Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Hunger Games - Movie Review

The Hunger Games

Those who know me well might be surprised to learn that I watched this movie.  I have not read the book by author Suzanne Collins because of my philosophical opposition to the plot.  The book is about teens killing teens in a twisted futuristic community game not unlike the old short story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson.   I refuse to endorse a story where teens are forced to kill each other to survive.  So, I'm not endorsing this movie, nor am I recommending it or the book.

Why did I watch the movie?  Good question.  I felt I had an obligation to my students to be familiar with it because so many of them have read the book and the sequels and have seen the movies as well (now 3 of them in the series).  I have not yet decided if I will invest any more time watching the sequel movies Catching Fire or Mockingjay.

However, for those who have seen the movie, I just wanted to make some observations.  The only truly futuristic element of the story is the technology used for communication.  Most of the rest of the story harkens back to old times.  The lower-class people in the movie who live out in the provinces dress and live in places that look much like pictures we see of 1930 Depression-Era America.  Upper-class people who live in a city much like Oz (albeit without all the green or a yellow brick road), live in a 1930's Art Deco world.  Even the super fast bullet-train that the characters ride in is all Art Deco in design. Also,  the clothing and hairstyles of some of the elite, ruling class pay homage to The Wizard of Oz.   I find this design element fascinating.  I don't know if it was intentional, but it seems so obvious that it must be?  

The story itself also bears some resemblance in structure to a short story called "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell, which is much anthologized for freshmen.  In this story, one man hunts another in a jungle setting, and uses many of the same techniques that main character Katniss employs as she is being hunted. 

So, that's all I have to say about The Hunger Games.  Feel free to let me know if you agree or not.

Thanks for reading, and don't forget to feed the fish!


The Book Thief - Movie Review

The Book Thief  - book by Markus Zusak

This book was published in 2005, and won quite a few awards as a novel for teens.  As is almost always the case, this book is better than the movie - or so I am told - and based on my reading of the online summary, I think it probably is better.   I tried to read the book - twice - but I didn't because I just couldn't get into it.  The book is narrated by Death.  I'm not sure if that is what turned me off or not.  I know a few people who loved the book.  I also know others who couldn't get into it, like me.  So....  

I watched the movie by the same title which was released in 2013.  I loved the movie, and I can highly recommend it!

The movie is set in a small town in Germany in the late 30s and early 40s, as the Nazis are ramping up their anti-Jewish activity.  The main character is a young girl named Liesel Meminger who is taken in by a middle-aged couple as what we might call today a foster child.  Her mother has left the country because she is a communist, so Liesel and her brother are being sent to live with this family - only the brother dies en-route.  At his burial, Liesel picks up a book dropped by the graveside and keeps it with her even though she can't read it.  

At the home of her new family, the father, played by Geoffrey Rush, warms to her very quickly and is very nice to her, while the mother, played by Emily Watson is very cold and distant, at least at first.  Liesel starts attending the community school, and it is quickly obvious that she can't read which makes her the laughing stock of many of her classmates.  She is befriended by a young neighbor boy named Rudy who becomes her love interest.  

Early on in her stay with the Hubermann family, another young man comes to stay with them.  This man is Jewish and asks them to hide him.  His father had been a good friend of Hans Hubermann.  Liesel and the Jewish man Max become good friends.  When he is sick, she reads to him to help him keep his brain active.  
The title derives from the fact that when Liesel can't yet read, she is fascinated with books and steals a couple because they are so unique to her.  Between what she learns at school and what Father Hubermann teaches her, she is quickly able to read and then becomes obsessed with reading everything she can get her hands on.  

While the tragedies of WWII do figure into the plot of the movie, I will say there is at least a partially happy ending, so the movie is not unending tragedy.  This is not another tragic "Holocaust" movie.  I recommend it to everyone!  It has action, romance, suspense, history - what more could a good movie have!

Happy movie viewing, and thanks for reading!


Fill the Void - Movie Review

Fill the Void was a very interesting movie that I learned about when it was previewed on another DVD I got from Netflix.

This is a movie made and set in Israel and done in Hebrew with English subtitles.  It was introduced at the Venice Film Festival in 2012 and was released in the US in 2013.  It won seven Israeli Academy Awards. 

The plot is very simple. As the movie begins, a young couple is expecting a baby (couple is back right in the photo).  The mother dies and the child is born.  The family then proceeds to look for a new wife for the baby's father.  Younger sister (age 18 - back left) of baby-mother is suggested and considered.  Most of the plot of the movie is the debate over whether this is a good match or not.  I'm not going to tell you what is decided.  

There were several things I found interesting about this movie:

1 - I've never seen a movie set in Israel, so the scenery, home decor, etc... was new and interesting to me.  

2 - Even though the movie was modern, the culture of the family of Haredi Jews (ultra-Orthodox) still has arranged marriages in the 21st Century.  It is interesting to consider the pros and cons of this life-style choice that an entire culture still clings to.

3 - It was a bit strange to me to see a man dressed in Orthodox Jewish clothing pull a cell phone out of his pocket, or drive a modern car on a busy street.  

Would I recommend this movie?  It is not very "active" - nothing very dramatic happens.  It's certainly not a romance or a comedy.    The acting is good for what the story is.  I think its biggest asset is that it offers a window into a different culture for most modern Americans. 

If you watch it, please let me know what you think!

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Labor Day - Movie Review

It isn't often that I rate movies with 5 stars, but I did so with this one.  This movie is a wonderful mix of suspense and romance and ends up being a real tear-jerker.

Labor Day

Stars are Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin.  Kate was nominated for a 2013 Golden Globe for her leading role.

The basic story is that Brolin's character Frank has escaped from prison.  He asks Henry and his mother Adele to help him by hiding him for a few hours until dark when he will flee.  Over the few hours that they are together, the 3 of them bond, and he ends up not fleeing after all.  They spend the Labor Day weekend together and make plans to run away together as a family to Canada.

I can't give any more details than that without giving away spoilers.   I highly recommend this movie.  I found it engaging and very well done.  It is set in the 1980s with flashbacks into the 70s.  Settings are Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  If you like suspense and romance, you will enjoy this movie!  Check it out, and let me know what you think!

Thanks for reading, and don't forget to feed the fish!


Monday, July 14, 2014

Adventures in Africa!

On Thursday, July, 10, 2014, Hubs and I got to do something we've been looking forward to doing for months, and it was FABULOUS!  We went to The Columbus Zoo!  

My local readers know that in May the Columbus Zoo opened its newest exhibit, The Heart of Africa.  This region of the zoo is huge and features an African savanna complete with a wide variety of animals native to Africa.  There is a large viewing area for humans to observe the animals in their "native" habitat.  (Ok, it is AS "native" as it can be in central Ohio.)  Here is a list of animals featured in this exhibit:
  • Aardvark (or earthpig)
  • Warthog
  • Grant's zebra
  • Giraffe (both Masai and Reticulated)
  • Cheetah
  • Greater kudu
  • Blue neck ostrich
  • Vervet monkey
  • Wildebeest
  • Guineafowl (these are very noisy little creatures!)
  • Saddle-billed stork
  • Thomson's gazelle
  • Slender-horned gazelle
  • Dama gazelle
  • East-African grey-crowned crane
  • African lion (2 females and 1 male)
  • Dromedary camel 
Here is a link to the Zoo's website that talks about each animal:  Heart Of Africa Website

Here is the layout of the exhibit:  

Visiting this new exhibit was our #1 priority for this visit, so we went there first after arriving at the zoo at 9 am.  Very close to the zoo entrance is a free tram that takes visitors out to this region.  

The first thing to see are the Dromedary Camels - and it is possible to RIDE them! (Sorry, I don't remember if there is a charge for this.)   Check out these adorable shots:  

Next is the Mudiwah village with some shops.  Much of what is featured in this gift shop are items made in Africa.  Some of the cooler items are only available at this shop, so if you see something you want, I suggest you get it while you are in this region.  More common items like plush animals and small mass-market stuff can also be purchased at the zoo's main gift shops.  

There is also a restaurant called Mapuri which is open to the savanna, so you can watch the animals as you dine.

Moving on to the other animals....  Featured in this section are cheetahs, the fastest animals on the planet.  At certain times (I think 10ish), they do a demonstration showing how fast these kitties run.  Whoosh!  

The ostriches like to hang out in a gang.  If something spooks them, they all run together.   It is funny to watch them run - you can hear their feet pounding the ground!  

There is also a keeper-talk about the aardvark (maybe around 10:30 ish?).

Then there are the lions...  2 females and a male.  While we were there, they were napping.  As part of their exhibit is an old-time plane- maybe from the '30s -  that supposedly has landed (crashed?) in the savanna.  Part of the plane is in the lion's area, and the other part is exposed to the public and set up so kids can get into it and play with the buttons and levers.  Very cool - the kids we saw were loving it!  The lions think the plane is cool too -literally - because the part they are by is air-conditioned for them.  Check out the sleepy kitties:

There are a bunch of guineafowl that run around in groups.  They squawk very loudly and can get annoying.  In fact, they annoy the giraffes and will keep the giraffes away from the viewing station if the birds are up by the people.  

There are also some vervet monkeys.  Their area is set up like an old tent area for a researcher.  The little monkeys are very cute.

And then there are the GIRAFFES!  I've been saving the best.  We have about a million giraffe pics, so picking the best to share is difficult.  I'll start with the main reason we went - to feed them....  In the viewing area, people can feed lettuce leaves to the giraffes on the odd hours staring at 9 (although I don't know who can do that since the park doesn't open until 9).  We got out there about 9:30, and then ended up getting in line for the 11:00 feeding about 10:30.  There is plenty to look at while waiting in line!  I'll cut to the chase.  Here are the best feeding pictures.  

I will be happy to send pics of me feeding one to those of you whom I know - just let me know you want to see them!  I'm also going to post some videos to a Youtube channel, and I will send that link to anyone who asks as well.  

Here are some more general cute giraffe shots:

This one at the left is the one I fed.  Her name is Cami and she is smaller than the others.  There are 11 giraffes in the herd here, but there were only about 6 or so out when we were there.

The giraffes are up close to the viewing area, but most of the other animals wander out on the savanna, and some are hard to see.  I'm going to take binoculars the next time I go.  Here are some other animals on the savanna:
A herd of wildebeest:


Greater Kudu and .... stork?



After we left the African area, we headed next to the polar bear exhibit where there is an underwater viewing station to watch the bears in the water.  It was hard to get good photos here because of the glare on the glass.  It's almost as if this polar bear knew he was showing off for people with cameras!

Then there were the Alaskan Moose.  3 of them:

And reindeer.... this guy was all alone - not sure if he had been bad?  The other reindeer were in a different pen - maybe they were all female and they were separated to keep them from ..... well, you know....

A couple of giant tortoises - here's one:

A Humbolt penguin - this was one of a few that were not molting:

There is a prairie-dog habitat, and the little pups are just adorable!  They pop up out of their burrows and run around digging and chasing.

The buffalo was molting:

The swan was working on decorating her nest:

The manatees were hanging out on the bottom of the tank:

and this okapi was just hanging out being his cute self:

So, that's it - most of our trip to the zoo.  We walked way more than we intended to, but the 5 must-sees on our list were spread out pretty far  (giraffes, manatees, moose, penguins, elephants).  We left home at 8:30 and got home about 4, and we were exhausted!  I must say, we saw more strollers in one day than we've seen in our entire lifetimes!

We have quite a few good videos which I am going to post to a channel on YouTube.
They will appear below as they are uploaded:
Elephants On the Move
Amy Plays with Prairie Dog
Lions Grooming
Amy Feeds Cami the Giraffe
Trumpeter Swan Tends the Nest
Giraffe Licking Tree
Giraffe Walking - Noise of Guineafowl
2 Prairie Dogs Being Cute
Giraffes On the Move

Thanks for letting me share with you!  Come back again soon!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Austenland - Movie Review

Don't waste your time.  This was one of the stupidest movies I've seen.... EVER.  I lasted for about 20 minutes before I had to shut it off - I could feel brain cells dying.

It features Jennifer Coolidge who is even worse in this than anything else I've seen her in - and I wasn't sure that was possible.  Also a total waste of Jane Seymour's talent!


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Monuments Men - Movie Review

Hubs and I watched this movie together.  We give it mixed reviews.  For those of you who don't know what it is about, the group of men pictured in this poster are not soldiers when WWII starts, but they are brought together as a special team for the purposes of protecting the art in Europe that hasn't yet been looted by the Nazis, and for finding and saving the art that has been stolen.  This is based on a true story, and each actor plays the role of a real person who was on this team.  The men come from quite varied backgrounds, but most of them are affiliated with the arts in some way - either as artists themselves, or historians or professors of art.  They have to go through basic training just like "regular" soldiers.

There were a number of things I liked about this movie.  Primarily I liked learning the story which I was not previously familiar with.  I am told that it is a relatively accurate portrayal.  I also liked the fact that much of it was filmed on location in France and other parts of Europe - I liked seeing the scenery in vintage '40s style.

As far as the cast goes, I have mixed feelings.  First, there is no denying that putting some of these men in uniform only heightens the "eye candy".  Come on ladies - who can deny that putting Clooney and Damon in uniform is a fabulous idea:

And then there's Hugh Bonneville (pictured in the center here).  Be still my heart.  He is the lead on Downton Abbey, playing head-of-household Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham.  Here we have my first big complaint.  Hugh's is the first character that dies in the movie, and it is early.  Seriously?  They killed off  His Lordship??  I was very disappointed!  

Indulge me for just a moment.......

Ok enough ....  back to the movie at hand.... forgive my digression.  

On the subject of the cast members.  In addition to these 3 hotties, we have John Goodman and Bill Murray.

Ok, John Goodman, I get.... and I can accept him in the movie.  While he is usually a comedian, he has done enough serious roles that I can believe him.  But Murray?  Seriously?  He is such a constant smartass that there was no way I could take him seriously.  Everytime he was on screen I expected him to say something silly.  To me, having him in the cast was a distraction.  

Also, the only key female role is played by Cate Blanchett.  If you've been keeping up with my movie reviews, you know she is EVERYWHERE!  The weird thing is (and maybe I shouldn't admit this) I didn't know that is who this was in the movie until the end and I saw the credits.  She looks totally different, and even as many times as I've seen her recently, I didn't recognize her.  Maybe the next time I see her she will be more internalized and I will recognize her?  We'll see. 

Cate plays the role of a French woman who works for the Nazis during the occupation, and eventually, once she trusts him, she helps Matt Damon's character find much of the hidden art.  Without her, it is doubtful that the group could have been as successful as they were.

So, here's the big complaint about the script of the movie: both Hubs and I found parts of it to be very confusing.  More than once we paused the movie to talk about what was going on.  It felt like they were trying to do too much too fast.  When it was over, I wanted to go back and watch it again to pick up on the things I missed the first time.  

Overall, I would recommend it for the story and the historical aspects, but don't expect it to be a well-written script, and don't expect stellar acting from some of the actors.  Even Clooney and Damon, as good as they are, could have been lifted directly from the set of Oceans Eleven and put in WWII army uniforms as far as their acting went. 

If you've seen the movie and want to share your opinion, please do so!
Thanks for reading!