Online Reading Challenge – Mid Month Check In

Hello Challenge Readers!

How is your month of Books about Books going? Have you found something you just can’t put down? Please let us know if you have!

If you’re still struggling to find something for the April Challenge, how about trying a movie? There are some fun ones!

Notting Hill with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. Ah, the classic rom-com. A famous actress stumbles into a tiny, quaint bookstore in London, meets the charming and diffident owner and the rest, after the resiquite obstacles are overcome, is history. Lovely.

You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Another classic, this time set in New York City. A major bookstore chain moves into the neighborhood and pushes out the tiny children’s bookstore. It’s a blast-from-the-past with aol and dial-up (and big bookstore chains aren’t doing so well now) but still sweet and funny.

The Princess Bride with Cary Elwes and Robin Wright. It’s a storybook brought to life! One of the best films ever, with lots of scene-stealing funny bits and and an endless supply of great lines.

The Bookshop with Emily Mortimer. In 1959 England, a young widow follows her dream and opens a bookshop in a small, conservative coastal town.

And you can always watch a movie made from/inspired by a book! (The book is almost always better, but that doesn’t mean the movie can’t be fun too) My favorites are some of the many adaptations of Jane Austen’s books, but there is almost a limitless list to choose from!

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check In

Hello!

How is your reading going this month? Have you found something great to read? If you’re still looking, you might want to consider a movie instead. Here are a few ideas.

Ben-Hur starring Charleston Huston set in ancient Rome at the birth of Christianity.

Schindler’s List with Liam Neeson tells the inspiring and heartbreaking story of what one person can do against unfathomable evil.

The Da Vinci Code starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou. Enjoy a lovely if fantastical scavenger hunt through some beautiful churches and archives.

The Handmaid’s Tale with Elisabeth Moss. A chilling look at a future ruled by a religion-based autocracy.

9/11 starring Charlie Sheen and The Looming Tower with Jeff Daniels, both of which examine the consequences of religious fanaticism and the attack on the United States.

Letterboxd Is What’s Up

Film lovers, rejoice! Letterboxd is a super-slick social app for tracking your favorite movies! As a lover of film, I found myself wondering where to locate the “Goodreads of film,” and low-and-behold: I found it. Letterboxd gives users the options of importing data from other social sites that you use (IMDB, Delicious, iCheckMovies, etc) if you don’t want to start from scratch. Personally, I have never tracked my favorite movies despite watching several per week! Up until now, IMDB had been my go-to for online film discussion but I view the discussion component of Letterboxd as more robust (though I’ll still turn turn to it for go-to information on actors/actresses and filmography).

Letterboxd describes itself as follows on it’s “About” page:

Letterboxd is a global social network for grass-roots film discussion and discovery. Use it as a diary to record and share your opinion about films as you watch them, or just to keep track of films you’ve seen in the past. Showcase your favorites on your profile page. Rate, review and tag films as you add them. Find and follow your friends to see what they’re enjoying. Keep a watchlist of films you’d like to see, and create lists/collections on any given topic. We’ve been described as “like GoodReads for movies”.

As you begin to navigate the app or site, you’ll notice

You can browse by:

  • List: browse lists or create your own! Examples include: 2019 Oscars, From Willem Dafoe to Willem Dafriend, Men/Boys Crying, Transgressive/Weird Films, Praise-worthy, beautiful, mesmerizing, deserving, diversity-bred movies that were made by people with lots of talent with a ton of effort solely for the purpose of making something good that were snubbed over movies made by people with no talent, and Recommendations For Everyone Who Wants To Watch More Movies By Female Directors But Doesn’t Know Where to Start.
  • People: Like any other social app, you can browse and track new film by drawing on your network and browsing the lists of other individuals who are using Letterboxd.
  • Year: You guessed it. Explore by decade!
  • Popularity: Browse by weekly, monthly, yearly, and “all-time” popularity ratings (based on user feedback). This week’s most popular films are: Fyre, Favourite, Glass, Bohemian Rhapsody, Roma, Green Book, Spider Man: Into The Spiderverse, A Star Is Born, Black Klansman, Vice, and If Beale Street Could Talk. Keep in mind that the film most likely to be most popular during the week will be the most current titles where-as the “of all time” category lends itself to a larger historical spectrum: La La Land, Get Out, Mad Max, Pulp Fiction, The Dark Knight, Whiplash, Moonlight, Alien, The Shape of Water, Silence of the Lambs, etc.
  • Rating: You’re probably familiar with making decisions based on ratings. I know I am! Browse by Highest & Lowest ratings!In looking at the lowest-rated films listed, I’ve gotta say I’m in agreement with my fellow Letterboxd users as Krampus, for example, was easily among the most terrible movies I’ve ever endured. Definitely don’t recommend.
  • Other: This browsing category includes “Most Anticipated”, “Coming Soon” and an A-Z list (or you conduct a good, old-fashioned title search as well).
  • Genre: Most genres listed are typical and traditional (Action, Adventure, Western, Horror, Romance, Science Fiction Thriller, Fantasy), so if you’re looking for avante guard, weird/transgressive, cult classics, documentaries, or films made by Black directors, specifically, you might want to have a look at some of the lists or create your own!

Additionally, the sorting feature is pretty cool as you can skip quickly to genre ratings sorted from Highest to Lowest. According to the Letterboxd community, the Top 3 Horror films in order are: Get Out, The Shining, and A Quiet Place. Fun fact: A Quiet Place was written by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, local Quad Cities natives!.

Film lovers and anyone who wants to discover great (or awful) film should definitely check out Letterboxd and start your film diary so you have your newest recommendations and favorite stand-bys at the ready anytime you’re chatting up friends and fellow film buffs! Check out the Official Letterboxd Top 250 List (updated weekly) to get some inspiration!

 

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-In

Hello Fellow Challengers!

How is the month of February going for you challenge-wise? There have certainly been plenty of snow days which invite lots of cozy reading and movie watching. Unfortunately, it also requires a fair amount of shoveling and scraping-off-the-car time too!

If you’d like some more suggestions for this month’s Food theme, how about trying a movie? There are some great ones!

Ratatouille – Rats in the kitchen is not appealing at all, but somehow Disney makes it adorable. Animated.

The Hundred-Foot Journey starring Helen Mirren. Can two very different restaurants learn to exist across from each other? And even learn from each other?

Chef starring Jon Favreau. A discouraged, out-of-work chef starts a food truck allowing him to regain his creative purpose as well as his estranged family.

Burnt starring Bradley Cooper. A chef who had it all then loses it because of his reckless lifestyle attempts a comeback. A great look at the chaotic professional kitchen.

Food, Inc – A hard look at the industrialization of our nation’s food supply and how it’s affecting farmers, consumer health, worker safety and our environment.

 

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-month Check In

Hello!

How is your reading going this month? There’s certainly a lot to choose from! I hope you’ve had a chance to stop by one of our locations for ideas on what to read.

If you’re still stumped, or pressed for time, how about a movie? All those great clothes (And hats! Everyone wore hats!) and classic cars – movies and television shows are a great way to immerse yourself in mid-century atmosphere. Here are some suggestions.

That Thing That You Do – Tom Hanks directed and starred in this charming story of a group of teens that are propelled into stardom in the early days of rock and roll.

L.A. Confidential – Gritty, complex and riveting, this look at a corrupt Los Angeles police department is chilling. Outstanding performances by Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce and Kim Basinger among others.

M*A*S*H – The classic television series starring Alan Alda. It’s a comedy (“Frank Burns eats worms!” still cracks me up) but it’s also a drama with an unflinching examination of the cost of war.

Mad Men – An inside look of the world of the glamorous and high-powered “Golden Age” of advertising, ruled by the men of Madison Avenue. A riveting examination of the times and how much things have (and haven’t) changed.

 

Halfway Home – Online Reading Challenge

Hello Readers!

In the midst of all the festivities and bustle of the holidays, have you been able to find some time for yourself to read? Have you found something set in New York City? We’d all love to hear what about what you’re reading!

If you just don’t have the time (or energy!) to read right now, how about a movie? Take a break from the holiday madness and watch a movie (or two). There are lots set in the Big Apple. Bonus! These have a Christmas backdrop as well!

You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks is that rare rom-com that is funny and sweet without being mushy. The Christmas scenes will make you nostalgic for the past and who doesn’t love Meg Ryan’s apartment?

Elf with Will Ferrell doesn’t really need an introduction. It’s become a family tradition for many and for good (hilarious) reason.

Home Alone 2 with Macaulay Caulkin uses New York City as it’s playground with iconic scenes in the toy store and Central Park. Christmas in New York never look prettier.

Miracle on 34th Street. And of course you can’t forget about this classic. It hits all the iconic New York City Christmas moments (and probably was responsible for how many of us imagine New York City to be at Christmas)

But what if you’d had enough of Christmas madness for the moment and just want to escape for a bit? Try some television shows – Friends will never get stale (in my opinion) and Sex and the City still pushes the envelope. Then there are cop shows – several billion seasons of Law and Order and it’s many offshoots, Blue Bloods, NYPD Blue. And there’s no shortage if comedy is what you crave – Seinfeld, Will and Grace, 30 Rock. No excuses – there’s plenty of New York City for everyone!

 

Online Reading Challenge – Halfway Home!

So, how is your St Petersburg/Moscow/Russia reading adventure going?

I admit I’m struggling a bit this month. I wanted something a bit light and modern and, guess what – apparently that doesn’t exist in Russian fiction. Russian authors, historic and modern, tend to write really dark, really tragic stories steeped in mysticism and history. And it’s always cold.

Obviously, this is a huge exaggeration but I still could not find anything that wasn’t deeply sad (and not bittersweet sad but depressingly sad). I think a lot of this has to do with tradition and with Russian history which seems especially harsh with despotic leaders, crushing military battles and the bleakness of Soviet communism. And Siberia truly is extremely cold. Surely someone, somewhere has been happy? And warm? Sadly, I’m still looking for that book (please let me know if you’ve found one!)

Instead I’m going to watch the DVD of Anna Karenina starring Keria Knightly. Yes, very sad and tragic (and cold), but I’ve read that the costumes are exquisite and the production is very theatrical. I’ll let you know what I think.

If you’re still searching for a Russian connection, you might try a DVD too. The Americans, a TV series starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell is about a young Russian couple that have been sent to America as “sleepers” – KGB agents that are infiltrating the United States by posing as Americans. It’s gotten lots of great reviews. Or check out The Last Station starring Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer about Leo Tolstoy’s later years when, to his wife’s horror, he said he planned to give up everything to live in poverty. Child 44 stars Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman about a disgraced Soviet police officer that has been exiled to the countryside and is now searching for a serial killer.

So tell me, what you reading (or watching) this month?

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The lives of classic movie actresses and actors have always piqued my interest. How they lived their lives, their scandalous affairs(if they actually had any), and what they did to become an icon are just a few of the things that I always want to know. Media coverage of both classic film stars and modern film stars seldom reveal the whole truth and as a result, fans usually have to wait until after the star’s death to learn the full truth, if that. Shelving a cart of new books one day, I stumbled upon The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The cover immediately captured my interest as the woman looked like she could have been a classic movie star. Reading the blurb proved that she was and I knew I needed to read this book.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is the gripping tale of Evelyn Hugo, an adored movie icon. Evelyn’s story is heart-wrenching and pure psychological romance fiction as readers are drawn into Evelyn’s stunningly glamorous world. With her popularity blossoming in the 1950s when she made her way to Los Angeles, Evelyn dominated the Hollywood scene in her relentless and ruthless rise to the top of the movie industry. Evelyn always knew what she wanted and was not afraid to use her body or the people around her to get it. Living in the public eye was a price she paid for being famous, but Evelyn still managed to keep secrets from the public and some of her closest friends that they never would have guessed.

After her decision to leave the Hollywood and show business in general in the late 80s, Evelyn became a recluse. She was never seen out, declined to sit down for interviews, and pictures of an aging Evelyn were almost non-existent. When she reaches out and contacts an unknown magazine reporter named Monique Grant to interview her, everyone in the journalism community is shocked. Why would Evelyn choose Monique to reveal her scandalous and glamorous life? What makes her so special? Why is Evelyn choosing to do this now? Monique has her own issues. She’s not exactly the number one journalist in the world, let alone her city or even her area of expertise. She’s not even 100% happy with where she is working as her career has stalled. Monique’s personal life is just as messy. Her husband left her just five weeks prior and Monique is still reeling.

Recognizing the Evelyn Hugo interview as the potential major career boost that she desperately needs, Monique decides she will do whatever it takes to make this a success and sits down with Evelyn. It becomes clear right off the bat that Evelyn has ulterior motives and it’s left to Monique to figure those out. Quickly Monique becomes wrapped up in the story of Evelyn’s life from her entrance to Los Angeles in the 1950s and the seven husbands she had before she retired in the late 80s. As Evelyn weaves her life’s story for Monique, she discovers that Evelyn’s ruthless ambition led her to some slightly questionable, but nevertheless sustaining, friendships and a major forbidden love that had the ability to potentially ruin Evelyn’s career. Evelyn’s professional and personal lives are forever linked together. As Monique formulates Evelyn’s story, she realizes Evelyn never does anything without having a reason. Monique begins worrying why Evelyn chose her to write her story and when Evelyn’s story finally reaches the present, Monique realizes that she and Evelyn are connected in a truly tragic and life-changing way.

I enjoyed this book more than I thought that I would. Multiple storylines were at play throughout the novel and I found myself thoroughly engrossed in each one. The vivid descriptions of Evelyn’s life as she navigated the rocky waters of fame and her personal life were so well depicted that I found myself believing for a bit that she was a real person. I wanted to learn even more about Evelyn Hugo and her seven husbands. She is fascinating. Highly recommended.

Get Out: A Film Deserving of the Hype

Horror cinema is an ideal format for illuminating and discussing mass anxiety. Zombie film comes to mind as one representation of “fear-of-the-crowd”, i.e. the fear of being engulfed or overtaken. In 1976, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was shot in a shopping mall replete with lumbering zombies whose sole purpose was to consume. In the 2004 remake, the zombies returned to the shopping malls in which they spent their human lives; but they were super-charged and stronger than ever. 21st-century zombies lack personal agency, wit, and intellect like their slower-moving predecessors; but you can be sure they own and can operate their cell phones.

Get Out , a break-out film written and directed by Jordan Peele has been classified as horror, thriller, and comedy and I’d say it’s a type of zombie film. (You may remember Key & Peele–a sketch comedy television series featuring Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key).  Peele’s film has been a sensation: Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 99%!   Although you won’t find prototypical, grey-faced zombies mindlessly lumbering through a mall, the main protagonist must fight for his life….and his brains. If we look at Get Out in terms of how it fits into or critiques the culture and society that produces it, what current social or cultural issues might be present? (The inimitable Nina Simone sums it up well: “You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”) What cultural or social issues does Get Out bring to the forefront or interrogate?

Cinema that enables viewers to experience life from the perspective of another is powerful. As a white woman, I watched Get Out  from the point-of-view of a young black male. In watching from this perspective, I stepped into the shoes of Chris, the lead character. You will certainly sympathize with Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya), as he begins to unravel how his white girlfriend’s family (The Armitage family) and their affiliates are entangled in a twisted and evil operation. Get Out  presents an ominous view of human nature and confronts issues of overt and subtle racism.  Despite some much-needed moments of comic relief (after all, comedy is often a medium for acknowledging & coping with the absurdities and injustices of life), the tone of the film is decidedly morose.  Early on, viewers watch as a young black man is kidnapped–a foreshadowing of chilling and disturbing events to ensue. Horror cinema–unlike Rom Coms or even Drama (in my opinion) most effectively acknowledges and critiques society and culture. Horror effectively conveys and validates terror in a way that no other film genre has been able to do.

In a similar vein as Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, a supplanting operation of the creepiest kind is underway in Get Out  when Chris notices how strangely his black contemporaries are behaving. The speed of the film coupled with the unmistakable feeling  that something horrifying looms in the not-so-distant future contributes to the paralyzing anxiety experienced by Chris as he meets his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time. I was not surprised to learn that Peele was heavily influenced by Stanley Kurbrick as Get Out presents several bizarre and anxiety-producing scenes in which you’re not exactly sure what’s going on, but your gut tells you to get out! Subtlety itself takes on a very important role and purpose in this film: sometimes the most terrible realities are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Subtle terror creeps in undetected (but not unfelt, necessarily) until it’s too late. Like Chris, viewers begin to feel a bit crazy as self-doubt sets in. After all, the Armitage family initially appears relatively harmless; but their ignorance is also immediately palpable.

Get Out  effectively uses cinematography, scoring, acting, and directing to produce an undeniably paranoid & distrustful atmosphere. You see and feel what Chris feels. Every detail in this film was carefully considered — even down to the opening song, Redbone, by Childish Gambino: “Well, first of all, I love the ‘Stay Woke’ [lyric] — that’s what this movie is about,” he (Peele) explains to HipHopDX Editor-in-Chief, Trent Clark. “I wanted to make sure that this movie satisfied the black horror movie audience’s need for characters to be smart and do things that intelligent and observant people would do.

This film is not just a run-of-the-mill horror flick designed to give you a thrill: it sticks with you. We don’t do a good job of collectively discussing issues racism in this country, but this film prompts another discussion. The Director stated poignantly in an interview: ” ‘Part of being black in this country, or being a minority in this country, is about feeling like we’re perceiving things that we’re told we’re not perceiving,” said Peele. “It’s a state of mind. It’s a piece of the condition of being African American, certainly, that people may not know. They may not realize the toll that it does take — even if the toll is making us doubt ourselves.'”

When  your fellow human beings experience something on a mass scale, listen to them. Listening–not denying & not being silent–is revolutionary.

 

 

 

 

Friends! Romans! Readers!

Lend me your ears!

OK, maybe not that funny but I couldn’t resist. It’s time for a halfway check of the first month of the 2017 Online Reading Challenge – how are you doing with this month’s reading?

I have to admit, I haven’t found any books that really grab my interest. If you are a fan of ancient Rome you will find no shortage of books to read – mysteries, romances, fiction all abound in what is obviously a very popular historical time period. While many of these titles are well worth reading, none of them grabbed me, so I took a different route and watched a movie instead. (And that’s not cheating, remember – movies and non-fiction are allowed! Also, no such thing as Library Police.)

I picked a classic, where the city of Rome is as much of a star as the actors – Roman Holiday starring a luminescent Audrey Hepburn and ruggedly handsome Gregory Peck (and co-starring Eddie Albert, who I only remember from watching reruns of Green Acres!) Directed by William Wyler and with costumes by Edith Head, the movie is a call back to the golden age of Hollywood. It’s also the movie that made Hepburn a star and earned her an Academy Award at the age of 24.

Filmed entirely in Rome in 1953, the movie follows a young Princess Ann (Hepburn) who slips away from her gilded cage to have some fun before her royal duties completely take over her life. She meets up with American journalist Joe Bradley (Peck) who, realizing who she is, offers to show her around the city. He is, of course, hoping for an exclusive story but instead finds himself falling in love. Set against some of the most beautiful landmarks of Rome – the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum (both inside and out) – the couple (trailed by Joe’s friend Irving (Albert) who is taking pictures of the princess on the sly) enjoy an idyllic day including coffee at a sidewalk cafe, a wild Vespa ride through the twisting streets of the city and a dance party on a barge on the Tiber River. It has all the elements of a romantic comedy, set in one of the most romantic cities in the world.

Although I was surprised by the ending, I enjoyed this movie a lot. Despite the picture on the DVD case, the movie is in black and white and you really do feel like you’re stepping back in time. The stunts and lack of fancy CGI might have made it seem awkward and forced, but instead its charm and heart make it a joy to watch.

So tell me – what have you been reading (listening to, watching) this month?