monu-men

I wanted to like The Monuments Men. Actually, I wanted to love it. I mean, off the bat, what’s not to love. George Clooney. Matt Damon. Need I go on? But, we also have Hugh Bonneville, who I love from TV’s Downton Abbey. And then also Jean Dujardin, the sexy Oscar-winner from The Artist. Add in favorites Bill Murray and John Goodman for comic relief and you have a dynamite cast that could rival the cast of Clooney and Damon’s Ocean’s movies.

Alas, I should have just watched this one on mute and looked at the pretty scenery (and also the French countryside). But, I did not. And while it’s not a horrible movie, it sure does not live up to the full potential of its illustrious cast.

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This book begins with Japanese “picture brides” on a boat to early 20th Century America to meet their husbands.  These brides are young girls (some 12 or so) who have been shipped off by their parents with the intention of having them get married, have families and basically have better lives than they would in Japan.  The end of the book covers the heart-wrenching years of the Japanese Internment Camps during the post-Pearl Harbor era in the Western USA. 

I absolutely loved the story, the lyricalness, the lushness and the tone of this novel.  Otsuka has a gift of being able to express series of complex emotions with just a few words.  Her writing style seems natural, fluid, yet filled with power.  She does a fantastic job of creating a scene with as few words as possible.  Less, if definitely more here.  After-all, the novel is around 120 pages.

Saying all of that, I still found myself wanting a little more.  NOT more of the words…more of the individual characters and their own stories.  This novel is told in the first person plural voice (or point of view).  Meaning: WE did this, WE did that. With such powerful stories to tell, I wish Otsuka would have picked one or two women to focus on instead of the global “we.”  This does not mean I did not like the book.  I loved it.  I just would have loved it even more had there been a little more individual detail.

But, I understand why she choose the plural voice to write it.  The subject matter here is highly emotional…and by keeping it in the plural, both Otsuka and the reader are able to keep a fair and appropriate distance.  Either way, a must read for all…

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I recently re-read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society,  a book I liked.  Upon second reading, I re-liked it all over again…but even more.  I LOVED it on the second read.
Why?  Well, could it be attributed to growing older (I first read it in 2009)? Or experiencing more loss and pain in life?  Or maybe just being in the mood for a sentimental book?
Well, whatever it was that made me change my GOOD read to a GREAT read, I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this story.  There is something for everyone here…romance, history, sentimentality, friendship, etc.
One of the things I forgot was how immersed you get into the world of Guernsey and the period of the story (post-WWII).  I remember adding Guernsey to my “must see” travel list right after I finished this book the first time.  Well, this time, I wanted to RUN there.  Between the sense of place and the sense of history, I felt like I was right there, in 1940s Guernsey, chatting with the characters and partaking of some potato peel pie.  The characters all jump off the page so it is easy to imagine them conversing with me about books and travel and the hardships of the war.
Told exclusively through letters exchanged from Guernsey natives to Juliet, a writer who is searching for her next story, this book begins in 1946, after the Germans left Guernsey.  Juliet lives in London and somehow, one of Guernsey’s residents comes across a book that has Juliet’s name in it so he writes to her.  This letter strikes up a series of events that leads to Juliet and some of her friends traveling to Guernsey and becoming one of the Guernsey family.
No, it is not one of the finest books ever written.  But, sometimes you just need a book to transport you to another world for a little while…something that takes your mind away from the ordinary and the mundane.  For me, this was that book.  Maybe it will be yours too.

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Can Winston Churchill be exciting? In this second installment of HBO’s film on Churchill (the first being The Gathering Storm with Albert Finney playing Churchill), the old English Bulldog is pretty darn exciting. Maybe I should preface that by saying the ERA that this film takes place in is much more exhilarating than the timeframe of the Finney film (pre-WWII). Churchill during WWII was a force to be reckoned with. He and FDR formed a powerful, menacing alliance that took the world and Hitler by storm. In The Gathering Storm, Finney did a fabulous job of embodying the Prime Minister, but there was always something a little too “regal” about him. I mean after all, it was Albert Finney under all of that make-up and the years of classical acting seemed to hinder the rough, brash Churchill exterior from coming all the way through. Here, in this film, Irish actor Brendan Gleeson does not have any problem being a true, unadulterated curmudgeon. Gleeson’s performance is truly phenomenal…he’s all fire and brimstone when he needs to be but in the scenes with Churchill and his wife Clemmie, Gleeson shine’s as he lets slivers of Churchill’s soft side peek out. All around, an excellent film about a traumatic time in history…and about the man who made sure Great Britain got though that trauma mostly unscathed.

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Now, this is not one of my favorite films ever, but, for a Quentin Tarantino film, it’s very strong…mostly because of its performance by Christoph Waltz as Nazi officer Colonel Landa. It’s a long film, and like Tarantino’s other works, it’s very stylized and very violent. But, it features performances that make it worth seeing and Waltz’s performance, in particular, propels this film from standard-violent-war-movie to an excellent work of cinema. Waltz steals every moment he is on screen…unlike most Nazi characters portrayed in movies (I’m especially thinking of Ralph Fiennes’ cold-blooded killing machine in Schindler’s List), Waltz plays Landa with a sincerity and seeming likeability. We think “what is he after,” since we never know what to expect with this quietly deranged character; his light demeanor constantly keeps us off guard. And Tarantino really does capitalize off of this stellar performance. Landa’s scenes are visually elegant and the cast in scenes with Waltz seem to be pulling out all of the stops to give their best performance to match Landa’s maniacal, yet pleasant chill. As for the movie on a whole, it is a new twist on the WWII years in Europe…told with a strong film and filmmaking element. For movie buffs (like myself), I did enjoy the dialogue between the characters about the movie industry and 1930s directors and actors, etc. And, whether you like that “Hollywood” angle or not, it is something that really has not been touched on in a major way before. The style is unique, as usual for Tarantino, and his brash, bold techniques add to the power and intensity of the film. If you can tolerate the violence, check this one out! It’s a far cry from Pulp Fiction, but it’s a strong film on its own…highlighted by exceptional performances.

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Albert Finney plays pre-Prime Minister Winston Churchill to a tee in this historical drama done by HBO. Disliked by many of his Parliament cohorts and thought as a buffoon by others, Churchill, in the 1930s, thought he was on his way out…or at least down…of British politics. Enter Hitler and his pesky little brand of Arians who started taking their rampage through Europe…Churchill saw and felt that Hitler needed to be stopped before most other of his counterparts in Parliament. This desire to defeat Hitler before anymore damage was done is what eventually brought Churchill back into the fray of power in Parliament and eventually to THE position of British power, Prime Minister. But, this film, rightfully so, stops before Churchill comes into power. Rightfully so, since this film is more about the MAN…and the marriage between him and Clemmie than about Parliament and politics and war. Excellent performances by both Finney (who really becomes Churchill in every way) and Vanessa Redgrave as Clemmie.

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The narrative begins the summer of 1976 when Ruth Gilmartin, a single mother living in Oxford England, discovers that her mother, Sally, is really a Russian émigrée called Eva Delectorskaya. Sally, after decades of concealing her past, but now fearing her life is in danger, reveals her recruitment and involvement in espionage work during WWII.

Ruth learns that Sally had been enlisted to work as an undercover agent for the British Intelligence Services, where she was trained in various covert operations as a spy, and where the number one rule was “to trust no one”. Working in France, England and Scotland she eventually is transferred to New York, and was assigned as an undercover news reporter for the TransOceanic News Agency where she works to plant pro-British propaganda in newspapers to spur the United States government into joining the war effort. When a field operation goes wrong, Sally is forced to cover her tracks and goes into hiding. She has maintained a low profile for thirty years, but now believes she is being watched and that someone from the past has come back to silence her.

Skeptical at first, Ruth is gradually drawn into her mother’s story and sets out to hunt down Sally’s former mentor, Lucas Fromer, hoping to alleviate her mother’s fears.

While Ruth’s life as a teacher of English takes a back seat to her mother’s spy tale, the author presents a vivid account of Sally’s life of ciphers and double agents, detailing the mounting tension of each mission.

Overall, “Restless” is an absorbing spy thriller set against a largely unknown episode in U.S.-British relations.

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Are the hills alive? Well, if they weren’t before this movie, they sure are now. Take the premise from Maria von Trapp’s life story and add songs and dancing and what do you have—magic! That’s what Rodgers and Hammerstein must have discovered when they began adapting this story for the stage. And, shortly after its success on Broadway, Hollywood came calling and Rodgers and Hammerstein answered, taking director Robert Wise and writer Ernest Lehman along for the ride. If you don’t like musicals, you might be advised to be especially leery of this one. The Sound of Music takes the sappiness and melodrama you normally find (in small amounts) in musicals to new heights. But, in this film with this story and with these characters, it just seems to work and I love it. Julie Andrews (never better) plays Maria, a young, fledging novice nun who just can’t seem to make her convent life work with her rebellious and free-spirited personality. Christopher Plummer plays stern and ill-tempered Captain von Trapp, the head of a family for whom she governesses. Since I already said it was sappy, you can assume that a love story between these two unlikely people develops. Now seen as more of a children’s film, this movie is very much for everyone. Sure, children like the singing and the fact that there are six kids in the cast. But, adults should also appreciate that this film, though a bit overdone, is one of the best examples of the Hollywood musical ever produced.

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The story of Hitler’s last days in the bunker, told through the eyes of his 24 year old secretary, Traudi Junge. Bruno Ganz’s performance as Hitler is absolutely chilling…it never degenerates into kitschy. As a historical drama, it’s accurate, very compelling and well-made. Yes, it’s long, but somehow, the suspense and the pacing keeps everything moving. Another film where you know the outcome (i.e. Titanic, All the President’s Men), but you don’t care — you’re just riveted.

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