Lucy

I vaguely recall this 2014 movie starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman, and I thought I might have watched it before but can’t remember the plot at all, so I decided to borrow the DVD. I’d never be tired of watching Freeman again, even if I recognise the movie after a while. As it turns out, I think I’ve not watched it before, or if I had, I must have fallen asleep sometime during the movie…

The opening is interesting: Lucy (Johansson) is tricked by her boyfriend into delivering a briefcase to his employer, a mob boss and drug lord. Her boyfriend is shot and killed and she is captured and a bag of drugs from the briefcase are sewn into her abdomen. One of her captors kicks her in the abdomen and the drug is released into her system. As a result, she acquires enhanced physical and mental capabilities…

Freeman plays Professor Samuel Norman, a lecturer in neurology. There were only a few glimpses of him. She has been attending his classes and seeks him out to discuss  her condition, otherwise I don’t see the purpose of this role.

At about this point, when terms like CPH4, telekineses, mental time travel, nanites, supercomputer, M136 AT4 and spacetime continuum are thrown about, my eyelids become heavy as they don’t make much sense to me. Still, there is a lot of blood and gore in this thriller/action movie, which is not my cup of tea.

See Him Die

I picked out this 183-page book by Debra Webb to find out if I would enjoy reading it so that there’ll be one more author with a series of books I can read.

The story is set in Alabama. (But it wouldn’t have made any difference if it were set elsewhere.) Julie Barton’s husband Austin is cheating on her with a girl half his age; she was naive enough to have signed a pre-nuptial agreement that gives him all the power. She was served with divorce papers and locked out of the matrimonial home and all her credit cards and bank accounts were cut off withing 24 hours.

She rear-ended a cop with a neighbour’s car on her way to a job interview; she didn’t get a job as a bankteller or at an entry level. After meeting her best friend Marie (who offers her a waitressing job at her bar), Julie learns that Austin has been murdered and his body is found in Julie’s bed. Marie’s house is set on fire and totally burnt down. Marie and her kids lose their home probably because someone wants to get to Julie, knowing she is staying there temporarily.

Austin’s girlfriend is found murdered three days later. . .

A Detective Blake Duncan enters the story as he wants to find out who ordered his brother’s assasination and he (Blake) has been shadowing Julie to get close to Randall, Austin’s brother, known to have illegal contacts. . .

The plot’s momentum increases when Blake and Julie are brought together in a joint effort to investigate the murders. There is excitement as the truth begins to unfold, told at a fast pace in short, crisp sentences and paragraphs.

However, I felt a bit let down by the end of the book as some parts were quite predictable (and some even unbelievable). At least I didn’t spend too much time reading it. Unlikely, though, that I would pick up another book by this author.

The Shipping News

What enticed me to watch this 2001 movie is the stellar cast of Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. But after nearly two hours, I felt more let down than satisfied. Other than Dench (who didn’t have a lot of screen time), I felt the others did not really give great performances.

Quoyle (Spacey) is an inksetter in a small newspaper in New York who marries a woman named Petal (Blanchett) and have a daughter named Bunny (played by identical triplets – Alyssa Gainer, Kaitlyn Gainer and Lauren Gainer). Petal is emotionally distant and promiscuous and runs off with a lover with 6-year-old Bunny, only to die in a car accident. Bunny is returned to Quoyle. Quoyle’s parents had recently died, Quoyle’s aunt Agnis (Dench) visits on her way to their ancestral home in Newfoundland at a remote, spectacular site with a cove and dramatic cliffs, and persuades Quoyle to move with her.

In Newfoundland, Quoyle meets Wavey Prowse (Moore), a widow who has a son with a learning disability. The children become friends, and so do Quoyle and Wavey. Quoyle becomes a journalist at the Shipping News, with some measure of success.

In the course of telling the story, many secrets are uncovered, which turn out to be not at all shocking to me. Perhaps it would have been more convincingly presented in the Pilitzer prize-winning novel by E Annie Proulx on which it is based. The saving grace is the magnificent locations and the sense of magic and beauty in the landscapes.

 

“I’m Very Scared”

Two weeks ago she was told

To do another PET scan;

And I promised to be there to

Keep her company.

The pain in her right leg

Was so excruciating

That she asked for postponement

On her own accord.

“I’m very scared,” she said.

The doctor retrieved her case

And insisted she had PET scan

Done on the same day.

Her eyes red and teary,

She confided in me fears

That the tumours have spread

And her days numbered.

PET Centre

Waiting along the corridor,

I see a heavily guarded

Patient in a wheelchair

With two policemen

And two orderlies.

Stopping in front of the toilet,

The quartet in a closed circle

Conferred in undertones

About cuffs chaining

Patient to wheelchair

Still cuffed, but not to the wheelchair,

He, policeman and orderlies

Entered the toilet while

One waited outside

Alone with wheelchair.

It took a long time to re-cuff

This patient back to his wheelchair;

When the group walked past me

I saw the young man

In hand and leg cuffs.

Devoid of any expression,

Besides a hint of weariness

And maybe helplessness,

Like he’s given up

Any fight in him.

What could have been this man’s story,

That led him down a path of crime

Which he may now regret,

And what must he think

Of what could have been?

The Widow

This is the first time I’ve come across Fiona Barton and her name reminds me of Beverly Barton (whose books I loved); it is also a Large Print book. The synopsis on the back cover also hints that it is an interesting thriller.

The protagonist is Jean Taylor, recently widowed. The story is told from different points of view (of the widow Jean, her husband Glenn, the Detective Bob Sparkes, the Reporter Kate Waters and the Mother), and passes back and forth from 2006 to 2010. The majority of the story is told from Jean’s point of view. Her husband Glenn was just killed in a freak bus accident. Prior to the accident, Glenn was accused of kidnapping and murdering a two-year-old girl named Bella Elliot.

Jean and Glenn have always kept themselves to themselves. Jean loves her husband and he knows her weakness. There are of course secrets…

All the characters have been living in Jean’s lie…

 

A Ballerina’s Tale

This 2015 documentary about the incredible rise of Misty Copeland is co-produced and narrated by the ballerina herself. She made history when she became the first African-American woman to be named principal dancer of the legendary American Ballet Theatre (ABT). ABT was founded in the belief that they could emulate Russia and France in terms of having a world-class ballet company, performing at the Metropolitan Opera House which is considered the most important stage in the world.

The film begins with archival footage of a young Copeland. She grew up in underpriviledged communities and was introduced to ballet at 13, and there was an instant connection: she felt she belonged and finally had a voice. By 15, she was one of the top ballet prospects in California, placing first in the prestigious Spotlight Awards. At 17, she moved to New York to join ABT’s Studio Company.

Along with classical music and opera, ballet developed from the 15th century and evolved into a touchstone of European culture. There’s never been a black principal dancer at the Royal Ballet, at the Paris Opera Ballet, Kirov Ballet or New York Ballet; only 1% of all ballerinas make it into elite companies each year. In June 2015, Copeland became the first black woman to be promoted to prinicpal dancer in AMT’s 75-year history despite a devastating injury that nearly kept it from happening.

Copeland has something that just can’t be taught or learnt; she has stage presence, and such a fire and the talent to go the distance except she sometimes lacked focus and has self-doubt. It’s still very difficult to see a person of colour in major roles in the classical repertoire. Calssical ballet is based on fairy-tale stories and so there isn’t a black dancer, or someone stocky, as a fairy. Ballet looks at assimilation and uniformity – and that’s the issue for a black ballerina.

In 2012, Copeland was given a lead role in Stravinsky’s The Firebird; it was monumental and the entire dance world was agog. It was a historic evening but Copeland was dancing with a series of stress fractures in her left shin; her tolerance for pain was on a totally different level!  (Not forgetting that pointe shoes are uncomfortable and they hurt and the toes could be bleeding throught the shoes!)

Her body was beat up well too much and after The Firebird, Copeland had to have major surgery on her left shin; the surgery involved a rod that extended to her knee. The mid-tabia stress fracture was the result of impact from jumping over and over again. Imagine the amount of wear and tear in the body!

Five months after surgery, Copeland was still facing the possibility of losing an opportunity to one of the other endless talents in ABT. But six months after surgery, she successfully performed Camille Saint-Saens’ Le Cygne (The Dying Swan), and the next day, met legendary ballerina Raven Wilkinson (soloist at the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo) and they did a little routine of The Ballet Ruse.

Three months later, Copeland performed Schubert’s Moment Musicaux No 4 in Italy but she suffered from a back spasm, pulled something, her sacrum felt stuck, something must be cracked and it was painful and she couldn’t breathe. Despite lingering soreness from her surgery, Copeland performed in Abu Dubai, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and Australia.

For Copeland, ballet is the stuff of human life. Her ultimate goal is to bring people of all backgraounds to ballet – people who never saw themselves inside the Metropolitan Opera House and making them feel welcome.

In the summer of 2014, ABT cast Copeland in the lead of one of the most iconic ballets in the classical repertoire: Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, making her the first black woman to dance the role of Odette and Odile at an elite international company.

Besides being engrossing and inspirational, this documentary is peppered with well-choreographed dance sequences and lovely music. Some examples are Massenett’s Meditation from “Thais”, Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, a Schubert String Quartet and Debussy’s Un Sonata (Allegro Vivo).

 

Did You Ever Have a Family

You should have

     heard him,

his voice was

unforgettable, irresistible, his voice

was an imaginary garden woven through

with fragrance.

 

Did you ever have a family?

Their eyes are closed.

That’s how I know

      we’re there

             inside it,

it’s made of sound and steam

that weaves between dark

dining room, bright kitchen.

We’re there because I’m hungry,

and we’ll all be eating soon

              together, and the hunger’s sweet

 

— Alan Shapiro,

“Song and Dance”

 

This is an excerpt from a poem collection that is quoted  inside the front cover of Bill Clegg’s debut novel. It is why I picked this out of a whole shelf of Large Print books in the regional library I visited recently.

Shapiro’s poem intimately describes the complicated feelings that attend the catastrophic loss of a loved one. (His brother, a “song and dance” man on Broadway, had died from brain cancer.) The synopsis of Clegg’s book tells of a magnificently powerful story about a circle of people who find solace in the least likely of places as they cope with a horrific tragedy.

On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when an explosion takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiance, her ex-husband and her best friend, Luke – her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor. Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Conneticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak…The myriad of characters (Silas, Edith, Lydia, Rick, Rebecca, George, Dale, Kelly, Lolly Cissy -from the couple running a motel, to the wedding caterer, to Luke’s mother, and everyone touched by the tragedy) seem real: they have flaws and are not always likeable; it also means the story is told from multiple viewpoints.

We never know what other folks are dealing with. This book is a great reminder of that truth. The characters have different tales, memories and scars; all poignant. Like running my fingers up the scales of a piano, the emotions went from deeply touching to raving mad to devastatingly sad.

This book was nominated for a Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2015.

Steve Jobs: One Last Thing

This 2011 documentary looks at Steve Jobs through interviews with his contemporaries, people who knew him and worked with him. The segments are titled “Misfit”, “Whiz Kid”, “Entrepreneur”, “Artist”, “Buddhist”, “Innovator”, “Celebrity”, “Tyrant”, “Saviour”, “Genius”, “Visionary” and “Legacy”, revealing the different sides of this complicated character. His partnership with Steve Wozniak (and childhood friend Bill Fernandez) led to the invention of the first Apple computer. This has changed our everyday world, work, leisure and human communication.

This is a fairly intimate 60-minute portrait the life and legacy of Steve Jobs: his faults, his artistry  and his achievements – what made him the man who gave the world just “one more thing” (the infamous catchphrase when he would reveal yet another innovation in a device) and his impact on four major industries : computer, music (iTunes, iPod), movie (Pixar) and the phone (iPhone, iPad).

What if Steve Jobs had never been born? I think it would be a lot diferent, like if Thomas Edison or Wright Brothers had never been born. Our lives are different because of him and his vision. In fact, one interviewee mentioned that Jobs was probably even greater than Edison in his achievements, affecting four major strands of human achievement, whereas Edison affected only three (electricity, music, motion picture).

Bill Gates had always been fascinated by Jobs who always dominated. They had a healthy respect for each other. Gates’ Microsoft company was interwoven into Apple’s history – they were partners for a long time : the earliest Apple computers had Microsoft parts and Gates financially pulled Jobs out of bankruptcy for him (Jobs) to regain his seat in Apple. Jobs believed Microsoft stoked his ideas, Gates felt he got more credit than he might have deserved.

Jobs was diagnosed with cancer and he withdrew from public life. He  had a liver transplant and was very frail. Even when he was very weak, he loved taking walks. (This poignantly reminds me of a friend suffering from Stage 4 cancer who loved to take walks in her neighbourhood park until she was confined to a wheelchair.) He died on 5 October 2011, aged 56.

Job is not just a man who made computers; he changed the way we communicate. His legacy will transform people’s life in the future.

 

Letters to Juliet

I was drawn to this 2010 romantic drama because I wanted to find out how it’s related to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. An unexpected bonus is Vanessa Redgrave and her long-time partner Franco Nero.

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) works as a fact checker for The New Yorker. Her fiance is a chef named Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal). She is excited to be going to Verona, Italy for their pre-honeymoon but he is more interested in using this opportunity to do research for his soon-to-open restaurant.

Sophie wanders around the romantic city on her own and chances upon a courtyard where lovelorn women leave letters to be answered by the “Secretaries of Juliet”. She accidentally stumbles upon a letter written by Claire Smith half a century ago. She answers it and Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) arrives in Verona with her grandson Charlie Wyman (Christopher Egan).

Sophie helps Claire find her love’s desire, Lorenzo Bartolini (Franco Nero). After a few false leads, the couple reunite. By the time they’re back in New York, Sophie and Victor have decided to go their separate ways. Sophie returns to Verona to attend the wedding of Claire and Lorenzo. She also admits to Charlie that she loves him. After some misunderstanding, Charlie looks for Sophie by climbing up to the balcony to declare his love. This supposedly recreates the famous scene in Shakespeare’s play.

The story is cheerful enough, with charming and endearing moments. The performances of the actors are admirable. I particularly like Redgrave’s subtelty, sensitivity and elegance. She simply sparkles.

The location is breathtaking! Verona is a magical city, so beautiful and luscious. The countryside is extraordinary, and the town and the long drives to the countryside are gorgeous. Even the old vineyards with rows and rows of grapes in fat bunches are so beautiful. There is even an amazing cheese cave and an incredible forest where exquisite truffles (not mushrooms) make Victor go gaga.

There is also music aplenty, all as aurally pleasant as the scenes they accompany are visually appealing. Some examples are Colbie Caillat’s You Got Me at the opening scene, the famous Quando, Quando, Quando and Variations from a Theme from The Magic Flute by Mozart during their drives to search for the right Lorenzo, Taylor Swift’s Love Story when Sophie opens the wedding invitation from Claire and Lorenzo, and Colbie Caillat’s What If during the balcony scene. There must be close to a dozen more.

This is a really nice comedy about the interesting and complicated world we live in. It deals with people, relationships and emotions. An important idea is that we must have the courage to try things, to take chances and to change, even though we live in a very difficult world and it is very easy to be cynical. The characters and their journeys are real, with a vulnerability and authenticity that is also charming and comic. Even the location itself is a character: the  rhythm, the language, the food, besides the landscapes and architecture. There is texture and a complexity of the Italian streets. The sights are incredible, exotic and stunning.