Are You Not Entertained? Books, TV, Movies

Always on the quest for excellent entertainment, here continues a series of a quick report of above-average finds.

BOOKS

 

The German Girl (2016) by Armando Lucas Correa. Historical Fiction. A fine opportunity to tell the story of the plight of the passengers of the St. Louis, when in 1939, 900 passengers sailed from Hamburg to Havana. They were mostly German-Jewish refugees escaping from the Nazi regime. The protagonist is a 12-year-old girl named Hannah Rosenthal. Her wealthy family hoped to start a new life in Cuba. Her best friend Leo and her father are refused entry. The ship leaves without Hannah and her mother who are forced to live in Cuba. After failed attempts to disembark in Canada or the United States, the St. Louis is forced to return to Germany where the passengers meet their demise. There is a duo narration between Hannah the girl who grows and ages in Cuba and her eventual grand-niece, who pieces together the mysterious puzzle of her aunt’s life.  It’s a good story but falls short at times. Hannah’s life in Cuba is glossed over. It would have been better had Correa devoted more time to the challenges facing the Jewish pair living in Cuba. 4/5.

Lilac Girls (2017)  by Martha Hall Kelly. Historical Fiction. A fascinating topic concerning the Rabbits, the female concentration camp victims at Ravensbrück, who suffered medical experiments. The POV alternates between three characters based on real people. It’s sophisticated, interesting and a gripping account of WWII and the aftermath. Set in New York, Paris, Germany, and Poland, Caroline the New York sophisticate and survivor Kasia bring justice to those that time has forgotten. 4.2/5

MOVIES

A Fortunate Man (2018)2018 Danish drama film directed by Bille August. Starring Esben Smed Jensen, it’s an intellectual film about a nineteenth-century ambitious young man named Lykke-Per who escapes his strict Lutheran family in remote Denmark and becomes an important engineer in Copenhagen. He is a man who seeks opportunity and advances himself in any way possible. He’s a flawed character which makes him interesting to watch and Jensen gives a fine performance. It’s a beautiful film about the possibilities of technology from the 1880s and Lykke-Per is complex and likable despite poor decisions. Equally important is the role of Katrine Rosenthal, the spinsterly oldest daughter of a Jewish family who sponsors Lykke-Per’s projects. The actress who plays the progressive feminist is Jakobe Salamon. She is marvelous. It’s long with a running time of 2 hours and 42 minutes. If you have time to kill and want sumptuous scenery and fine acting with interesting ideas and a convincing protagonist, you can find it on Netflix. 4/5

The Professor and the Madman (2019). Great fun seeing Mel Gibson and Sean Penn give convincing performances depicting the making of the OED. The irony does not fail me — how odd that a Scotsman and an American would have a huge influence over the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. I loved it. The story, the acting, the story-line. I don’t know how authentic this film is based on “the incredible true story”, but I was greatly entertained. Check out the trailer. 4/5

TELEVISION

So as I was preparing to go to Scotland and London this summer, I watched a lot of United Kingdom storylines. Purely to get me in the mood.

Outlander (2014 -) At first I thought it was a Harlequin Romance put to television, but I did have to concede how historically interesting and the culture of the highlanders were displayed to my utter satisfaction. Details were accurate and the setting was absolutely what I was looking for. Of all things, my mother (at 78) recommended it to me. I was shocked at the graphic sex in the first season. I blushed. Now I understood what my young colleagues were talking about when they mentioned how exquisite Jamie Fraser was played by the buffy actor Sam Eughan. I offhandedly heard of the novels written in the 1990s by the author Diana Gabaldon but I was unaware Dr. Gabaldon holds three degrees in science: Zoology, Marine Biology, and a Ph.D. in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology. I am growing restless at the end of season two and might switch to Reign. It is about Queen of Scotland Mary Stuart. My mom says it’s better. We’ll see. 4/5

Luther (2010-)  This was easy to binge on. My blogging buddies, Pete and Abbi O, raved about it so I gave it a go. I got through a few seasons easily. Idris Elba plays Luther, a brilliant but emotionally impulsive detective who is tormented by the dark side of humanity while hunting down murderers. The cat and mouse plots are top-rate albeit gory. The best part of the series is the unusual relationship he has with psychopath Alice Morgan played to perfection by Ruth Wilson. 4.5/5

DOCUMENTARY

May it Last (2017) The Avett Brothers are refreshing because they don’t follow the pattern of a band rising up to stardom via sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I love their music and their relationships are heartwarming. Authentic and beautiful, their story will move you to tears in parts. 4/5.

This is the prettiest, astute song I’ve heard in ages. “No Hard Feelings”

Dark Comedy “The Professor” and Mortality Films

I heard nothing about Johnny Depp‘s recent dark comedy The Professor when I trolled through Amazon’s waters for something new to rent. It was a love/hate experience. One of those films that has great ideas and witty occasions but executed in a sloppy way that undermines the story. I really wanted to like the film. I love Johnny Depp. And I dislike much of his films. He has so much talent that shines forward in scenes, but he can’t seem to find a film that showcases him to the stature he belongs as an actor. In this film, his voice warbles and remains low and other accents from previous characters creep in. He doesn’t seem to know how to act the part. (2.5 stars) Yet, the ideas about the film come through and linger with me. 

Johnny plays a New England English academic who is diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. He decides not to seek treatment knowing he has six months to live. This confrontation with mortality alters his perception of life and his teaching style. He throws away professionalism and embarks on a journey with his English students with a carpe diem approach including partying and random sex. In short, he throws away his authority and parties it up with his students while expecting earnest conversations. Time is not to be wasted. The movie is a cross between Old School and Dead Poet’s Society. It’s profane and not too funny much of the time. Too bad, since stories with themes that include the insights to a meaningful life appeal to me, and I love a good dark comedy. Maybe you liked it?

Finally, at the end of the movie, the message arrives. Treat your days as though they were your last. Don’t be a part of the 98 percent who embrace mediocrity. Strive to be an individual and live life with meaning. Well, it’s certainly sage advice we’ve heard of before in films. Do you recognize these famous lines?

“Make each day count.  Hear, hear! To making it count.”

“Earn this.”  

“Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

“Life is hard. It’s supposed to be. If we didn’t suffer, we wouldn’t learn a thing.”

“Don’t look back. It drags at your heart till you can’t do anything but look back.”

It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard…is what makes it great.”

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

“A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”

“I do not expect us to agree about everything, but I would much rather have you believe in something I don’t agree with than to accept everything blindly. And that begins with thinking rationally.”

“Listen to me, mister. You’re my knight in shining armor. Don’t you forget it. You’re going to get back on that horse, and I’m going to be right behind you, holding on tight, and away we’re gonna go, go, go!”

Have you noticed many films with the best messages are played by a dynamic duo from the 80s and 90s? Do you think there is a correlation between the memorable lines said by the characters played by Tom Hanks and Robin Williams? That is to say, the sentimentality incurred by their famous lines made them endearing to the public. Another way of putting it — their famous lines made the actor, not necessarily their talent? I do.

What are some of your favorite lines that give insight into the meaning of life?

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Jack, Titanic; Capt. Miller, Saving Private Ryan; John Keating, Dead Poet’s Society; Abileen Clark, The Help; Jesse, Before Sunset; Scarlett, Gone with the Wind; Jimmy Dugan, A League of Their Own; Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring; The Wizard of Oz; Santosh Patel, The Life of Pi; Ethel, On Golden Pond. 

 

 

MIM: Musical Instrument Museum

A history lesson

What do Elvis, Pete Townsend, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Cash, Ray Orbison, and Carlos Santana, have in common? Well, their famous electric guitars are in a featured exhibit at the Musical Instruments Museum in Phoenix.  Our family spent the day there yesterday. It was very impressive; we felt like we had traveled the world when we were through. The museum features all instruments from around the world. It’s massive. So let’s play a little game, guitar enthusiasts. From the guitar greats listed aforementioned, who belongs to the famous guitar?

ONE
TWO
THREE
FOUR
FIVE
SIX
SEVEN

Focusing on random guitars, here are more random shots. 

1938 Electric Model M Hawaiian Guitar
1950s Quad Stringmaster electric steel guitar
Not a guitar, but Ravi Shankar’s sitar.

 

1. Pete; 2. Johnny; 3. Elvis; 4. Elvis; 5. Santana; 6 Roy; 7. Stevie Ray 

 

 

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