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In this book, author Suzanne Morrison tells the story of how, aged 25, she went to Bali for two months for a yoga retreat – hoping to find the answers to life’s philosophical questions, such as is there a god? and also hoping to find her direction in life. She is preparing to move from her native Seattle to New York with her boyfriend, but there is another man who she just can’t stop thinking about, she is concerned about how much she will miss her family, and hopes that the retreat will provide the answers. (Almost) inevitably things do not turn out how she expects – the yoga instructor who she idolises turns out to have feet of clay and an ego, Suzanne struggles with having to give up alcohol, cigarettes and sugar, and is horrified to discover that her yoga friends all drink their own pee and insist she should do the same. And then there’s the whole issue of household items becoming possessed and needing exorcisms…

I really enjoyed this book, and I think my enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that I personally love yoga, but you definitely don’t need to practice yoga to read this. It is mostly told in diary form, although at the beginning of each chapter, Morrison writes from the present day (the retreat was in 2001) and reflects upon her current life. There are some extremely funny moments – who wouldn’t share her horror at discovering that it’s not coffee that her flatmate is downing every morning?! But there are also some more serious moments, as Morrison questions her faith or lack of, her relationship with boyfriend Jonah, and her purpose in life. She is witty and engaging and I think I would probably like her very much in real life.  I also liked her yoga buddies, especially Jessica and Jason (her flatmate and neighbour). The one person who came out of the book quite badly was the yoga teacher Indra, who to my mind was everything that puts some people off trying yoga. As just one example, the guilt that she piles onto Suzanne and Jessica because they – horror! – had a coconut vanilla milkshake, was completely unreasonable. If I joined a studio that was run by people like Indra and her partner Lou, I’d probably be cancelling my membership pretty quickly!

Lots of laughs and plenty to think about here – I would definitely recommend this book, especially to people who do have their own yoga practice.

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R.E.D. (2010)

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Action ‘dramedy’ starring Bruce Willis as retired CIA Agent Frank Moses, Mary Louise Parker as his romantic interest, and Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich (who basically steals the entire film) as his former colleagues who team up with him to unearth a conspiracy that goes to the highest echelons of power.

Lots of fun, lots of action and a completely unbelievable storyline make for an entertaining couple of hours. Bruce Willis plays his usual macho hero role, but almost parodying himself. Morgan Freeman – as great as you would expect although possibly underused. Helen Mirren and Mary Louise Parker are both excellent, but the real star of the show is John Malkovich.

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Year of release: 2010

Director: Robert Schwenkte

Writers: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Warren Ellis (graphic novel) Cully Hamner (graphic novel)

Main cast: Bruce Willis, Mary Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman

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The Hartes and The Golds have lived next door to each other for years. The two couples are best friends, and their children – Christopher and Emily – grew up together, and eventually fell in love. Life is seemingly idyllic for the families, until the night where Emily is killed from a gunshot to the head, and Chris tells his parents that it was a suicide pact gone wrong. Neither family wants to believe this could have happened and both want to know the truth. But as the police investigation begins, both sets of parents have to question how well they really knew their children at all.

As is almost always the case with Jodi Picoult, this book is compelling reading, and held my interest throughout. There are two timelines – the one in the past which builds up the history of Chris and Emily’s relationship, and the one in the present day, which focuses on the police investigation and the discovery of what really happened that fateful night.

As it transpired, I actually found myself disliking both sets of parents and feeling more sympathy towards the Chris and Emily – Emily in particular, not only because she dies at the very start of the story, but also because she actually seemed the most likeable character of all. I did enjoy the character of Jordan McAfee, Chris’s attorney and his assistant Selena. I was not particularly able to warm to Chris but I had to remind myself that he was a privileged (read, spoiled) teenager, going through an incredibly tough process. There were a few things that jarred with me – Emily’s mother Melanie mistakenly believes at one point that her new neighbours are a gay couple and wonders what kind of neighbourhood she and her family have moved to. I’m not sure if this was meant to be a reflection upon the character of Melanie herself however, I also felt that Emily and Chris were almost pushed together because it was what their parents’ wanted, not necessarily what they themselves might have wanted.

Nonetheless, if you want a story that moves along at a good pace, despite alternate chapters set in different timelines, and one that that will keep you guessing as well as presenting the reader with a moral dilemma, then I would probably recommend this book. It’s not Picoult’s best (my own lowly opinion would rate that as the excellent Nineteen Minutes) but it’s still an absorbing story.

Game Change (2012)

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This HBO movies tells the story of John McCain’s political campaign in 2008, in which he lost out on to Barack Obama for the presidency of the United States of America. Specifically it focuses on his running mate Sarah Palin – the reason for the surprise pick, the difficulties McCain’s staff as well as Palin herself faced, and the way the wheel came off the campaign when it became glaringly obvious that she was a bad choice for running mate.

This is in my top ten of all films, which is quite unusual for me, given that it is a political movie and that it focuses on the Republicans (I very much wanted Obama to win, and have a great admiration for the whole Obama family). The stellar cast really make this work – Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt, campaign strategist and advisor; Sarah Paulsen as Nicole Wallace, campaign advisor; Ed Harris as McCain; and – in an absolutely breathtaking performance that never becomes caricature – Julianne Moore as Palin herself.

The film is entertaining, yet uncomfortable viewing at times and utterly compelling throughout.

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Year of release: 2012

Director: Jay Roach

Writer: Mark Halperin (book), Danny Strong, John Heilemann

Main cast: Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Sarah Paulsen, Ed Harris, Peter MacNicol

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Good Will Hunting (1997)

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Will Hunting is a janitor in a school, but as it turns out, also a genius. Psychologist Sean is determined not to let Will’s hot temper get in the way of his future and tries to help Will find his focus in life.

Beautiful movie (unfortunately it’s a Harvey Weinstein movie which means I probably won’t watch it again) with an excellent cast. Very moving story and excellent acting by Damon and Williams. Minnie Driver was also brilliant in support.

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Year of release: 1997

Director: Gus Van Sant

Writers: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck

Main cast: Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, Minnie Driver, Stellan Skarsgard

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The Departed (2006)

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An undercover cop and a Police mole have to try and work out each other’s identity before either of them is caught. And when the undercover cop is working for infamous gangster Frank Costello, getting caught could be fatal.

An exciting and fast paced thriller with a stellar cast – Leonardo Dicaprio as undercover Billy Costigan, Matt Damon as policeman Colin Sullivan, Jack Nicholason as Frank Costello, plus other famous faces including Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin and Ray Winstone.

There is a simmering tension throughout and the ending is fantastic. I highly recommend this film.

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Year of release: 2006

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writers: William Monahan, Alan Mak*, Felix Chong*

*2002 screenplay Mou gaan dou

Main cast: Jack Nicholson, Leonardo Dicaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon

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Changes to my posts

This blog originally started as a review site for the books I read, and over time expanded to include film and theatre reviews. As I far prefer to do book reviews than film or theatre, I am still going to post pictures from plays/films I watch but keep my actual reviews to a minimum – basically a brief synopsis, and my general thoughts on the acting, storyline etc. (This seems to make more sense to me as lately I have been watching lots of films and not reviewing any of them!) So be prepared for an onslaught of film posts as I play catch up on those I have missed posting about previously…