Showing posts from 2015

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…

Happy New Year 2016

Happy 2016 to casual visitors of my site and those assiduous visitors along the year. Your support has made me appreciate writing for you all the more.
Thanks from the bottom of my heart and please keep on visiting with open hearts and minds. Hopefully there will be plenty of more things to say in the years to come.
May 2016 be a healthy, joyous, and prosperous year for you all!

My Reading Year 2015 in Retrospect

2015 was for me a great reading year, though I definitely read less books than in the previous two years. Also, I discovered the benefits of joining NetGalley, through which I could read advance copies of some of this year’s hot releases. Visiting Jessica @ Bookworm Chronicles last December I saw a post that made me want to replicate what she did, so I borrowed the format and the questions for this post. Below is how my 2015 reading year looked like:
Books read: 26 Fiction: 24                 Non-Fiction: 2                      Re-reads: 0
Genres: (some of these overlap)
Poetry: 1                    Historical Fiction: 9             Religion: 1
Contemporary Literature: 7           Mystery/Suspense: 3           
Thrillers/Espionage: 6
Jessica @ Bookworm Chronicles adapted these questions which I borrowed because I found them fun and so revealing.
Best book of the year (I couldn’t possibly pick just one): Best Books I Read in 2015
Most surprising (in a good way!): Angels at the Gate by T.K. Th…

Best Books I Read in 2015

I hadn’t realized until I was compiling this list that most of the book I read this year I rated four stars or higher. That says a great deal about the quality of the books I chose (mostly) from NetGalley. The following is a compilation of the books I read and liked best in 2015.

After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles by Bryan Litfin (♦♦♦♦♦): Scholarly and didactic, written in a language easy to understand, After Acts is food for thought and a theological page turner. Also, it doesn't shy away from addressing theological controversies and differences in thoughts.
A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott (♦♦♦♦): is a fascinating and meticulous account of the filming of Gone with the Wind. It is an ode to the movies and the magic of movie making, to the glamour and decadence of an age gone by, to the movie stars who were part of it, and to the making of movie history.
Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb (♦♦♦♦½): reverberates with intensity. I could picture the unfolding story …

Project Nim (♦♦♦♦)

I have had pets of different kinds throughout my life, and I'm very good with animals. In fact, as years have gone by I've grown more comfortable among animals than humans. Animals don't judge; they take you at face value, and I have seen animal behavior that cannot be described any other way than human. For that reason I think that animals have to be treated with empathy and consideration. Though I'm not an animal rights activist and I believe sometimes their rights are taking to the extreme, I feel heartbroken when I see animals suffering or being killed in human hands or care.
The reason for the diatribe above is the HBO documentary Project Nim, about a baby chimpanzee named Nim, who was raised as a human child with a family in New York, all in the name of science. The objective of the project was to find out the effects human interaction had on a developing chimpanzee, and if it could communicate with his human charges using sign language. As years went by and Nim g…

The Cove (♦♦♦♦)

A team of divers, filmmakers, and dolphin activists join forces to expose a brutal practice in Taiji, a coastal town in Japan. Every September, people representing Seaquaria the world over, meet in a cove to which thousands of dolphins are lured via a sound disorientation method. Marine parks representatives choose the specimens they want, mostly the females, and the rest, even calves, are harpooned to death.
It is estimated that in Japan, 23,000 dolphins are killed each year, and the meat, which contains dangerous levels of mercury (up to 20 times the level accepted for consumption from fish), ends up on occasions being given for free to school lunch programs, and/or sold in supermarkets.
As I saw the credits roll on, I felt consternation at how a first world country can kill animals that are recognizably smarter than us humans, for profit or sheer sport. I understand when third world countries poach valuable animals, either for profit or for survival, because even though I don't c…

About Time (♦♦♦♦)

The day after another failed New Year's party, Tim's (Domnhall Gleeson) father (Bill Nighy) confesses to Tim that the men in the family are able to travel back in time and possibly tweak events that may have just happened. Tim uses his new found ability to get himself a girlfriend (Rachel McAdams). As years go by, Tim realizes that either he has less time for going back in time, or no need at all. Living the moment the best he can the first time is the recipe for happiness.
Watching this movie's characters may remind you of other British romantic comedies such as Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Love Actually, and that's no coincidence because About Time is directed and written by Richard Curtis, director of the other three films I just mentioned. With Curtis you sort of expect quirky characters, lots of humor, plenty of love, the occasional tragedy, and a happy ending, and About Time has these ingredients and more in spades.
Rachel McAdams, one of my favor…

Ant-Man (♦♦♦♦)

Out of jail and out of his first job for hiding the fact that he has a past as a famous burglar, Scott Lang seems to be out of options to earn his living legally. A friend offers him a place to stay and a stint as the cat burglar he is. (Un)Fortunately, the safe he cracks open doesn't contain riches but a secret suit that can make its wearer a miniature soldier, an Ant-Man.
Smart, inventive, and very funny, Ant-Man gives a playful treatment to the superheroes genre evocative of the first Iron Man movie. There is lots of adventure and fast paced action to satisfy action junkies, and enough destruction (in "small scale") to please the younger crowd. The motivation behind Ant-Man's actions, which is to become the man his daughter sees in him, will appeal to families as well.
Overall, Ant-Man is a better alternative for more discerning movie-goers to a genre that at times seems not to have anything new left to offer, proof that old stories can be presented in a more satisf…

Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os) (♦♦♦♦)

Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) was an orca trainer at a Seaquarium park attraction before a tragedy during a live show changed her life virtually in the blink of an eye. Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a down-on-his-luck father to five year old Sam. Ali is living with his sister, while making money boxing in street fights in his free time. Two people who have lost much somehow find love in each other's company, and the will to live.
I recently saw Matthias Schoenaerts for the first time in Far from the Madding Crowd, in the role of Gabriel Oak, opposite Carey Mulligan. If you read my review and the comments section you probably know that I liked him a lot. In Rust and Bone, opposite Marion Cotillard, he delivers a raw and gritty award-worthy performance and so does she. They shine in tumultuous and emotionally demanding roles, showing the evolution of both Stephanie and Ali; Schoenaerts does so by displaying an odd mix of grit and sensibility. Cotillard has in Rust and Bone a unique op…

Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas (♦♦♦♦)

Dementia pugilistica, dementia that boxers can develop from repeated blows to the head during their careers, had been documented in medical literature for at least two centuries. There were concerns among some prominent brain scientists about the possible damaging effects of repeated concussions to football players, but NFL-sponsored research pointed to the opposite.
In 2002, Mike Webster's (a.k.a. Iron Mike) corpse ended up at the Allegheny County morgue in Pittsburgh as a result of accidental death. Neuropathologist Dr. Bennett Omalu performed the autopsy. And brain being his specialty, decided to preserve Webster's brain for further evaluation.
Dr. Bennett Omalu wasn't familiar with football as a pastime, but as an outsider he reasoned that the blows to the head that football players received didn't seem that different from those that boxers did. As he would learn later, he was far off in that regard; depending on defensive position played, football players receive bl…

Cinderella (2015) (♦♦♦♦♦)

My gosh! I loved this movie. I got such a high that I practically felt like I was in love. No kidding, I'm still smiling and my heart is fluttering!
What can I say about this live version of Cinderella? It's perfect! How you noticed how many exclamation points I've used already? Let me calm down...Ah... The cast is perfect: Lily James is an adorable, courageous and kind Cinderella. Richard Madden, the gorgeous Robb Stark of Games of Thrones (GOT) fame is a dashing and charming prince. Gosh, he practically stole the movie from Lily James and Cate Blanchett with that smile of his. Cate Blanchett is perfection as the malevolent and scheming stepmother, though I can't stop thinking that she should have been given more screen time. Hayley Atwell did whatever little she could in virtually a cameo appearance as Ella's mother, though I hardly recognized her as a blonde. Helena Bonham Carter has a flair for interpreting whimsical characters and she literally does magic as th…

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (♦♦♦½)

Oskar Schell is a precocious nine year-old who lost his father on the World Trade Center on September 11. A year or so into the death of his father, Oskar finds a mysterious key inside a vase on top of his father’s closet, along with an envelope on which the word Black is written. That leads Oskar to start a hunt around New York City’s five buroughs looking for the lock the key opens, whose owner may tell him more about his father and how he died.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close came to my attention via a coworker. She spoke excitedly about it, so I thought I should read it. I started reading it years ago and abandoned it about page 50. But since the previous book I was reading this time around wasn't grabbing my attention, I took a look at my book shelves and decided to give this one another try.
The only element that made me keep reading was Oskar and how authentic his voice felt throughout the novel. I had an extremely hard time reading the first 200 pages for several reasons…

Far from the Madding Crowd (♦♦♦♦)

England, 1870. Bathsheba Everdene is a young woman with only her education to pride herself, but upon the death of an uncle she inherits money, a mansion, and a farm on several acres of land. Working on her farm is Gabriel Oak, the first man she refused to marry. He accompanies her through life's ups and downs, her whirlwind romance to spirited sergeant Frank Troy which ends up in a failed marriage, and another truncated marriage offer from her land neighbor and middle aged bachelor Mr. Bolwood.
I love period pieces and romantic movies and Far from the Madding Crowd doesn't disappoint on any front. The acting is superb; the photography, musical score, and cinematography are simply beautiful. This movie has soul and a moral: enduring love grows from partnership and sacrifice; it isn't born from infatuation, but from every day acts.
I like Carey Mulligan's acting style, because she can conjure at will different characters such as the innocent girl in An Education, the vain …

Grace of Monaco (♦♦♦♦)

Between 1961 and 1962, French president Charles de Gaulle issued an ultimatum to the principality of Monaco to stop luring away businesses from French soil and pay them taxes accordingly. Prince Rainier of Monaco and his cabinet refused de Gaulle's demands and Monaco was blockaded under threat of an impending war with France.
Meanwhile, princess Grace wanted to return to the business of movie-making with a role offered by Hitchcock. The crisis between her adopted nation and France puts everything in perspective for her as she has to decide if her love for the prince can endure with so much at stake.
No living actress has either the allure or the beauty that Grace Kelly did, but in Grace of Monaco, Nicole Kidman comes very close. The photography takes advantage of a distant likelihood of Kidman to Grace Kelly, and they exploit the close up angle to her eyes and hair to perfection to show off that Kidman genuinely owns the role. And she does, from the scenes in which her marriage seem…

The Devil's Violinist (♦♦♦♦)

Paganini had extraordinary talent but lacked an audience receptive to his heavenly music. A man who turned out to be the devil offered him a deal: everlasting fame and filled concert halls, everything his heart desired, in exchange for his soul in the hereafter.
It's been long since I didn't see a movie that gorgeous, the screenplay, the storytelling, the acting are to die for. The music is just exquisite, which by the way was arranged in part by the gorgeously looking David Garrett (who looks like a young Ricky Martin) in the leading role as Paganini.
The two movies that vaguely convey the same spirit of music perfection are Nannerl (la soeur de Mozart), and Quartet.
The story transmit enough emotion to make us feel bad for the doomed genius whose talent has gone to waste in the prime of his life, and to make us empathize with a blooming love thwarted by evil intent.
I cannot recommend this movie enough. If you love classical music, as do I, you shouldn't miss The Devil's…

Lovelace (♦♦♦♦)

In the 1970s, Linda Lovelace starred in an adult movie that became a sensation. She became an overnight celebrity. Little did people know that she had been an unwilling pawn in her husband sick way of making money.
Amanda Seyfried usually stars in bubbly, feel good movies, but in Lovelace she sheds her good girl image and delivers the performance of her life as Linda Lovelace. The role is challenging enough for an acting heavyweight, but Seyfried as usual makes it seem effortless, as if all the sugar coated roles that preceded this one had been in preparation for Lovelace. Don't get me wrong, there is a bubbly personality underneath the sexy persona, and Seyfried shines equally as the girl next door turned unwilling celebrity than she does as a common woman needing love and protection.
Peter Sarsgaard has the role of the abusive scumbag husband, and he owns his role as well. He is the villain in the story and you get to hate him for it.
Lovelace is not a family movie; it is intended …

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova (♦♦♦♦)

The O’Briens are an Irish Catholic family who live in Charleston, Massachussetts. Joe O’Brien, the patriarch, is a police officer with the Boston PD. Rosie, the matriarch, is a part-time worker. The O’Briens have four children between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five.
At the age of forty-five, Joe O’Brien starts experiencing unexplained rage, jerky involuntary movements, loss of coordination and balance…After a genetic test, Joe is diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease. Life as the O’Briens knew it, is over because HD is a hereditary disease and every one of Joe’s kids has a fifty-fifty chance of being gene positive and start developing symptoms ten to twenty years into the future.
Two of the siblings are gene positive. Another one is ambivalent about wanting to find out her health status, and the remaining sibling doesn’t want to find out. As HD progresses on their father, the family must come to terms about how the next few years will be lived; whether they face life head on or th…

One Lovely Blog Award

I was just nominated by Lynn @ Lynn’s Book Blog for the One Lovely Book Award. Off course I felt honored because I love to hang out at Lynn’s blog and take parts in the discussions she sparks with her wit, and because I’ve never been nominated for a blog award. Here are the rules: You must thank the person who nominated you and include a link to their blog.You must list the rules and display the award.You must add 7 facts about yourself.You must nominate 15 other bloggers and comment on one of their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
Here are 7 facts about me:
I have been a reader practically since I learned to read. My mother used to work at a library so I had a great deal of books at my disposal.My two favorite authors are Daniel Silva and Susanna Kearsley.Growing up I wanted to be an author; I used to write short stories, poetry, and essays; now I just blog about books and movies, and occasionally I voice my opinions on politics.I’m a scientist by training; I have severa…

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her (♦♦♦♦)

In this the version of the story from Eleanor's point of view, we get drop wise clues of possible reasons why Eleanor has left a marriage that by most accounts seemed happy. She doesn't know who she is in life or where she is going, but her somewhat reticent friendship with a female professor, who as most of us has problems of her own, helps pave the way for Eleanor to connect with the pain and the feelings she has suppressed. Tragedy is what drove Eleanor away. The couple lost a baby that wasn't expected but was welcomed nonetheless. She put her studies aside when she got pregnant...And him? He is trying to win her back but doesn't know the right words to make it all better.
It was an emotional experience watching the chemistry among the characters in this movie. Eleanor's parents look broken; they seem to be having a crisis of their own likely triggered by the mother's regrets for having jumped into family life leaving her career as an artist by the roadside. …

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him (♦♦♦♦)

A nice complement to the story of Eleanor is Conor's point of view. He is not coping well with the loss of their baby, but he is putting one foot in front of the other so to speak. Then, Eleanor blindsides him with news that she wants a break. She unexpectedly vanishes and he goes to share his father's apartment for the time being while he figures out his next move. Meanwhile, the restaurant/bar he owns is going under.
I enjoyed more this side of the story than her side. Eleanor's side had to be painstakingly pieced together. It was a nuanced performance by Jessica Chastain but at times the plot seemed sketchy. Conor's story moves along nicely and quickly, providing the missing pieces of the story we already know. Conor's father's perspectives on topics like love, aging, and loss, are refreshing and their dynamics, as well as Conor's complicated relationship with Stuart, his best friend, propel the story forward seamlessly.
I have a soft spot for James McAvoy…