Friday, November 17, 2017

Kingsman: the Secret Service

Kingsman: the Secret Service is a 2014 film, a lighthearted spy comedy that's a lot of fun to watch. The really big names here are Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Caine. The sequel was released earlier in the Fall.


Rolling Stone gives it 3 out of 4 stars and says, "Kingsman is a high-octane combo of action and comedy that breathes sweet and surreal new life into the big-screen spy game". Rotten Tomatoes has an audience score of 84%.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Death in Venice

Death in Venice is a 1912 novella (73 pages long in my edition) by Thomas Mann. I read the 1930 translation.

from the back of the book:
[Death in Venice] is a haunting masterpiece about an eminent write, Gustave Aschenbach, who is weary of his work and travels to Venice for a vacation. But his notions of relaxation quickly give way to an upheaval at once disturbing and exhilarating, as he falls passionately in love with a beautiful Polish boy.
You can read a translation from 1912 online here. It begins,
Gustav Aschenbach, or von Aschenbach, as his official surname had been since his fiftieth birthday, had taken another solitary walk from his apartment in Munich’s Prinzregentenstraße on a spring afternoon of the year 19.., which had shown the continent such a menacing grimace for a few months. Overexcited by the dangerous and difficult work of that morning that demanded a maximum of caution, discretion, of forcefulness and exactitude of will, the writer had been unable, even after lunch, to stop the continued revolution of that innermost productive drive of his, that motus animi continuus, which after Cicero is the heart of eloquence, and had been thwarted trying to find that soothing slumber which he, in view of his declining resistance, needed so dearly. Therefore he had gone outside soon after tea, hoping that fresh air and exertion would regenerate him and reward him with a productive evening.

It was early May, and, after some cold and wet weeks, a faux midsummer had begun. The Englische Garten, although only slightly leafy, was humid as in August and had been teeming with carriages and strollers where it was close to the city. At the Aumeister, where increasingly serene paths had led him, he had surveyed the popular and lively Wirtsgarten, on the bounds of which some cabs and carriages were parking, he had started his saunter home across the fields outside of the park while the light was fading, and waited, since he felt exhausted and a thunderstorm seemed imminent over Föhring, for the tram which was to carry him in a straight line back to the city. He happened to find the station and its surroundings completely deserted. Neither on the paved Ungererstraße, on which the lonely-glistening rails stretched towards Schwabing, nor on the Föhringer Chaussee a cart could be seen; nothing stirred behind the fences of the stonecutters, where crosses, commemorative plates, and monuments for sale formed a second, uninhabited cemetery and the Byzantine edifice of the mortuary chapel on the other side of the street lay silent in the last light of the parting day. Its front wall, decorated with Greek crosses and emblems in bright colors, furthermore sports symmetrically aligned biblical inscriptions concerning the afterlife, such as: “THEY ENTER THE HOUSE OF GOD” or “THE ETERNAL LIGHT MAY SHINE UPON THEM”; and the waiter for a time had found a reasonable entertainment in reading the phrases and letting his mind’s eye wander in their iridescent mystery, when he, returning from his reverie, had noticed a man in the portico, close to the apocalyptic beasts which guard the staircase, whose wholly unusual appearance steered his thoughts into a completely different direction.
The photo at the top of the page is of the boy who was the inspiration for the story.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Coffee at Audubon Park Lake

It was such a lovely fall afternoon The Husband and I decided to take some coffee and enjoy time at Audubon Park Lake.

Audubon Park is a nice urban park not far from where we live. This lake is towards the east side of the park.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Still Life with Apples and Pitcher

Still Life with Apples and Pitcher:

by Camille Pissarro, who died on November 13, 1903, in Paris at the age of 73.

My wine glasses aren't even really wine glasses but are short and stemless and all-purpose:

They suit my needs for my nearly-daily wine with dinner. And, for those of you who might remember my trips down the grocery store wine aisles, the wine in the glass is my current favorite: Sterling Vintner's Collection Cabernet Sauvignon.

Please join the weekly blogger gathering and share a drink with us at T Stands for Tuesday.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Changed Man

A Changed Man is a 2005 novel by Francine Prose. I bought this used some time ago, and it's been on my to-be-read shelf ever since. So many books, so little time.... I found this a little too optimistic for my taste.

from the back of the book:
What is charismatic Holocaust survivor Meyer Maslow to think when a rough-looking young neo-Nazi named Vincent Nolan walks into the Manhattan office of Maslow's human rights foundation and declares that he wants to "save guys like me from becoming guys like me"? As Vincent turns into the kind of person who might actually be able to do this, he also transforms those around him: Meyer Maslow,
who fears heroism has become a desk job; the foundation's dedicated fund-raiser, Bonnie Kalen, an appealingly vulnerable divorced single mother;
and even Bonnie's teenage son.

Francine Prose's A Changed Man is a darkly comic and masterfully inventive novel that poses essential questions about human nature, morality, and the capacity for personal reinvention.
The New York Times calls it "powerful, funny and exquisitely nuanced". The Guardian has a less positive review saying, "Her faith in America and the essential innocence of its inhabitants turns what could have been a challenging read into a witless fable for our times." New York Magazine opens with, "In A Changed Man, Francine Prose unloads on do-gooder hypocrisy and a media with blinders on." The New Yorker concludes, "As a sendup, the book is quite fun, but too often Prose’s writing falls victim to the very earnestness that she satirizes."

Kirkus Reviews calls it "An edgy, riveting tale, one of Prose’s most interesting." Publishers Weekly says, "this tale hits comic high notes even as it probes serious issues".

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Lichterman Nature Center in Autumn

The Lichterman Nature Center is a certified arboretum and nature center in Memphis, TN. You can see a map at this link. I walked the lake and forest trails this time.

Lake Trail:

They had a display of scarecrows for the fall season:

Forest Trail:

This is an enjoyable park to walk in, although I'll have to admit I preferred it when it was less developed and less geared to school groups. Even so, it's still a wonderful place to experience nature and seasonal changes.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

An Autumn Holiday

Charles Ethan Porter - Autumn Landscape

An Autumn Holiday is a short story by Sarah Orne Jewett, perhaps best known for her 1896 novella The Country of the Pointed Firs. First published in Harper’s Magazine in October, 1880, An Autumn Holiday can be read online here. It begins,
I had started early in the afternoon for a long walk; it was just the weather for walking, and I went across the fields with a delighted heart. The wind came straight in from the sea, and the sky was bright blue; there was a little tinge of red still lingering on the maples, and my dress brushed over the late golden-rods, while my old dog, who seemed to have taken a new lease of youth, jumped about wildly and raced after the little birds that flew up out of the long brown grass -- the constant little chickadees, that would soon sing before the coming of snow. But this day brought no thought of winter; it was one of the October days when to breathe the air is like drinking wine, and every touch of the wind against one's face is a caress: like a quick, sweet kiss, that wind is. You have a sense of companionship; it is a day that loves you.

I went strolling along, with this dear idle day for company; it was a pleasure to be alive, and to go through the dry grass, and to spring over the stone walls and the shaky pasture fences. I stopped by each of the stray apple-trees that came in my way, to make friends with it, or to ask after its health, if it were an old friend. These old apple-trees make very charming bits of the world in October; the leaves cling to them later than to the other trees, and the turf keeps short and green underneath; and in this grass, which was frosty in the morning, and has not quite dried yet, you can find some cold little cider apples, with one side knurly, and one shiny bright red or yellow cheek. They are wet with dew, these little apples, and a black ant runs anxiously over them when you turn them round and round to see where the best place is to bite. There will almost always be a bird's nest in the tree, and it is most likely to be a robin's nest. The prehistoric robins must have been cave-dwellers, for they still make their nests as much like cellars as they can, though they follow the new fashion and build them aloft. One always has a thought of spring at the sight of a robin's nest. It is so little while ago that it was spring, and we were so glad to have the birds come back, and the life of the new year was just showing itself; we were looking forward to so much growth and to the realization and perfection of so many things. I think the sadness of autumn, or the pathos of it, is like that of elderly people. We have seen how the flowers looked when they bloomed and have eaten the fruit when it was ripe; the questions have had their answer, the days we waited for have come and gone. Everything has stopped growing. And so the children have grown to be men and women, their lives have been lived, the autumn has come. We have seen what our lives would be like when we were older; success or disappointment, it is all over at any rate. Yet it only makes one sad to think it is autumn with the flowers or with one's own life, when one forgets that always and always there will be the spring again.
You can have it read to you here:

Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings is a gorgeous 2016 animated story. The Younger Son saw this in the theater and loved it so much he bought it for me for my birthday. It's a wonderful film. Providing voices: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, and Matthew McConaughey.


Variety says it "stands as the sort of film that feels richer with each successive viewing, from the paper-folded Laika logo at the beginning (an early taste of the stunning origami sequences to follow) to the emotional resonance of its final shot." Rolling Stone gives it a full 4-star review and says, "while magical is a word that gets thrown around a lot about the movies, few actually deserve to be called that. Kubo and the Two Strings does, and in spades." The Guardian says it "stands out for its complexity, seductively dark themes and the extraordinary beauty of its animation" and that it "succeeds on every level"

Empire Online gives it 4 out of 5 stars and concludes, "Yet another success for stop-motion giants Laika, Kubo boasts big laughs and effective scares in a typically gorgeous animated tale." Roger Ebert's site says, "The timelessness of the film gives it an overall feeling of cinematic grace, with obvious nods to greats ranging from Kurosawa and Miyazaki to Spielberg and Lucas. The resonance of the performances from its excellent voice cast gives it an immediate emotional punch." Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 97%.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Central Station

Central Station is an award-winning 2016 science fiction novel by Lavie Tidhar. I've been trying to read more recent science fiction lately, although that's not an inexpensive endeavor. Our public library has stopped requiring a SS# to get a card, so I'll check them out as a source. I bought this one new at our local bookseller. I'm glad I came across this book. It's a novel crafted from interrelated short stories.

from the back of the book:
A quarter of a million people have settled at the base of a space station in Tel Aviv. Cultures collide in real life and virtual reality. Humans, machines, and Others are interconnected through a flowing digital consciousness. Life may be cheap, but data is cheaper.

When Boris Chong reluctantly returns to Central Station from Mars, he finds utter chaos. His ex-lover is rausing a child who taps into minds with the touch of a finger. Boris's father has a multigenerational mind-plague. His space-faring cousin is infatuated with a cyborg robotnik. And an erratic data-vampire has followed Boris home....
favorite quote:
There comes a time in a man's life when he realises stories are lies. Things do not end neatly. The enforced narratives a human impinges on the chaoic mess that is life become empty labels, like the dried husks of corn such as are thrown down in the summer months from the adaptoplant dwellings, to litter the streets below.

NPR concludes,
Central Station held together. It is just this side of a masterpiece — short, restrained, lush — and the truest joy of it is in the way Tidhar scatters brilliant ideas like pennies on the sidewalk. He has pockets full of them. Enough here for 10 books, easy.

But the best compliment I can give this one is that as soon as I finished it, I sighed, smiled, closed the back cover, then turned the whole thing 'round and immediately started over again at Page 1.
Fantasy Book Review says, "It is a collection of short stories that are all tied together with an overarching plot, and it touches on things like faith, evolution, discrimination, and more." Strange Horizons says, "Apart from the amazing world-building, it’s all about the meeting, intermingling, and interacting of many cultures...". The New York Review of Science Fiction closes with this: "mature readers who are willing to sit down in Miriam Jones’s bar, have a drink, and watch the passing Tel Aviv scene will be amply rewarded."

Publishers Weekly says, "Readers of all persuasions will be entranced." Ars Technica says it "offers a realistically weird picture of life on a far-future space station." Kirkus Reviews has an interview with the author.

Locus Online says, "Somehow, Central Station combines a cultural sensibility too long invisible in SF with a sensibility which is nothing but classic SF, and the result is a rather elegant suite of tales." SF Crowsnest closes a positive review by saying, "At the end of the book, I was left with a mellow feeling of contentment and the impression that I’d enjoyed a relaxing holiday in the company of some intriguing characters."

This book counts towards my book challenge, being on the list of NPR Best Books of 2016.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Sleepless in Seattle

Sleepless in Seattle is a 1993 award-winning romantic comedy/drama featuring a young father whose beloved wife dies and whose 8-year-old son tries to pair him up with a suitable new partner. I'd never seen this before, not liking rom-coms, but my search for variety in holiday viewing brought me to this. I actually liked it. Sweet, but not too sweet. It stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Also in this: Rob Reiner, Bill Pullman, Rosie O'Donnell, and Victor Garber (Jesus in Godspell). Nora Ephron directs.

The beginning of the film takes place during the Christmas season.


The New York Times says, "Ms. Ephron and her associates create a make-believe world so engaging that "Sleepless in Seattle" is finally impossible to resist. Both Mr. Hanks and Ms. Ryan bring substance to their roles." Rolling Stone calls it "sublime". The Guardian gives it 4 out of 5 stars.

Empire Online gives it 4 out of 5 stars and calls it "sweet and touching". Roger Ebert says it was "so warm and gentle I smiled the whole way through." Rotten Tomatoes has an audience score of 75%.