Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My first four flicks

It has taken a while to write this post even though I have now watched four new movies this year. Once I watch more or read any books all the way through it will probably take me a while to write about those. Here they are, the first four movies I have watched this year that I have never seen before.

Movie #1: That Thing You Do

The story of a one hit wonder musical group. I had never been extremely excited about seeing this movie, Alexis had it in our Netflix queue and we decided to watch it. I was pleasantly surprised. The best known actor in this movie is Tom Hanks, but he does not have the largest role. There really isn't one person that I would identify as the lead, rather it is an ensemble cast whose characters each play a significant role in the development of the story.

I expected a goofy comedy, but there was definitely a dramatic story line to go along with the upbeat music and lighthearted elements. One of the many things that makes a good movie is how we connect with the characters and I connected with these characters in such a way that I really cared about what happened to them. This made the ending all the more satisfying when they gave a summary of where the characters each ended up, as if they were real people.

Movie #2: Man on a Ledge

The title of the movie makes the plot some what obvious. I suppose the question is, why is the man on a ledge. Well, I won't ruin it for you. Sam Worthington of Clash of the Titans and Avatar fame is the Man on a Ledge. I like him as an actor but he seemed to struggle a little with the American accent, or maybe I was just imagining that.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie but I am glad I only paid matinee price to see it. Granted, I hate paying prime time prices on any movie if I can avoid it. Bottom line, you don't need to see it on the big screen. The actual story had a good resolution but they threw in a bit at the end that was related to the story arc of some supporting characters, but seemed so random that I didn't think it belonged in the movie.

Movie #3: Chaos Theory

Frank Allen is an efficiency expert. He likes order. Something his life lacks when his wife sets the clock back ten minutes. The time change sends Frank on an unexpected journey with discoveries both tragic and life saving. Through all the chaos, he learns what choices are most important in life.

I really liked this movie. I watched it because I saw it on Netflix and I like Ryan Reynolds, but I didn't know what to expect. Ryan Reynolds is known for his dry sense of humor and this role was a perfect showcase for it. Funny and heartwarming, this movie was a pleasant surprise.

Movie #4: Scorched

Of the movies I have watched so far this is the most random. It is about three bank employees who all make plans to rob their bank on the same weekend unbeknownst to the others. The main stars are Alicia Silverstone, Rachael Leigh Cook, Woody Harrelson, and John Cleese. I watched it for three reasons, It was on Netflix, it was only about 90 minutes which is about the amount of time I wanted to spend watching a movie at that time, and I like the main people in the movie.

I found the movie entertaining. That is something I love about Netflix. It is easy to watch movies you would likely never rent at the video store. As a result you can find some great flicks. This was by no means a great flick, but it was enjoyable for the 90 minutes I spent. It was funny and slightly odd, but if you want to kill 90 minutes on Netflix, give it a go.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eat, Pray, Love, Contagion, The Vow, How to Be a Pirate

I am definitely doing much better with the movie aspect of this goal than the books, but it's all right.  I am still trying :)

I watched Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts.  I really liked it.  It's about a lady (Julia Roberts) who is unhappy in her marriage and gets a divorce.  She has a hard time with the divorce and decides to travel around the world to find out who she is and find balance in her life. (She travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia)  It's based on a true story and there is a book with the same title written by the lady that the movie is based on.  I liked this movie because there are some really good characters in it and I think we all go through times in our life of needing to find out who we are, but we all have different ways of doing it.

I also saw Contagion.  I did not like this movie.  The beginning was scary to me.  And it didn't get much better after that. It's about a deadly disease that starts to show up all over the world.  It moves quickly and kills fast. The Center for Disease Control strives to find a vaccination for it as it continues to spread. After much research they find out where the disease started. 

I saw The Vow. I really liked it. It was a sad movie, but overall it was good. I liked that the husband fought for the wife even though he had to deal with his wife's family trying to keep her away from him and her memory loss.   

I read the second book of the How to Train Your Dragon series, How to Be a Pirate.  It was good.  I really like these books.  They are an easy read, but they are entertaining.

The Lucky One, The Braid, The Vow, This Means War, The Woodlanders

I'm still way ahead on movies over books! Yeah, lazy.

The Vow was the Valentine's Day date movie. I expected it to be more like a Nicholas Sparks movie, but somehow it lacked heart, somehow. And there were not a lot of men in the theater. That ought to have told me something. The plot is a guy falls in love with a girl who has left her wealthy upbringing behind and they're massively in love. They are in a car accident and she can't remember him, or anything about the new life she forged before meeting him. It's purportedly based on true events and even shows a picture of the couple at the end of the film. There are some good surprises, but the overall effect left me glad mostly about the jumbo popcorn we shared. (Note: I didn't pick the movie.)

The Woodlanders was a Netflix streaming movie I watched while folding an enormous mountain of kids' clothes. It starred Rufus Sewell, who has been a favorite actor of mine since I saw him in Uncorked about 12 years ago. The story, based on a Thomas Hardy novel, surrounds a girl who returns to her native woodlands after leaving to receive an education. Her father believes her education (and his wealth) now make her too good for the life she'd previously expected to have: to marry Rufus Sewell. Instead she is introduced to the local doctor. Things complicate, and regrets are incurred. It was a little sadder than Return of the Native and The Mayor of Casterbridge, two of my preferred Hardy stories. Meh. (But the cinematography was great!)

This Means War. Two spies who are work partners both accidentally fall for the same darling Reese Witherspoon girl. Who will ultimately win her heart? The dashing Brit separated from his wife (who saw her first), or the dashing American playboy? Ugh. It had a fun premise, yeah, but there were a LOT of jokes in it that crossed the line for me. Plus, you'd think there would be chemistry! Not so much. I wish I could rewind my life and give this one a miss.

The Lucky One. I read this Nicholas Sparks romance for Valentine's week. News flash! No one in the story dies of cancer! (I've only read a couple of Sparks' novels, but I kind of thought someone dies of cancer in every book. Not so!) It was a straightforward love story between a soldier come home from Iraq and a single mom in North Carolina whom he seeks out because he found a photo of her in a sand dune while he was serving. She has a son, and he has a faithful dog. There's a villainous, conniving ex-husband to contend with. The end scene is quite exciting. Overall, a good, fluffy read.

The Braid. Okay, I'm mad at everyone I know for not telling me about this excellent book before now. It's so wonderful! The author had an ancestor who immigrated from the islands of Scotland to the Canadian coast, and that is the topic of this YA story written all in verse. Yes, verse! It's poetry, but the story is so accessible! I love it! Two sisters learn they must leave their impoverished island. One will go with her family to Canada, the other sneaks off to stay behind. They braid their hair together into one braid, snip it and each takes half. They expect (with good reason) to never see one another again. The sisters' journeys are treacherous. Hunger and danger and death ensue. The topic of teen pregnancy is handled gently but with realism. It's a touching, ingenious book. I wish my mom were still teaching high school English. I know she could use this as a marvelous text. It's only about 90 pages, but the depth of the characters the author achieves is wondrous. I love this book.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Newport Ladies Book Club: Olivia

By Julie Wright, Published by Covenant Communications, 2012, 206 pages

As the debut novel for The Newport Ladies Book Club series, Olivia launches the series with the sincere passion of a woman whose only goal to is make her husband and children happy. But everyone is not happy and all in not well in Livvy’s family. So the plot thickens as Livvy draws us into her troubled marriage and into her “sticky” life. In an attempt to cope with her increasing family turmoil, Livvy joins a book club despite her husband’s jibe that she’s hasn’t had friends for years. At the book club, Livvy meets Daisy, Paige, and Athena, 3 strangers, 3 different lives, 3 novels to come.

I expected an interesting story, what I didn’t expect was Livvy to win my friendship too. I went from being an interested observer of Livvy, with her annoying Pollyanna creed, to being her #1 cheerleader when she finally let out the agonizing scream that filled her empty house. I laughed at Livvy’s humorous judgments of the other book club women. I felt the compassion the women shared with each other, guardedly and insecurely at first, and openly later as they understood each other better.

I would describe Olivia as compelling: compelling in it painful events, compelling in its sincerity, compelling in its underlying plea for women to lift and encourage each other when it is easier to ignore or judge each other. Through Olivia, Wright shows us how much it means when we care for each when life is hard, and we’d rather cry alone. Olivia was not a feel good novel in a fairy tale sense. In fact, it wasn’t even relaxing. I won’t get back the sleep I lost while reading this novel, but I enthusiastically recommend it. And I’m looking forward to joining the book club again with Daisy in June.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Competitive birding

Last night I watched The Big Year, a movie that revolved around the world of competitive bird watching, or birding. Given that the movie starred Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson, you might have expected a zany comedy. It had funny parts, and the lengths characters would go to spot a bird led to some funny scenes.

All three men are birders who have decided to do a "big year" in which they try to spot as many birds in the United States as possible during the calendar year. On their journeys to find birds, the characters also have to find out about themselves, what is important in their lives, and what they are willing to sacrifice to be the best birder in the world.

I enjoyed the film, much more than I think I expected to. It was well worth watching.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Superman, schools and kids

At the beginning of the documentary, Waiting for Superman, educator Geoffrey Canada said that finding out Superman wasn't real was worse than finding out Santa Claus wasn't real. Superman swooped in and saved everyone just in time. If there was no Superman, than no one was coming to save them in the South Bronx with all of its poverty, violence and drugs. Canada knew that education was his way out of poverty, and as an educator he wants to give that same opportunity to his students.

Waiting for Superman is an excellent, if depressing, documentary on the United States public school system. I was really distressed by the end of it, and it reminded me that I was supposed to be a teacher. The film looks at public schools around the country through the eyes of students who are trying to get a better education, their parents who are trying to give it to them, and the educators who want them to succeed. There is also a fair dose of statistics to complement the stories. Some of the more disturbing parts of the film showed teachers (I'm sure these make up a minority of teachers) who not only were bad teachers but didn't care that they were bad teachers because they couldn't be fired. It was disgusting. Even worse, was when the featured students were waiting to know if they had won, by lottery, positions in the schools that would help them get a decent education. Most of them lost. Worst of all, for each of those kids there are hundreds more just like them.

Most of the time when we think of failing schools, we think of inner-city, poor schools in bad neighborhoods. There are a lot of those. But many of our schools, that aren't considered failing, are not preparing students for the real world. Evidence for this is the increase in university-offered remedial classes, because students cannot do college-level work. Students who choose not to go to college are often not qualified for well-paying jobs.

One of the featured students lived in a wealthy family in a rich neighborhood. Most kids would love to be able to go to her neighborhood school. But her test scores weren't that great, and her neighborhood school practiced tracking. She wanted to go a school without tracking. In tracking students, schools decide if they be in the classes that will prepare them (in a nutshell) for college, or the factory, or the fast food restaurant. This student was at risk of being tracked in the middle, and there is growing evidence that these students do not receive the education they deserve. I don't like tracking; I never have. I believe in teaching a student at her level, but she must have the opportunity to move up to a higher level. When I teach, I have high expectations for all my students, and I do what I can to help them succeed. I do have a master of education degree, and tracking is foreign to everything I know about good teaching.

Before this gets anymore long-winded, the point of the film is that the public school system is not doing it's job, but there are educators and citizens trying to fix the system. It's up to each of us to be the Superman that these children are waiting for.

For more information visit:

Courageous: drama (recenlty released on dvd)

The movie Courageous was intense, touching, humorous, thought provoking, and clean.

I took the following from a Christian movie website:

“Four men, one calling: To serve and protect: As law enforcement officers, Adam Mitchell, Nathan Hayes, David Thomson and Shane Fuller are confident and focused. Yet at the end of the day, they face a challenge that none of them are truly prepared to tackle: fatherhood. . . .

Filled with action-packed police drama, Courageous is the fourth film from Sherwood Pictures, the moving making ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. Riveted moviegoers will once again find themselves laughing, crying, and cheering as they are challenged and inspired by everyday heroes who long to be the kinds of dads that make a lifelong impact on their children.”

Fireproof was another Christian movie drama produced by Sherwood Pictures that I watched after seeing Courageous. The main theme of Fireproof was about caring enough to make your marriage work. I watched this movie on YouTube and enjoyed it as well.

Adventures, Fashion, Mystery, and Shame


The Peacemaker – This is an older movie about terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons, with Nicole Kidman and George Clooney chasing them. Lots of cliché action scenes, you know, the car exploding in the background as they run away (jump!), the inevitable fist fight with the bad guy at the edge of a cliff, and of course, attempting to disarm the bomb while the time runs down. I’m married to someone who studies and works with issues of weapons of mass distruction, so when he finds another movie about nukes, we generally watch it. I didn’t love the movie, but it wasn’t terrible, and other than the F word several times, there wasn’t anything inappropriate.

Bill Cunningham New York – This is a nice documentary about Bill Cunningham, a fashion photographer for the “On the Street” column of the New York Times. I’ve seen people recommend this, people who are into clothes, and I figured that I would not watch it because I figured it would make me depressed about my whole sense of style and fashion, but I had a cold this week and while resting and watching endless TV, this came up on my Netflix, so I watched it, and it had quite the opposite effect on me. The thing about Bill Cunningham is that he seems very authentic, true to himself, and very respectful to people of all walks of life, and he would never make fun of anyone for what they were wearing, he just wanted to document it all. It was overall enjoyable, and not depressing. In fact, it made me feel even less like being a slave to fashion than I already do, but in a happy way, not in a rebellious, angry at the industry way, just like: well, I can wear whatever I want and if someone is judging me for it, it’s their problem, and I’m fine even if Bill Cunningham wouldn’t take my picture.


Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage (Alfred Lansing) – Pretty amazing story about an attempted Antarctic expedition, Shackleton and his crew were going to do the first transcontinental exploration. This is right around WWI, so they have no particularly advanced technological gear for dealing with the extreme conditions they would encounter. They didn’t make it across the continent, they didn’t even make a landing on Antarctica, but they all survived, sometimes because of luck, sometimes because of skill, sometimes because of sheer determination. There were a lot of things that I didn’t understand when the author talks about navigation and maneuvering through the sea, because I’ve never sailed on a ship and I don’t know anything about these things, but that doesn't detract from it, and it was a riveting story.

How to Be a Pirate (Cressida Cowell) – The second book from the "How to Train Your Dragon" series. Hiccup has a grand adventure looking for pirate treasure, he's learning bit by bit how to be a hero, because it doesn't come easy for him. Another fun, quick read, and no techno-babble about how to actually sail and navigate a ship.

The Red House Mystery (AA Milne) – This was a fluffy, fun mystery from the author of Winnie the Pooh. It had lots of Sherlock Holmes references and a secret passage. I’m a sucker for secret passages. I actually listened to this book, I found a website where you can download free podcasts of books, they are mostly older and not under copyright. The ones I’ve listened to so far are all very well done. If there’s a book you want to read but you don’t want to spend money on it and the library doesn’t have it, and it’s a classic, I recommend looking on this website.

I Thought It Was Just Me: Women reclaiming power and courage in a culture of shame (Brene Brown) – This book is so, so good. Brene Brown researches shame and its effects on women and this book is all about how to build resilience to shame. Here is a good video of here explaining some of her research and it is a good introduction to the book. The book goes into more detail about how to identify when what you feel is shame instead of something else, like embarrassment or anger or guilt, and how empathy is the opposite of shame. She shares a lot of stories from the women that she interviewed, as well as some from her own life. Some of these stories hit me right in the gut, and some of them didn’t seem as applicable to me, but I could definitely understand why they were painful experiences. I would recommend this book to everyone that I know. If you have ever felt in some way that you are not enough, and it worries you because you think you're the only one (I’m raising my hand over here), read this book! I would be interested to see what my husband thinks of all of the topics in it, but he probably won’t read it because of the title, he seems to be under the impression that it is weird feminist stuff, and it isn’t.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever

By Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard; Published: Sep 27, 2011; 288 pages

Killing Lincoln begins with this sentence: “The man with six weeks to live is anxious.” This book, written like a thriller novel counting down the days in present tense, is supposed to build suspense as readers follow what happens each day to Lincoln and his family, Generals Grant and Lee and the Civil War, and John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators as they count down the final days of Lincoln’s life. While this approach captivated me initially, as the book continued the approach became somewhat tedious, mainly regarding Booth and his buddies. I admit to skimming the last section of the book to catch the important details.

Still, I would highly recommend this book. I learned so much about Lincoln’s assassination and the surrounding events that perpetuated that his sad death. I won’t share details because that will spoil the plot. The book was a fast read despite the historical details. Unfortunately, some key aspects of the conspiracy theory, which I thought should have been more centrally placed in the book, were tucked away in the epilogue. I really liked the brief synopses at the end of the book explaining what happened to key people after the President’s death.

Agatha Christie,The Help, War Horse etc.

I've been meaning to blog for a while now and here I am finally writing about what I've read and seen so far this year.

I read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.  I've never read any of her books before and I really liked it.  It was a page turner and the end was not what I expected, but it was good.   I will be reading more Agatha Christie books this year.

I also read How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, which pricklypear talked about in an earlier post. It was an easy book and I found it quite enjoyable. 

The last book I've read so far is The Continuous Atonement by Brad Wilcox.  I really liked this book.  I liked how the author told stories to go along with the principles he was talking about. It helped me remember and understand what he was talking about.

Now onto the new movies I've seen this year.  Well I saw The Help, which I enjoyed! And it really got me thinking about American history and racism and slavery and servitude.  I would recommend this movie.

I watched Just My Luck with Chris Pine and Lindsay Lohan.  It was okay.  It is a chick flick but it was a little too cheesy for me.  (Although I must say that Chris Pine has really beautiful blue eyes:)

The last new movie I've seen so far is War Horse. It was also only okay for me. Some of my friends really liked it, but it was a little too much for me.  Too much of what, I'm not sure.  Just something.

Well those are all of my reviews for now.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens!

Today, were he still alive, Charles Dickens would be 200 years old. Happy Birthday!

In honor of Mr. Dickens, here are a few photos from a walking tour I took in London.

This is a bust near the building where Dickens lived.

A close-up of the text underneath the bust.

This was at the location of the residence, sort of across the courtyard (if I remember correctly) from the bust.

To celebrate Dickens' birthday, it might be a good time to revisit some of his novels. Although if you want manage 50 books this year, you might begin with a short one. Here is a list works by Charles Dickens, courtesy of Wikipedia. Some of my favorites, include Little Dorrit, David Copperfield and, of course, A Christmas Carol. Do you have any favorites?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Flavia de Luce

If you haven't met Flavia de Luce yet, I hope you have the opportunity soon. Although visitors to Bishop's Lacey seem to get attacked or killed a lot. I just finished reading A Red Herring Without Mustard, by Alan Bradley. It is the third book in a series that will consist of at least ten (four have been published, so far).

Flavia is eleven years old. It's 1950, and she lives in her ancestral home Buckshaw outside the English village of Bishop's Lacey. Her mother died when she was a baby, and now she lives with her sad father, the former colonel and current philatelist, and her older sisters Ophelia and Daphne. Flavia is smart, independent and has a fondness for chemistry and poisons. She is a wonderful character.

This book begins when Flavia accidentally sets a gypsy's tent on fire then invites the gypsy to stay at the family estate for as long as she needs. After the gypsy is attacked and someone else is murdered, Flavia sets about solving the mystery. I wonder when she goes to school?

I don't think this is my favorite of the three Flavia books I've read so far, but it is still a lot of fun. It gives a little more insight into Flavia's character, such as her need for a friend and her relationship to her parents than the previous books. It's fun to follow her as she solves the crime. Alan Bradley writes beautifully and the characters are distinctive and well fleshed-out.

Man on a Ledge

7) Man on a Ledge. We hit the jackpot two weekends in a row on our date night movies. This Friday we hit Man on a Ledge. When I first heard the title, I revolted a bit. No way was I sitting through a "talk him down" movie for two hours. Not a chance. Then I saw it was made by the people who made Red, and I instantly perked up. Red was probably my favorite movie of last year. (That or The Adjustment Bureau.) So, I mentioned it to my brother in law, who said, yeah, there's a guy on a ledge, but he's a distraction for a separate heist going on across the street. That's exactly what it was--and great suspense as well as funny lines and explosions and a guy throwing money and a brazen homeless guy with heroic moves. Thoroughly enjoyable. Held my breath--since the tension was so high, and the characters in the show were acting like it was no big deal. Almost screamed at them. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Theodore Roosevelt

I find Theodore Roosevelt to be a fascinating character, so I decided to learn a little more about him. I began with a relatively short biography (265 pages) to get my toes wet. It was Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt, by Aida D. Donald.

This is a fairly easy read, although I did have to make several trips to the dictionary. That's more of a comment about my lack of vocabulary than about the author. I did find Donald to have an easy style of writing that flowed well and didn't become bogged down or heavy. She clearly liked her subject, although I'm not sure she liked the Republican party, at least of that era. This book is mostly a study of Roosevelt's public life with less focus on his private life. I would have liked to read more about the details of his childhood and about his family life, but that will have to wait for a longer biography.

I certainly don't agree with everything that Theodore Roosevelt did, but this book gave me a little bit more of an appreciation for why he's on Mount Rushmore. I wish I could be as smart and confident as he was or have his boundless energy. I don't particularly care for the fact that killing man or beast didn't seem to have much of an effect on him.

One thing that particularly stood out for me was that he was raised in a rich household that was always giving money to charitable causes. But Theodore's father never took him to see who it was that needed this charity. It wasn't until he was older when he visited a squalid tenement in which a family lived and worked that he understood the difference between their lives and his. It shaped his future work. By the time I got to the end of the book, I was sad to read about Roosevelt's death.

It was an enjoyable work about an amazing individual and well worth the read.