Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: The End of Your Life Book Club

"What are you reading?" Will asked his mother this question as they waited for her chemo treatment at Sloan Kettering in New York. Thus began an informal book club. They shared books, asked questions, and were constantly reminded of the power of books to comfort us, astonish us, teach us, and tell us what we need to do with our lives and in the world. (cover blurb)
Mary Anne Schwalbe was an amazing woman, who even in dying, showed grace and concern for so many. Her humanitarian efforts for refugees, and her work for education in Afghanistan was astounding. And her strength while dying helped her son, Will, look at the world differently.

He has written a powerful memoir and captured treasured memories in books. This is not maudlin. The books and subsequent discussions are thought-provoking. Did I cry at the end? Well, yes. I cared a lot about Will's mother and admired her common sense, her energy, her passion, and her grace.

P. 103 Of course, we are all dying and none of us knows the hour...And there's a world of difference between knowing you could die in the next two years and knowing that you almost certainly will.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe reinforces the message that books matter.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Movie Review Madness: Red 2

RED 2 is a rollicking, raucous summer blow 'em up fest. It's crazy fun and it's good to see that retired people aren't just sitting around. The gang is back in action in a convoluted plot involving some bomb to end all bombs. Bruce Willis keeps trying to not be involved, but he's drawn in. He doesn't want his girlfriend, Mary Louise Parker, to have a gun, but wacky John Malkovich keeps her armed. Helen Mirren, so classy, is shooting with two hands. The Russians are after them. The Korean is after them. And they have Anthony Hopkins out of prison. He was a genius professor...but wait...is he a MAD genius professor?

Paris, London, Russia. The movie flits from various exotic locations as the group works to decipher codes, battle fiends, and find the ticking problem. Car chases, foot races, judo, and guns. It's all there along with quips galore. RED 2 is fast paced and hilarious. There's not much more to say. Suspend belief, buy some popcorn, and be prepared to laugh.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Let's Wander the Streets of Quebec

 Are you bored yet with my Quebec City trip?  Let's just wander the streets. Here's a cool trompe l'oeil facade tucked into a neat square.
 Road imitating waves from the St. Lawrence River.
 From any point, the Chateau Frontenac peeks out from above
 Door with character
Grace over all

Monday, July 22, 2013

Movie Review Madness - Monsters University

Monsters University is a Pixar prequel to Monsters, Inc and it's another clever concoction. Mike (voiced by the irrepressible Billy Crystal) is our one-eyed green glob who's wanted to go to the elite Scarer School forever. He's been admitted to the university, but must prove his worth. He studies hard, works hard, and can answer every question asked by professors. But he's just not scary - he's the funny guy.

Big blue Sully (John Goodman) is lazy, never has a pencil, and doesn't study, but he can roar. Plus his father was a superb scarer, so everyone assumes Sully has it made. He's invited to the elite fraternity and is the popular dude. However, he and Mike are on a collision course.

Sure enough, they are kicked out of Scarer school for various reasons and then must work together along with other losers to try to get back in. The very scary Helen Mirren monster dean is very disapproving of their quality, but they keep proving her wrong. It all comes down to the Scare Fest contest. Can the guys pull together and manage to get a win? I won't give away the shenanigans, but this is one fright fest you'll want to watch with both eyes open.

Monsters University is fun for kids and adults alike. It's very clever with sharp dialogue, plenty of humor, and amazing animation. Apply now with a ticket to movie entertainment.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Book Review: The Woman Upstairs

The opening salvo - How angry am I? You don't want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.

Nora Eldridge is an elementary teacher who wanted to be an artist. Somehow her life evolved into being the "woman upstairs". She's the nice neighbor, the reliable friend, and always on the fringe of others' achievements. (cover blurb)

Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs is told with urgency, intimacy, and piercing emotion. This novel of passion and artistic fulfillment explores the intensity, thrill - and the devastating cost - of embracing an authentic life.  (cover blurb).

When Nora meets the Shahid family her life turns upside down. They embody everything she wants - artistic success, intellectual conversation, and a foreign glamour. Nora thrives with her newfound friendship. However, the mighty high comes with a huge downfall.

P.4 I've finally come to understand that life itself is a Fun House. All you want is that door marked Exit....I opened doors. I took them. I believed in them....it felt so different - until I suddenly realized I'd been stuck in the Fun House all along. I'd been tricked. The door marked Exit hadn't been an exit at all.

The Woman Upstairs develops slowly and the reader goes from being boring Nora to being energetic engaged Nora. The writing is smooth and Messud kept me interested in her characters. I admit I liked the Fun House analogy and indeed you will stay on the ride, anticipating exits and finally surprised.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Movie Review Madness: World War Z

World War Z is Wow! This film is tight, scary, and really good. Brad Pitt (Jerry) and family are driving along in Philly when bam! There are explosions, people crashing into cars, and then folks chomping on each other. What???? A few quick cell calls, and Jerry (a former UN investigator) is able to get airlifted and then on his way to special assignments. He thought he was out, but his skills are too good. (Of course, he's freakin' Brad Pitt).

Has a plague hit? Or worse - is it really zombies taking over the world? Brad has to travel to far flung places, chasing patient zero. Meanwhile, each encounter is more fraught with danger, and his family keeps getting moved from their safe haven to refugee status. World War Z is tense. We worry for Brad and his crew, and we worry for his family and the fate of the world. Plus these are fast moving zombies with clacking chomping teeth. Yikes!

Yes, the film has zombies but that's not the point. It's more about the drastic spread of horror in apocalyptic proportions. The world is so united these days, it can also become a catastrophe very quickly. Fortunately, there's a hidden research facility for disease study. Brad takes a chance to save the world. And he uses nature itself to draw conclusions.

Hold your breath and stay alert. World War Z is an emotional roller coaster ride. Excellent movie, but not for kids.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Quebec - Musee des Beaux Arts

 Alas, I've gone two weeks without a croissant or crepes or vacation frivolity with friends. At least I have pictures to share and re-live happy memories. This sculpture in front of the art museum is called "Waterspout" .
 Here is the official Musee National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec. Neat building and lots of art treats inside. Mary Ellen's little head is in the corner of this picture.
 I enjoyed the variety of different (i.e not Impressionists) art in this musuem. It featured Canadian and specifically Quebec artists. The section on Inuit art was beautiful. Sculptures carved from ivory and whalebone were haunting and pure.
Stepped out back to view this sculpture and in the distance, the St.Lawrence river. Despite overcast weather, we operated under a cloud of artistic joy.
On the road away from the museum, this wall featured teasers of Alfred Pellan's art. Talk about a prolific man. He had these masks, he had some rather voluptuous modern paintings of women (there seemed to be mother issues), some interactive sculptures that were very funny. I didn't like everything, but I cannot deny his creativity and I laughed out loud at some pieces.

I absolutely love art museums, and the Quebec Beaux Arts is a must-see on your vacation checklist.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Movie Review Madness - What is in Your Queue?

What's In Your Queue?   Here are my latest Netflix faves -

NO! starts Gael Garcia Bernal. This movie has subtitles, but it's worth a look, especially if you are in Mad Men advertising withdrawal. Basically, it was time for Chilean elections and rather than a cake walk, Pinochet found himself up against a hugely successful ad campaign against him. The Vote No ads promoted sunny days in Chile and chances for peace and happiness, all without the dictator. The movie is funny as the No Campaign gains success. But it's also tense as the ad creators feel pressure from the military. NO! is fiction based on true events and is a very good foreign film. Something different for your summer viewing.

Moonrise Kingdom directed by Wes Anderson is quirky in a good way. It's the story of two teens who run away together. The boy escapes scout camp much to the chagrin of the leader, played by Ed Norton. The girl just hates her family, but her parents Bill Murray and Frances McDormand are worried. Bruce Willis is the town sheriff who's having a slight affair with Frances McD. Ooops - awkward. The boy, an orphan, uses his scout skills to keep the duo going, and it is cute puppy love. The kids in it are great and the whole premise has a sweet overtone.

56-UP continues Michael Apted's documentary series. His premise is show me a child at age 7 and I'll show you the man (or woman). He followed up to ten British kids from age 7 and filmed them every seven years. It's fascinating. You don't have to have seen every film. The film shows the kids at various stages in their lives answering questions and now in middle age. Some have done well, others not so well. Some healthy, some not. And sure enough, for the most part what you saw at seven has come true, and you still see the kids in the adults' eyes. This is tremendous real life cinema and you'll laugh and cry with those on screen.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Movie Review Madness: The Lone Ranger

What's up with the mask? That's a running joke in The Lone Ranger and it does get laughs. However, this movie is way, way too long and is not for young kids. At 2-1/2 hours, I found myself checking my watch. It's a shame because with a whole lot of editing (down to one plot line please), it could have been hilarious. Johnny Depp as Tonto is a crazy man. You're never sure what he'll do or say, and he keeps you laughing.

Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger is a fine manly specimen. He's a good looking guy with a nice sense of humor and is actually a bit of a klutz. His sidekick, Tonto, seems to always save the day. The filmmaking and stunts are fine. There's plenty of action, gunplay, and explosions. It's just not cohesive. When they are on a roll, we seem to meander off to a plot with Tom Wilkinson, the rich guy in town who's amassing even more. Fine, he needs to be stopped. But let's do it, not talk about it.

Westerns seem to have trouble attracting audiences and this is no exception. They put a lot of money into this film, but forgot the goal - entertain us. The final twenty minutes with the Lone Ranger theme blaring and some Hi-ho-Silver ended up exciting and fun. But it took a long time to get there. Wait for DVD and you'll be amused. We came out laughing, but also tired of sitting. I give The Lone Ranger a C for cumbersome plots, and a special grade T for Tonto. Johnny Depp is a weird creative man.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Movie Review Madness - The Heat

Just so my readers know, this crush of movie and book reviews has accumulated over the past two months. I haven't done a marathon of movies and reading in one weekend. They've piled up and I decided to have a Madness week or so.  Here's another one:

Not many critics' fave, but The Heat is a hysterical female buddy cop flick. I give this a thumbs up for sheer laughter and snappy dialogue. Sandra Bullock, our straight-laced uptight FBI star, is paired with Melissa McCarthy, a sloppy Boston beat cop detective with common sense, mad skills, and a fearless recklessness. Both women have to learn to work together as they close in on a drug ring. You can tell they had fun filming this movie and I'm guessing there are a lot of ad-libbed lines. And they work. The pacing and energy is infectious.

It's a normal cop plot line. The DEA is infighting with the FBI and the regular cops. And there's someone on the inside blowing all the news. That's not original but it still works. We know the formula, but the key is the connection between the ladies. Their on-screen chemistry is awesome, and we root for them all the way. The Heat is summer cotton candy for the mind. Load up a bucket of popcorn and laugh from start to finish. The heat is ON!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Book Review - The Other Typist

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell captures you with its style and intriguing characters. It's written in low key fashion but slowly builds and you aren't sure, along with Rose, if Odalie is who she says she is. Rose Baker was an orphan and accustomed to a very spare life. She follows rules and likes rules, and then Odalie comes along and breaks all rules. A typist working for a New York City Police Department in the days of Prohibition has responsibilities. What the ladies transcribe can seal a man's fate.

Odalie comes along and suddenly some criminals seem to walk easily. However, Rose is now Odalie's roommate in a fancy hotel. Odalie lends Rose her fashionable clothes and jewelry, and treats her to nights out at the movies and dare we say it? a speakeasy. They navigate serious work at the station, and then sparkle in glamorous underworld life at night. It's a highstakes world. Soon Rose's fascination with Odalie turns into an obsession from which she may never recover. (cover blurb)

The Other Typist is a mystery and a psychological study told by a slightly biased and unreliable witness. But you will sympathize with Rose and be engaged by Odalie's energy and pizzazz. You'll be drawn into her sphere and desire more. Rindell's writing is superb and you will keep the pages turning, afraid of what might happen to Rose and yet unable to avert your eyes to the drama. Excellent book.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Movie Review Madness - This is the End

This is the End is a hard R rating, nutso, rude, crude, and really funny. You have to go into this flick with an open mind and be ready to laugh at pop culture references, but ignore the over-the-top disgusting parts. The finale is worth it. So with those caveats - Seth Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Emma Watson - all play themselves.

They are partying in Hollywood and end up at Franco's house. Lots of behind the back jabs at each other until an earthquake or something hits. Well, open the front door and it's an inferno. Truly the end of the world. A big sinkhole gulps up a multitude of stars. It's fun to pick folks out - Rhiannon, Mindy K, etc. A huge variety. So - the folks I named above are left. Now what? Franco has some movie props. They gig Seth about what he learned from Green Hornet movies. They are soft and start turning on each other.

One of my fave lines - "Hermione stole our liquor." Yep - Emma Watson with an axe and a bag. Very funny.

So, they pick on each other, vote one out of the house, and he ends up turning cannibal. It's zany and hilarious. Finally, do they get chosen for the Rapture and beamed to heaven. You have to watch the movie to find out. It's laugh out loud bizarre and wacky perfection. Not for everyone's taste, but This is the End amused this critic.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Movie Review Madness - Before Midnight

Before Midnight is the end of a trilogy and it's been a fun, talking, walking, angstfest. Directed by Richard Linklater, the Before series stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. We met them first in Before Sunrise - freshfaced and touring Europe by train. They disembark in Venice, introduce themselves, and end up strolling the streets, talking, eating, and just being carefree youth. It's glorious - the scenery, the energy, and perhaps young love. But alas they part.

Before Sunset brings us up to date. Ethan's written a book about the day in Venice (disguised as fiction) and is now on an author tour with a stop in Paris. Julie sees a poster and shows up. Time has passed and they are both married and mature. Yet, the old magic is there and things click in Paris. But there are issues and baggage and more arguments. Could they be a couple? Eh - shrug like a Frenchman.

Finally, years have passed and it's Before Midnight. The duo are in their 40s now and surprise - married and vacationing in Greece. And they have twin girls approximately seven years old. But, Ethan's son spent the summer with them and heads back to the USA. There is still baggage with the ex. and Ethan's afraid he's missing out on important teen years in his son's life. He sorta hints at the possibility of moving back to Chicago. This throws Julie for a loop - she's just gotten a new job offer that will be fantastic and she sure doesn't want to go to Chicago. Look around - they are in Greece, for goodness sake, eating fresh olives and drinking wine. Their life is fantastic and they have a place back in Paris. The little girls are so cute speaking English and French. Give that up for Chicago?

So, this film is reality. Ethan, always so youthful and on the pretty side for a male, now has frown lines (still great cheekbones). Julie, very charming French actress, looks age appropriate and maybe leans toward frumpy mother of twins. But that's okay - that's what has made this series so cool. It's not gussied up. It's raw and improvised and smart and angsty. It's the reality of a couple who've been together and are questioning their path. Has it diverged? Or can they make it work and satisfy all parties concerned?

Before Midnight - nothing blows up (well, maybe the chance of a marriage), no special effects (just the radiance of Greece scenery). Just great acting, writing, and directing. Watch the first two movies and then see what happens? Root for love before midnight.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Go to Jail or the Library - Morrin Centre, Quebec

 Over 200 years ago, the Morrin Centre was built as Quebec's first prison. Now it houses a beautiful lending library.
 Sinister jail cells below ground. Then chemistry labs upstairs when the building housed a college from 1868 to 1902. And finally, a Victorian library with masterpieces hailing from the 1500s.
 This was a lovely pitstop on our grand tour of Quebec.
 Sit below and gaze above
Worth a trip to jail...or enjoy the freedom of a library. The Morrin Centre, Quebec.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Happy 4th of July/ Oh Canada Day - July 1st

 I am back in the United States and ready to celebrate July 4th on Thursday. But I'm going to start boring you with my Canada pics.  Je me souviens is the motto for Quebec and it means I remember ...as in culture, sacrifice, and history. I think it neatly applies to America too. I remember and shall honor history.
 The Citadelle in Quebec offers 300 years of military history.  It's the largest fortification built by the British in North America with a strategic position overlooking the St.Lawrence river. It is an active military garrison for the Royal 22nd Regiment.
 I was very impressed with their museum tribute to the Canadian peace keeping troops in Afghanistan. I've not seen this in the United States. Kudos to our friends in Canada.
 The weather on Friday and Saturday was rather horrific - crazy wind, some rain, etc. Thus the big changing of the guard ceremony was cancelled. But we were lucky to catch the mini-change. These young men are somber and strict in their formality. Tight formation and ceremony.
So, Happy 4th in the United States and Happy Canada Day back on July 1st. I learned a lot about our friends to the north and definitely thank them for our friendship.  (and the fireworks Monday evening were spectacular)