Film No 4 (2014) : The Heist

deer hunterthe heistIn my mind, Christopher Walken is a scary bloke – I always remember him wearing that red bandana whilst playing Russian Roulette in ‘The Deer Hunter’. It felt a bit incongruous to see him playing a mild-mannered museum guard in ‘The Heist’. The film has a great cast; as well as Christopher Walken, it stars Morgan Freeman and William.H.Macy (‘Fargo‘, ‘Magnolia‘). Three art museum curators plot to steal two paintings and a sculpture after the museum management decides to move the pieces to Europe.  It is obvious that the would-be crooks’ plans will not go smoothly, and the ensuing mishaps threaten the success of the heist.

But, oh dear, what a slow film. Billed as a comedy and with a cover that depicts an action thriller, the movie is actually a gentle stroll, a comment on the power of art – with a few mild chuckles thrown in.

Book No 4 (2014) : The Sea Change

sea changeThe Sea Change follows the life stories of a mother (Violet) and her daughter (Alice), the former in WW2 Britain and the latter in 1970s India. Violet’s father is killed in a freak accident, and then she, her own mother and sister (Freda) are evacuated from the parsonage in Imber, Wiltshire, after the village is commandeered by the army as a training ground. There is a promise that the village will be returned to the villagers after the war. Violet is in love with  a wanderer (Pete), but he is unable to commit to a stable lifestyle. 30 years later and on the other side of the world, Alice has been travelling through India when she becomes separated from her husband, James, following a devastating tsunami. Having survived the wave herself, she is faced with the traumatic task of combing the disaster area looking for him. The book alternates between the voices of Violet and Alice.

Recurrent themes throughout the novel are displacement, loss, betrayal and the sometimes overwhelming inability of families to communicate with one another. Secrets are revealed as the narratives of Alice and Violet converge towards the end of the book.

Online reviewers raved about this debut by its author, Joanna Rossiter. However, my feeling was that the book got lucky – it was picked as one of the 10 books for the ‘Richard & Judy Summer 2013 Book Club‘. Personally, although its well-written and seemingly well-researched (Imber is a real place and a tsunami hit Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu in 2004), the voices of Violet and Alice were identical. There was little or no differentiation between their tone, descriptive passages, dialogue etc, meaning I was frequently having to remind myself who was who!

Ideal for a long journey, or a holiday read, but not a book that is going to (sea) change your life. If you ask me in six months, I probably won’t remember a thing about it. Other than that it has an attractive cover photo. I always notice the covers.

Film No 3 (2014) : Quartet

quartet 1I’m a bit of a sucker for Billy Connolly and he joins a host of talented actors in this heart-warming film about a group of senior musicians in a retirement home, Beecham House.  Wilf (Billy C), Reggie (Tom Courtenay), and the delightfully ditsy Cissy (Pauline Collins), are  rehearsing for a fund-raising concert to be held at the home on October 10th, Verdi’s birthday. Their plans are thrown into confusion by the arrival of a new resident, soprano and Reggie’s ex-wife, Jean (Maggie Smith). It transpires that these four singers had made up the quartet in a famously successful recording of the aria “Bella figlia dell’ amore” from Verdi’s opera Rigoletto. The plot centres on whether Jean can be persuaded to join the trio for the benefit concert.

Hedsor HouseThe film was directed by Dustin Hoffman and shot at the stunning Georgian Hedsor House in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, a beautiful backdrop to the story. The cast is certainly star-studded and I was not at all surprised to learn from the credits that many of the actors had enjoyed ‘real’ careers as musicians, singers and composers. It’s an uplifting story, reaffirming the fact that later life can be full of fun and laughter. As Dr Cogan (Sheridan Smith) asserts before the final concert ‘their love of life is infectious’.

Book No 3 (2014) : The Night Circus

the night circusLe Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams) arrives without warning. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Erin Morgenstern has created an absorbing world of mystery and magic, played out on the stage of the Cirque des Reves and its dedicated followers – les Reveurs.  The circus itself is monochromatic, all the staff and costumes, decor, illusionsists and even animals, are shades of black and white. As well as being highly visual, the descriptive powers of the author draw strongly upon the association of smell with memory. But there is more to the circus than simply the spectacle of its tents, as it is the fulcrum of a battle of magical prowess between the books’ two protagonists, Marco and Celia. The young lovers have been bound to each other in ways which become more apparent as the book draws  towards a devastating conclusion. The narrative contains a wondrous cast of eccentric characters, all carefully woven into the mystical world of the Night Circus.

Despite the fact that there is not a strong plot to the book and I found it rambling in places, there was nevertheless enough intrigue to keep me reading to the end. I’m not at all surprised to learn that the film rights were snapped up!

Movie No 2 (2014) : W.E.

W.E.Directed by Madonna and released in 2012, W.E was not a big hit with the critics, although it was nominated for an Oscar – Best Achievement in Costume Design (losing out to Mark Bridges for ‘The Artist’). The film tells two tales; the historical one chronicles the relationship between Edward and Mrs Simpson, whilst the contemporary plot storyline is that of Wally Winthrop, a childless and unhappily married New York society wife. Their stories interconnect at a Sotheby’s auction of Wallis and Edward’s personal effects in 1998. Although I have not checked, I presume that the story told in flashback, of the King’s romance with the highly unsuitable Mrs Simpson, is based upon fact. There are certainly snippets of authentic newsreel, newspaper headlines and Wallis’ own letters.
Whilst the film does have flashes of brilliance, including the aforementioned costumes and period detail, it nevertheless felt clumsy to watch. Jumping back and forth between Wally and Wallis was awkward and stilted, particularly in the odd moments when Wallis appears seated next to Wally in the modern setting. For a film directed by a world-class pop star, the soundtrack is monotonous and borders on the hysterical when Mrs Simpson leaps up from her chair to entertain her party guests to the Sex Pistols classic ‘Pretty Vacant’!
Overall, I didn’t feel as if it was two hours of wasted time and I remain fascinated by the W.E. story, but I think there are probably far more accurate and compelling portrayals of their romance and marriage than this one.

Ditching the lbs No 1

human BarbieThe more astute of my followers have noticed that, almost 2 weeks into the year, I have been strangely silent on the 3rd part of my challenge. Reading books and watching movies is entertaining. Losing weight is not and, for me, it’s going to be the hardest part of the year.

Lets just get one thing straight. Unlike the oddly fascinating ValeriaLukyanova, I do not aspire to be a human Barbie doll! I have struggled with weight loss and dieting for 35 years. This strikes me as an inordinate waste of emotion and energy, but (despite my rational self) where my fat is concerned, my dress size is directly proportionate to the level of my self-worth. I believe this is a psychological characteristic I share with many women – the size of my arse is my personal Richter Scale of self-esteem. It’s really very simple – the higher I go on the Dress Denominator, the lower I go on the Importance Indicator. At Size 20 I am completely worthless, at 14 I am competent but unremarkable, at 10 I would set the world on fire with my brilliance!

terrysI have long given up any notions of ever being a size 10, but I aspire to be normal. Size 14 or so. Losing 10lbs would put me squarely in that bracket.

My diet of choice is the widely publicised The Fast Diet. 2 days a week of 500 calories, 5 days a week of eating ‘normally’. So, yesterday was a Fasting Day: I ate a small bowl of porridge, an orange, 2 eggs and some smoked salmon. Today is a ‘normal’ day – I’ve eaten a bowl of cereal and half a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Well, that is normal for me! Doesn’t seem like a recipe for weight loss success to me, but I’ll keep you posted!

Book No 2 (2014) : Appletree Yard

AppTreeYardThis was the book I read in one sitting. Louise Doughty has written a page-turning thriller, charting the descent of a respectable woman into a world which contrasts sharply with her hitherto conservative life.

The book begins and concludes with Yvonne’s court trial for a crime which is revealed towards the end of the book. Trying to figure out what she has done, is a puzzle for the reader.

It’s certainly compelling, but I have an issue with the central premise of the book. Which is that Yvonne, the central character, embarks upon a passionate affair with a man she meets whilst working in London. Well, it’s not really an affair – even Yvonne describes it as ‘Sex. And coffee’. She doesn’t know the chap’s name, or what he does for a living, or where he lives.

Maybe I have had a sheltered life but I am the same age (more or less) as Yvonne and life can be a little pedestrian sometimes. Nevertheless, I am not going to let some strange bloke s**g me in an underground crypt, just because he smiled nicely at me over a latte! Throughout the whole book, my rational brain was screaming ‘but a real person wouldn’t do that’! Or even ‘do that’.

If you can suspend your belief and relish descriptions of knee-tremblers in the back streets of our capital, it’s a great read!

50/50 The Maths

mathsMathematics has never been my strong point, it is all a mystery. However, I have been trying to figure out how much reading I need to do in order to manage to read a book a week.

I read ‘AppleTree Yard’ in one sitting, about 8 hours. Its 448 pages long, so I read 56 pages an hour. That is roughly a page a minute. Now I know that the number of words on a page will vary a bit, but surely not that much? If the average novel is 500 pages long, I need to read for 500/60 hours to finish it. I make that 8.33333333 recurring hours per book.

If I’m going to read 50 books in a year, that’s 50 x 8.34 hours in a year. Total 417.

So, to reach the 50/50 target, I will have to read for 417/365 hours each day.

That’s 1.14 hours a day.

What on earth is .14 of an hour?! I’ll settle for ‘just over an hour’. Every day for a year.

Phew.

Book No 1 (2014) : And the Mountains Echoed

And the Mountains EchoedThis novel, the third by Khaled Hosseini, was on my Christmas list. I have been married to Santa for almost 24 years and he rarely lets me down.

As a fan of both The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I was expecting to be totally absorbed by  And the Mountains Echoed in the same way. The novel unfolds through the eyes of several characters, all linked to each other in some way. It explores the effects of separation upon families and communities. War is a backdrop, but this is not a political book; its core is the depiction of the central characters, each of whom faces personal challenges brought about, in the main, by the actions of the previous generation. But I was disappointed. The plot is not compelling, the characters thinly drawn.

The trouble is, I couldn’t help comparing with Hosseini’s previous novels, but it wasn’t a patch.

Pretty cover, though.

Movie No 1 (2014) : The Help

The HelpWe decided upon an online subscription service as the most cost-effective way of viewing films, and Netflix was our service of choice. Set up via I-Tunes, we are on a Free Month Trial at the moment. Afterwards, £5.99/month for unlimited choices from their selection. The films are not the latest, but still plenty to keep me going for a while. Incidentally, over the holidays I met someone who sometimes watches 2 films a night. Made my 1 a week seem rather paltry!

The Help is a film adaptation of a novel by Kathryn Stockett, which tells the story of a young, white journalist (Skeeter), capturing the experiences of black maids working for white families in the 1960s. Octavia Spencer, (Minny), one of the maids, won an Oscar for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. I’ve never read the book but enjoyed the film immensely. It has a varied cast and the 60s period detail is endearing.