Tag Archives: survival-stories

Movie Review: “The Aviator”

Based on the book by Ernest K. Gann.

Version: 1985; starring Christopher Reeve; Tyne Daly

Genre: adventure; classic

Plot Summary: A physically and emotionally scarred US mail pilot is commissioned to escort a young teenager over the lonely Rocky Mountain wilderness during the 1920’s.

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

When I first came across this streaming for free online, I thought it was an early version of The Aviator that starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett.  I thought it might be about Howard Hughes.  The story turned out to be quite different than I expected and was a pleasant surprise.

Though this movie may be lacking a lot of the frills and fancies of today’s world, the story was still interesting because of the well-developed characters.  Reeve plays a good pilot that is still suffering from a war incident and lives in isolation from those around him.  Tillie is a young teenage girl that on the surface seems spoiled and immature, but when put to the test proves she has courage to survive hardships.

Some beautiful cinematography from the air and accompanying filmscore is lovely.  Acting may not be A1, but there aren’t any scenes you wouldn’t want your parents to watch.  I believe there were a few ‘d’ words sprinkled throughout.  Tillie does confess that she was ‘banged up’ by a boy prior to her plane trip and declares that it ‘certainly wasn’t love.’  She begins to develop a bit of a crush on Edgar, but nothing inappropriate comes of it.  Rather, it was sweet and humorous and Edgar comes to realize that there may be something in him the right woman could love about him.

I believe that the character Tillie was made older in the movie than she was in the book, but I think this was actually in the story’s favor.  If you’re looking for something a little different, I believe you would enjoy this for entertainment.

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Posted by on September 23, 2018 in Movie Reviews


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Movie Review: In the Heart of the Sea

0bba4907568246579cbeaea9a220b52fBased on the book Nathaniel Philbrick.

Version: 2015; starring Chris Hemsworth; directed by Ron Howard

Genre: adventure; drama; based on true story

Plot Summary: Herman Melville is looking for his next greatest story in order to make ends meet and thinks he make have a lead.  An aged seaman has a story to tell, if only he can glean the truth from him.

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.  

I make no apology for my puns. I was hooked from the first glimpse of the trailer.  I only wish I could have seen it on the big screen!  Oh, the drama!  It seemed to promise to do big scale justice of the story behind the world’s most famous whale.

And it delivered! What a riveting tale told through great acting, costumes, props, the works!  Best of all, a story that kept me glued throughout.  This was right up my alley of love for seafaring adventures.

Parts are a little hard to stomach, such as how the whalers went about harvesting whale oil. But it seemed historically accurate, and similar to the book “Moby Dick” in many ways (capturing the factual details of the whalers’ chores).  Also, a group of men adrift at sea are forced into some difficult decisions, SPOILER ALERT: namely cannibalism.  But we are not shown graphic details. END OF SPOILER.

I think one of my favorite aspects of it was the psychology behind the different characters. When you have an extreme situation with different people coming from different backgrounds, with different values and beliefs, what will each person choose and why?

It was apparent to me that this film was made with somewhat of an agenda [ie, whaling was ALL bad], and not one I would entirely agree with. But it did make for an exciting story and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend for an older audience.

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Posted by on June 19, 2018 in Movie Reviews


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Edgar Harrell’s Story

d0514d0abee471e4c05a881c3932ed31Not one weekend newspaper goes by that I don’t see at least one -if not several- World War II veteran obituaries.  It is estimated that 430 of the ‘greatest generation’ vets pass away each day.  So with Independence Day approaching, I thought I’d post a link to the story of a noble WWII vet with a remarkable survival story.  I remember listening to Edgar Harrell being interviewed years ago by Charles Morris on Haven Today.  It was such an edge-of-your-seat true tale that we didn’t dare miss the next day’s episode!  I wasn’t able to find that same interview unfortunately, but you can listen to Harrell’s interview on In the Market with Janet Parshall by clicking here.  You can also watch him tell his story on a video posted below.  Edgar wrote an autobiography about his experiences called “Out of the Depths.”  I highly recommend this to you!  And don’t forget to say thank you to the veterans who fought for your freedom (regardless of which war) in your life!


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Book Review: “Inclined to Escape,” by Yuri Vetokhin

untitledGenre: non fiction; autobiography; survival; memoir

Plot Summary: Yuri Vetohkhin, native born Russian, tells the story of his life in the Soviet Union and his three attempts to escape to freedom.

My Book Review: My mom has had this book ever since I could remember. The dust jacket is worn and torn, but one day I opened up the cover and discovered that the author signed his autograph on the inside page. Hmm… we owned a book signed by a person who had endured unspeakable torture. That peaked my interest! How could I not read it?

This wasn’t a cheery book, obviously. Yuri’s life under Communist rule is told in extreme (sometimes monotonous) detail, including his 9 year internment at a psychiatric concentration camp, which takes up a good portion of the book. At times I got very depressed reading about his horrific tortures and the hopelessness he experienced as a result of communism. I had to break up my reading it, alternating between it and other books, which is why it took me about a year to finish it. There were a lot of typos and the English translation of Russian conversations was awkward and didn’t flow very well. I usually forgot who most of the people he mentioned were, and Russian names are hard to pronounce for English speakers.

But I pushed myself to keep reading and I’m glad I did. Even though the story isn’t pleasant, I think it’s important to be informed about how totalitarian governments control people. How do people survive concentration camps? I’ve always wondered what I would do should I ever be sent to one. The only way to know is read about the testimonies of others who have been there.

Yuri speaks often about God and claims to be a Catholic. I won’t dispute that, but be aware that there are several points in his story where he unabashedly admits to being the lover of more than one woman, and to having an affair with a married woman.


The author, Yuri Vetokhin

The book’s pace picks up somewhat after he is released from prison and he schemes his third escape attempt. I can’t even imagine how lonely he must have been spending 20 years keeping his plans entirely to himself and working alone. That he was able to swim for such great distances at age 50 was amazing!

After finishing the book, I tried to learn more about Yuri Vetokhin. There is little information out there, but to the best of my knowledge, he is still alive (now in his 80’s) and living at his San Diego home in CA. That is also amazing, considering all of the poisionous drugs his heart and body took while in the internment camp.

This is a rare book that is hard to get ahold of nowadays, but I would recommend it for anyone interested in testimonies such as Yuri’s.


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Posted by on November 27, 2015 in Book Reviews


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The Audie Awards 2015

5ddd47e8faf9a918b29a9c0e6741e923Arg!  Completely missed the Audie Awards at the end of May two weeks ago (May 28th)!  You know how frustrating it is when you keep on reminding yourself it’s coming up for months, and then when it’s actually time you forget?  😦

Audie Awards are exciting in that they are the biggest awards of the year for audiobooks, narrators, and audio dramas.  In fact, they are often dubbed “The Oscars” of the audio world.

This year had a few interesting finalists.  LA Theatre Works won Best AudioDrama for their version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”  Alan Cumming won for his narration of his autiobiography, “Not My Father’s Son.” Max Lucado’s non fiction book, “Before Amenwon in the best Inspirational non fiction audiobook category.  The exciting sounding, “The Auschwitz Escape,by Joel Rosenberg won for best Inspirational fiction.  And Simon Vance won yet another Audie!

You can look at the list of finalists and winners by clicking here, as well as listen to samples all mentioned.

Although I have not had time to watch it yet, here is the Audie Awards 2015 on video.  Now, hopefully I can remember to tune in live next year!  Arg again.

Have you heard any of these audio productions?  What did you think of them?


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Posted by on June 12, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Non Fiction Books I’m Liking (Winter 2014-2015)

2308813Style Statement, by Carrie McCarthy, Danielle LaPorte ~ There aren’t a whole lot of things that I could call life transforming.  This book promised to inspire me to discover my own personal lifestyle.  It looked interesting, but I could only hope it was as good as it looked.  When it arrived I discovered it was like a giant workbook, filled with questions about the details of different areas of my life that I faithfully answered, page after page.  There were a lot of questions!  It was like taking a giant personality quiz, except that instead of a computer calculating your answers and generating a vague answer, I was the one sorting through the answers to questions like What are some of your favorite words?…  My dream home is?… If someone didn’t know me very well, they’d take me on a date to?…  Besides just asking yourself what you like or don’t like, you are also invited to examine the why behind your answers.  Why do you like what you like?  Why do certain things irritate you?  I consider myself an introverted person who knows myself pretty well so I didn’t expect to get a whole lot of out of these exercises, but I discovered a wealth of things about myself that I never realized before!  At the end of the book, you put together the recurring themes in your answers and decide that if you had to boil yourself down to two words, what would they be?  These two words are your Style Statement.  (What is mine?  That would be telling!)  I’ve had a blast making Pinterest pages of the different life categories with my Style Statement as the theme ever since.  If you love personality quizzes, self-analysis, and lists, this book is surely for you, my friend!

9286762Race to the End: Amundsen, Scott, and the Attainment of the South Pole, by Ross D. E. MacPhee ~ Every couple of years I settle down in the winter to read an exciting survival (or not) story set in the arctic/Antarctic.  I’ve often heard the names of Amundsen and Scott, even watched a short documentary about them, but didn’t know a lot of details about this epic competition to be the first at the South Pole.  I just happened to be browsing my local library’s shelf under explorations and saw a special edition with a plastic slipcase around this book.  Something about the cover grabbed me and I knew I had to check it out.  This really is a nice publication from the American Museum of Natural History and would make a great coffee table book.  There are pictures on almost every page, with maps and other foldouts in the back.  Wonderful photographs of actual items from the expeditions are also included.  All in all, the book design was very creative.  This story details the individual trips of Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott with the assumption that the reader already knows the fate of each party.  The author does a good job of being fair to each explorer and remaining neutral.  I’ve read quite a few pole survival stories over the years, some of which were boring, but this kept me interested in what would happen next (even though I knew the ending already).  A great winter read!


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Movie Review: Unbroken

4fe30e0b0eaa6477f240667d2e04f4b5Based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand.

Version: 2014; directed by Angelina Jolie

Genre: WWII drama; biography

Plot Summary: [from IMDb:]After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he’s caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.”

My Review: Ever since I saw the original CBS documentary about WWII vet Louis Zamperini as a kid, I wished his story could be made into a movie.  I was greatly interested when his story was written by author Laura Hillenbrand as the bestselling non-fiction book, “Unbroken” a few years ago.  When I heard that the story would be filmed for the big screen, I was ecstatic but nervous.  Would Angelina Jolie be able to do his story the justice it deserved?  [See my book review here and interview with author on Janet Parshall’s In the Market here.]

Unbroken” came out in theaters Christmas Day and my family and I went to see it last night.  By this point I didn’t bother going with my fingers crossed because I’d heard so many good things about the relationship between Jolie and Zamperini:

As I had been reading the book, I wondered how it would be possible to translate this to film.  There were so many important events in Zamperini’s life: his rebellious childhood, athletic career, military life, survival on a lifeboat, POW camps, post war life with his family…  How could this be fit into a regular two hour movie?  I worried.

I will try not to give away too many spoilers.  But I was astounded at the handling of this true-life story.  I have to say that I have never seen a movie that was so true to the book as this one.  I’m sure many Unbroken fans will be pleased about this!  Of course, much of the story had to be condensed to fit a limited timeframe, but many small details were left intact that could have been left out otherwise.  From Louis’ class ring to the real picture of Phil’s sweetheart Cecy, these accuracies felt realistic. I felt I could appreciate my viewing experience all the more by having read the book first, but this isn’t absolutely necessary for all.

This was no shabby B-movie.  Casting was great and the acting fantastic!  Even though the actors may not have all looked like the photographs of the people they were playing, I think good choices were made all the way around.  I worried about who they would pick to play Watanabe, but Japanese actor Takamasa Ishihara played this evil character well.

Probably one of the main things I was impressed with was the careful handling of the story’s pacing.  As I said before, I had been worried but I need not have been.  Louis’ prewar life is told in balanced flashbacks.  The 47 days spent on the liferaft drags on, but I thought this was great from a storytelling point of view.  It created an atmosphere for the viewer to get the feeling of languishing with the survivors of the plane crash.   I do wish there had been more shark-fights as there had been in real life, but I suppose one can’t have everything!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI also felt the film did a great job at making you feel the pain and misery of the POWs at the Japanese camps.  I’m sure it was even worse in real life and that the movie “cleaned it up,” but still the viewer gets a taste of it…

This obviously isn’t a movie for the very young.  There are some very subtle sexual innuendos and a little foul language.  Nothing to make me cringe terribly, and it probably wouldn’t have been in keeping with reality if there hadn’t been some of these elements.  There is no sleeping around.  There is backside nudity that isn’t in a sexual context, but rather in a POW context.  Men are violently beaten nearly to death, but I didn’t feel it crossed the line into Rated R territory.  If you’re wondering if Gaga the Duck makes an appearance, the answer is no.  Thankfully we are spared that!

One of the things I worried about going into the movie was how Louis’ conversion after the war would be portrayed.  At first I was a little disappointed to find that his postwar life is entirely told in footnotes at the end.  However, I did not get the feeling that it was glossed over with the intent of making light of it or excluded for the sake of covering up Louis’ spiritual beliefs.  In the movie, we see Louis promising to devote his life to God in the middle of a storm, and he shows interest in his friend’s belief in God, along with other allusions to faith throughout.  After thinking about it, I realized that there really could be no way to film his life with Cynthia and his meeting with Billy Graham without making the pace of the story feel unbalanced.  The quality of the telling of A) his lifeboat survival (w/ prewar flashbacks) and B) POW camp life would have had to have been sacrificed in order to make time for about 30 min. of his postwar life.  So, I accept their decision in this.  I did not feel they dishonored Louis or God with the footnotes at the end.

There is one bugaboo I will mention and that is that I was dissatisfied with the way in which they expressed Phil’s faith.  Louis asks Phil if he thinks God has a plan for them in all their suffering.  I can’t remember the exact quote, but Phil says something to the effect that “the only thing they can do is to live the best way they can, have a little fun along the way, and when it comes time to die an angel will say they can ask all their dumb questions now.”  This didn’t feel like something Phil would have said.  From the book I gathered he had a personal relationship with God that was more than a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” sort of faith.  There: my complaining is over!

I hope many will go out to see and support this fine movie in the theaters.  It really is worth your time!  And give a round of applause at the end as the credits start to roll for Louis Zamperini (who passed away this past July).



Posted by on December 27, 2014 in Movie Reviews


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