Online Reading Club – Mid-Month Check In

Hello Readers!

How is your reading going this month? Have you found something good, or are you still searching? If you’re short on time, here are a couple of movie suggestions that fit into our Education theme!

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark with Harrison Ford and Karen Allen. Remember? Indiana is a professor of archaeology! Granted, there aren’t a lot of classroom/professor scenes but nevertheless, beyond the bullwhip and fedora and deathly fear of snakes, he was a teacher. It does beg the question though – how come none of my college professors looked like Harrison Ford?

Dead Poet’s Society with Robin Williams. When a new English professor shakes up the established teaching curriculum at a strict boarding school he changes the lives of his students forever. A homage to the beloved teachers that do so much to inspire and motivate us.

Mr Hollands Opus starring Richard Dreyfuss. A frustrated composer learns that his true calling is teaching others and his legacy becomes not a piece of music but the generations of students he has taught.

Legally Blonde with Reese Witherspoon. Blonde and beautiful does not equal dumb and unmotivated. When El is dumped by her boyfriend, she follows him to law school where she finds out that she has a brilliant legal mind and that she doesn’t need a loser boyfriend to succeed. Fun and light.

The Biggest Little Farm on DVD

guest post from Laura V

The Biggest Little Farm documentary follows John and Molly Chester as they transition from L.A. apartment dwellers with cool jobs to organic and biodynamic agriculture farmers. He is a filmmaker and she was a personal chef and food blogger. Molly continues to blog and has written a traditional foods cookbook. This beautifully touching story unfolds in a captivating manner and has breathtaking camera shots that had me wondering how John achieved them.

The story’s main characters include John, Molly, a rescued dog named Todd, a regenerative agriculture guru named Alan York, Emma the pig, their son Beauden, and the living, breathing, 210 acre farm north of Los Angeles. The film opens with a wildfire quickly approaching the farm. We come to realize how utterly catastrophic this would be as we view footage of hundreds of animals and thousands of fruit trees. They close the film by bringing the story back to the fire as we find out what happened.

I’m guessing that much acreage near Los Angeles had to have cost more than they personally invested or garnered in contributions from their friends but financial details weren’t addressed. Alan guided them through the steps necessary to regenerate the overused, unhealthy soil to basically build a thriving ecosystem that could be somewhat self-sustaining. Somewhat is the operative word. It was heart wrenching to see one problem after another crop up after so much effort. It was equally heartwarming to see them find a solution to a problem right before them, like using existing organisms as natural control for a pest infestation with some modifications in their structure or practices.

I felt the young couple’s exhaustion and thrills along with them since I’m trying to use regenerative practices (no till, composting, rain garden, using predatory insects for pest control) in my gardens and yard with difficulties that now seem almost trivial. It was honestly difficult to understand how they tackled such a large project in such a short amount of time. I can’t imagine they slept much for a few years. Although they didn’t mention the name of the organization from which the volunteers were recruited, I believe they may have been from WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

This documentary is as honest as one can get within the short span of a film. The adorable opening animated sequence highlights Molly’s optimistic outlook on what she pictures the farm to be. The reality is much harsher but the rewards are literally life-changing for them, their employees and volunteers, vegetation, soil microbes, and carbon sequestration for the planet’s overall health. I know they’ll continue to experience problems with pests, predators, weather, and climate change but it looks like they’ll be able to handle whatever comes their way.

Downsizing on DVD

guest post by Wesley B

Without a doubt, the best part of working at the library is the people. If it weren’t for one of our regular patrons recommending it to me, I probably would never have watched Downsizing. I’m not a huge fan of Matt Damon, and the art on the DVD label made it seem like a slapstick fish out of water comedy, which isn’t really my thing. As it turns out, books aren’t the only things that shouldn’t be judged by their covers. Not only was Downsizing not what I expected, it turned out to be almost tailor-made to suit my tastes: a science-fiction satire with a healthy mix of both comedy and drama.

The film opens with Rolf Lassgård’s scientist character, Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen, making a scientific breakthrough: he has finally mastered the titular procedure, through which he can shrink humans to a size of five inches. His motivation is ecological in nature – someone downsized to one-thirteenth of their original size will only require one-thirteenth the amount of resources they would have otherwise needed. However, many people undergo the procedure for economic reasons – since you only need one-thirteenth the amount of resources, your money goes thirteen times further – in addition to the unspoken reason that has always led humans to make major changes: the belief that it will solve their problems (it’s not a spoiler to say this belief is more often than not mistaken).

Enter Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig’s married couple, Paul and Audrey Safranek. At Paul’s high school reunion, they run into his old friend Dave Johnson (played by a sadly underutilized Jason Sudeikis) who has undergone downsizing with his family. Dave makes a compelling case for downsizing, and it’s not long before we see the Safraneks buying a home in Leisureland, one of the most popular settlements for small people, as society has come to call those who have downsized. On the surface, Leisureland appears to be an idyllic realization of the American Dream, finally made attainable for more than the 1%. Of course, as is so often the case with these Stepfordian communities, all is not what it seems. As it turns out, class divisions still exist in small settlements, and in fact are thrown into even sharper relief via contrast with the utopic appearances.

And of course, conflict still exists on the interpersonal level as well. Paul has problems with Audrey (that I would be remiss to spoil), as well as with his gregarious neighbor Dušan (played by Christoph Waltz with his usual scene-stealing gusto). He also gets into a complicated relationship with the political activist Ngoc Lan Tran (played by Hong Chau in a starmaking performance). Downsizing raises questions about class conflict, climate change, and human nature; and while it doesn’t always have satisfactory answers, the brilliant acting and lively cinematography make this breezy film well worth a watch.

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-In

Hello Challengers!

How is your month of reading about Nature going? I hope you have found something good! I’ve already finished my book for the month and it was great (I’ll talk about some more at the end of the month)

If you’re still struggling to find something that fits with this month’s theme, why not try a movie? Here are a few ideas.

The Impossible starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts follows a family of four that struggle to survive after the devastating tsunami that hit Thailand in 2004. Based on a true story, it is one of the most white-knuckle movies I’ve ever watched.

March of the Penguins, a documentary about the epic journey Emperor penguins take to mate and raise new chicks in one of the harshest climates on Earth – Antarctica.

Planet Earth, narrated by David Attenborough is a visual smorgesbord filled with stunning photgraphy and fascinating descriptions of the planet and the animals we share it with.

Wild with Reese Witherspoon. The book is better (which is almost always the case) but the advantage of a film over a book really shines with this movie because you can enjoy the stunning scenery of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello Challenge Readers!

How is your month of Science reading going? I have to admit, I’m lagging a bit behind. The book I chose (Light From Other Stars by Erika Swyler) hasn’t completely grabbed my interest but it’s early yet and I’m going to keep reading. Some books just take time.

If you’re struggling to check off Science in this year’s Challenge, why not try a movie instead? Here are some good ones.

Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightly. Cracking the code the Germans used in World War II was vital to the success of Allies. Even after one of their Enigma machines was captured, untangling the complex code, which changed every day, was next to impossible, until the genius of Alan Turing finds the solution. Based on historical fact, this film is equal parts tense and heartbreaking.

Hidden Figures starring Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson brings us the true story of the African-American women who were vital to the success of NASA and the space race. Struggling against prejudice – both because they were women and because they were African-American – they persevered with courage and stubbornness as well as having brilliant minds.

The Martian with Matt Damon. And exploratory team on Mars leaves Mark behind, believing he was killed in the sudden storm that has forced them to leave. Mark is very much alive and relatively well except, he’s alone on Mars with limited supplies and little hope for rescue. How he copes, using intelligence and ingenuity and sheer pluck makes for a tense and fascinating movie.

The Big Bang Theory television series. I have to admit, I started watching this series quite late in it’s run, but once I did I was hooked and it was easy to catch up with reruns on cable and DVDs from the library. Yes, it’s pretty silly and really, who in their right mind would ever want to live with Sheldon, but it also celebrates intelligence and education and the sciences. The characters all grow and mature over the course of the series (something that doesn’t always happen on tv) and they’re always good for a laugh. Bazinga!

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello Fellow Readers!

How is August treating you? Have you found something great to read for the month of Art? I’ve already finished my book (Stolen Beauty by Laurie Albanese) which I’ll talk more about at the end of the month, but if you’re still looking, I recommend you take a look at this title.

If you haven’t found anything yet for August and are looking for something relatively quick, I have some movie suggestions for you.

Monuments Men with George Clooney and Matt Damon (and many other famous names) follows the World War II platoon that went into Germany to try and save and recover some of the thousands of art and artifacts stolen by the Nazi’s. Not the greatest film ever made, but the history of this real life group of men (based on fact) is riveting.

Mr Turner stars Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner, Britain’s most famous and revered landscape painter. Turner wasn’t exactly the most pleasant fellow, and this film doesn’t gloss that over.

Pollock with Ed Harris depicts the story of Jackson Pollock, the first great American modern painter. With success comes fame and fortune, but a volatile temper and emotional instability brings self-doubt and threatens his life’s work.

Doctor Who, Series 5, Episode 10 – “Vincent and the Doctor”. OK, this one is not a movie, but an episode from the television series Doctor Who and even if you’re not a Doctor Who fan (Really? Come on!), this is well worth tracking down. The Doctor and his companion Amy travel back in time and try to help Vincent Van Gogh. He is plagued by terrible visions (which turn out to be a terrible monster from another planet only he can see, but just go with it) While the story is science fiction, the human elements – Van Gogh’s suffering, the Doctor and Amy’s compassion, the impact of Van Gogh’s legacy is brilliant, beautiful and ultimately, heartbreaking. Highly recommended.

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello Challengers!

How is your Reading Challenge month going? Have you found a great crime novel, or are you still searching? July can be a crazy busy month so if you find yourself short of reading time, or would just like something quick and relaxing, why don’t you try a movie? There are some great options.

The Sting with Robert Redford and Paul Newman. Maybe the perfect movie with a nuanced plot, a clever scam, amazing acting and great atmosphere (and ragtime music!), this one is hard (impossible!) to beat.

Inception with Leonardo DiCaprio. The ultimate crime – mind theft – comes to life in this amazing, twisty, stylish film. I find it best to just sit back and enjoy the show and not worry too much about all of the plot twists. It’s very much worth the ride!

Catch Me if You Can with Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio. Based on the true story of a con man and the FBI agent who pursues him, Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. passed himself off as a pilot, a lawyer, and a doctor all before his 21st birthday.

White Collar. This charming television series stars Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay about a con man and an FBI agent that team up to solve white collar crimes. Except, just who’s side is the con man on?

Of course, there are several hundred (ok, I exaggerate!) Law and Order seasons and spin-offs and multiple series about detectives from Miss Marple to Sherlock Holmes. Your choices are almost endless!

 

Free Solo on DVD

Imagine clinging to the sheer side of a mountain, no ropes, no superpowers, no safety harness. One slip and you will fall to your death. Now imagine going climbing this way – on purpose! People do – they are called free climbers and they climb mountains using only the strength of their hands and the agility of their feet.

Free Solo, which won an Oscar earlier this year for Best Documentary Feature, follows one of the best free climbers in the world, Alex Honnold, as he attempts to climb what has long been considered unclimbable – the sheer, 3000 foot wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Filmmakers Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vassarhelyi knew the route that Honnold would be taking and were able to set up cameras along the way in advance and as unobtrusively as possible. Tension mounts as Honnold debates when to go (good weather is critical), trains for the most difficult sections and confers with other free climbers.  However, it is Honnold’s decision alone on when to climb and very early one morning, he slips away and, without fanfare, begins to climb.

The climb itself is harrowing to watch. The documentary goes into some depth about free climbing and what makes El Capitan so difficult. Judicious use of drone footage (the filmmakers were very concerned about not creating a distraction while Honnold is climbing) gives the viewer a clue to the immensity of this task. There is only one alternative if Honnold misses a step, or chooses the wrong foothold and that is dying.

Free Solo also reveals some of Honnold’s lifestyle and personality. He himself claims in the documentary that he is probably somewhere on the Asperberger’s spectrum. His demeanor is quiet and withdrawn, nearly emotionless. When asked if he worries about the dangers (many free solo climbers have died while climbing) of his sport, he shrugs and says that he accepts this and seems unconcerned about how any friends or family he would leave behind might feel. He is, in many ways, not terribly likable, but his skill and focus are admirable.

Beautifully produced by National Geographic, Free Solo will give you a thrill ride without the threat of dying.

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello Challengers!

How’s is your June reading going?  Still looking for something related to the movies? You could always just watch a movie. You could watch a movie adapted from a book – even though the book is better 99% of the time, a well-done movie adaptation can add a lot of visual depth to a favorite story (I recommend watching one of the many Jane Austen adaptations) Or you could watch a movie about the movies. Here are a few suggestions.

Sunset Boulevard.  Pursued by creditors, Joe swerves into a driveway of a seemingly abandoned Sunset Boulevard mansion where he finds Norma Desmond, an ex-screen queen dreaming of a dramatic comeback.

The Artist. In 1927, George Valentin is a silent movie superstar. However, the advent of the talkies will kill his career and he will sink into oblivion. For young extra Peppy Miller, it seems the sky’s the limit as major movie stardom awaits. Though their careers are taking different paths their destinies will become entwined.

La La Land. A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. This original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing dreams.

Ed Wood.  A stranger-than-fiction true story of the early career of Edward D. Wood, Jr., the once voted worst movie director of all time.

The Aviator. Follows the life of Howard Hughes who comes to Hollywood with an interest in getting into the picture business. It doesn’t take long for Hughes to jump from producer to director of his first major film project, a World War I air epic.

Online Reading Challenge – Mid Month Check

Hello! How is your reading going with this month’s Reading Challenge subject, Fashion? Have you found something you’re enjoying, or have you hit a dead end? If you’re still looking, here are a couple of movie s to consider.

Phantom Thread with Daniel Day Lewis in his final role before retiring from acting about an exclusive London fashion house in the 1950s.

Coco avant Chanel starring Audrey Tautou about the early life of Coco Chanel and how it influenced and affected her life and career.

McQueen a documentary about the extraordinary life, career and artistry of fashion designer Alexander McQueen.

Dior and I is another documentary, an extraordinary behind-the-scenes look at Raf Simon’s first haute couture collection as artistic director of the House of Dior.