Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Django Unchained (2012)

Kill white people and get paid for it? What's not to like?

Set in 1858, Django Unchained is a story of a black slave Django (Jamie Foxx) who with the help of Dr. King Scultz (Christoph Waltz) goes on a quest to rescue his estranged wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), a slave working for Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). 
Tarantino's story unfolds amidst the slave era in America where blacks were nothing but humiliated and looked down upon, tortured, punished and treated in no way like humans. Being bought by The Speck Brothers, Django is rescued by the German Schultz who is a dentist-turned-bounty hunter. He offers Django a part of the bounty in return for his assistance to recognize the Brittle brothers who are wanted dead or alive. After helping Schultz find the brothers, Django gets invited to join in on a winter full of bounty hunting and money making as his partner. They make a deal to carry on till the end of winter and then head to rescue Broomhilda who is trapped for life with a selfish and ruthless owner Candie.

Come on over. We got us a fight going on that's a good bit of fun.

Tarantino entertains well with the western set up and consistent doses of humour.  He doesn’t shy away from showing how the black people were insulted and inhumanly treated. In many ways this movie portrays the shameful situation that existed back then. Waltz delivers a great performance as a polite conversationalist with a penchant for blowing off heads in exchange of money. While Foxx is good, it’s Waltz who steals the show in my opinion. DiCaprio seems to handle any role flawlessly with this being one of his best performances till date. I can't possibly forget to mention the character of his head slave Stephen played by Samuel L. Jackson, who keeps the audience entertained with his paranoia. There's an oscar or two in there for sure.
Django Unchained is an entertainer, a sensitive topic wrapped in a perfect mix of action, humour and drama. Tarantino has proved yet again that he doesn’t care about boundaries when it comes to showing the unfortunate. This film might not be a classic but it definitely has the entertainment value.

Trailer for Django Unchained.

If you're still not convinced, here are 10 spoiler-free reasons to watch Django Unchained.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Harlan Coben: Deal Breaker

OK, so Coben was on my to-read list for so long that more and more books of his were coming out and I had more and more trouble to decide which one to start with, where to pick up. And in which direction to follow. Worse yet, when I asked a friend (a great Coben fan) to recommend which book I should start with, she said: "You just wait, I'll bring them all to you." Indeed she did but she offered no help in which order I should read them. "I only brought the best ones," she said. True enough, there were only six there. "The rest come in the next package." Basically, I was on my own. With a pile of crime novels.
So I decided to approach this as I usually approach things. Start where it seems to make the most sense. Hence the first novel in the series. Sports agent turns detective. Eek. Not my cup of tea, I tell you. I only squeeze through sports news when absolutely necessary and I actually KNEW one Myron and yes, they do look (and act) just the way you would expect them to.
First I want to start off by admitting that my first meeting with Coben was through watching Tell No One years ago and not knowing it was his story. I also remember that everybody was crazy about the movie while it got a mild "meh" out of me. Even then I was thinking that the book must be so much better.
So Myron Bolitar, take #1.
It seems Myron Bolitar, the great sports agent, has landed a big fish in Christian Steele, a rookie quarterback. Interestingly enough if Coben knew what this kid's name and surname would mean in six years, he'd probably change the poor rookie's name. Myron has plenty of his own demons to battle when Christian calls him to tell him he received something in the mail from a former girlfriend. No big deal, right? It would be, if the girl wasn't practically dead. I say practically because technically she's only been missing. Then a phone call happens where she speaks to him and things begin to unravel. In a bunch of twisted lies, tragic consequences, shocking secrets and more lies it seems to be impossible to figure out who murdered Kathy (who happens to be the sister of Myron's obviously never forgotten former girlfriend Jessica). Myron is squeaky clean so he has to have a sidekick, who is basically his alter-ego and does everything mean that Myron wants to but doesn't because he has a conscience. Win Lockwood III will kick and beat up those that try to (and do) attack Myron and tackle him on his jog to the truth.
Myron Bolitar is also a wisecrack. The kind of wisecrack who actually needs a sidekick keeping an eye on him. Seems he can get beaten up pretty easily despite the fact that he is a former sportsman, ex-fed and probably retired swordsman, lion tamer and kickboxer. And interestingly enough every woman he meets is drop dead gorgeous with legs up to her eyeballs and smelling like daisies. That's okay, boys need something to make them read books too, right? :)
The whole story is of course like any good crime story. Full of twists and turns and unexpected (and a few expected) revelations. I give it **** because it did what I so often miss in crime/thriller/mystery/murder books. It kept me hanging till the end. And when it ended, it didn't need another fifty pages or so to explain everything and to bring people back to their normal lives, restore peace and keep it like that. It took him a few pages. It's a fantastic ride because Coben knows how to put hooks that make you NOT want to put the book down. You don't feel any smarter or more enlightened after finishing it but it sure as hell fires up your brain and makes for an entertaining few days. Because that's how much it will take (in a long run) for you to finish this book.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Children's books

Do you remember a favorite book from your childhood? Or young adult years? I remember many, hardly just one. I had my nose in books all the time. I would run to the school library in the morning to borrow the allowed number of books per day and then proceeded to read them all during breaks, recess, lunch break and even during classes if I got bored. My biggest problem was I couldn't borrow more at the end of the day cause I had used up my quota.
So before there was Bella Swan (or Rihanna for that matter) to make all girls understand in just how much of a dysfunctional couple you must be in order to be a successful teenager, there were girls like Matilda and cool gangs such as The Five. I swear I knew those books back to back. My Santa gifts had to include a book. Preferably in plural. It was the best gift I could receive and the best one I knew how to give. Still is. 
My childhood (and teenage) memories include reading aloud Pippi before bedtime to another story-thrilled relative and being terrified of creaking stairs while reading Stephen King under the covers (cause we weren't allowed). They involve stubborn, strong, independent heroes who did not let destiny take its course without steering it a bit or poking their noses where they weren't supposed to - all in the name of fun, adventure and experience. Those heroes are (in my opinion) still better. So I still say Katniss before Bella any day. Don't even get me started on Anastasia Steele.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Favorite books

Is it possible to choose three favorite books? I have SEVERE doubts!

The Gone Girl

Yes, I know the book isn't called THE Gone Girl. But this girl is so gone, she deserves a The. Capital The. I follow many readers' recommendations and much buzz about books and tend to believe people over awards. Sometimes that's a mistake (like in Fifty Shades of Crap instance) and sometimes it's a good thing (like with Gone Girl). More often than not, the latter prevail, which I admit is very, very lucky for me. I tend to get quite upset for losing time over a bad book or a movie.
So I chose this book to be the first one I read on my new e-reader. And decided to leisurely start it over the weekend. But then I found time on Friday night and so I started it. What followed was complete isolation from the world, inability to put the reader away and when that was seriously required, there was lots of grunting and frowning. 

The plot (or at least the beginning of it) is quite well known and has been slapped around hundreds of times. So Nick is a husband who did not buy his wife Amy a gift for their fifth wedding anniversary. And he did not make a reservation for a romantic dinner. But he tells the cops he did, when they rush to his house after he discovers his wife went missing. Nick is a bad husband. A very bad husband with secrets. A very bad husband who keeps telling lies.
The story is told in two parts. One part is the first account of Nick and even through his own eyes you can see what a jackass he is. If he can't make himself likable, imagine what Amy's journal tells you about him. Cause that's the second aspect of the story. The two storylines are alternating, one in the present day and another guiding you through their relationship with sporadic entries in Amy's diary. Poor, unsuspecting, loyal and loving Amy. When Nick thinks about the shape of his wife's skull and blood on the kitchen floor, he just gets more creepy. But the truth is far more disturbing than you could ever imagine.
It's impossible to write a review with reflection without a spoiler or two. So here I am warning ANYONE who wants to read the book (or possibly watch the movie which David Fincher himself is rumored to be directing) to not read ahead. SPOILERS AHEAD

Did you go away?

Last chance!!!

OK, here goes.

So Amy is a nutjob. A complete nutjob. Not only is she a nutjob, she is a sociopathic psychopath. Such a twisted mind that she forged the diaries for years back and planned everything into such detail that I cannot imagine how much she must have hated her husband. Because I know there must be at least one lost soul still reading this despite the spoiler warning (there is ALWAYS someone), I won't talk about the ending. I'll just say that this was practically written for Fincher. Because this is such a twisted tale that I thought it couldn't end more insanely. But it did. Amazing.
I cannot wait to read more of Gillian Flynn's books. I am just keeping them aside cause I don't want to devour everything at once and then be left with no more. She's too good for that, I'm sure.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Picking the titles

It isn't always easy for me to just pick a book and read it. I must admit that I go to great lengths of getting information about the book(s) without too much details of plot being given away. I also carefully choose my choices for book club and I am not ashamed to admit that I have quite a few already stacked up for the future. As in I know what my next five choices will be, same way as I have ever since my book club started (which was in January 2008). OK, well at least the next five choices. Sometimes more than that. Twice it happened someone else picked the same book I was going to. And I wasn't upset, not at all. More thrilled than anything else because that meant that I can freely add another title to my pile.
So today the list is... well, too long. And I fear I won't ever manage to read all the books I can. But I guess I'll die trying! :) If I could do nothing but read all day, I might be able to fulfill my plan. But there's work to do cause there's bills to pay as Bon Jovi put it in the eighties.

And The Jane Austen Book Club was the reason this book club started. The movie, not the book, mind! We were all avid readers by then but I have only read one novel by Jane Austen - Emma. So OK, we decided to cover all six and we started at the beginning of the new year. Now, it wasn't in anticipation of having our lives changed like the characters in the novel. Not at all. It was just an idea. And well, it pains me to admit it but today I'm the only standing original member. I didn't like Jane Austen's books so much but while through time the people in the book club have changed, my love of books hasn't. And despite the busy schedules, there is time for one book a month for book club (and the rest for me) and I like it that way.
So I'll go on picking them my way. By the title, by the cover, by the backstory and not even (by far) necessarily whether or not it got an award or twenty. But that's just me. How do you pick it?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Cemetery of Forgotten Books

Do you have any old books at home that could be deemed for "the cemetery"? Especially the one of forgotten books? Are there any no one has read but you? Scream the title from the rooftops! And recommend it to someone for the weekend read!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Stories from favorite places

I usually pick stories which attract me, regardless of the geography. But I noticed that I subconsciously pick stories from different sides of the world to follow each other. So I don't read too much of Paris in one go or USA at one go.
But I do adore Paris. Any Paris stories to recommend?
I also still haven't read The Paris Wife. Hmpf. On to-read list. But that one is long. Suggestions?

Monday, January 14, 2013

There must be a silver lining.

Right? In everything? No?
In Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Patrick Solatano (in the shape of a surprising Bradley Cooper) is working out, he got himself in shape and he is determined to overcome many and obvious obstacles that life threw at him. So when his momma decides his time at the mental institution is up, she picks him up and takes him back home. Home what used to be home, before The Incident. Home where he lived as a kid and a teenage boy, until he grew up, moved away, got married and then went crazy. So Pat took a plea bargain, did a stint in mental institution (8 months) and is now back to prove to Nikki (his wife) that he has changed, show her he still loves her, appreciate her more and see a silver lining in every thing that happens to him. Only Nikki moved out of their home, sold the house and got a restraining order against him. And his silver linings begin to look a bit grim.
Then his (we presume) best friend invites him over for dinner. That same friend is married to Nikki's friend and Pat probably is fishing for a possibility here. Instead, his friend's wife invites her own sister who has her own set of troubles, her own set of grief and woes and her own set of anti-depressants to swallow daily. Technically Tiffany should be kept away from Pat and it doesn't look like they would hit it off because he is clearly lying to himself, is in severe denial and she is calling on everybody's bullshit as she sees it. Two completely different agendas bring them together and they are so incompatible it isn't even remotely funny.
Except that it is. Robert De Niro plays Pat's OCD father, Jacki Weaver is his anxious mother and Jennifer Lawrence the crazy Tiffany. There is also a little surprise in the cast department as Julia Stiles, the almost forgotten big hope of the nineties, makes her way into the spotlight away from the Bourne franchise. But all in all I was not as surprised by the amazing Jennifer Lawrence who is getting accolades and applauses from critics and audience alike. Not that she isn't amazing, mind, though the fact of the matter is she will evolve into an even more amazing actress and if not this year, she will win an oscar in the future. A bigger surprise for me was Bradley Cooper who finally showed that he has a depth that goes below level 2. I am not saying he deserves an oscar nomination, not by far, but what he manages to show as a bipolar man, struggling to keep both his feet on the ground, is quite outstanding. And that is the same Bradley Cooper of this, this and that. Need I go on? Not really, I guess.
Frankly, the movie as a whole is a bit overrated, if you ask me. 8 oscar nominations? And including Best Motion Picture of the Year? No. But a very nice movie. If - beside the bipolar characterization - you'll remember anything about this movie in ten years, gimme a call.

Make the right choices

Did you sign in with Goodreads' 2013 challenge? How many books will you read in 2013? You can make the same resolution with films. Stories are a most wonderful thing we can share with those we love.
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