Star Wars: The Force Awakens

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” reinvigorates the Star Wars saga and adds yet another chapter. Moviegoers enraptured by the cinematic magic of the previous films will also enjoy the the constant action and suspense in this one. Three decades have passed since the last duel between the empire and the rebellion, and a new era brings some new characters, but some nostalgia, as well.

starwarsThe film establishes some of the new characters early on with the capture of resistance Commander Poe Dameron by the First Order and the emergence of the film’s heroine, Rey, superbly played by Daisy Ridley. Another layer to this story is the defection of one of the First Order’s warriors, who earns the name Finn throughout the movie. Finn, played by John Boyega, compliments Ridley well as her sidekick, and they both fit naturally into the tapestry with the characters of old, such as Hans Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). In addition, nemesis Kylo Ren convincingly plays this film’s Darth Vader-like character, and the droid (BB-8) carries a critical piece of information and has its distinctive sound. Characters like Hans Solo’s beloved wookie, Chewbacca, keep the humor element present, as well. Much like previous films/books, it is fast-paced, but it doesn’t at all hurt the development of the characters, such as Rey and Finn. The action sequences, such as the light saber battles bring back the cinematic magic of the former movies, and the presence of the force rings true to life once again. A must-see for old and new Star Wars fans alike.


Book Club: “The Einstein Intersection”

Recently, I participated in a book club discussion on Samuel Delany’s Nebula Award-winning novel “The Einstein Intersection,” set in the future after the apparent destruction of Earth sets the stage for an alien takeover. 11549412._UY200_

In this literary science fiction work, Delany’s protagonist, Lo Lobey, equipped with his musical instrument / machete, is thrust on a journey reminiscent of the Orpheus myth. The novel draws from real characters, such as Billy the Kid, as well, to extend this theme of myths. This can be seen in the form of the novel’s most villainous character, known as Kid Death. And in parts of the novel, it even has feel for the American West, but with dragons. These various elements and more are surprisingly woven together with cohesiveness throughout the novel.

One topic we talked about in the book club is the novel’s relevance today. Due to its pop culture mentions (e.g., Elvis and The Beatles) and other wide-reaching references, it is easy to see why this sci-fi classic was popular then, and is still popular now. The novel explores themes, such as those dealing with sexuality, gender and social issues that, perhaps, make it a good introductory read to Delany. Furthermore, the novel’s nonconformity, I think, reflects the nature of our times in America, as our society seems to be moving away from the status quo.



Film Review -“French Impressionism at the Musee D’Orsay (2006)”

The film “French Impressionism at the Musee D’Orsay” enlightens about the history of the Impressionist movement in art, some of the key artists and their works. It starts by taking the viewer on a journey through the now 30-year-old museum’s history, including about how the building was once a railway station and some of the tensions that arose about the site’s future. It then explores how the artists helped define a movement built on the tenets of displaying light, shadow and color in their paintings. Once, the Impressionist movement was met with scorn, but it has since become universally adored, and it is not hard to understand why. ClaudeMonet-Impression-Sunrise-1872 For instance, I’ve always been captivated by Claude Monet’s paintings of water lilies and was fascinated to learn how much of a central figure he was to the movement; his painting “Impression, Sunrise (1872)” is widely thought to have given the movement its name. And many of his works are indicative of the movement’s trademark of painting outdoors. The museum, in France, has grown into one of the preeminent museums of Paris, and the film made me want to visit it someday.

Documentary review – “The Art of the Steal (2009)”


The high-pitched documentary “The Art of the Steal,”directed by Don Argott, centers around the passionate debate about the future of the Barnes Foundation and its collection of post-impressionist paintings seen by many in the art world as the most valuable collection of its kind.

As described in the film, Barnes gained wealth in the pharmaceutical industry and became so passionate about quality art that he used his wealth to build this collection. Throughout much of Barnes’ life, the film tells about his great dislike for the political establishment and the media; he meant for the collection to be an art school with limited access, not a public museum. One of the most intriguing parts of the documentary is when it describes how the collection was assembled in such a way as to create a quality experience to those who viewed it. When Barnes died in 1951, he left an indenture of trust outlining how he wanted his foundation to be run, including that the collection shouldn’t be moved, but fast track to around forty years later, and powerful interests begin to take control of the foundation and see a future for the collection in Downtown Philadelphia, as opposed to where it was housed in Lower Merion, PA. While the movie offers passionate stances from both sides, it’s clear the narrative paints the picture of the powerful Philadelphia establishment and other powerful parties ignoring the intentions for the foundation that Barnes outlined in his trust and setting the stage for “the scandal of the art world in modern America.”

This documentary hit home for me for a few reasons. When I was in high school, my mother took me to see some paintings by such masters as Renoir, Cezanne and Matisse, and I’m sure I got to marvel at some of the masterpieces in the Barnes Collection first-hand, during an exhibition at Philadelphia’s Museum of Art in the mid-1990s. This memory has stuck with me throughout my life, and that’s the primary reason this story was of such great interest to me. In addition, it was a timely film for me to see now because of the impressive scenes of Downtown Philadelphia that were shot in the documentary, as that is the city where I spent the first half of my life.

Movie Review – “Sing Street”

“Sing Street,” from Director John Carney, is a must-see movie for anyone who likes music and specifically, 80s music. The movie is set in the 1980s in Dublin where a young teen escapes the some of the hardships he faces growing up through making music.

From the start, the music plays a central role in connecting the audience with the story. Since this movie takes place in the 80s, it’s no surprise, Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) might approach Raphina (Lucy Boynton), an aspiring model, and ask her if she will be in a video his band plans to shoot. But there is no band, at first; he is attracted to her and wants to impress her. MV5BMjEzODA3MDcxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODgxNDk3NzE@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_ Walsh-Peelo brings natural musical talent, grit and charm to Cosmo’s character that help make the formation of the 80s music-inspired band of fellow schoolmates a reality. Boynton’s mysterious character, Raphina, is realistic as the centerpiece of 80s videos, and dazzles in her musical appearances. Cosmo’s perspective is captured beautifully in his music, and Raphina’s role as a muse can be seen early on.

It’s so often we might not be able to see the connection between a movie and our lives, but in “Sing Street” one can through the eyes of a teenager growing up in a household marred by turmoil, having to deal with bullies and finding romance. Throughout the movie, Cosmo is being given a crash course on 80s musical influences that find their way into his own music, and I think this gives viewers a sense of the music that characterized the time. The natural flow of the story, the convincing acting and relatable themes all add to this feel-good drama that paints an optimistic picture in troubling times.


Book Cave – From Book to Media

Two of the books I’ve read to start the New Year have been adapted in the media. These are Emma Donoghue’s novel “Room” and “Bill O’Reilly’s Legends & Lies” written by David Fisher.

Room_PosterThe first movie I saw this year was “Room,” the gripping drama starring Brie Larson and up and coming young actor Jacob Tremblay. After reading the book, I have to say the movie was as good as the book. The strong bond between Joy (Larson), who was kidnapped and held prisoner in a soundproof shed, and Jack (Tremblay), who was born two years later, is established early on, and it further plays out in their daring escape, and beyond. This made for some very poignant scenes in the movie. The book is equally effective as it was told from Jack’s point of view, and portrays a realistic perspective of a young child isolated from the outside world for the first five years of his life.

I equally enjoyed “Bill O’Reilly’s Legends & Lies,” as stories of the American West really excite me. I  came upon this book from viewing its companion docuseries and decided to listen to the audiobook. The book profiles ten legends of the American West and also provides much in-depth context to these storied lives. Narrator Tom Wopat’s pacing and cadence seem to be spot-on and bring out the strong narrative structure of these stories, which make  them engaging and accessible to readers. bass-reeves_black-lone-ranger
Glaring similarities in the lives of these legendary characters can be seen in fictional characters, such as The Lone Ranger, which is thought to possibly be based on the African American lawman and sharpshooter, Bass Reeves. Interestingly, as described in this compilation, many of the action-packed events of the time came to inspire the stories depicted in “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” traveling show. The movie “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid,” starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, analyzes what might have gone on in the minds of two fabled outlaws of the West that are brought to life by Wopat in this collection, too.



Book Club: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Our most recent book club selection was “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” by Ransom RIggs. 

In our meeting, we talked about the power of the photographs and the emotions they evoke. I really like how some of the photos juxtapose horror with beauty, such as the “our beautiful display” photo. 51xgGEKd6oL We also talked about some of the peculiar children that were brought to life in the story and in the photographs, such as the timeless one of the levitating girl on the cover. We further spiced it up by asking such thoughtful questions like: “if you could be a peculiar, what type of peculiar behavior might you like to have?” and “if you could be a bird, what kind of bird would you like to be?” The possibilities for questions and projects around this book seem to be endless.

What really made this book really neat was that it uses real photographs from various collections to inspire and tell an imaginative story. I think this book is a neat way of taking an original idea and running with it. I look forward to reading more books in this series and seeing what other exciting adventures this ensemble of characters goes on, and I plan on seeing the movie when it comes out, as well.