RSS

Tag Archives: politics

Movie Review: Les Miserables

928283ab6e774bf98c29d851f4efc1ddBased on the book by Victor Hugo.

Version: 2012; starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne

Genre:  drama, musical

Plot Summary: In the times between post-Revolutionary France and the Paris Rebellion of 1832, an inconsequential criminal -Prisoner 24601- is set free from penal servitude.  Can a thief receive grace and have another chance in life?  Some would think not, particularly a strict, tow-the-line, “black & white” law enforcement officer like Inspector Javert.  But others, –like the trusting little girl Cosette and the idealistic activist Marius,– choose to open their hearts to the man remade into the new Jean Valjean.

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

Yeah, I’m a little late to the party on this one, but a good story is a good story in a book or on film no matter when one happens to experience it. I’ve never read the book (somehow never could convince myself to begin a 2,783 page opus [see recent post]), but I have seen the earlier 1998 version with Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean.  I’m not sure I enjoyed that one.  But I’ve also listened to the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre’s excellent audio production of the story and highly recommend that.

Les Miserables is a classic tale that contains so many human elements that speak deeply to us—love, hatred, forgiveness, compassion, revenge. That’s why it’s a classic.  The drama, the pathos, emotion pull us in and won’t let us go.  I found myself being deeply engrossed in this newest film version of Victor Hugo’s epic story.  Believe it or not, I’d never seen or listened to the musical, although a few songs sounded familiar because of how they’ve infiltrated our pop culture (I Dreamed a Dream, Bring Him Home).  At first I wasn’t so sure this story could be presented seriously as a musical, but I was proved wrong in one of the earliest scenes (when Jean receives the gift of forgiveness from the priest).  And by the end of the movie, I was blubbering away into a soggy Kleenex.

I had avoided watching it when it first came out because of watching the trailer and hearing others’ reviews. I’d heard that so and so shouldn’t have been cast in this role because somebody else would have done so much better…  Another person was snubbed for not being cast…  This actress completely ‘ruined’ the movie… That person couldn’t sing… etc. etc. etc.  I’d heard the film was too ‘gritty’, too ‘gorey’, too ‘indecent’.  I watched the trailer and saw too much skin.

untitledI’m not a musical aficionado. Maybe so and so could have sang the part better.  All I know is Fantine sang as though her life was at the bottom of a sludge pit and Valjean sang through weary tears.  Cosette sang like a bird in love, and Marius like he’d found the treasure of his life.  If I could be so thoroughly convinced this story was real, I think somebody was doing their job supremely well.   Probably the only one who didn’t have me convinced of his role was Russell Crowe as Javert.  He felt uncomfortable and limited in the part.

Gritty? Yes.  Gorey?  It was a reflection of the time and era in which real people lived.  Not all of humanity has lived in pristine Downton Abbey.  Indecent?  Yes. Humanity is messed up.  But we live in a  place where true love shines like a jewel amidst the dirt and grime of a perverted world.

Yet, there are some indecencies I would prefer not to expose myself to, and there were some content issues I’d warn about. I have better things to do than count swear words and describe raunchy scenes, so you can read a more detailed review here if you are in need of one.  But I will say that there were at least two places I wanted to be careful about: 1)  Fantine gradually falls deeper and deeper into the backalley ways of the underworld, not out of any desire on her part but out of pure desperation.  As she sings her song, she is led into a dark room where one gets the idea of what will happen next without having to see it.  I didn’t watch, but continued to listen to her heart-rending song.  I wouldn’t fast forward through it if it can be helped because the music is some of the best of the musical and it’s well acted.  2)  The Thenardiers are the picture of the world taking delight in degradation.  The rowdy song that takes place in their inn, where they celebrate the pleasures of sin is one that can be skipped (IMO).  It is definitely NOT a family scene!  I got half way through and decided I was too sick to watch the rest and clicked through to the next scene.

Only one thing I wish could have been improved upon and that is I would have liked to have seen more of the beginning developing relationship between Jean Valjean and the little girl Cosette.  This is a weakness in the original story itself I think, and that is that Cosette’s character is too trusting.  This could have been strengthened in the movie, and their getting to know one another was rather missing.  It would have helped to cement my emotional attachment further.

But for all of that, I wish I had not waited so long to watch this wonderful story illustrated with so much emotion, music, color and drama. The sets and the details blew my mind.  I don’t often like to rewatch movies, but this is one I will want to have in my collection to go back to every so often.  I truly thought it was a good piece of art, though I know there are enough who debate me there.

What are your thoughts on this film version of Les Miserables?  I’d like to know what you think!

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 20, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Book Review: “Matorni’s Vineyard,” by E. Phillips Oppenheim

serveimageGenre: futuristic; suspense; intrigue

Plot Summary: Mervyn Amory is a British tennis player on his way to Monte Carlo for a holiday.  He takes a train trip that turns out to be anything but leisurely.  When an Italian spy passes on vital information to him just before he is assassinated, who will Mervyn trust?  Can we trust him?  And who is the beautiful Italian diva who has close ties to the Princess?

My Book Review: It’s been a few years since I’ve dipped into Oppenheim, but I have to say this was much more interesting to me than the last two I’ve read.  It had a flavor of The Great Impersonation, as far as the intrigue and atmosphere go.  It wasn’t hard to read, and provided some fun entertainment.

The best part was that it kept you guessing about who you could trust. I can’t say there were any huge plot twists that maybe the average reader wouldn’t see coming, but yet it keeps one suspecting everyone– even the main character.

I felt disappointed in how the Dictator was treated in the end. SPOILER ALERT: I felt the winners dealt him too soft a hand and they dared to trust someone to continue leading a large European country who had just threatened to pitch the continent into another world war.  Who’s to say he wouldn’t ever try something like that again?  On the other hand, I suppose this type of international dealing is realistic, considering how the world treated Hitler and Germany before WWII. END OF SPOILER. Oppenheim set his book in the 1940’s, which would have made the tale futuristic for readers at the time it was published in 1928.  Of course, the dictator-character Matorni represents Mussolini himself.  Oppenheim also had some of this type of foresight in my favorite of his (The Great Impersonation).

I loved the exotic location set in Monaco. Although the story is not historical, the details feel accurate, as if they were.  There is a romance as a side plot included, but I can’t say it was very believable because of how fast it occurred in such a short amount of time.  But if you want a bit of ‘alternate history’ type genre, this might interest you.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 18, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Quote for September 17, 2016

2178939c01db7793d38d1a586bd4cfbe“A public library is the most democratic thing in the world.  What can be found there has undone dictators and tyrants: demagogues can persecute writers and tell them what to write as much as they like, but they cannot vanish what has been written in the past, though they try often enough… People who love literature have at least part of their minds immune from indoctrination.  If you read, you can learn to think for yourself.”  ~Doris Lessing

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 17, 2016 in Quotes

 

Tags: , , ,

Movie Review: “America: Imagine a World Without Her”

MV5BMjM0MjgyOTQ4NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTQ1NzQ3MTE@__V1_SX214_AL_Based on the book by Dinesh D’Souza.

Version: 2014.

Genre: documentary

Plot Summary: [from IMDb]: “A story that questions the shaming of the US through revisionist history, lies and omissions by educational institutions, political organizations, Alinsky, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other progressives to destroy America.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not be comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

“God damn America.” You hear it everywhere nowadays.  Sometimes in so many words, sometimes only implied but it’s message becomes more popular all the time.  Indeed, sometimes it can be hard not to be embarrassed because of some of our leaders’ choices in this day and age.  But is what we so often hear said about America in school, on tv, and in books correct?  Should we be embarrassed about the idea of America and what it was founded on?

Settling down to watch this on Independence Day last year, I found this documentary to be enlightening and spot on with its assessment of America’s past. Writer and director Dinesh D’Souza addresses such topics as the discovery of North America, colonization, slavery, treatment of the Native Americans, and America’s wars up to the present day.  Saul Alinky and Howard Zinn’s books and worldviews are also discussed.  Some shocking stories from this country’s history that haven’t made the history books are also uncovered.

At first I felt depressed as I watched the facts about the present state of our nation honestly dealt with.  It was so heartbreaking, I wasn’t so sure I could watch to the end because I felt despair taking over.  However, about halfway through the film, D’Souza provides us with some inspiration to be the America we need and that the rest of the world needs.  By the end, I felt uplifted and encouraged.

Lest you might be hesitant to watch a film with snarky back-biting and mud-slinging, I’ll assure you that you won’t find those types of negative elements in this one.  Instead, I appreciated that D’Souza (himself an immigrant from India) treated with respect all of his interviewees who held a different opinion than his.  I would be interested in seeing D’Souza in a debate or lecture in person sometime.

Much of this documentary is dramatized for us through actors’ portrayals.  Overall, I found the film to be eye-opening, truthful, and balanced.  This would be great for families to watch together (especially high school/college age kids), or for the regular joe who would like some good arguments the next time he finds himself in a discussion about politics.

~Happy Independence Day, America!~

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 4, 2016 in Movie Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

“The Goebbels Experiment”

023adc95ba40c93716a80dd303688acbI recently watched a riveting documentary, The Goebbels Experiment.  Using text taken completely from Joseph Goebbel’s diary and speeches, the film documents the Nazi Minister of Propaganda’s life, especially his work in the years leading up and during the Second World War.  Goebbel’s voice is narrated by Kenneth Branagh, and his acting made for a completely believable retelling of what happened.

There are no graphic descriptions of the mass murders that took place during the holocaust.  However, there is some disturbing film footage of Goebbels, his wife Magda, and their six little children after they were found dead at the end of the war.  There is also a brief description near the beginning of the film of a passionate love affair Goebbels was involved in with a girlfriend.  I wouldn’t recommend this for children, obviously.  Parents would be well advised to preview it for older kids first.

It was eye-opening, and a bit creepy to be a viewer to so much material about the Nazi “spin doctor.”  I found it educational in learning how Nazis like Goebbels thought, how they manipulated the public’s perception of information, and could see similarities in things going on in the modern world today.  I highly recommend this film– the more we learn from history, the more alert we are to the things going on around us.

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 24, 2016 in Movie Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Book Review: “Conspiracy in Kiev,” by Noel Hynd

2973660Genre: mystery; suspense; intrigue

Plot Summary: Alexandra LaDuca is a capable young investigator at the US Department of the Treasury. She is bright, beautiful, knows several languages, and is an excellent marksman. All of which makes her a perfect candidate to work with the Secret Service in Ukraine– a job she can’t wait to get over and done with so she can marry her fiancé who is also in the Secret Service. But something goes terribly wrong on the job, and soon Alex finds herself in the middle of intrigue so big, she travels three continents to put the pieces together.

My Book Review: Several years ago, I attempted to read a thriller-novel, Flowers in Berlin by Noel Hynd but couldn’t get into it at the time. Conspiracy in Kiev (Book #1 in the Russian Trilogy Series) was my second try at this author. To be honest, I do not know very much about this Mr. Hynd, and do not know if he is a Christian, or what his testimony is. This series is published by Zondervan (well-known Christian publisher), but the reason I gave up Flowers in Berlin was that I didn’t care for some of the content. However, that was several years back and I may have a different opinion were I to try it again.

This book was very much in the same vein as Robert Ludlum and other various espionage thrillers. I think I much prefer reading this series as opposed to the other authors out there.  However, just because this is under the genre of ‘Christian fiction’ doesn’t mean it is soft on the thriller aspects. There were many grisly scenes and I know I would not have been able to handle it if the gore-factor was any more than it was or if I had been watching it as a movie. Not everything is squeaky-clean. Black marketeer, underworld crime, and the mafia don’t exactly frequent pristine worlds—we’re talking strip clubs and sleazy night joints here. Alex finds herself playing the uncomfortable role of going on a date with an Ukrainian murderer in order to accomplish her mission. These elements may or may not sit okay with some readers.

For me, I finished the book and am wanting to read the next in the series. There are a lot of different plot threads that lead to someplace in common and that keep you interested and moving on to the next chapter. I liked that a lot of the chapters were short and switch back and forth from Italy to Ukraine and other countries, which kept me engaged.

241bd602a0f1e76fa829b58197d54c8bNearing the end, I felt that maybe there was too much stuffed into this book. It started to become unbelievable that Alex could endure so many traumatic events and not have a complete nervous breakdown. I mean, there are two more books in this series, with a sequel series after that. What else is this character going to have to go through? I also would have liked it had the main character only operated between the US and Ukraine. Instead, Alex spends the first half of the novel focused on Ukraine, and the second half off on a different mission in Venezuela. It just felt a imbalanced to me. It might have worked better had this book been chopped into two?

There is a spiritual aspect in the form of Alex’s faith which she clings to throughout the course of the story. Those who don’t appreciate preachy fiction will be glad to know they won’t find that here. However, I felt that Alex’s faith lacked any real life. If I am going to read a book about a Christian character, I prefer to read a little more than that character fingers their cross-shaped necklace. But the religious content in this book is more than you’ll get in most of the mainstream thrillers out there.

Anyway, there’s a lot going on in this book, and I don’t recommend reading it piece-meal over several months as I did. One starts to forget what just happened in the last chapter and has to go back to refresh their memory. The history and political facts seemed well-researched and and I am more aware of the country of Ukraine that I was before reading this book. Always good to learn something!

I liked this, but I didn’t love it. I’m interested in these types of adventure-stories, but maybe I’m just not a die-hard fan of international thrillers. For those of you who are, this may be a great read for you!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 26, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Inspiring Voices Series: Benjamin Netanyahu

Introduction:  A few months back I was writing an article on what our voices tell about us (see here). As I was writing, I got the idea of doing a new series on booklearned about voices that I find to be inspiring. This idea was also partly gotten from a discussion thread on the LibriVox forum, which I participated in and which you can view here. So today I will writing the first post in the “Inspiring Voices Series.” I hope you enjoy it!

Some golden voices are from the days of yesteryear. And others are front and center in today’s news. One of the most striking voices of our time is the Prime Minister of the State of Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu. I won’t make any bones about him being a hero of mine. In a terrible world where Israel stands alone among the nations in defending herself, Netanyahu doesn’t back down. He was a great speaker even in his 20’s, but he’s gotten even better over the years. His courage, determination, and bearing demand respect, as does the country he represents.

Bam! Wake up, people! Netanyahu’s words convey truth and conviction. What are some of the characteristics we hear present in his voice? For one thing, he doesn’t pull any punches. His voice illustrates his frustration and a sense of urgency. Personally, I find that his commanding voice makes me sit up and take notice. His booming voice resonates from his broad frame; physical stature does affect our sound.

What about his voice affects you subconsciously? If you could not understand the words or see the video but could only listen to his sounds, what would be the emotions you would be feeling right now? Maybe anxiety; shame; uncomfortableness; solemnity… These are appropriate considering the circumstances.

His accent is thick and heavy, but only serves to illustrate the seriousness of his speech even more. Netanyahu also uses ‘deafening silence’ to make his point loud and clear. Only those glazed over by the prince of this world will fail to be affected by it.

What are your thoughts on the sounds of the voice in this clip? What are some of your favorite voices (past or present)?

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 9, 2015 in Inspiring Voices Series

 

Tags: , , , ,