her home’s attic, Betty discovers a photograph of her maternal great-grandmother Josephine, about whom she knows nothing. Henceforth, Betty starts digging in her family history--to uncover Josephine’s life story and final resting place--with the help of friends and people who knew her family from way back.

Helped by Limbcruck, a man with supernatural powers, Betty has glimpses of Josephine’s life, both awake and while asleep. Ultimately, Limbcruck recruits Ethan, a smooth talking ghost, to tell Betty the story of Josephine, starting from the time she marri…

The Ides of March (♦♦♦♦½)

Democrat congressman Mike Morris (George Clooney) is running a campaign to win the presidential primaries in Ohio. Despite his idealism, he is the underdog in the race. Morris has a great support team with Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as his campaign manager and Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) as press secretary.

Stephen is loved by friends and foes alike; he is handsome and charismatic, the camera loves him. What better guy to take off the race? When Morris’ political rival’s campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), tempts Stephen to come to work for him, Stephen temporarily considers it setting in motion a chain of events that will change the course of the election.

This is the best movie of the year thus far. It is a strong 4 rating, leaning dangerously towards 5. I really liked this film, not only due to its contemporary resonance, but to the tremendous performances delivered by the entire cast. As you may have inferred by now, I love Ryan Gosling; he is no doubt the most…

Abduction (♦♦♦)

Nathan Harper (Taylor Lautner) is a teenager with anger management issues for which he is seeing a psychiatrist. His father trains him in personal combat in his spare time. Because of a school sociology project, where he is assigned to search web sites listing missing persons, he learns that the people he has known all his life as his birth parents are not.

When Nathan contacts the web master, his address is tracked and his adopted parents are killed. Suddenly, Nathan is on the run and he can trust very few people among them Karen (Lily Collins), his high school crush, and his psychiatrist (Sigourney Weaver), who turns out to be a CIA agent. Why is the CIA tracking Nathan and Karen? But most importantly, why are some people intent on killing Nathan?

There are few scenes meant to show Taylor Lautner’s perfect abdomen, just as in Twilight. He has great chemistry with Lily Collins and a few hot kissing scenes prove it. The action and running are good, mediocre really, but the reason why…

Moneyball (♦♦♦♦)

Billy Beane, former baseball player, now General Manager of Oakland’s Athletics, has to deal with budget constraints. Facing the loss of his three star players to other teams, he has to replace them, but can’t pay high salaries that major franchises in the league can afford.

Billy Beane meets Peter Brand, a graduate of economics from Yale, who focuses on statistics rather than personalities. By removing the human factor and focusing purely on players’ performances, Brand is able to predict winning games. Beane forms a team that successfully beats the odds and critics to set the record for consecutive wins in a season, thus changing the rules of the game.

There are magnificent performances in this film, starting with Brad Pitt--whose acting is a tour-de-force—and his wingmen Jonah Hill (welcome to the big leagues!) and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The script is funny at times, but overall provides all the drama and excitement deriving from our favorite past-time. It is an emotional, uplift…

Drive (♦♦♦½)

A “driver” is a key element to successfully carry out a heist. Enter Ryan Gosling as a gifted driver who knows L.A. streets inside and out, and always delivers his cargo safely home. Driver has a part-time job in the movie business and a full-time career as a car mechanic.

Driver meets Irene, a pretty neighbor with a kid, whose husband is in jail. Driver and Irene enjoy going out together, but then her husband is freed. When Driver finds Irene’s husband beat almost to death for a prison debt, he chooses to help.

With that purpose they carry out a heist, but it goes horribly wrong. When Irene loses her husband and witnesses an outbreak of violence from her neighbor towards another man, she has to wonder who was worse for her, if her husband or her handsome neighbor.

There is graphic violence along this film. A sense of mystery is implied by suspenseful, acoustic music surrounding Driver. I have to admit that it’s in those gruesome, dramatically demanding roles where Ryan Gosling trul…

Erlina of Whispering Pines by J.J. Burgess (♦♦♦½)

Erlina (Gunn) Andersen is a determined, strong woman to whom life has dealt painful blows, first by losing both of her parents at an early age, and then losing both grandparents years later in a freak accident. At the time the novel starts, year 1880, Erlina has recently lost her husband to pneumonia. She and her children have the full support of her loyal friends and two of her servants, when she learns that she has lost her grandparents’ rather grand property Florette Manor because of her late husband’s gambling addiction.

As she learns from a trusted friend that she has inherited a modest property far away from Sydney Town, she readies for her new life at Whispering Pines in Van Dieman’s Land. To make a living, Erlina decides to train horses for racing, but she encounters serious opposition from local businessmen because she is a woman. Her partnership with Jason Caird--the man who bought Florette Manor and who also owns a neighboring property in Van Dieman’s Land—will prove usefu…

Mozart’s Sister (Nannerl, la soeur de Mozart) (♦♦♦♦)

Nannerl (Marie Féret), Mozart’s fourteen year-old sister, lives in her famous younger brother’s shadow because she is a girl. She too possesses innate musical talent. Despite the love that keeps the family together, Nannerl resents the devotion that her father, Leopold, reserves for the younger sibling. In Wolfgang (David Moreau), Leopold (Marc Barbé) sees his own dreams of fame likely to come true.

While touring with her family, her carriage breaks an axle and they’re forced to stop at a convent where luckily they meet three of France’s King Louis XV’s daughters. One of the girls, Louise, takes an instant liking for Nannerl, making her a confidant.

Louise and Nannerl’s friendship soon extends to France’s dauphin, Louis, who is mourning for the death of his wife at childbirth. Nannerl and Louis form an unlikely bond based on their mutual liking of classical music. Soon enough, Nannerl comes to the realization that she can make a living on her own teaching music and composing for weal…

Warrior (♦♦♦½)

Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) is a teacher of high school physics. During a visit to his local bank, he learns that he is three months away from foreclosure (unless he can come up with the money); his other choice is bankruptcy. To raise money to avoid financial disaster, Brendan starts attending late-night mixed martial arts fights, but he gets suspended from teaching until the following semester. With more time available, Brendan begins training for an upcoming UFC championship to take place in Atlantic City. The purse for the winner is $5 million dollars.

Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) is a runaway US Marine with a lot of rancor in him for his natural family. He visits his father (Nick Nolte), a former alcoholic who has been sober for three years, and asks him to become his trainer. Tommy enters the same championship where his estranged brother Brendan is headed to. Their main rival is a bear-man from Russia, merciless as no other, named Koda.

This movie starts very slow, with a sketch…

Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand (♦♦♦½)

Meredith Delinn had it all…Until one painful December morning in which her world collapsed when she learned that Freddy Delinn, her husband of thirty years, had robbed investors of billions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme. Before the summer started, the Feds seized the family possessions. Freddy Delinn was sentenced to 150 years in jail and Meredith was virtually penniless. Furthermore, Meredith was banned from communicating with her children, Carver and Leo, because they too were suspected of conspiring in the scheme to defraud investors.

It had been three years since Meredith hadn’t spoken to Connie, her best friend, due in part to Connie calling Freddy a crook, which turned out to be true after all. Despite of this fight, when Meredith called Connie at the beginning of the summer because she had nowhere to go, Connie invited her to stay at her house in Nantucket.

Connie had problems of her own: her husband of thirty years had died two years ago of brain cancer. At the same time, Conn…

Contagion (♦♦♦♦)

An American woman travels to China. Next thing we know, a virus is spreading at the speed of a touch (to the face, hand to hand), and it kills everyone she has come in contact with in the first four days, except her husband. Within little time, the virus starts mutating and there are no vaccines available anywhere. With uncertainty comes chaos, and desperate Americans turn to crime in search of relief.

I typically don’t watch end-of-the-world kind of movies, but I liked the trailer so I took the plunge. Oh boy! This movie seriously gave me the creeps! A star-studded cast is the highlight of the film and I must say each one of the actors is very well utilized. The movie is acted to perfection and the acoustic beats of the score contribute to the fast pace of the plot. In a world as small as today’s, it is only a matter of time until something so sinister happens, which is why the film has contemporary resonance.

The Debt (♦♦♦♦)

Rachel (Jessica Chastain/Helen Mirren), Stefan (Sam Worthington/Tom Wilkinson) and David are three Mossad agents, who in 1965 were given the mission to kidnap in East Berlin a former Nazi doctor—Dr. D. Vogel, a.k.a. the Surgeon of Birkenau—responsible for thousands of deaths during the war, and transport him safely to Israel to stand trial.

The kidnapping goes as planned, but not so the escape from East Berlin, so Rachel, Stefan and David must take turns to feed and care for Dr. Vogel until their extraction takes place. There are two sure things: it will be hard for the three operatives to interact with their enemy, and they will never be able to forget what’ll happen next.

This movie is among the best I have watched this year! It starts a little bit scattered, going back and forth between the past and present day, but one the story focuses, it’s a pure adrenaline rush. It is wonderfully acted by young and old actors alike, thus there’s a sense of continuity in the time elapsed in th…

Win Win (♦♦♦♦)

Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a lawyer with an independent, dwindling law practice. He coaches a wrestling team of teenagers at night. When Leo Poplar, an elder client with dementia, comes to his practice to make a case against moving out of his house and refusing guardianship from the state of New Jersey, Mike sees Leo as heaven-sent for Leo pays $1500 dollars a month for someone to take care of him.

Mike has tried on several occasions to contact Leo’s daughter in Ohio without success, so when he argues in court for Leo’s guardianship and the judge grants it, Mike puts Leo in an institution and pockets the monthly allowance.

Soon enough, problems come knocking when Kyle, Leo’s sixteen year-old grandson---running away from his addict mother--appears at Leo’s door. Mike brings Kyle to live with him and his family; since it’s obvious that Kyle’s mother doesn’t care for her son, Mike enrolls Kyle in the local high school and the wrestling team, where Kyle shows a special talent.


Saint’s Gate by Carla Neggers (♦♦♦)

FBI agent Emma Sharpe, former novice with the Sisters of the Joyful Heart, receives a phone call from Sister Joan Mary Fabriani, regarding a painting she has been given to clean. Within the hour from Emma’s arrival at the convent, Sister Joan is killed and the painting disappears. Subsequent events bring Colin Donovan, FBI agent specialized in undercover operations, and Emma together, when it becomes evident that what is happening has much to do with her and her family of art detectives.

I did like this book. It is relatively short by today’s standards and the literary images come to life to describe vividly coastal Maine in the fall. Also vivid are the descriptions of the works of art involved in the story. The characters are well defined and the romance is fun, though it sometimes takes much needed space from the main plot which is the murder and art theft investigation. I was relived at the end when the killer was exposed because I thought Neggers was going to bring about an unkno…

Matar a Lutero by Mario Escobar (♦♦♦)

Germany, 1521. It’s been a few years since doctor Martin Luther has published his 95 thesis against the selling of indulgences, idolatry, etc, common practices in the Catholic Church. After publicly burning a papal bull by Pope Leo X and facing condemnation edicts imposed by Roman Germanic Emperor Charles V, Martin Luther is forced to flee Wittenberg and hide in Wartburg castle for several months under the protection of an influential prince.

Meanwhile, Pope Leo X, worried about the division of the faithful and church in Germany, and Emperor Charles V send mercenaries to kill Martin Luther. After three failed attempts against his life, Luther finds the strength to return to the pulpit and preach against the radical currents threatening the Reformation.

This book is full of short dialogues and even shorter chapters, which make reading easy but do not contribute to a full understanding of Martin Luther’s personality and character. We know that Pope Leo X and Charles V want to kill him,…

Matar a Lutero por Mario Escobar (♦♦♦)

Alemania, 1521. Hace unos años que el doctor Martín Lutero ha publicado sus 95 tesis en contra de la venta de indulgencias, la adoración de ídolos, etc., prácticas comunes en la iglesia católica. Tras quemar una bula del papa León X y enfrentarse a edictos de condena del emperador Romano Germánico Carlos V, Lutero es forzado a huir de su rebaño y esconderse en el castillo de Wartburg por varios meses.

Mientras tanto, el papa León X preocupado por la división de los fieles y la iglesia en Alemania--que podría extenderse a otros lugares de la cristiandad—y el emperador Carlos V, envían fuerzas para eliminar a Lutero. Luego de tres atentados contra su vida, Lutero halla fuerzas para volver al púlpito y desde allí rechazar las corrientes radicales que amenazan la Reforma.

Este libro está lleno de diálogos y capítulos cortos, que si bien facilitan la lectura no contribuyen a un completo entendimiento de la personalidad y el carácter de Lutero. Se sabe que el emperador y el papa quieren el…

The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand (♦♦♦)

Adrienne Dealey has left behind a bad boyfriend in Aspen and has moved to Nantucket Island. She only has three hundred dollars in her pockets, borrowed from her dentist father. A stranger on the train suggests her to ask for employment at The Blue Bistro, the trendiest restaurant on Nantucket.

Adrienne arrives at the bistro early in the morning, in time to meet Thatcher Smith, the restaurant’s owner, who over breakfast conducts an informal interview. Adrienne doesn’t have any previous restaurant experience, but she has extensive customer service experience in the hotel industry. Given her background, Thatcher offers her the job of welcoming guests and anticipating their needs as an assistant manager.

Adrienne soon discovers that Thatcher likes her; he even goes as far as admitting that he loves her. However, Fiona, the bistro’s chef and co-owner, comes first. He is so close to Fiona that they act like an old married couple; their friendship dates back to their childhoods. Meanwhile, …

The Eagle (♦♦♦)

In 120 A.D., 5000 Roman legionaires ventured to the North Britain territories and vanished forever, with them disappeared the golden Eagle—symbol of Roman honor. To avoid further loss of men, Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a wall in the frontier with North Britain.

No one ventured beyond the wall in twenty years, until Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum)--the son of the centurion in charge of the Ninth Legion—accompanied by Esca (Jamie Bell), his Briton slave, decided to restore his family good name by bringing back the statue. It helped that Esca spoke Gaelic; a former centurion living in the forest conveyed rumors of the Seal tribe having the Eagle. To retrieve the statue they would have to deceive the tribe, and so they did, but how to escape with no one helping?

For close to two hours one watched as Aquila and Esca ventured into the unknown, but the threats turned out to be more imagined than real. Were most of the legionaires dead? That question surfaced often and the an…

Sarah’s Key (♦♦♦♦)

Julia Jarmond-Tézac (Kristin Scott Thomas), an investigative journalist, is given the task of writing a ten-page exposé of the Jews roundup by French police in Paris in July, 1942. So begin two parallel accounts: one of Julia in present day Paris and another of a Jew family in 1942.

On one hand, Julia discovers that her in-laws’ apartment in the Marais used to be owned by the Starzynski family, three of whose members were shipped to concentration camps. When the police arrived at their apartment, Sarah Starzynski, a ten year-old, led her little brother Michél to a closet—making him promise not to come out--and closed it with a key. Taken by the police, along with her parents, she became desperate when realized that there was not going back to her old life. What would happen to Michél?

With the help of a French guard and in the company of another girl, Sarah escapes the camp. On her way to Paris, she meets an old couple who helps her get there, but once in her old apartment, now inhab…

The Help (♦♦♦)

This movie takes place in the segregated South in the 1960s.

Eugenia Phelan, a.k.a. Skeeter (Emma Stone) is given a job as a backup writer for a housekeeping column in a newspaper at Jackson, Mississippi. She asks Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), a black house maid in the house of white folks, for help. Aibileen accepts to help Skeeter, but the latter soon has another idea: she plans to write a book telling revealing stories of white folks from their maids’ perspectives.

At first Aibileen refuses, but a sermon at church makes her change her mind. Then Minny (Octavia Spencer), a maid who has recently lost her job jumps onboard as well. As the Civil Rights Movement is beginning to take shape and raids on black people increase, more maids collaborate with their own experiences. The publisher asks one more condition before publishing: to include Skeeter’s tale of the maid that brought her up, but finding out what happened between her mother and her maid may be more than Skeeter bargained fo…

Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦♦)

Gabriel is enjoying retirement with Chiara in Cornwall, England. A trip to London for a new painting commission and some R&R takes a wrong turn when two apparently coordinated terrorist attacks take place in two of Europe’s most prominent capitals. During a walk with Chiara in Covent Garden, London, Gabriel spots a possible suicide terrorist—the third of the day—but is prevented by Met police from shooting the suspect. The bomb goes off.

Suddenly Gabriel is swept back to a world he thought he had left behind. To gain some needed equity with the current American administration, Gabriel agrees with Adrian Carter and the president to chase the men responsible for the recent wave of terrorist attacks and execute them. Gabriel brings his old team of Israeli operatives on board.

Gabriel’s team knows a few things before hand. There’s an American born cleric with tenuous links to two of the 9/11 hijackers, who was once a CIA asset and has gone rogue. His “beautiful and seductive tongue” …

Beastly (♦♦♦)

In this modern day fantasy, Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) is an attractive high school student, vain as only his father can be. According to Kyle, beautiful people are meant to rule the world while ugly people are marginal. When Kyle wins a student election over Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), invites her to a party, and then humiliates her in public, Kendra touches his arm and curses him with a year living with his ugly looking self. The curse will vanish only if within that year someone tells him that they love him.

Seeing his son’s face proves to be too much for Kyle’s father, who buys him an apartment overlooking the city and pays a blind tutor to give his sons private lessons. When Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), a beautiful former classmate who is practically invisible at school, comes to live with Kyle, he changes his identity and tries to win Lindy’s heart by doing everything she loves. The only problem is…He is running out of time.

This is a charming, romantic movie for younger audiences. It has …

Soul Surfer (♦♦♦)

Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb, Bridge to Terabithia), the daughter of two professional surfers (Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt), was born to surf. Her family even called her a mermaid. Her chances of winning a regional surfing competition were truncated by if-you-blink-you-miss-it shark attack in which she lost her left arm. Devastated by this tragedy, but still willing to compete in the regional, she trained hard, but it wasn’t enough for the massive waves pounded her. Discouraged by this upset, she gave up surfing until a trip to Thailand after the tsunami disaster made her realize how much she still had by being alive and having a family who loved her. Upon her return from Thailand, Bethany received hundreds of letters of people inspired by her strong willingness to overcome obstacles and she was inspired herself to take up surfing again with the support of her family.

This is a remarkable topic frequently seen in movies but that never stops amazing me. Hamilton’s life was saved …

One Summer by David Baldacci (♦♦♦)

Thirty-five year-old army veteran Jack Armstrong is dying from a rare disease. His last wish is to make it until Christmas…But on Christmas night his wife dies in a car accident on her way back from the pharmacy where she had gone to pick up Jack’s medication. Soon after his wife’s funeral, his mother-in-law offers to take his kids away and put him in a hospice to spend there his last days alone. As his kids are taken from him, Jack miraculously starts to recover, and after two months, he is given a clean bill of health and is discharged from the hospice.

After his recovery, Jack travels across the country to pick up his three kids who are living with relatives in the West Coast. With his best friend Sammy in tow, as well as Corey, Jack Jr. and Michelle--his three kids--Jack moves to a beach house he has recently inherited in the coast of South Carolina. As Jack befriends Jenna Fontaine--a town’s business owner and former DC lawyer—and her son Liam, his own issues with his kids and t…

The Bone House by Brian Freeman (♦♦♦♦½)

Glory Fischer, a native of a remote Wisconsin town, narrowly survives a deadly fire as a ten year-old. Six years later, she is found dead in a beach in Naples, Florida, where she had gone to vacation and to support her sister who was attending a national, college dance competition. The prime suspect is Mark Bradley who is also vacationing at the same resort with his wife.

Mark Bradley had it all: he was an attractive man in his mid-forties, he had a smart, beautiful wife who trusted him, a career at which he excelled and a house in an isolated part of the country, which he loved. His good name was taken away a year prior when rumors surfaced of him having a steamy affair with teenager Tresa Fischer, Glory’s older sister. He had been a substitute high school teacher but had been fired after the scandal. Mark wasn’t charged with a crime because Tresa denied the allegations. Despite of it, everyone in their community thought he was guilty and that Hilary, his wife, was a fool for trusti…

Friends with Benefits (♦♦♦½)

Jamie (Mila Kunis, Black Swan) is a successful headhunter. Dylan Harper (Justin Timberlake, The Social Network) owns an influential blog and is in conversations to head a well known publication. The problem is that Dylan lives in L.A. and would have to move to N.Y. City. Jamie convinces Dylan to take the new job with the condition that he can’t leave it for a year. Since Jamie and Dylan are both single and they haven’t been successful in any prior relationships, they decide to throw caution to the wind and be friends with benefits…Friends who have sex that is. Of course, that works well until they realize they are mutually the people they care about the most apart from family.

Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson and Richard Jenkins co-star.

A lot of nudity and sex, but this movie manages to be really funny without sounding offensive. There’s solid acting by all characters, and the topic of Alzheimer’s is treated with care. There is great chemistry between Mila Kunis and Justin Timberl…

Captain America: The First Avenger (♦♦♦♦)

It is 1942. Europe is amidst WWII. Nazi Germany is in need of defeating the allied troops and for that purpose they engage in research for advanced weapons and related stuff. As part of the Hydra program, a German scientist (Stanley Tucci) develops a serum capable of altering body cells to create super soldiers. Before it is ready, Hydra chief Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a power-hungry man, injects himself the serum and becomes sort of a mutant (this movie’s villain). The German scientist defects to the U.S. where he has the chance to perfect his invention and recruits Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a scrawny, young man intent on entering the army. When Rogers is injected the serums, he becomes a super version of himself; however he is warned that his best qualities will be magnified as well as his worst.

The army doesn’t take him seriously, but a U.S. Senator gives him the opportunity to help the troops by raising money for the cause. Wearing a colorful costume, Rogers becomes Capta…

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (♦♦♦♦)

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) have been gradually finding and destroying the seven horcruxes where Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has hidden part of his soul. It appears that the last horcrux is Nagini—the snake that Voldemort always keeps by his side—or is it? According to Severus Snape’s (Alan Rickman) last memory, Harry kept a part of Voldemort the night the latter killed Harry’s parents. It seems that Harry will be a sacrificial lamb in the battle between good and evil. When Voldemort summons Harry to the dark forest for a final confrontation, Harry survives a killing curse, thus having the chance to defend his friends and professors at Hogwarts and to defeat Voldemort forever.

This last installment is as dark as it gets. There is violence, destruction, battle scenes; when there isn’t someone dying, someone is getting ready for it. This fine film is certainly surprising, enlightening and brings the franchise to a well ro…

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz (♦♦½)

Odd Thomas, the psychic twenty-one year-old fry cook from Pico Mundo, left behind his hometown accompanied by Boo, a ghost dog, and the specter of a famous singer, and arrived at Magic Beach, a coastal California town. There he got a job as a cook for Hutch Hutchinson, a former Hollywood star. Odd’s arrival at Magic Beach had been prompted by nightmarish visions of red tides and sky and a premonition of many deaths; in the middle of it all, was a pregnant young woman, floating above the sea.

A month after living in town, he finally met Annamaria, the lady in his visions of the end of the world. That same afternoon, he was pursued by three thugs who wanted to kill him. The next few hours were challenging for Odd Thomas, since he was instrumental in thwarting a terrorist plot targeting millions of American people. Over the course of a night, surrounded by a dense fog covering the town, Odd encountered an assorted cast of characters-- some good, some bad, some plain evil--that tested hi…

The Front by Patricia Cornwell (♦♦♦)

Massachusetts District Attorney Monique Lamont is an ambitious woman with a painful, recent past. Her newest initiative is oriented towards rescuing neighborhoods from crime; for that purpose, she has decided to raise public awareness by reviving a cold case involving the brutal killing of a blind British young woman in Watertown, 1962.

Lamont orders Winston “Win” Garano, a state police investigator, to investigate the old crime in the company of Stump, a female police detective who heads a coalition of police agencies called the FRONT, which has the objective of uniting resources to avoid dependency of the state police. Stump makes clear from the beginning that she doesn’t want to be a part of the investigation; furthermore, she is convinced that Lamont has a secret agenda, and she may be right. When Garano starts to probe, he realizes that nothing is what it seems, and that Lamont, Stump and other characters all have their own reasons to lie.

I liked this book for several reasons: …

Harry Potter 1-2

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (♦♦♦♦)

In the first installment of the Harry Potter series, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) and Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris) drop off baby Harry on the Durnleys’ doorstep--uncle Vernon and aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw). Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) grows up not knowing anything about his past until it’s near his eleventh birthday, when he receives a letter addressed to him, which his uncle forbids him to read.

At the stroke of midnight on Harry’s eleventh birthday, Hagrid makes an unannounced appearance to wish him a happy birthday and to surprise him with news that he has been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he will undertake training to become a wizard, as his parents were before him. So starts a path of self discovery in which Harry will learn the truth about his birth parents’ lives at Hogwarts and about their untimely and gruesome deaths on the hands of the darkest wizard of all: Lord Vo…

Bridesmaids (♦♦♦)

Annie’s (Kristen Wiig) life starts to spiral out of control from the moment her best friend (Maya Rudolph) names her maid of honor for her wedding. The rivalry with her friend’s newest friend Helen, threatens to tear Annie and her friend apart.

The humor in this movie is crude despite of its almost all-female cast. The film still manages to be insightful towards love and friendship in spite of it all. The acting is not particularly great, but it convinces.

Funny movie, but not worth the theater admission price.

Hell’s Corner by David Baldacci (♦♦♦)

Skillful former CIA assassin John Carr, a.k.a. Oliver Stone, is summoned to the White House for a special mission that is going to send him south of the border. On the eve of his departure Oliver Stone stands on Lafayette Park, a place dear to him right across from the White House, when he hears a motorcade supposedly carrying Britain’s PM on his way out from a state dinner. As the PM is exiting his limo at Blair House, gunshots and a bomb go off in the park. Stone’s mission is soon replaced by the more urgent investigation on the motivations behind the attack and catching the people responsible for it.

Britain’s MI6 bring onboard Mary Chapman, one of its best field agents, to aid in the investigation, after all, the PM could have been a target in the attack. Chapman and Stone pair up with the backing of some administration’s higher ups. However, they soon run into a lot of trouble since their opponents prove to be more cunning and deceptive than anyone ever anticipated.

This book is…