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Archive for March, 2008

I thought this was….okay.  Not exactly a waste of time, but it did fall short of my expectations.  It is about two young men who during Chairman Mao’s reign in China are sent to a little village to be re-educated, due to the fact that their parents are seen as enemies of the state.  The re-education consists of these two young men having to horde buckets of excrement up and down a mountain. Their life is monotonous, and they don’t feel that there is much chance of them ever escaping this life.  The one bright spot in their days is the little Chinese seamstress of the title – the daughter of the local tailor.

However, the boys discover a box of forbidden books by various authors (including Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Dumas, and their favourite, the French author Balzac). The books, which they read in secret and relate to the seamstress, have a profound effect on all of them.

I didn’t feel really able to engage with any of the characters; however the book did illustrate the way a love of literature can change someone’s outlook, and show how important books can be to people.  It also left me shaking my head again at the unjustness of banning books and stopping people from being encouraged to think for themselves.

Not a dull book, and it probably suffered due to the fact that I loved the book I read before it, but while I can’t say that it wasn’t somewhat entertaining, I came away feeling underwhelmed.

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I thought this was a terrific book.  It is written from a child’s point of view, and has received many comparisons with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  However, while I found The Curious Incident over-rated and irritating, I thought this was really well written.

The narrator is 9 year old Harry Pickles, who talks about the summer that his nearly 5 year old brother Daniel went missing.  Harry describes the effect that the loss had on his parents, himself, and others around him, showing how people find it hard to know what to say, and demonstrating the breakdown of normal family life.  It is surprisingly funny at times, but also dreadfully sad.  I cannot begin to imagine the pain that any family in this situation must go through, but I was moved to tears reading this.

The characterisation is brilliant – Harry is a believable boy, and his struggle with life after the disappearance of Daniel, and his view of his family which is falling apart, is entirely believable and very eloquently described.  I felt that the whole family were very well drawn, and their reactions to the tragedy was extremely well described.

The writing was elegant and rather lovely, and I did not want to put the book down.

Incredibly well written, moving and touching.  A must-read.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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The beautiful gothic fairytale is one of my very favourite movies.

I am a big fan of Johnny Depp anyway – I think he is one of the most talented and versatile actors around today – and this is surely one of his greatest roles. He plays the title character, a man who was ‘created’ by an inventor (Vincent Price), but the inventor died before finishing off Edward by giving his ‘proper’ hands, rather than the scissors that were obviously a temporary measure. Stuck in the beautiful old castle where the inventor lived, Edward has never interacted with any other people before, but then a kindly Avon lady (Dianne Wiest) calls there and ends up taking him to live with her and her family.  And so ensues several hilarious but touching scenes (Edward valiantly battling with a pea on a plate, Edward waking up in shock and stabbing the waterbed, Edward’s first taste of alcohol). For a while, Edward is loved by all his new neighbours, except for one – everybody wants a piece of Edward, and he starts doing topiary, hairdressing and dog grooming for his all his new ‘friends’.  He also falls in love with Kim – the daughter of his new ‘family’, but who doesn’t warm to Edward like everyone else.  Kim’s boyfriend is also not happy about him, although he is quick to attempt to use Edward to his own advantage.

It doesn’t take long before things go wrong and pettiness and small mindedness sets in.  Edward, so innocent and eager to help, inadvertently ends up in a few situations where things go wrong and he gets the blame, and is hounded out of the neighbourhood.

Johnny Depp deserved an Oscar award for this.  Although he has few lines (less than 100 apparently, although I didn’t count), he portrays beautifully the innocence and wonder that Edward feels, and gives the character a lovable, childlike quality.  The viewer feels all of Edward’s emotions with him – fear, awe, anger, sadness – and this is largely due to Johnny Depp’s portrayal.

The other actors are fine; Winona Ryder does a great job as Kim, and Dianne West is great as Kim’s mother, but this is really Depp’s movie.  It’s no wonder that he and Tim Burton are such good friends, and have made so many movies together when they can come up with magic like this.

I laughed and cried in equal measure in this movie and would definitely recommend it to anyone.

Year of release: 1990

Director: Tim Burton

Writers: Tim Burton, Caroline Thompson

Main cast: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall

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This is a truly outstanding movie, and watching it is like being on the proverbial emotional rollercoaster.

Sean Penn is Paul, a critically ill mathematician; Benicio Del Toro is Jack, a former convict now trying to help rehabilitate young offenders; and Naomi Watts is Christina, a young mother and wife, with a murky past.  These three unconnected people move into each other’s orbit due to a horrific car crash which impacts on all of them in different ways.  All three leads are great, but Del Toro and Watts in particular are simply outstanding.

This film deals with grief, passion, love, guilt and anger.  It had me hooked from beginning to end.   The first 30 or 40 minutes are somewhat confusing, as it shows segments of the lives of all three characters, but they are shown totally out of sequence, jumping backwards and forwards in time.  I watched, imagining that it would all come together and make sense, and it did so, about 45 minutes in.

It was one of those rare movies that left me feeling emotionally drained – the way it is shot out of sequence is unusual, and I couldn’t tear myself away from it, even to make a cup of coffee!

I had this movie on my shelf for a long time, and wasn’t really sure that I felt like watching it – however, I am extremely glad that I did so, and will definitely be watching it again.

Year of release: 2003

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Writer: Guillermo Arriaga

Main cast: Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts

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Jeff Bridges (my all time favourite actor) is pretty much the seal of quality on any film as far as I’m concerned, and in this movie, he stars alongside his real life brother Beau Bridges; a terrific actor in his own right.  The two men have great chemistry together, playing the Baker brothers – maybe because of their real life relationship.

The Fabulous Baker Boys have been playing piano together professionally for 15 years.  Frank (Beau) is the older, responsible brother, for whom it is a business, a job, his way of providing for his wife and children.  Jack however, is the wayward younger brother, who is bad with responsibility and cares less about the business side of their partnership than their music.  On his nights off, he sometimes plays piano for the sheer joy of it at a little known bar in his neighbourhood, and it is clear that he gets far more pleasure out of this, than he does out of playing as his ‘job’.  For Jack, it is the love of the music that counts.

Nonetheless, bills have to be paid, and when their double act starts to feel a bit ‘tired’ they decide to hire a female singer to join in their act.  Enter Michelle Pfieffer, who is terrific as Suzie Diamond, a gorgeous and talented singer, and the first woman to ever really get under Jack’s skin.  Her entrance into their lives and careers changes the dynamic of the act and the brothers’ relationship.

The characters were brought to life by the three main leads – and the attraction between Jack and Suzie meant that some of their scenes were practically sizzling with heat!  Jack’s dissatisfaction with his life, and Frank’s dissatisfaction with his brother is almost palpable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film, which had a very sensual feel to it, and a great soundtrack.  I will admit however to being slightly disappointed at the ending, but that is just a small grumble.

Year of release: 1989

Director: Steve Kloves

Writer: Steve Kloves

Main cast: Jeff Bridges, Beau Bridges, Michelle Pfieffer

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I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading the rest of the Montalbano series. A high powered man is found dead in Sicily, and to all outward appearances it seems that he simply died of a heart attack, in a rather indelicate position. However, Inspector Salvo Montalbano suspects that all is not as it seems, and determines to discover the truth.

For the first book in a series, this book does a great job of combining an interesting mystery with introducing a colourful cast of characters.  Montalbano himself is terrific – he’s grumpy, rude and mischievous, but he also has a strong moral code and a heart of gold.  He is ably assisted by his team of colleagues – his friend Mimi, with whom Montalbano has a love/hate relationship; the methodical Fazio, and the hapless Catarella.  This book also shows something of the Inspector’s relationship with his superior officers (it’s not very good!)

Sicily itself is also brought to life, with it’s heat and atmosphere, and all the aromas of the lovely meals of which Montalbano is so fond.

The book is amusing, believable and very pacey. Definitely recommended.

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I guess I should put a disclaimer right at the beginning of this blog post – I was really tired when watching this movie, which means that I probably didn’t enjoy as much as I would have done had I been more awake.  The film is about Martin Blank (John Cusack) who is a professional hitman, but he has become disillusioned with his way of life.  He goes back to the town where he grew up for his High School reunion, with the hope that he will be able to rekindle his relationship with his former girlfriend Debi (Minnie Driver).  Meanwhile, there are other people on his tail, including Dan Akroyd, who plays a rival hitman, trying to get Martin to join a ‘union’.

The film does have some very humorous moments, mainly due to John Cusack who is brilliant in his role.  Minnie Driver is also great, and Dan Ackroyd is reliably solid in his role.

The school reunion itself is completely (and obviously intentionally on the behalf of the film-makers) cringeworthy, and served to remind me exactly why I would never want to go to any school reunion myself!

The humour in this movie is not in-your-face; it’s more subtle than that, which I think is a good thing.

Good supporting cast (including two of John Cusack’s sisters), and a great finale.

Year of release: 1997

Director: George Armitage

Writer: Tom Jankiewicz, D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack

Main cast: John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Jeremy Piven, Dan Aykroyd

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