Showing posts from 2017

Snapshots - #18

TV shows...
The Night Manager (♦♦♦♦♦): British army vet Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) is recruited by Angela Burr, a secret British enforcement agency's lead, to infiltrate the inner circle of Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), the world's greatest arms dealer, and bring him down.
This AMC/BBC co-production blew my mind away for several reasons. First, it is an adaptation of the John Le Carré novel of the same name, which is an oddity as Le Carré's novels go because, unlike most of his novels, this one actually had a high stakes, satisfying conclusion. Second, the exotic locales, from its initial North Africa setting, to Mallorca and Madrid, Spain, Turkey, London, and the Middle East, the story moved along smoothly between all these settings without losing its cool. Third, the quality of the production was high, with excellent adapted script, and great direction. Fourth, the marvelous ensemble cast led by the amazing Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie had me, from the first episode, …

La La Land (♦♦♦♦♦)

Mia is an aspiring actress who works as a barista at a Starbucks in a movie studio lot. Sebastian is a jazz musician with dreams of owning a jazz club. Over the course of a winter they will meet intermittently not quite realizing that, perhaps, they are meant to be. But, will realizing their individual dreams keep them together?
La La Land is the feel good movie of 2016 award season, and it has it all in a classy nicely wrapped package that will make you, as did I, fall in love with it again and again. La La Land is a musical that pays homage to old Hollywood musicals. It is a love story between a boy and a girl, but also a nostalgic look at the pursuit of dreams, and a celebration of dreams come true in the "City of Dreams".
La La Land is written and directed by Damien Chazelle, who does a great job on both counts because the script has an ethereal quality, and the direction of the movie seems effortlessly; this film relies as much on drama as it does on gorgeous, evocative m…

11 Great Doctor Strange Passages

1- [The Ancient One]: “Who are you in this vast multiverse, Mr. Strange?”
2- [Mordo]: “Bathe, rest, Meditate, if you can. The Ancient One will send for you.” (Handing out to Strange a piece of paper with a word written on it …) [Strange]: “Oh, what’s this? My mantra?” [Mordo]: “The Wi-Fi password. We are not savages.”
3- [The Ancient One]: “We harness energy drawn from other dimensions of the Multiverse to cast spells, to conjure shields and weapons…to make magic.”
4- [The Ancient One]: “How did you get to reattach severed nerves and put a human spine back together bone by bone?” [Strange]: “Study and practice, years of it.”
5- [Wong]: “Mr. Strange.” [Strange]: “Uh, Stephen, please. And you are?” [Wong]: “Wong.” [Strange]: “Just Wong? Like Adele? Or Aristotle…Drake…Bono…E-mi-nem.”
6- (Pointing to books on shelves…)  [Strange]: “What are those?”  [Wong]: “The Ancient One’s private collection.” [Strange]: “So they’re forbidden?” [Wong]: “No knowledge in Kamar-Taj is forbidden; only certain practices. Those b…

Doctor Strange (♦♦♦♦♦)

Dr. Stephen Strange is a world renowned neurosurgeon who suffers a car accident that causes severe nerve damage to his precious hands. In need of healing, and as a last resort, Stephen travels to Kathmandu, Nepal, where, in a temple called Kamar-Taj, he learns the tools to heal his body through magic. But this ancient practice, and the three sanctums that protect it, are under attack by a zealot and his followers—former students at Kamar-Taj—, who want nothing but everlasting life and the Master of Darkness to rule on Earth as he does in the Dark Dimension.
I thought that after the luscious world building and the ambitious scope of Thor, there was nothing new to tell or new ways to express them in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Oh, how wrong I was! I thought Tony Stark (a.k.a., Iron Man) and Captain America were my favorite characters in the MCU, and now comes Dr. Strange, with the gifted and multifaceted Benedict Cumberbatch leading an all-star ensemble, and has made reconsider my oth…

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (♦♦♦♦½)

Inspector Alan Grant Book 5

Inspector Alan Grant with Scotland Yard is recuperating in the hospital after a leg injury. He is feeling crabby from lying on his back, staring at the ceiling. A friend, who knows him too well, thinks that there is nothing like a well constructed mystery for Grant to get his groove back; thus, said friend brings him photographs of famous faces, one of whom is Richard III.
Before seeing the royal’s name printed in the back, Grant first impression is that it seems like a man of strong conviction, of integrity. He should know. Human behavior and faces are his bread and butter. Then, why is he surprised to learn that the face on the photograph is of one of the most infamous murderers in history?
Armed with history books that may or may not contain contemporary accounts, and a sidekick all too willing to dig into historical records to unearth the truth, Grant will shed light into the life and character traits of a much misunderstood and misjudged historical figure…

The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley (♦♦♦♦½)

English archeologist Verity Grey is invited to an archaeological dig in the coastal town of Eyemouth, Scotland, by a former flame and colleague of hers. The purpose of the dig is to find proof of the stay of the Roman Ninth Legion Hispana in those parts before it vanished without trace never to be seen or be heard of again. There is little known knowledge to back up that hypothesis, except the word of eight year-old Robbie McMorran who has seen the ghost of a Roman Sentinel patrolling the area.
I always approach a new book by favorite author Susanna Kearsley with trepidation, fearing that that will be the one to disappoint me, but her whole body of work is so consistently great that not only I enjoy them but fail to choose my absolute favorite novel among the seven novels of hers that I have read, namely The Winter Sea, The Rose Garden, Mariana, The Firebird, Named of the Dragon, A Desperate Fortune, and now The Shadowy Horses.
The Shadowy Horses is unconventional as Kearsley’s novel go…

Snapshots - #17

TV shows...
Pride and Prejudice (1995), (♦♦♦♦♦): I fell in love with this wonderful co-production from BBC and A&E channel. The dialogues sparkle with intelligence and humor, particularly the initial banter between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Watching Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle's exchanges, I would have sworn that the love between their characters was there from the very beginning. Lovely music, perfect casting choices even for minor characters, sumptuous estates, and great chemistry among the actors, make this miniseries pure perfection.

The movies... Patriots Day (♦♦♦♦): Based on the true events of the Boston Marathon bombing, this film encompasses the investigation, follows the survivors as they got urgent medical care, and follows the bombers as they run away in an attempt to reach NYC to repeat their heinous deeds.
Patriots Day is a taut, edge-of-your-seat reenactment of the Boston bombing and its aftermath. Starring an all-star ensemble cast led by Mark Wahlberg, pun…

How to be Human by Paula Cocozza (♦♦♦½)

Mary is a thirty-four year-old single woman who lives in London. She has ended a significant relationship in the last few months, but is still carrying inside the emotional remnants of that relationship. Does she want him back? Mary is not sure, until a new being enters her life...a red fox that is prowling the urban wilderness where she resides. At first, she thinks the fox, because naturally it is the same one, is trespassing on her garden, but eventually he starts leaving her gifts that may or may not have hidden messages. She becomes rather fond of him, and their relationship quickly evolves. Is it love?
Her neighbors want to catch the foxes—they are pretty sure there must be many—, or exterminate them, if possible, but Mary ends up taking matters into her own hands to safeguard the well being of her newly found lover.
How to Be Human is a unique, imaginative first novel. It is rather short, and beautifully written. It is a literary page-turner so delightfully quirky, that when I wa…

Hidden Figures (♦♦♦♦)

A group of African-American women were some of the brains behind the successful launch of Friendship 7—the space capsule in which John Glenn orbited the Earth three times—, and would later participate in the Apollo 11 program.
Hidden Figures is a winning movie on many levels: it brings girl power to new heights, showing that great minds aren't defined or confined by gender, or color, for that matter, and celebrates the remarkable achievements of African-American women at NASA, who were pioneers in many ways. Hidden Figures is also a great example that there are many stories to be told in the categories discussed above, and they can be done without compromising esthetics or involving profanity.
I was very impressed with the topic of the movie, with the all-star ensemble cast that precisely due to gender and race differences make this movie work to perfection. I was quite taken with the musical score of the movie that made ample use of theme songs to highlight situations, such as Kath…

Miss Sloane (♦♦♦♦♦)

Madeleine Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is the most powerful lobbyist in DC. She brings to the table a winning attitude and a ruthlessness that make her the best at what she does. She fights for things she believes in; that's how she sleeps at night, she says. When the head of the gun PAC wants to engage the services of the firm she works for, and hers in particular, Elizabeth expresses with conviction that she is pro gun control. No, she doesn't know any victim of guns; that is something she firmly believes in. Elizabeth is then approached by the CEO (Mark Strong) of a small firm, to win Senators to vote in favor of a bill that would impose universal background checks for arms buying. She is convinced that that may be the biggest win of her career, or her downfall... if her rivals have any saying in it.
Miss Sloane, directed by John Madden, is probably the gutsiest movie of 2016, but I bet not many people have heard of it. It would have had a wider audience had it not be…

The Hollywood Daughter by Kate Alcott (♦♦♦)

Tween Jessica "Jesse" Malloy is the only daughter of Hollywood publicist Gabriel Malloy. Gabriel is the man in charge of promoting a relatively unknown Swedish cinematic beauty named Ingrid Bergman. As a Hollywood daughter, Jesse carpools to school with the children of other celebrities, soon getting acquainted with the somewhat reclusive Ingrid Bergman. As years pass by and Bergman’s fame grows, Jesse comes to idolize her, but Bergman’s fall from grace with the American public in 1950—when she falls in love with Italian film director Roberto Rossellini—causes Jesse to question her hero, and the religious faith she has been brought in.
In A Touch of Stardust, Kate Alcott conjured movie magic, but reading The Hollywood Daughter feels like a chore. It is an uninspired family drama played out against the heady times of Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s.
Rather than historical fiction, this is a coming of age story about a girl disappointed by the choices that Ingrid Bergman, her c…

Snapshots - #16

Bridget Jones's Baby (♦♦♦♦½): Forty- three year-old Bridget is single again after having broken up with Mark Darcy. Mark is now married but things aren't going well in his marriage. A friend of Bridget convinces her to go together to a country festival where she, accidentally, spends the night with a stranger. Within the same month, she has a tryst with Mark Darcy, who confesses he is not over her. Now Bridget is pregnant and she doesn't know which one is the father.
Bridget Jones is my favorite singleton, and she gets it exactly right. Bridget Jones's Baby is hysterical in the tradition of Bridget Jones's Diary. As always, Bridget's antics and care free attitude make for great comedic moments, and Renee Zellweger is still brilliant as Bridget, now a forty-something singleton still trying to figure things out. Both leading men, Colin Firth as a much older Mark, and Patrick Dempsey as Jack, have great chemistry with Zellweger. Catchy music and new adventures hope…

Elle (♦♦♦♦♦)

Michéle is a divorced, alpha female who lives alone. She heads a successful video game company, and apparently still carries a torch for her ex. While at home one afternoon, an intruder sexually attacks her.
Michéle has a complicated past, a bloody mystery lurking that makes her distrustful of the police, so this attack, she deals with on her own. Before long, she starts receiving tantalizing texts that appear to be from the attacker. When she discovers his identity, however, they get caught in a game in which there are no winners.
Here I was thinking that, for me at least, Nocturnal Animals had been the best movie I had seen among the crop competing at the Oscars in the major categories in 2016, and then Elle came from behind and gave me quite a surprise.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven, who delivered an astounding winner for me with Black Book, Elle is a movie to watch once, get immersed in it—no distractions, low lights and all—, and never watch it again, because you are not likely going t…

Moonlight (♦♦♦♦)

Chiron is a black boy growing up in a tough neighborhood in Miami. His mother (Naomi Harris) kicks him out of their house often to do drugs. Accidentally, he befriends Juan (Mahershala Ali), a man with a good heart and a nice girlfriend, both of whom, open their home to Chiron and give him food and money, possibly to atone for the fact that Juan controls the drug selling in the neighborhood.
Chiron is a sensitive boy. Most boys pick on him and call him names. He knows how to fight back but most times chooses not to. Kevin is his only friend, or at least the only boy who doesn't care how he is. Over the course of the years, Chiron will struggle with his identity (sexual and otherwise), his sense of direction, the lack of love he has received from his biological mother, and the cycle of poverty, violence, and drugs in his neighborhood.
Moonlight, like most movies that competed at the Oscars this year, is powerful in an understated way. It is a meditation on race, identity, the search …

West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan (♦♦♦)

After his stunning success as a writer chronicling the glittering Jazz Age, Francis Scott Fitzgerald squandered his well-earned fortune partying and traveling the world in style beside his wife Zelda. Eventually, they fell on hard times, with Zelda having to be treated for mental illness in clinics in Switzerland and the States.
Meanwhile, after calling a few favors, Scott had a—not quite successful—second stint in Hollywood, towards the beginning of WWII, as a screenwriter for several movies that were never made. With his few royalty earnings and a dwindling salary, he had to pay for Zelda’s clinic, Scotty’s private schools, and his ever more constrained lifestyle.
I had a mixed experience with this book. The first 100-150 pages were solidly four stars, and read like Fitzgerald’s novel The Beautiful and Damned, which is no coincidence considering that that novel was mostly autobiographical. The first half of West of Sunsethad the feel” of a Fitzgerald novel, not so much for the lyric…

Snapshots - #15

The movies...
The Birth of A Nation (♦♦♦♦): Young Nat Turner is the preacher of his small community of slaves. Due to an arrangement with the priest, Sam Turner, Nat's owner, accompanied by Nat, travels to other farms in the county so he can charge money in exchange for Nat's services as preacher for other slave owners. What Sam doesn't realize is that a slave rebellion is brewing, and Nat, from experiencing so many injustices first hand, will become its leader.
Written, directed, and wonderfully acted by Nate Parker in the leading role, The Birth of A Nation is not only a movie that makes you think, but it is also one that will stay with you long after the credits roll. It is not an easy watch; there is plenty of violence in all forms, but it is far from gratuitous, and it justifies the choices that Nat Turner makes in the end.
It is such a shame that this movie and its filmmakers were marred by controversy, because it is the type of movie that does well at the Oscars. In a …

A Tale of Love and Darkness (♦♦♦)

Old Amos tells the story of his mother Fania (Natalie Portman), her upbringing in Rovno, Poland, in a well-off family, of the pogroms against the Jewish people that spread all over Europe with the rise of the Nazis which made her leave Rovno towards Jerusalem with her mother and three sisters. Old Amos reminisces about the stories Fania used to concoct for him while still a boy, and finally he wonders if it were the violence of Israel's first years as a nation, poverty, bouts of melancholy, and pain that broke his mother's spirit and drove her to an early end. Natalie Portman directed, wrote the screenplay, and starred as leading lady in this adaptation of Amos Oz' bestselling autobiography A Tale of Love and Darkness. While Portman's performance is good, it is a little too subdued for my taste—certainly not on the same level as in Black Swan and The Other Woman (Love and Other Impossible Pursuits). It suits the story, but I wish she would have explored her role more, o…

Hacksaw Ridge (♦♦♦♦)

Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), raised as a practicing Seventh Day Adventist, volunteered for WWII with the condition that he was allowed to serve in battle as a medic without carrying a rifle. The Army gave him hell, tried to discharge him on the basis of being mentally unfit, he was even court martialed...In the end, he was allowed to train as a medic and was sent, as a conscientious objector, with his company to the Pacific theater. In May, 1945, at Hacksaw Ridge, Okinawa, his company faced the Japanese and experienced heavy losses. The survivors were forced to retreat. Under the cover of navy bombardment, Doss rescued 75 injured men and lowered them with a rope over the ridge to safety. Few movie directors do epics or war dramas as does Mel Gibson. Even fewer tackle the subject of faith in an affecting manner. Despite his run-ins with the law and his loudly proclaimed antisemitism, he knows how to make movies, and not only that, but grand movies. It was such a pity his talent was wi…

Arrival (♦♦♦♦)

Twelve alien ships, shaped like shells, hover over different random points on Earth. Their apparent means of communication is humming, at least initially. What is their purpose? Do they mean harm, or a benign first contact? As one of the shells arrives in Montana, the U.S. Army under Colonel Weber's (Forest Whitaker) command, cordons off the area to prevent the site from becoming a tourist attraction. Two foremost civilian experts, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist, and Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist, lead the contact teams. Steady but slow progress is made, but when humans misinterpret aliens' "words", some countries shut off the exchange of information, threatening a war among species. Racing against the clock, it is up to Dr. Banks to decipher the aliens' true intentions...But to convey a message that may save us all she will have to risk her life. Arrival is an unconventional movie in several ways; unlike in most science-fictio…