Murder on the Orient Express is a lush remake
of an Agatha Christie tale. If you’ve never read her work, I suggest you march
to the library and check out one of her books. She was a prolific talented
writer with some very defined characters, good plot twists, and that old
English humor twinkle in the eye. So, for this film, there’s a large
gathering of seemingly random characters all with a backstory, a reason to be
guilty, and a dead body on a train. Whodunit?
I can’t write any more about the plot. You need to go see
this movie and watch the twists and turns evolve. Kenneth Brannaugh directed
and stars as Hercules Poirot – the most brilliant detective in the world. He’s
an extremely fussy, fanatic man with an eye for detail and a mustache that
deserves its own Oscar. Everyone else has their quirks and suspicions.
Dame Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi,
Penelope Cruz, and more are along for this ride. The scenery is spectacular,
the filming works well – at times you feel the confinement and rocking of the
Murder on the Orient Express harks back to
an old timey flick in a good way. Punch your ticket and go All Aboard for an
entertaining two hours.
Sunday November 5th, I sat in plush seats at Bass Hall and enjoyed another Fort Worth Symphony program. I settled in when the opening John Williams notes soared - Theme from Raiders of the Lost Arc
The Hollywood Hits kept coming including a whole James Bond theme section. Very cool to hear Live and Let Die, Goldfinger, etc.
A vocalist -Kelly Levesque - sang some lovely numbers too. The guest conductor, Brian Byrne, was an Irish fellow with a pleasant manner and a good sense of humor. He talked about some of the numbers, and conducted his own theme from Albert Hobbs, a movie that starred Glenn Close.
The finale included grand movie themes - Tara's Theme from Gone With the Wind, Lara's Theme from Dr. Zhivago, and of course we finished with Rocky's Theme. I left the symphony ready for victory, but I had already won - my heart was filled with music.
Thor: Ragnarok is a Marvel romp. This movie
has star power and humor. So many of these super hero flicks get so serious
with world mayhem and destruction. Oh, Thor: Ragnarok has plenty
of battles, but it also has a stunning Chris Hemsworth – his locks are shorn,
but his snark factor grew. He has great comedic timing and it’s put to plenty
of good use. The dialogue is whip smart whether he’s talking to Loki (I love
Tom Hiddleston), or teasing the Hulk (a rueful Mark Ruffalo), or bantering with
his evil sister Hela (a fabulous Cate Blanchett).
I won’t go into plot line. Needless to say there are plenty
of Marvel character appearances, plenty of power grabs, and Hela stirring
up fiendish trouble. When she dons her crazy black reindeer antler crown, you
need to brace yourself for some serious action. She’s crazy good. And then
there’s Jeff Goldblum. He takes wacky to a whole other level and is perfect for
This movie is huge tub of popcorn worthy. Stay through the
two bonus scenes during the credits, and enjoy the glory of Thor-Ragnarok
on the big screen.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Norwegian author of Autumn,
writes to his unborn daughter and adds an essay a day on random subjects. This
is a very unique personal meditation with acute observations. I enjoyed reading
this work, and I would stop and look around my little world and contemplate
descriptions of the mundane. Some of his musings cover – apples, wasps, teeth,
twilight, chewing gum, and silence. This is the first of four volumes – Autumn,
with future Winter, Spring, and Summer. I look forward to the rest of the
seasons and his marvelous writing.
Cover blurb and opening:
I want to show you our world as it is now: the door, the
floor, the water tap and the sink, the garden chair close to the wall beneath
the kitchen window, the sun, the water, the trees. You will come to see it in
your own way, you will experience things for yourself and live a life of your
own, so of course it is primarily for my own sake that I am doing this; showing
you the world, little one, makes my life worth living.
Oh Ray wanted to leave for his deer lease after work on Thursday 11/2. But no, he had agreed a month or so before that he would attend a Maverick Speaker Series talk with me. (He's my night driver). Anyway, despite a reluctant start, we had a splendid evening. First, dinner at Italianni's - yummy manicotti for me and chicken parm for Ray. Then we heard Roland Fryer talk about education, race, economics, reward systems, and more.
This Harvard Economist and Professor was excellent. He discussed being raised by his grandmother and her words of wisdom that kept him on the right path. He talked about mentors that boosted his esteem and let him know he was capable of hard work. He learned about preparation - study for tests, study for talks, do the advance work necessary to succeed. He talked about the need to give kids attention and expectations.
He is concerned about kids and education - said it is absolutely the key to all of our futures. His research and work has made some inroads, but there's way more to be done. Just throwing money at education is not the solution. Early reading programs, daily tutoring, and attainable goals are just the beginning. His hour long talk was an overview. He left me wanting to hear more.
And I agree - no excuses, just hard work is needed to fix education for all.
I read The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs
with the Broadway soundtrack of Hamilton playing in my head.
This was unfair to the author because I felt like I was getting a rerun
of history and it was not to a rap beat. However, Cobbs obviously did plenty of
research and she gives a faithful and decent rendering of life highlights in
her historical novel on Alexander and Eliza Hamilton.
From the cover blurb – Set against the dramatic backdrop
of the American Revolution and featuring a cast of iconic characters such as
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette, the book
tells a sweeping, tumultuous true love story of Alexander Hamilton and
Elizabeth Schuyler, from tremulous beginning to bittersweet ending – a dueling
ground along the Hudson.
From scrappy bastard in St.Croix to the writer of the
Federalist Papers and creator of the U.S. Treasury, Alexander Hamilton had a
way with big ideas and concepts. He could flourish his quill and also fight on
the battlefield. His love of country, his fierce loyalty, and his long abiding
faith in independence and democracy allowed him to soar as an American patriot.
Oh, he was a man of many flaws (and an affair) too, but his wife, Eliza,
remained steadfast and supportive. Aaron Burr shall live in infamy as the man
who cut short Hamilton’s life in a famous duel.
The Hamilton Affair is a solid piece of
historical fiction. (The book is cheaper than a Broadway ticket, too)
Brush up on your Hamilton lore, be inspired, and don’t waste your shot in life.
Victoria and Abdul is a British costume drama
directed by Stephen Frears. And who better to star as Queen Victoria than Dame
Judi Dench? She’s always so good and indeed commands the screen. We first
see her going through lots of dinners and ceremonies for a jubilee celebration.
Yawn. She’s bored, old, and tired. Then she perks up. A young humble man (he’s
chosen because he is tall) from India (played by Ali Fazal) arrives to present
her with a mohur – a ceremonial coin. He dares to look her in the eye and his
energy and bearing give her a spark. She commands his presence and eventually
gives him the title of Munshi – a teacher. She becomes more interested in India
and is keen on learning some language, history, etc.
Slowly, Abdul seems to have too much power over her. Her
staff and son (played by Eddie Izzard) conspire to find a fault in Abdul, to
find a way to banish him from the court. However, the Queen is feisty and with
a twinkle in her eye she does not buckle. She might be short and fat, but she
stands tall. The movie is based on old journals found long after Abdul was back
in India and died. It’s a unique snippet of history and the movie takes a lot
of liberties with the story.
However, for entertainment value, I was amused. I enjoyed
Judi Dench’s performance immensely, and Ali Fazal was a worthy foil. Victoria
and Abdul is a pleasant way to pass some time and step into a royal
The Boy is Back is a silly romp by Meg Cabot.
It’s a no-brainer read and that’s a good thing in the fall. Sit on your
patio with a pumpkin spice beverage and laugh as you read her compilation of
texts, emails, and humorous dialogue between a family and friends in a small
town. Reed Stewart escaped Bloomfield, Indiana by hitting the pro golf tour.
He’s rich and famous, and now he’s back to help sort out his parent’s estate
problems. His parents caused a small town scandal by not paying a local
restaurant. Social media explodes and the Judge is under fire. As Reed and his
siblings uncover his parents hoarder tendencies (gavels and cat statues), their
lack of money despite country club pretenses, and health issues, it’s
time to call in a senior relocation specialist.
Cue dramatic music.
The specialist is none other than Becky Flowers,
Reed’s former girlfriend who was ditched by him on prom night. Can you say
awkward? Or is it a chance to fall in love again? I bet you can
guess where the plot line heads and that’s okay. Meg Cabot has an ear for current
lingo. She keeps the ball rolling with plenty of catch dialogue and laugh out
loud moments. The Boy is Back with a vengeance. Very amusing
Battle of the Sexes is entertaining and brings
back a slice of history. Emma Stone transforms into Billie Jean King, age 29 –
the number one female tennis player in 1973. She’s fiercely competitive,
conflicted in her life, and takes on the tennis establishment by breaking off
into a splinter group. Her Virginia Slims sponsored tour seeks better pay
for women athletes. Billie Jean forged a path for women’s rights and is still respected
today. In the film, she faces Jack Kramer, the smug director of the USTA,
and says, “It’s when we want a little bit of what you’ve got. That’s what you
Steve Carell plays the bumbling Bobby Riggs, age 55, who’s a
gambler, a hustler, and is still trying to live off the glory of his past
tennis career. He’s got a wealthy wife, but is bored. He issues a challenge
that a woman can’t beat a man at tennis. What starts as a joke turns into a
full court battle/show. He mugs for the camera, poses with scantily clad women,
and is confident he can win. Billie Jean trains and ultimately takes this very
seriously. It’s a bold statement for her to win this tennis match.
The movie packs a lot into its two hours. You get
background, you get sport, you get the bombast, and the buildup. In 1973 it was
a major television event. Spoiler alert – Billie Jean won in three sets. She
truly was a trailblazer for women. Emma Stone glows with the energy and vibrant
spirit of Billie Jean. She’s not just a girl, she’s a woman taking on a man,
tennis, and a bit of the world. Battle of the Sexes is an
energetic entertaining film. Game.. Set.. Match
Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is serious
literary fiction. I can appreciate her writing, but I can’t say I liked the
story. And maybe it was a bit deep for me. I did find myself skimming.
From the cover blurb - an intimate portrait of a family and an epic
tale of hope and struggle. Sing, Unburied, Sing journeys through
Mississippi’s past and present examining ugly truths at the heart of the
American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.
I liked JoJo, the thirteen year old boy who’s trying to be a
man. His white father is being released from prison. His true role model is
Pops, his black grandfather. His white grandparents choose to not acknowledge
him. His mother, Leonie, is a druggie mess who loves JoJo and his baby sister,
but is selfish and inconsistent in her parenting. Leonie’s dead brother appears
to her in visions. JoJo also can see dead spirits and is guided by a young man
who died in prison. (Here’s where it gets heavy with some history burdens of
the Deep South weighing on his soul) All in all the book touches on fathers
and sons, legacies, violence, and love (cover blurb)
There are some powerful moments, and perhaps as I write this
review, I’m seeing the book in a more favorable light. It’s worthy of a deep
book club discussion. This is not easy breezy reading for escape. You’ve
Joanne Faries, originally from the Philadelphia area, lives in Texas with her husband Ray. She considers herself fortunate to be able to pursue a writing career after eons in the business world. Joanne enjoys reading and movies, and is the film critic for the Little Paper of San Saba.