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Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

One of the joys of reading a good book or watching a good movie is that of surrender. When I open to the page where I last left off or the theater lights go dim, I breathe to myself (hopefully not out loud), “take me.”

Take me into some neighborhood I’ve only passed by; let me smell their food, hear their music and experience the love, joy and anger that is so essentially human, but through the heart of another culture. Or take me to another land so I may breathe their icy cold into my lungs or feel the heat upon me that breeds crimes of passion. Take me to the stark loneliness of outer space to be in awe of galaxies; to live inside the utter loyalty and devotion of a scout dog in the Vietnam War and see through her eyes.

Take me where creatures walk among us who look like you and me but harbor lives beyond our imaginings. Tease me with unexpected twists and discovery of villainy or delusion. Speak to me in ways that make me work a little to understand the subtleties of another tongue, or variations of my own from another place and time.

Take me where I may know the deepest and most heartbreaking love, be outraged and demand justice, or laugh because sometimes life is just funny.

But whatever you do, be well-written with characters that ring true to the very end (but can still surprise me) and where I can get lost in your world without hesitation. I am ready to surrender.

Take me.

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BookOfLife-DHarkness2There’s always a sense of being a bit lost after finishing a fabulous book, not to mention the third and final in a fabulous series. Here I am referring to Deborah Harkness’ The Book of Life, the final in the All Souls Trilogy. But couple that with just having seen the movie, Lucy – well, what will I read or watch that will measure up to either of them?

I can tell you the movie it isn’t and that’s August: Osage County. Great cast, but maybe I’m just not in the mood for such a visually dark movie about family dysfunction, drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide. And that was the first 20 minutes. All that was needed to take it out of the DVD player.

Lucy-MovieI searched my many awaiting library sale books – I realized that after Diana Bishop in The Book of Life and Scarlett Johanson in Lucy, I needed to read about another brave heroine, as totally different as those two were. Probably neither this book series nor the movie is for everyone, but both amazed and captured me. (If interested this is a description of Lucy, but it does tell you how it ends, too, and here is Deborah Harkness’ website for more info on the All Souls Trilogy.)

After a search, I came up with Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry, whom I know as a brilliant writer in another venue, picture books. Its book jacket describes it as a companion to The Giver, but it is a story that also stands independent of that book. I’m hoping Kira is the heroine who will further capture my imagination.

p.s. Cheers to our small town library! Not only had our librarian remembered my interest in reading The Book of Life, but she e-mailed me the moment it came in to let me know. When I returned it, I asked if  The Giver by Lois Lowry might be there, and sure enough, it was. With the movie so close to opening, I expected there’d be a waiting list to read it, but this is  small town … and it has its advantages, this one of many.

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StrayDog2There is never a shortage of amazing things one can find on the web, and the site I recently came across is no exception.

As both an animal and movie lover, I am particularly sensitive to animal suffering and death on film. I have a very hard time watching cruel or violent  treatment of any animal even if I know it’s an animatronic sit-in for the real animal. It’s still inordinately painful. I also much prefer to know that the animal lives happily in the end, but I know, realistically, that may not be the case. I also know, despite the oversight by a humane organization, that unacceptable behavior towards animals in film has been known to occur.

So if I’ll be upset by animal suffering, what about children? How much and at what age can they accept and understand animal suffering or the dog/cat/horse/whatever dying at the end, even though it may be a logical plot ending?

Well, here’s the site that will guide you to whatever you or your kids can tolerate – Does the Dog Die?  Does the Dog Die has currently reviewed 680 films and indicates by a happy, neutral or crying dog icon if animals live, recover or die in the end. Click on any of the film names and you’ll get details about how every animal in that film is treated and what happens to it.

There’s an awful lot of violence and death in films (and TV) today, both human and animal. Sometimes we just don’t need to watch it. So check out Does the Dog Die? and decide for yourself how much you want to take in.

 

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thebookthiefIt is not very often in my experience that you find a book and the movie made from it both outstanding, but in the case of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, I do. I just finished reading it for the second time … my first a couple years ago, but after seeing the film, I dove back in and read it again, and enjoyed it even more.

The Book Thief is promoted as a YA novel, but it cannot help but reach the heart of any reading adult. Told over a period of about 5 years, the story takes place in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. The heroine, Liesel, is being surrendered, along with her brother, to another family to foster as the mother cannot afford their care. The sickly brother passes away on the train ride to Molching, is buried in a patch of snowy land alongside that town’s train station. And this is where the book thief, Liesel, steals her first book.

The tale that follows is about Liesel’s life with her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, her new and very dear friend, Rudy, and Max, the Jew the Hubermann’s come to hide in their basement. And, of course, it is about Liesel’s learning to read and her stealing books.

There are two factors that set this book apart from so many others. First is Zusak’s exquisite use of language; the book must be read to truly appreciate the author’s brilliance with words. Second is the narrator … Death. Not creepy Death of some stereotypic kind, but a narrator who shares what it is like to gather souls endlessly; how he is present and exhausted at every war; how he sometimes must carry the souls of numerous adults at once, perhaps over his shoulder, but how he always carries children in his arms. His experience of what it is like to be a gatherer of souls is interspersed but does not dominate his third-person narrative of Liesel and those about her.

Because of this unique take on events, the reader is made aware of this shameful period of history in a way that is like no other I’ve ever read. Zusak develops such compassion for his characters, for the Germans, the Jews they are brainwashed to despise, and even many of the soldiers. And shining in the middle of it all is a little girl, who despite losing those she loves time after time, has the courage and compassion to read to all those huddling in a neighbor’s basement during an air raid, who still can risk sneaking into the wealthy mayor’s house to steal a book, giving her one of the true joys she comes to know, reading.

In the movie, Geoffrey Rush and Emma Watson are outstanding as Hans and Rosa, (Papa and Mama). Liesel is played by a newcomer, Sophie Nelisse, one of literally hundreds of girls who auditioned for the part, and she is perfect.

If you were to choose between reading the book or seeing the movie … I can only recommend both, in whatever order suits you. I cannot imagine you will be disappointed. You can visit The Book Thief‘s official website, (click through the opening page and go to videos, upper left or find additional trailers/videos here), and perhaps gain a taste of the book. Importantly, the author was thrilled with the movie rendition of his book. More importantly, I cannot imagine you reading this book, seeing this movie, and not being touched to the core.

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DalaiLama2I recently rented a somewhat different video from my usual fare, (whatever exactly that is), Ten Questions for the Dalai Lama. The film was made by Rick Ray, who also did the interview of His Holiness and examined a variety of issues surrounding the Dalai Lama and his native country, Tibet.

The film covered the Dalai Lama’s childhood and how he was selected to be the 14th to occupy this position which is a combination of chief spiritual and political leader. It showed the lives of  Buddhist monks and the beauty and peacefulness of the Tibetan people. It also recounted the horrific invasion and takeover of Tibet by the Chinese in 1949-1951, in which 1,200,000 Tibetans were killed, many thousands of others beaten and jailed. Even today, if a Tibetan so much as harbors an image of the Dalai Lama, he is severely beaten and imprisoned. Disguised, the Dalai Lama and his family were able to escape the country in 1959. He currently lives in political asylum in India.

Although I know China invaded and took over Tibet, I had not been aware of the details, so I am thankful to have chosen this film and learned more of this historical time. (If interested, you can learn about the event and what happened to Tibet afterwards here, which is an official website of the Dalai Lama.) But my primary interest was in the man himself.

TibetanTemple2

Interior of a Buddhist temple in Tibet

As a result of watching the Dalai Lama in this film, I can say that he is a brilliant, insightful and compassionate man with a delightful kind of kookiness about him. It would be impossible not to like him as he shares his thoughts, opinions and feelings – and sometimes laughter – on a variety of subjects. His observations about the West are not surprising, how as a people we are driven by greed, never having enough. He commented on how often the less people have, the happier they are. When asked about the parallel he might make between himself and Mahatma Gandhi and their ideas about non-violence, the Dalai Lama noted that their aims were the same, that non-violence towards others is the only way to make true progress in the world, and that he and Gandhi were of the same mind in this way.

He pointed out, however, that there was a major difference between Gandhi’s experience and that of his people’s in Tibet and that was/is the endless use of violence used to punish Tibetans at the hands of the Chinese. Gandhi and those who stood with him were not beaten with guns or shot. The numerous film clips show the brutality and violence the Tibetans were/are subjected to at the hands of the Chinese military, (which today, outside of the capital of Lhasa, is largely undercover police), and how their most basic human rights are denied.

The Dalai Lama had reached out to the Chinese Communist leadership in the past, but they were not cooperative. And so this world-famous spiritual leader continues to strive for world peace and the freedom of his country. When at home, he spends a portion of his day in communication with media and the remainder in spiritual practice. But he is often making appearances around the world discussing how his life is guided by three major commitments – the promotion of basic human values, the fostering of inter-religious harmony, and the preservation of Tibet’s Buddhist culture of peace and non-violence.

Having had only occasional exposure to the Dalai Lama, I was deeply impressed, as naive as that may sound, by the beauty and genuineness of his spirit as shown through this film. I can only imagine what a joy it might be to actually sit and talk with him.

I was also reminded, as he spoke about practicing non-violence towards all living beings, that an important aspect of being vegan, as challenging as it is, is an abstention from the violence that is routinely perpetrated on all animals that provide us with meat, dairy, or other commodities, whether during their lives or in their death.

There is clearly a peace that the Dalai Lama exudes, and to the degree that it comes from non-violence, who cannot be for it?

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As I’m sure you might agree, books that have been made into movies can have a rather spotty success rate. In my experience, rarely has a movie based on a book been as fulfilling as the book itself though there certainly have been some, and a few surprisingly good at that. There also have been some disastrous movies that had I not read the book first would have dissuaded me from ever reading it. But what about children’s books?

Skellig-DavidAlmondI recently took the plunge and watched movies based on two of my very favorite children’s books, both middle grade – Skellig by David Almond and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. That the Skellig movie had to add on a tag after the title – “the Owl Man” – should have been my first tip off, but I was open.  David Almond is a brilliant writer and won the Printz Award for this particular novel. One of the things that sets him apart is the sense of the unexpected, of magic, that he brings to everything he writes. Where this movie failed for me is that in attempting to reach its audience it felt it necessary to define and explain the unexplainable. The beauty of Skellig the novel was that you were left at the end still not knowing who – or what – Skellig was. Was he a man? both man and bird? an angel? The reader never knows. In the movie, he is more or less defined. And then there were several hokey, (to me anyway), visual machinations, such as Skelling taking Michael for a ride on his back while he flies, and in two instances a kind of spinning in the air where he heals Michael’s hand and later the baby sister. Plus the movie barely touches upon the wonderful and unique character of Mina and her relationship with Michael , nor of that with his friends. In sum, there were interesting things about the movie, but as a reflection of the novel, Skellig the movie fell far short for me.

AWrinkleinTime-MLEngleA Wrinkle in Time fared a bit better in my estimation, but again, the movie couldn’t really compare to the book. I think the movie did a pretty good job of showing the characters of Meg and Charles Wallace, and I enjoyed Alfre Woodard as Mrs. Whatsit, Alison Elliott as Mrs. Who and Kate Nelligan as Mrs. Which. The visuals of the children traveling through the tesseract to get to the different planets couldn’t have had too many ways to show it, I suppose, but it was a stretch. The interesting thing about this movie, made in 2003, is that it was a made-for-TV movie. I suspect it could have been more successful if actually made as a true movie. A Wrinkle in Time, like Skellig, raises bigger issues than the surface story,  in this case, an adventure to save the children’s father. It’s a coming of age story for Meg but also asks what’s most important in life and how can evil be overcome. I think the movie did a very good job of making that clear, especially in the scene where Meg is able to pull Charles Wallace back from the tenacious evil of It. What I particularly enjoyed is that in the Bonus Features that were on the DVD there is an interview with the late Madeleine L’Engle. That alone may have been worth getting the DVD.

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FishShoal2Have 4 minutes 50 seconds? Then watch this absolutely beautiful video of the underwater world of Fiji and Tonga.

One of the true joys of the internet is that our friends and family send us links to videos such as these where we can be magically transported to a world we would otherwise never see. The photography is beyond spectacular, the accompanying music perfection. If you click on the “cc” button, you will be shown the species and location of the fish and other creatures you see.

What impressed me so is the clear intelligence in the eyes of the fish as they watch the diver filming them. This is a real treat.

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I-Am-Movie2What would you want to say to the world if it became possible that you might soon die? That’s what movie director Tom Shadyac asked himself after he suffered a severe concussion in a bicycling accident. He was told the horrible after-effects could last for 2 years or for life. Or he could die. So he asked himself what he wanted to say in the event that should happen.

I’d never heard of Tom Shadyac, but recognized his movies when he discussed them in the beginning of this beautiful documentary. He directed Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Bruce Almighty, The Nutty Professor and several other similar minded films. He realized that where he’d been with humor and outrageous silliness was not where he wanted to go. He had two questions and wanted to make a documentary … What’s wrong with our world? and What can we do about it?

This short, (1 hour 17 min.), documentary moved me to tears at times, as Shadyac explored these questions through interviews with some of the greatest minds of our times – authors, scientists, religious leaders, poets, and others. He interviews or shows clips of Howard Zinn, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama and other notables, including his own father who founded St. Jude’s Research Hospital for Children with Danny Thomas. The thread of the documentary follows how mankind has lost its way in our quest for winning and competition, but shows how we are literally wired in our DNA for cooperation and compassion. He shares how intuitively the animal world works together – birds flock, fish shoal (see photo) – for the greater good, and how less technologically developed societies work cooperatively with one another. FishShoal2In American Indian tribes where sharing was the norm, hoarding was seen as a sickness, and the members of the tribe set out to heal this person.

Shadyac has gathered so many amazing clips of everything you can imagine to bring us along on his journey of inquiry – history, science, spiritual thought, the natural world. Especially moving was one short clip of something I’d never before seen except in a still … a world famous black and white photo of a slender Chinese man blocking the way of army tanks in the 1989 student protest in Tiananmen Square. In this clip, you watch him move repeatedly to block the tank each time it maneuvers. Mankind has reached out endlessly to stand up for or help others in need, in tragedies such as 9/11, Katrina, Haiti, or events such as civil rights marches and so many other instances. As he explored these issues, Shadyac came to conclusions about his own life of celebrity excess and changed that, too.

He came to realize that `What is wrong with this world?’ has an answer … I Am.  But maybe I’m asking the wrong question, he thought. Perhaps I should also ask, `What is right with this world?’  Yup …. I Am.

Unless you are one of those people who believes whoever dies with the most toys wins – and I’m sure you would never have read this far if that were true – then I feel pretty confident that you will be inspired and moved by this film.

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History seems determined to find me. I haven’t been looking for history, but somehow I am bring coaxed into looking at periods in time of which I know little or nothing, most recently British colonial rule in Kenya in the 50’s. I know. How did that happen? (Well, one look at the photo, and you may know.)

TheFirstGrader-KerryBrown2Like the experience of many others in a time past – and perhaps still the present – history was taught in such a way that it was guaranteed to, at the very least, leave no lasting impression, and at the worst, develop in one a real distaste for it. The latter would be me. I dutifully swallowed the dry rattle of names, dates, places and events and dutifully coughed them back up for tests. Not until I got to college and had a brilliant professor who made history truly come alive did I suddenly realize the fascination of history. And by then it seemed too late; I had such a fragile and spotty framework of knowledge on which to hang any new historical insights.

But history seems to be hunting me down through  books and/or movies as of late … Afghanistan before and after the Taliban took over through The Kite Runner; the deep South during the Civil Rights movement in The Help; the Civil War period in Oklahoma in what I’m reading now, Paradise, medieval times in Britain in The Last Templar and so on. History isn’t the subject; it’s the backdrop, but it’s impossible to not be drawn into the history of the time period when reading the book or watching the movie.

Most recently it’s The First Grader, a movie set in Kenya in 2003. It’s based on the true story of an 84 year old villager, Maruge, who, when primary education was made available to all, wanted to learn to read. The story is absolutely inspiring. There he sat, having fought repeatedly for his right to do so, with six year olds, five to a desk, learning the alphabet. His rapport with Jane Obinchu, the instructor, and the children is a testament to the spirit of those who believe in something enough to pursue that dream and love doing it in spite of all odds.

What was far more difficult to watch, shown in sporadic flashbacks, was what happened to Maruge in the early 50’s when he was sentenced to a prison camp under British colonial rule. The Mau Mau tribe, whom  Maruge had joined, had risen up against the corrupt British but were defeated and captured. To force him to renounce his vow of loyalty, his captors forced him to watch the execution of his wife and children, (this was not shown onscreen), and tortured him brutally. It was hard to not wake up the following morning flooded with sadness as to what has gone so wrong in human beings that they can treat others as they did.

But in the long run, that does not change my recommendation to see this incredibly rich and touching movie. The First Grader was filmed in Kenya, and all the children are actual attendees of one of the schools in the Kenyan bush. Their glowing faces just light up the screen. One little girl named Agnes, seemed mildly deformed and had a severe limp like Maruge. She told him she wanted to go to school so she could be a doctor … and then she could make him better. The children have almost as much impact as Maruge himself. It’s hard not to smile when thinking about this movie, in spite of the reflection of such a terrible time in history.

Maruge became the oldest recorded person in the world to ever attend first grade and drew his own bit of celebrity for his devotion to education. So much so, that he was flown to New York to speak at the UN. Should you watch The First Grader, be sure to watch the short documentary and you will see the real Maruge, Jane Obinchu and others. You will also see how the director worked with the children who had never seen a television or movie. You may be inspired.

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There are some movies that, once you see the trailer, you already know you will see more than once. This is undoubtedly the case for me with Les Mis, to be released this Christmas.

Among the movie previews a friend and I were seeing was an extended view of how the new Les Mis was made and it’s unlike any other film musical to date; it’s filmed completely live with each actor actually singing their part rather than syncing to the voices pre-recorded. We were both blown away. I’ve known Hugh Jackman could sing … but Anne Hathaway? Amanda Seyfried? Russell Crowe? And the visuals … simply breathtaking. The trailer below and the piece on how the film was made moved me to tears. This Les Mis is already incomparable.

Take a look at the trailer here, or on the official web site, but while there, be sure to watch The Extended First Look.

 

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I’ll be honest – I started this post on June 3, shortly after  I had seen the movie The Bridges of Madison County and compared it to the book. There’s no time like the present, someone once said, so I’m finally the getting this up as a post. As I look at the novels I currently have waiting to be read, I must admit I am often drawn to those where I could watch the movie version as well.

However, when I think about other books that I’ve read and their movie counterparts, the results are mixed. I’ve listed a bunch, and again, these are very personal preferences reflecting what I like to read and which movies I’d go see.

The Shipping News – Annie Proulx – both movie and book excellent!

Shawshank Redemption – Stephen King – really liked both

Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris – book so gripping I couldn’t put it down, movie was also gripping, but not quite as good, though truly terrifying

Red Dragon – Thomas Harris – Book was excellent – the prequel to Silence of the Lambs; movie a huge disappointment, and almost nothing like the book

Because of Winn Dixie – Kate DiCamillo – both excellent, book still a bit better

The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd – book excellent, movie really quite good

Lord of the Rings – R.R.Tolkien, Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling,  Narnia Series – C.S. Lewis – I lump these together – perhaps unfairly – because they are all series, fantasy and of epic proportions in film. I loved the books that I read from these series, and that was not always all of them, but I really loved the movies, too. Either way, you can’t lose.

White Oleander – Janet Fitch – Outstanding book, couldn’t put it down; the movie not really even worth seeing

The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick – I like the storyline, but it wasn’t a favorite book of mine; Martin Scorsese really brought the story to life. Preferred the movie.

2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthue C. Clarke –  Movie by Stanley Kubrick – One of my favorite movies, and I feel it far outshined the book, but I’m real biased on this one.

The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan – an amazingly complex and engrossing book; the movie couldn’t possibly carry the book’s  richness. Book better by far.

The Devil Wears Prada – Lauren Weisberger – Here’s a case where the movie was just fabulous and fabulously funny. I got the book after seeing the movie and was disappointed.

The Horse Whisperer – Nicholas Evans – I saw the movie first on this one and it was excellent, so I read the book. Also excellent and I’d recommend both.

 

Well, that’s my two cents. Do you have a loved book that was made into a movie and a thought or two about it? Or a great movie and the book you read later? Let us know!

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There’s something exciting about reading a terrific book and then going to the movies to watch the film created from it.  However, I, and most folks I know, are of the opinion that the book generally outshines the movie, if for no other reason that so much of a book’s depth and detail cannot possibly be portrayed in the short time allowed for a film. This is not always the case, but I get ahead of myself.

Having recently read The Bridges of Madison County, I rented the movie. I must say I was really disappointed. First, the book is a very short novel; the movie ran 2-1/4 hours long. As mentioned in an earlier post where I wrote about the book, I had my doubts about Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood cast as the main characters — both outstanding actors, but I didn’t imagine them in these roles. Again, my personal opinion. I would have much preferred Sam Elliot, or even Kevin Costner, (as he is now), as Robert Kincaid; maybe I’ve just seen Clint Eastwood in too many hard and/or violent roles. Meryl Streep, so brilliant, just couldn’t cut it for me as an Italian woman, now Iowa farm wife. It really took away from the story, and that seemed so drawn out over the course of the 2+ hour movie. I’d stick with the book.

So I’m wondering … did you read the book and/or see the movie? Who might you picture in the roles of Francesca and Robert? Or did Eastwood and Streep fill the bill for you?

p.s. This is just Part 1. Down the road, we’re going to have some fun with Part 2 and onward … it’s all about reading and imagination and what we see.

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