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Showing posts from January, 2013

The Messenger by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦♦½)

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Ali Massoudi, a reputed professor suspected of being a recruiter for al-Qaeda, is followed by Office personnel in London and meets his untimely death by accident. Among his possessions is his laptop which, when booted up, reveals photographs detailing surveillance on Vatican’s security measures. That leads experts at the Office to conclude that an attack on this target is imminent. The spectacular attack takes place the day after Gabriel arrives in the Vatican accompanied by Luigi Donati, the pope’s secretary.
After the attack Gabriel goes back to the Office where the investigation begins. The trail leads to a Saudi formerly linked to the security services whose political luck ran out and now offers his services to the highest bidder. The trail also leads to Zizi al-Bakari, a Saudi billionaire with ties to the House of Saud who is the biggest contributor to the cause of terrorism against Christians and Israel. When all those leads are put together the only conclusion is to rid the worl…

Django Unchained (♦♦♦♦)

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Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave who gets his freedom by virtue of knowing three brothers with targets on their heads. Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is a German bounty hunter—he collects rewards for killing outlaws. When Dr. Schultz finds Django, they enter into an unlikely and utterly unique partnership for a long winter. As months go by, Django trusts Dr. Schultz with the story of Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), a slave beautiful enough to be in house service with the added asset that she speaks German; she is Django’s wife. After the winter both men travel to Mississippi to free Broomhilda but the plan encounters serious complications.
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained is a western like no other. As soon as the movie starts and one hears the music, which doesn’t go at all with westerns, but is a guilty pleasure nonetheless, one knows that the ride is going to be unique, and that it is by buckets load. Django Unchained is hysterical a-la Pulp Fiction, and …

Zero Dark Thirty (♦♦♦♦♦)

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Maya, fresh from high school, is recruited by the CIA soon after 9/11. She is stationed in Pakistan and assigned the task of following every lead related to Bin Laden. Station chiefs come and go and so do terrorists attacks abroad as well as the US political administration. After ten years, when most of her colleagues have given up on Bin Laden’s capture, Maya catches a break due to a human error from long ago that is discovered by an ambitious new recruit in Pakistan. The lead is a man suspected of being Bin Laden’s carrier, and by following him the CIA stumbles upon the most wanted man in the world who has been hiding in a secure compound in Abotabad, Pakistan.
When the credits rolled all I said was wow! Zero Dark Thirty has a magnificent script and is skillfully directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the award-winning director of The Hurt Locker. It is a taut, edge-of-your-seat thriller that doesn’t shy away from the torture carried out all over post 9/11. Thanks to those scenes Zero Dark Thi…

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (♦♦)

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Hansel and Gretel are siblings who are abandoned by their father in the forest in the middle of the night. They encounter a house made of sweets inhabited by a witch who imprisons them with the purpose of eating them. Hansel and Gretel craftily kill the witch, escape and become witch hunters. Many years later already grown up, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) learn the truth behind their parents’ abandonment and must fight powerful witches intend on spreading evil.
Several times during this movie I felt compelled to leave. By God, I want my money and my time back; if not my money at least my time. This movie starts cartoon-like to relate Hansel and Gretel’s journey to adulthood while fulfilling their destinies as with hunters, the truth is…The story is finished before it even starts because after they kill many witches what is left if not killing more witches? Witch hunters throwing grenades and armed with muskets and machine guns, an ogre who looks like King Kong and…

Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander, M.D. (♦♦♦½)

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Doctor in medicine Eben Alexander woke up one morning with flu-like symptoms. As hours passed, his situation rapidly deteriorated, and by the time emergency personnel brought him to the ER he was unconscious and having grand-mal seizures. As doctors began to work on him, it became evident he was suffering from a bacterial infection (of some sort) that was attacking the brain. Doctor Alexander’s illness turned out to be E. Coli meningitis, a case so rare in adults and so lethal that his chances of surviving were less than 10 percent.
Doctor Alexander fell in a coma for six days while his chances of surviving, let alone a full recovery, diminished to zero. On the seventh day, amidst talks of discontinuing his treatment and “letting nature take its course”, he woke up from coma and within two months he was without apparent negative sequels.
The real value of Doctor Alexander’s experience doesn’t lie in the fact that he beat impossible odds, though he did. Aside from his miraculous recovery…

Prince of Fire by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦½)

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After a monstrous attack to the Israeli embassy in Rome and the subsequent discovery in terrorist hands of a dossier that details Gabriel Allon’s career exploits, Ari Shamron pays a visit to Gabriel and Chiara in Venice—where Gabriel is restoring a Bellini’s altarpiece—to let them know the contents of the dossier and force them to leave Venice for Jerusalem effective immediately. Gabriel will be once again an active “Office” member this time under Lev’s leadership.
Upon Gabriel’s return to the “Office”, Lev assigns him a team with many members. After an inspection of personnel files, Gabriel settles for a team of four-- Dina is a living database of every terrorist act ever committed, Rimona is an army captain and Ari Shamron’s niece, Yossi is a computer analyst and Yaakov used to be a rough patrol guy.
Gabriel’s team starts to compile data on the Rome attack and a very interesting theory emerges courtesy of Dina, one in which a boy with terrorist pedigree named Khaled has grown up to be…

A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦♦½)

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Gabriel Allon is in Venice restoring an altarpiece when Ari Shamron pays him a visit to tell him that Eli Lavon’s –an old friend and colleague-- office in Vienna has been bombed and he is in comma. In the incident two girls who worked for Lavon ended up dead.

Gabriel travels to Vienna to investigate the events surrounding the bombing of Lavon’s office. He finds in the hospital an old man named Max Klein who believes he is the reason why Lavon has been attacked. Max Klein tells Gabriel the story of his survival of the Holocaust during which he met a SS man named Erich Radek who he has recently encountered after sixty years, a man then responsible for many deaths and for burying evidence of the genocide who is now an accomplished and respected businessman living under another name.

As Gabriel digs deeper, he finds a survival account from an unlikely source, and suddenly the Radek affair becomes more troublingly personal.

I really liked this book. The fourth in the Gabriel Allon series,…

Top Films of 2012

The following is a compilation of the films I liked best in 2012.

Thin Ice (♦♦♦♦): This movie delivers a few good laughs brought about by situations that appear silly at the time, but no doubt it’s the ending that packs a big punch. I liked the script and the performances… It’s a caper movie with a stylized plot; though not as elegant as Ocean’s Eleven, it’s certainly more believable.

The Hunger Games (♦♦♦♦): I am fascinated with this movie. It is entertaining yet gritty, and there’s plenty of action to satisfy all tastes. The story delivers in great, satisfying ways.

Mirror Mirror (2012) (♦♦♦♦): I really loved this movie. It pokes fun at aging (gracefully or otherwise), at beauty, at people who have married multiple times, at suffering… The humor, however, is oriented towards adults… Mirror Mirror is a fun, lush and just plain cute movie for the whole family.

Chimpanzee (♦♦♦♦): Without the clues provided in the trailer it’s hard to anticipate young Oscar’s fate after his mother’s death, …