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Here’s a post of lists, movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read or listened to, all in September, a list that hopefully can tide you over till my next post, which will be after a long-planned hiatus. You’re welcome to throw in your thoughts on any title on this list, or ripple out to other shores.

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MOVIES At Theatres:

Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Who are they kidding? Might as well just put in this disclaimer: Title taken at random. This is not the Man from U.N.C.L.E. with David McCallum (yeah) as Illya Kuryakin and Robert Vaughn (boo) as Napoleon Solo during my childhood days. I knew what the acronym stood for even as a grade schooler, and was mesmerized by a world wide net of spies and intrigues, despite watching a B/W TV set. This 2015 U.N.C.L.E. feature movie is just like any other lesser spy flicks, feels like haphazardly done, dated spywares that fail to send any positive nostalgic vibes, and featuring an accidental duo just happen to have the same names as those in the 60’s TV series. The third person, Alicia Vikander, makes it a bit more watchable. ~ ~ Ripples

Mistress America

A bit disappointed considering how much I’d enjoyed Frances Ha and the works of Noah Baumbach. Greta Gerwig is a mystery to me. In all her roles she looks ultra cheerful, even in difficult circumstances, but is that overacting or is that what her character is supposed to convey, optimism as fuel for life? Anyway, I wanted to give Mistress America a second chance. But as I checked the showtimes a couple of weeks later, it wasn’t there anymore.  ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

A Walk in the Woods

A pleasant surprise! Is there life after 50, 60 … 70? Robert Redford and Nick Nolte is an odd pair to answer that from the jagged edge of a cliff. All the cliché shots of two old men hiking the Appalachian Trail are in the movie trailer; the film has more to offer. Emma Thompson is a welcome addition as the forbearing wife hoping for the best. I’ve seen several of this genre in recent years: WildTracksThe Way, to name a few, with A Walk in the Woods being the lightest but still quite relevant. Lesson learned? Forget about your age, and, giving up doesn’t make you a failure. It has been a long while since I read Bill Bryson’s book on which the film is based. Watching the adaptation brings laughs which I remember were absent while reading. An easy 2 hours of relaxation without taking one single step.  ~ ~ ~ Ripples

Learning to Drive

Just the opposite, I was not enthused about the trailer and my hesitations about the film were confirmed as I watched. Based on a non-fiction piece from Katha Pollitt’s Learning to Drive and other Life Stories, the movie turns political by changing the Filipino driving instructor into a Sikh, played by Ben Kingsley. No matter, he has that poise and dignity no matter what costume he puts on. It’s not surprising to see Patricia Clarkson’s Wendy character – a woman in her fifties learning to drive for the first time in her life – get some bonus lessons on cultural awareness on top of parallel parking.  ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

The End of the Tour

One of the best films I’ve seen this year, and maybe for some time. Nothing looks ‘performed’, yes, even the nervous Jesse Eisenberg as writer David Lipsky is his natural self, unsure of himself and of his subject David Foster Wallace, as he follows his Infinite Jest book tour to write an article for the Rolling Stone Magazine. Based on Lipsky’s book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace, the film belongs to Jason Segel. A surprising cast and Segel has delivered with poignancy as Wallace. Framed in a sympathetic tone, the film is a moving tribute to and a revelation of an author whom some may choose to misread.
~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

Pawn Sacrifice

The title says it all. A pawn is sacrificed in the heat of the cold war. Based on the true events that rocked the chess world and quickly inflamed the political landscape, American Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) captured the world championship in 1972, taking the title away from Soviet Grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). While the film in all its earnest intentions effectively brings out the intensity of the rivalry, the main issue I feel is the casting. Liev Schreiber is too famous a face to be Boris Spassky, even speaking in Russian doesn’t make him any more convincing; Maguire is even more famous a face to be Fischer. And may I go into this? They both need to slim down a bit to fit the profile of the cold war chess rivals, especially Schreiber. My choice for Fischer? Nicholas Hoult. Spassky? Andrew Garfield.  ~ ~ ~ Ripples

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MOVIES on DVD’s:

The Jungle Book

It has been a long, long while since I watched it and now a refresher to prepare for the star-studded voicing in the remake. This 1967 Disney animation just shows how much has changed in animations then and now. Hand-drawn, slower paced, and nuanced facial expressions from the animal characters, albeit a bit flat when compared to the hyperactive animations we see today. The new version of The Jungle Book is coming out in 2016, utilizing ‘up to the minute technology’, and fusing a real life Mowgli with CGI generated animals and jungle environs all in 3D. As for the 1967 version, the music and the songs will stay as original as ever.

This is Where I Leave You

Another August: Osage County, which is influencing which, for these two are so alike? Or, maybe just speaks to the fact that the dysfunctional family is the norm. Under the direction of their mother, five estranged siblings have to come back home to sit shiva as their father passed. Staying under the same roof for seven days is an ordeal with the Altman family, for everyone carries baggage they’d rather bury together with the dead. Not as bad a film as critics say. Jane Fonda is a less overbearing mother as Meryle Streep is in Osage County, so not to overshadow the rest of the cast. Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll may not be the best of siblings, they make one good cast. Don’t you just love the title?

Greenberg

From the dysfunctional family to the dysfunctional individual. Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) comes back to LA from NYC to housesit for his brother as the family takes a vacation. As one who had received treatment in a mental hospital, Roger has many personal issues to deal with, and it’s a little heart-wrenching to see him struggle to relate, albeit at times he comes through more as annoying than deserving kindness; but maybe that’s the point. Greta Gerwig plays Florence, dog walker for the family. Stiller is in his usual mode, lost to himself and others; Gerwig is her usual self too, pleasant despite all. So it’s not hard to predict the outcome but the process makes one interesting take. The first time Gerwig in director Noah Baumbach’s work. Here began a beautiful and rewarding partnership.

Panic Room

Re-watch after learning this is the breakout film for Kristen Stewart, age 12. Didn’t realize she played Jodie Foster’s daughter there when I first saw the movie years back, and now seeing it again I find the two do have some resemblance, in appearance and demeanour. Locked in a panic room in a fancy NYC apartment they just moved in, mother and daughter try to stay safe as a gang of burglars break in. Although not thoroughly plausible, especially how Foster answers the door as two policeman come to check on them, which then leads to some even more implausible outcomes at the end. But, overall, a riveting, edge-of-your-seat kind of viewing. And when you think of it, of course, it’s David Fincher.

Olive Kitteridge

Binge-watched this HBO 4-hour mini-series after it won 7 Prime Time Emmys last Sunday. Writing, acting, editing, camera work, the whole production is captivating, and at times, very funny, no, not the Bill Murray section – he’s actually serious here. Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins are deserving winners. In her acceptance speech for the Best Mini Series, McDormand emphasized that it all came from a book. Yay for books, the wellspring of inspiration. Olive Kitteridge is author Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning work; writer Jane Anderson wins her Emmy for the adapted screenplay. However marvelous the visualization, it all started with words on a page.


A Touch of Sin

In preparation for Jia Zhangke’s 2015 festival film Mountains May DepartA Touch of Sin was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2013 and won Jia a Best Screenplay award. Jia’s camera frames a perspective that’s bold and true in his home country China, a nation obsessed with modernization, economic growth, and wealth accumulation. The film reveals the human costs for such enterprises. Unfortunately, his countrymen didn’t have a chance to watch this one as it was banned. But with Mountains May Depart, officials had said they would allow it. I’m afraid it just might be much tamer and easier for the palate.

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BOOKS

Summer by Edith Wharton

After The Age of Innocence, I continue to explore the writings of The Gilded Age, to prepare for my New England trip and yes, Julian Fellowes’ new American TV series.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Not as chilling as the title sounds, heartwarming memoir of a son chronicling the extraordinary life of his mother, Mary Anne Schwalbe, albeit she would have likely said, “O, mine is just another life. There are many more deserving ones.” While accompanying his mother at her chemo therapy sessions in the hospital, son and mother share books and reading. The two-persons book club is therapeutic for both.

Circling The Sun by Paula McLain (Audiobook read by Katharine McEwan)

Not sure how much is true in this fact-based fiction about Beryle Markham, the award winning race horse trainer in Kenya and in 1936, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. Markham flew from England to NYC, but crash landed in Nova Scotia after a 21 hour harrowing flight head-on against the prevailing winds. (I later learned that Amelia Earhart’s 1932 flight was from west to east, a much ‘easier’ feat with the tailwind, landed in Ireland after only 15 hours in flight.) McLain’s book tells many more stories, and gossips, than just this monumental event. Beryl had known the Out of Africa author Karen Blixen in the small social circle in Kenya. Why, Beryl is the other woman in Deny’s life, according to McLain. Not too sure about the book, but I was much impressed by the voice of the narrator Katharine McEwan.

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

The only 2015 Booker Prize shortlisted book I’ve read, so far, and it’s brilliant. The book presents a most interesting story of a ‘corporate anthropologist’ collecting field data for an ethnographic study of the human society in this digital age. The ‘Great Report’ is needed to be written, same as this book: what have we become at this juncture of human history and civilization? Maybe we do need anthropologists to offer a narrative of our contemporary society, or even better, we should all be trained as anthropologists to see ourselves better.

Remainder by Tom McCarthy

I’ve enjoyed McCarthy’s style of postmodern incisions. Remainder is his debut work and soon to be made into a movie. Walking down the street our unnamed (of course) protagonist was hit by a falling object. After coming out of a coma, he needs to re-enact his past to regain memories, and to reconstruct an authentic existence. Who is he, what is he? With the huge sum of monetary compensations, he steps out to do exactly that. Still reading, a fascinating premise.

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