Sunday, February 21, 2010

Movie Review: Valentine's Day

It is not often I completely disregard every movie review and go see a movie anyway. But I was in the need this weekend for a light and fluffy movie so I emailed my friend and off we went to see Valentine's Day. Now I did want to say that we did agree to go to the Camera 7 theatre's because they recently announced that if you show a San Jose Library card you get a $3 discount off your movie tickets. So the three of us went off to the movies feeling good that we'd already gotten a discount.

Valentine's Day the movie is pure fluff. The interconnected stories of a wide array of pretty people are presented. Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts meet on a plane; Jennifer Garner(a teacher) and Aston Kutcher(a florist) are best friends each involved in relationships with other people. A small boy is intent on getting his gift of flowers to a special someone. And dozens of others.

I am not sure if any other movie in years has had this many underutilized Oscar winners. Jamie Foxx as a cranky sportcaster forced to report on V-Day; Shirley Maclaine as an ex movie star grandmother; Julia Roberts, a soldier coming home from Iraq; and Kathy Bates in a blink and you'll miss her minor part as a news show producer.

However, the movie did make me smile throughout - Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift are perfectly adorable as the embodiment of airheaded teens in love; Eric Dane really should spend all movies just wrapped in a towel; pink, red and white flowers really do make pretty arrangements. And the ending did have two really great twists that Marina and I failed to see coming. One twist in fact elicited a shout from the guy behind us that just cracked us up.

So if you want a light fluffy movie that is almost impossible to describe go see Valentine's Day. Going in with low expectations would be a good thing.

2009: My Year in Books

I've been contemplating writing this blog ever since New Year's Day, but perhaps even as far back as Jan 1, 2009. I do love making resolutions every New Year, but I've tried to learn to parse them out as shorter term goals. The only year long resolution I made in 2009 was to write down every book I read. I knew I was reading a lot of books during the year but I had a habit of forgetting what I had read so I wanted to find a way to capture them. I did create just 2 rules for myself:
  1. I could only write down books I read cover to cover - no writing down books that I punted on. Did this change my reading habits? Yes, I found I punted on books I was not enjoying much earlier. I also found that I had a habit of putting books aside and going back to them months later. I stopped doing that - if I got half way I would finish the book so I could add it to the list.
  2. I had to write down all the books - that included the periodic trashy romance novels that I indulge in as mind candy. It also included all the books that I revisit every year. These include some of the novels of Louisa May Alcott - one of my all time favorite authors, Stephen King's The Stand (the original not his revised unabridged version); and some Emma Lathen mystery novels (if Wall Street was still in the hands of her characters my how different things would be) and the Amanda Cross mysteries - her James Joyce Murders is read almost every year at the start of the summer. I recommend all these books to everyone.

I sat down this morning, a somewhat dreary rainy day, and flipped through the small Moleskin calendar book that I had tracked my reading in and pulled out some of my favorites from the 222 books that I read last year. I realized as I read the list that I had a lot of trends in my reading - So hear are some of my top books and reading trends in 2009):

1. All things Vampire. I will be honest - I have always enjoyed a good scary story - I've been reading Stephen King since high school. The first of his books I read was Salem's Lot. It was a lovely scary book, and one I enjoy rereading even today. In 2009 I have discovered I read a lot of vampire novel series. Most are humorous takes on vampires though they all contain some great action. I've been a fan of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse books (Dead and Gone)- the source material for the True Blood series on HBO - for a long time. I got to meet Charlaine in person when I lived in Texas and I enjoy her deft mixture of comedy and horror. I read not only her books but the books in the vampire series of Michelle Bardsley(Wait till Your Vampire Gets Home), Mary Janice Davidson(Undead and Unworthy, Dead over Heels) and finally I read the Twilight series. I resisted the Twilight books until this year when my co-worker Kim convinced me that I should take a shot at them. I wasn't impressed but I will admit the books were readable and a bit like chips - you read one and you had to read them all. And yes, I confess - I'm team Jacob.

2. Travel Memoirs - I developed a fondness this year for travel memoirs. The one that started me on these was Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The one that made me laugh the most was Honeymoon with my Brother by Franz Wisner. Both are great reads with terrific characters and wonderful scenery.

3. Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortensen. I read 3 Cups of Tea with my book group, perhaps a bit later than many others. I adored it. Greg Mortensen is an inspiration as he tells his story of building schools in the mountains of Pakistan and how he overcame incredible odds. I was lucky enough to close out 2009 by seeing him speak in December at Foothill College. He retold the story of the book and from the first schools in his book his impact has grown as he has built 70 schools now. I think that everyone who works for a non profit should read his book and recognize the incredible impact an individual with a vision can have on making the world a better place to live.

4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows. This novel is a moving story of what takes place during and after the World War II Nazi occupation of the island of Guernsey. I loved this book so much I gave it to several friends and family members as a holiday gift. I recommend it for anyone who loves a great read. My thanks to Deanna for lending it to me.

5. Cozy Mysteries - I am a long time mystery reader - from Nancy Drew on. The cozy mystery genre is engages me because often the characters are working in an interesting field in addition to solving a mystery. They all have the Jessica Fletcher problem - if I wasn't a police officer and that many people were dying around me there should definitely be concerns about whether I was a serial killer or not. Several of the series writers I continue to enjoy were Laura Childs (Eggs in Purgatory, Tragic Magic); Donna Andrews (Swan for the Money); & Maggie Barbieri (Murder 101).

6. Knitting Mysteries and Novels - yes, I love to knit. And I've found a number of authors who blend in their love of knitting into their novels. I find the murder mysteries especially entertaining that have knitting wrapped in - amazing how many people will confess over a skein of fine yarn. Some of the my favorite knitting series in 2009 were - Meggie Sefton (Dyer Consequences, Dropped Dead Stitch) & Monica Ferris (Thai Silk). Great knitting books included Debbie Macomber's Blossom Street Series; Ann Hood (The Knitting Circle) and Gil McNeil (Beach Street Knitting). I've tried a crocheting novel or two but they aren't among my favorites.

7. Michael Connelley - if you like a great serial killer story there is no one better than Michael Connelley. I especially love reading his books on airplanes - don't ask me why but a whole plane ride can pass and I won't even notice when I'm reading his books. I read The Poet, City of Bones, Lost Light, The Narrows in 2009.

8. Robert Parker - I must admit my heart broke when I learned that Robert Parker had passed away this year. I have been a fan of his from the very beginning. I read all three of his series - Sunny Randall, Jessie Stone and the amazing Spencer series. Robert Parker's writing is clear, and direct, his stories compelling and his heros flawed but stalwart. I understand there are three yet to be published Robert Parker books, I cannot wait to read them but will miss him greatly. The books I read in 2009 included Night and Day; Stranger in Paradies

9. Jane Haddam Living Witness - The Gregor Demarkian mysteries deliver an entertaining mix of serial killer, neighborhood folksy charm and Catholic church politics in ways that never fail to entertain.

10. Henning Mankell - I adored all the books in Henning Mankell's terrific series of Swedish Kurt Wallender books. I was lucky to read his book of short stories on Kurt Wallender as well as his non series book Italian Shoes. If you want a great series read start the Kurt Wallender series from the very beginning.

11. Cooking Memoirs - I started by reading Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone Memoir then Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. But my favorite this year was Julia Child's My Life in France. While I loved the movie Julie and Julia, the book is even better. Julia Robert's celebration of food and her incredible life in France makes for great reading. Bon Appetit.

12. For Kids - my friend Caroline recommended to me the Rick Riordan Percy Jackson books. I read the first two books in the series and heartily recommend them all for children and adults alike- The Lightning Thief & The Sea of Monsters. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series sometime this year.

13. Not a Genuine Blackman, Brian Copeland - the Silicon Valley Reads book for 2009 was terrific. I was lucky enough to get to see Brian Copeland speak twice last year. His story of growing up in San Leandro and what happened to him and his family is both laugh out loud funny and heartbreaking. I love being in a place where great books and authors are

14. Under the Dome - Stephen King - the last book of 2009. I think the book was a bit too long but it was an engrossing read. Very much like the Stand - the very best and worst of human nature is brought out by an unimagineable horror.

15. A few extra treats. If you like novels with big scary sharks go for the Steve Alten Meg Series. Meg: Hell's Aquarium is a treat. Seriously after 4 books you think people would learn to stay out of the water. Fire and Ice by JA Jance - a mixture of her two great series - JP Beaumont and Joanne Brady. The Ivy Chronicles by Karen Quinn is an entertaining read about the competitive world of New York Private School Admissions. All things by Bill Bryson (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid). The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon - a truly great read and a book that was recommended to me by my friend Ellen.

So that's it - some of the most enjoyable books I read in 2009. As I keep flipping through the book I keep finding more and more books to recommend but these give you a good start. And yes, I have another small Calendar book that I'm recording all my books in again this year.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Movie Review: The Wolfman

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted, I'm finding what was normally a slow time for ABI has sped up quite a bit. I did get to take time out this weekend to go to the movies and Mike and I chose our Valentine's Day Movie to be the Wolfman. Now you might think this isn't a romantic choice but since I tend to be jumpy in horror movies it did lead to quite a bit of handholding throughout.

If you saw the original Wolfman with Lon Chaney Jr then the story of this movie is all too familiar. Lawrence Talbot returns from America to the foggy moors of England to visit his estranged father. In this case he has returned to determine what happened to his missing brother. Soon he is bitten by a creature and all sorts of mayhem ensues. In this case Lawrence is played by Benecio Del Toro and his father by Anthony Hopkins. His brother's fiancee is played by Emily Blunt.

So did this movie make me jump - yes definitely. But then someone popping into my cube unexpectedly can make me jump. Did they update the movie - definitely yes. There is a whole new psychological element that is explored. And an asylum scene thrown in for good measure.

But there are some questions that haunt me. Who decided that it would be a good idea to have someone who's native language is Spanish play an Englishman who's lived for years in the US. I came to realize that the scenes where Lawrence Talbot speaks he seems depressed and speaks slowly - or is it just Benecio trying to remember how to say his lines with the right accent? And Anthony Hopkins is great but there are a lot of questions about his character's motivations that go unanswered. I can't say more without ruining the suspense but seriously we had questions about his gneral motivations. And Hugo Weaving is great as the Scotland Yard Inspector who comes down to investigate the murders. There is a great throwaway line about his involvement with the Jack the Ripper investigation and Lawrence Talbot but it is never followed up on or developed. A little more info would help.

I loved the original Wolfman - Saturday night creature feature or the Channel 9 4:00 movies back in New Jersey in the 60's made for scary fun. Lon Chaney Jr. had a great tortured face and you truly felt for his pain. Benecio - not so much. I say wait and rent the Wolfman on Halloween night.