One of the better novels I have read in a while…this one makes you laugh, cry and long for your friends.  Rayner, a Brit, weaves a compelling tale filled with sudden loss, friendship, gradual loss, sexual identity and all sorts of relationships.  The main characters are the storytellers here…Karen who experiences sudden loss right at the beginning of the book, Anna, who is Karen’s friend and is in the midst of a doomed relationship with a man with dependency problems, and Lou who enters Karen and Anna’s lives through sad happenstance and who is dealing with her own private identity battles.  All of these characters on their own would make compelling fiction, but all three of them create a vivid and dynamic tale that not only holds the reader’s interest, but inspires them as well.  An excellent novel!

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Having just read Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open, I decided to stick with the non-fiction genre and read the account of Nick Schuyler in his book Not Without Hope written with Jere Longman. This is the true story of four friends, two of them NFL football players, who went on a fishing trip that ended in tragedy as Nick was the only one of the four to come out alive. This accident occurred Spring of 2009 and the book was released one year later in March 2010. I remember vaguely hearing about this on the news, but had little recollection of the events, so everything in the book was new to me.

Nick Schuyler, his best friend Will Bleakley, NFL pros Marquis Cooper, and Corey Smith all went out on a fishing trip on Cooper’s boat in Florida. Ominous weather was quickly approaching so the guys decided to head back to shore. As they prepared to head home they realized the anchor of the boat was stuck. In a last ditch effort to free the anchor they tried tying the anchor rope to the stern of the boat and hitting the throttle. The anchor did not yank free, but instead, the stern sank and filled with water causing the boat to capsize. This is where the tragedy begins. Nick recalls his 43 hours at sea waiting for rescue while sitting on the hull of the boat grabbing on for dear life. He describes how his three friends eventually succumb to hypothermia and the elements and die right before his eyes.

It was very easy to get hooked into this book. I’m not a fast reader, but it only took me 2 days to finish the book. It was a very compelling story with very vivid descriptions of what the four men endured out at sea. Even though I knew the outcome of the story I remained glued to my kindle. There were parts of the book that were heartbreaking to read, but as a whole I found it a very riveting account.

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Once you start watching, chances are you won’t be able to stop! I mean, this show is truly addictive. Basically, it revolves around four gay friends in Pittsburgh… “friends” being the key word since, aside from the occasional experiment, they remain platonic. I would say the main character of the three is Brian Kinney, the self-obsessed ad exec who comes across as narcissistic but really will go to any lengths to help his friends. Aside from Brian, there is Michael—the most middle-of-the-road, Emmett—the most flamboyant, Ted—the most uptight, and Justin—the most innocent. They all go in and out of relationships together, talk about one-night-stands together, go through life crises together, drink together, workout together, etc. Also mixed in are Debbie, Michael’s wild and outspoken mother, and Mel and Linz, two lesbians who have a child fathered by Brian (and another one later on fathered by Michael). Debbie adds quite a lot of spice to the show, with her opinions on everything. But, the show is definitely spicy on its own with its graphic content. Leave it to cable (Showtime) to come up with something this controversial and ultra-contemporary.

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Before you assume that this review is about that silly American television show that came and went in 2003, think again. This is the British BBC show that gave us silly Americans the idea for our paltry version. My guess on the reason the American version didn’t fly (aside from the fact that it just was not good): prime time network television. Like HBO’s raunchy and sexual Sex and the City, Coupling revolves around what 30-somethings do or don’t do in the bedroom. American TV is not ready for something like this to be shown on a major network in prime time. Thankfully, Americans now have the chance to see the BBC comedy on DVD. Coupling is a smart, risqué, show that challenges any viewer to think about her or his own relationship(s). There are six major players, all of whom deal with their own battles of lack of sex, volume of sex, fears of commitment, worries about never finding their soul mate…etc. The men have one view and, of course, the women another. Together, they clash sometimes and get it right others. Unlike Sex and the City, this show is more about talking about sex, rather than showing it. But, the conversations alone, given how sharp and witty the dialogue is, provide for enough humor to go around…with some left over to spare.

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This is a simple movie. Nothing really happens, aside from small, little strides the characters make in getting closer to each other. It’s more like a case study of the human psyche or even the human spirit. Regardless of how little happens, though, I came away feeling moved and affected by what I had just seen. If action movies or fast-paced films are your speed, this one might not sit with you, but I would recommend everyone at least give this small film a chance. It has a powerful message in that we are all flawed in our own ways and that by just being there for one another, we can help. There is no corny “let me help you” kind of dialogue here—nothing that cliché would be found in this script. Sometimes, especially with the main character (played with perfection by Peter Dinklage), nothing is said at all. A meaningful film that takes its time to say (or show) what it needs to and leaves out all of the other stuff.

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“Get busy living, or get busy dying.” There is more sentiment in that one quote from The Shawshank Redemption than there are in most movies. This film is a true modern treasure—a timeless film that will be remembered and revered with the likes of It’s a Wonderful Life and other poignant classics. The story, based on a Stephen King short story, starts off quickly, with the trial of Andy Dufresne playing over the opening credits. The trial is not the important part here and by filming the opening in that way, director Frank Darabont lets his audience know that we do not need to show how Andy was falsely accused. It is just important to know that he is. The real importance of this film lies in the relationship between two heterosexual men and that no matter how bleak things look, one should never, ever give up hope. There is nothing strange about the relationship between Andy and Red. They just are two men who form a deep bond of love while incarcerated. The middle of the film takes the audience on various other little journeys, such as the saga of prison librarian Brooks, who gets released after 50+ years at Shawshank Prison. The stories of these other characters strengthen the movie’s base as a powerful, inspirational story about love and hope. One of the best film endings ever, the last 20 minutes of this film are even stronger than the first 20, something very few films can attest to. Anyone who has been staying away from this film because they think it is a “prison” movie is missing out on one of the best on-screen relationships (whether platonic or romantic) ever conceived. And, just try watching this one without getting a lump in your throat or tears in your eyes. For both men and women, that’s a very tall order.

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A touching, heartfelt film that does a perfect job of not being too sappy or weepy. I mean, I cried, but I don’t think this film intentionally takes the audience on a “false” emotional roller coaster. In this film, all of the emotions are sincere and come from the remarkable performances and the delicately-tuned script. The story is basically about two men…Michael is content at a home for the disabled until Rory comes to live there. Rory is paralyzed from the neck down and Michael has Cerebral Palsy and is barely verbal, though Rory can understand him perfectly. Rory makes Michael see how unfulfilling life at the home is and introduces Michael to the world of pubs, women and independence. Michael and Rory’s are two lost souls…Michael is unaware that he is a lost soul and Rory is painfully and VERY bitterly aware that he is lost forever—lost in world of movement and mobility. Together, these two men teach each other so much about life and love and respect. They are good and bad for each other at the same time…when Michael moves out of the home and into an apartment with Michael, I was SO UPSET. I thought this would lead to NOTHING positive for both men. But, the independence Michael develops and the love he feels for both the nurse they hire to care for them (romantic love) and for Rory (platonic love) teaches him so much about life…things he never would have learned by just staying in the home. Even though some of these lessons lead to heartache, they enrich both Rory’s and Michael’s lives immensely. This is a hard film to watch without feeling that emotional roller coaster but at least in this case, the ride is realistic and worth it.

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OK—everyone has seen it. Everyone knows the story. Some people can even recite the dialogue (I would have to confess, I’m in this category). When you get right down to it, this is a great movie. Sad thing is that it gets so over-watched around the holiday season that many people have the “not again” mentality. PLEASE don’t disregard this movie just because it has been overplayed, colorized and basically abused. What director Frank Capra does here is capture a little slice of Americana—something that Capra excelled in. Unlike Capra’s other Americana films (most notably Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), this one has a dark edge—a hardness that makes us think for a second that maybe America is not all that it’s cracked up to be. That is where Jimmy Stewart’s acting genius kicks in. His portrayal of the lowly, always-disappointed George Bailey has the audience rooting him on, even when he’s at his most weak. I mean, here is Bailey, standing by a bridge, looking down into the icy waters of the river, waiting for the perfect moment to jump. Does anyone really believe he will? No—not with the genuine way Stewart breathes life into Bailey. No one with that much compassion in their heart could really ever end it all? But, that’s why Stewart is perfect as Bailey. He does give Capra a “hard” edge, all while keeping the film, at its core, a feel-good film…one that can and should be enjoyed ANY time of year, not just in the holiday season.

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What is it about this movie that makes me so uncomfortable? Is it the continual mentioning of racial issues? Is it Selina, who is visually handicapped? Is it the way Selina’s mother treats her? Well, it is all of the above…and more. This film is a striking piece of 1960s cinema…in the heart of the Civil Rights era, it demonstrates much of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others preached…that we are all human—black, white or whatever. It also shows how truly colorblind love (all kinds of love) can be. Selina plays a very emotional abused and used blind girl who happens to encounter a distinguished Black man one day in the park. She, of course, cannot see that he is Black. He can see that she is White, but befriends her since he feels completely sorry for the situation she lives in. Yes…a Black man feeling sorry for a White girl in the 1960s. Well, like I said, this movie is about being truly BLIND to color. It’s about the human condition and the soul of a person, rather than the race. The platonic love Sidney Poitier’s character feels toward Selina has nothing to do with her being White. And, the romantic love Selina feels toward Poitier has absolutely nothing to do with his color, since she doesn’t even know what he looks like. A fabulous film about how racial and social situations matter very little compared to matters of the heart.

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The ladies are all back…with their beaus…and they’ve all hit NYC by storm once again. I was never THAT into the show – I had seen an episode here, a clip there – so I was worried if that would effect how I liked the movie. Well, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) does a nice recap in the beginning of the film that pretty much makes sure fans and novices alike are relatively on the same page. And after that, WATCH OUT! It’s a wild ride of emotions, fashion, music, posing, clubbing, love and hate. The major critical complaint about this one has been that it’s too long. But, I would disagree with that, saying that the time passes quickly and there really are never any lulls. Another criticism I’ve heard is that it’s shallow. HELLO! The TV series was shallow! So, did we really expect the movie to become this deep, philosophical study? We would not go see something like that, but we would see this…something fun and light. This is not a heavy movie. It’s a good movie for girlfriends to see together and compare notes about after. It’s not going to come up on Oscar night (except maybe for costumes!). It’s fun. Just like the show was. We really wouldn’t have wanted them to change anything, did we?

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