Showing posts from February, 2016

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…

Spotlight (♦♦♦♦)

In the city of Boston, 53% of the population is Roman Catholic. In 2002, Spotlight, an investigative team with the Boston Globe uncovered the sex abuse to minors by 87 Catholic priests in the city of Boston alone, and the cover up by the highest Catholic authority in the archdiocese, Cardinal Law. The team got about 1,000 surviving victims on record dating back to the 1960s.
Wow, Spotlight is easily atop 2015's best movies for several reasons. It has a dynamic pace despite its grim topic, with a solid direction, tight editing, and smart screenplay. The scope of the story has been compared to All the President's Men, and I agree, but I also think that the feel and the storytelling resemble that movie as well.
Spotlight probably would have been just another movie without its superb ensemble cast. Michael Keaton (the original Batman) in the leading role as editor Walter "Robbie" Robinson steered the investigative team in the right direction, acted as the voice in the head…

Trumbo (♦♦♦♦)

Starting in 1947, the fear of spreading Communism reached Hollywood. Some prominent screenwriters were called to testify before Congress about their political affiliations with the Communist Party, and declared in content for not addressing the questions directly. Hence, they were jailed and subsequently blacklisted without any possibility to work. That is, until Dalton Trumbo, Hollywood’s top screenwriter, found a way to circumvent the policy and write screenplays under bogus names, thus winning two Oscars and exposing the ineffectiveness of the system.
If I said that Spotlight belonged at the top of 2015’s best movies, I have to say that Trumbo does as well. The screenplay is a jewel, at times funny and serious, and the direction and the editing are superb as well. Typically period pieces tend to go on and on for longer than two hours; most times if they fit into the allotted time frame the movie feels heavy, slow, but there was nothing superfluous in Trumbo, at all.
If the technical …

Steve Jobs (♦♦♦♦)

Steve Jobs the film, chronicles some of the conflicts Steve Jobs underwent during his tenures at Apple, both before getting fired, in the interim, and after his triumphant return as the head of Apple with the launch of the iMac.
I reviewed Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher back when almost no one read my blog. Back then I was very impressed with Kutcher’s performance and his likeness to Steve Jobs. Michael Fassbender didn't resembled Steve Jobs physically during most of this movie, but his alienating attitude was spot on.
The film Steve Jobs explores, in conflict form, Steve Jobs make as a man. Curiously, his closest people thought he was brilliant but an otherwise deplorable human being. What comes through in this movie is Fassbender ability to shine under constant emotional pressure, present because most of the movie is one argument after the other. Therefore, in Steve Jobs is not the leader that is explored so much but rather the man behind the myth, and quite a man he was.
You may bel…

Suffragette (♦♦♦½)

England, 1912... Women are demanding their rights to vote, but it is falling on deaf ears. Men in power are either mocking the suffragette movement, or combating it by force. The press is being forced to silence the news-making stories, but all hell breaks loose when a woman willingly gives up her life in the presence of the king to put the suffragette movement in the front page of newspapers around the world.
The only overview that I had of the suffragette movement in England was when reading The Man from St. Petersburg by Ken Follett. It wasn't exclusively on that topic but about the events leading up to WWI. The Man from St. Petersburg did a fine job in introducing women's struggles, but the film Suffragette has definitely filled in the blanks.
Wonderfully acted by mostly a female cast, Suffragette provides some of the background stories that may have fueled the movement: the working women earning much less than men, the physical, sexual, and verbal abuses from bosses, the lac…

Crimson Peak (♦♦♦♦)

Aspiring writer Edith M. Cushing devotes all her attention to writing, despite having some admirers in her father's circle. All that changes when she is swept off her feet by a dashing British aristocrat traveling to the States on a business venture. But what is it with Baronet Thomas Sharpe that rubs Edith's father the wrong way?
Masterfully written, directed and co-produced by Guillermo del Toro, Crimson Peak is a twisted fairy tale for adults, together with love--the right and the wrong kind—and a haunted mansion.
In Crimson Peak, del Toro uses again classic gothic elements that worked so well in Pan's Labyrinth, except that in the latter he used the gothic to convey the horror experienced by a child during tumultuous political times, while in the former there is no parable, just madness.
The story is more gothic mystery than conventional horror, but despite some screaming and small amount of gore, it is the mystery of what happened in the past and what the siblings want, …

Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets (♦♦♦½)

Amy Raye is married, has a kid of her own plus her husband's daughter as well. Everything seems fine from the outside, but Amy has a secret double life. Every once in a while she engages in sex with other men. Danger appeals to her on a primal level.
Amy Raye has hunted wild game since she was a child. Her grandfather taught her early on invaluable survival skills, which she has polished over the years. Her survival instincts and skills come in handy when she disappears in the wilderness of Colorado for three months in relatively unfamiliar terrain while hunting elk. Pru, a dedicated law enforcement officer, doesn't believe in failure, and it is that drive that ultimately leads her to Amy Raye.
I had an uneven experience with this book. I really liked the first 20% or so, but as the search dragged on and Amy Raye's character started to be fleshed out, it became heavy reading for me because I couldn't understand or condone her behavior. Luckily for me and the author as we…

Spectre (♦♦♦♦)

The last message from the beyond, courtesy of female M., is for James Bond to find a man named Sciarra, kill him, and make sure to attend his funeral. Bond travels to Mexico City, then Rome to do just that. Upon Sciarra's death, his widow is on borrowed time. It seems that the people her husband had dealings with, are intent on silencing her. She tells Bond where to go to attend a meeting of those people. What James Bond finds is a shadowy terrorist organization with global reach known as Spectre. But what's Spectre's ultimate purpose, and who exactly is heading it? Its purpose is to control British intelligence top to bottom. Its head is a man buried in Bond's past, a ghost, and it seems this man is behind every tragedy in Bond's life. Another entry in the James Bond saga, Spectre, as Skyfall, is directed by Sam Mendes. Again the movie opens with a soaring anthem aptly named "The Writing's on the Wall", a-la Adele's "Skyfall", while image…

American Hustle (♦♦♦♦)

In 1978, an FBI agent recruited two con artists to set up a sting operation to bring down NJ politicians and members of the U.S. Congress who accepted bribery to speed up the licensing of a NJ casino. Directed and co-written by David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), American Hustle is a smart, interesting take on government corruption. A solid and witty screenplay, at times needlessly convoluted, contributes to the overall appeal of the film. Music by Elton John, Ella Fitzgerald, Donna Summer, and Tom Jones, among others, keep the story dynamic and fluid. There's much to say in terms of the all-star cast, who has an electrifying chemistry working together. Teaming up with David O. Russell once more as in Silver Linings Playbook are Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro (in a cameo role as a notorious Mafioso). As I said when I partially reviewed Amy Adams' filmography and in Her, she shines in a strong ensemble, and American Hustle is no different in that reg…

Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley (♦♦♦♦)

Literary agent Lyn Ravenshaw has had recurrent nightmares for five years, ever since she lost her newborn in childbirth. An invitation to spend the two weeks leading to Christmas at a seaside village in Pembrokeshire, South Wales—in the company of Bridget Cooper, an author Lyn represents, and James Swift, an author she admires and would like to sign up—hints major changes, for Lyn’s nightmares change shape and prompt her to take care of a baby—descendant of King Arthur and a line of Welsh heroes—who may be destined for greatness and is in danger of being captured by “a dragon”. Lyn has the help of brooding, and elusive playwright Gareth Gwyn Morgan, a local who steers her through the world of Celtic myths, Arthurian legend, and Merlin’s prophecies to make sense of her dreams and their meaning.
Named of the Dragon is the fifth novel I read by Susanna Kearsley after The Winter Sea, The Rose Garden, Mariana, and Firebird.
I started Named of the Dragon twice or thrice last year, but it seem…

Straight Outta Compton (♦♦♦)

In the mid 1980s, five black men out of Compton, California, pioneered the gangsta rap movement that became an instant sensation nationwide. Rappers like Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy-E emerged from the group. But not everything was a bed of roses for them; as years passed, egos collided and money and creative differences pulled them apart.

I wanted to watch Straight Outta Compton due to the controversy that has been generated as result of it not being nominated to this year's Oscars. While I don't think it is Oscar material, I do think it stands out from most of this year's productions in several important ways.
I don't like gangsta music; its call to violence is not the type of music I enjoy, but there is a wide sector of the U.S., even the world population, who feel they live at the edge of society and this music appeals to them. I don't like this music but I enjoyed it in the context of the film--I even swayed to the rhythm--, played out against unauthorized police…