Tracks by Robyn Davidson

When I was a kid, my dad subscribed our family to the National Geographic magazine like so many other families during the 60s and 70s. You could find stacks upon stacks of the Nat. Geo. magazines in most of my friends’ homes, as well. Every month I would devour its contents and dream of travelling and the adventures I would have. (Sadly those stacks were eventually either given away or thrown out; who knew that decades later people would be selling back issues of the magazine for astronomical amounts on eBay?) I took a few dozen issues, (this particular issue included) when I eventually moved out.

I distinctly remember this particular cover of Robyn Davidson’s trek across the Australian Outback in the May 1978 issue because I was so blown away by her courage to even think of attempting such an risky journey across a desert! Then of course to actually achieve this journey seemed utterly crazy, right? Audacious? No doubt. But she certainly did it.


Davidson trekked across 1,700 miles of brutal yet breathtakingly beautiful desert landscapes with four camels and her beloved and faithful dog, Diggity, all the way to the Indian Ocean. What makes Davidson’s journey so interesting is the fact that she accomplishes this trip virtually on her own. The fact that she had had no prior experience trekking in a desert, let alone to even undertake such a trip solo, would ultimately test her physical, mental and emotional strength. What, you may ask, would lead someone to attempt such a journey to begin with? One answer may be the fact that at 27, Davidson had attempted a variety of jobs and even studies before deciding on this long term goal, when nothing else seemed to bring meaning and purpose to her life.


In her memoir, Tracks, Davidson describes her ultimate decision to cross the Outback as final once she arrives in Alice Springs. “ I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there’s no going back.”  She then spends almost two years getting ready; from acquiring four camels to training these ‘beasts of burden‘ to carry gear and provisions for the journey. Nevertheless, the question remains as to why she actually wanted to undergo such a treacherous and ultimately dangerous crossing, lies perhaps in her own personal ambitions. “…I had made a decision which carried with it things that I could not articulate at the time. I had made the choice instinctively, and only later had given it meaning.”

In order for Davidson to begin the trip she needs money, and lots of it, for food, supplies and feed for herself, her camels and her dog. Although throughout the many months of preparation she has tirelessly worked in a local bar/restaurant in Alice, where she realizes that she needs much more than what she has saved up for her trip. Through coincidence she meets a freelance photographer who then puts her in touch with National Geographic when she mentions her monetary dilemma. Thus the famed magazine eventually becomes her benefactor, with the express stipulation that this freelance photographer, Richard (Rick) Smolan, also take photos of her during her trip, meeting up with her at various locations along the way. This is where Davidson becomes quite uncomfortable with Smolan’s ceaseless photographing of her and her animals (not to mention the local Aborigines, and much to her dismay for Rick’s seemingly sheer lack of respect of privacy) . She feels this as an invasion of her own privacy and that this minimizes the actual spontaneity and perhaps the integrity of the journey. Yet without her sponsor, as well as the photographer, she would undoubtedly have been unable to make the trip at all, financially speaking. During her odyssey, Rick eventually becomes much more important to her than she could possibly imagine. There is no doubt that while ‘doing his job’ he also marvels at her extraordinary abilities to push on despite a few minor setbacks. Without giving away much of the story, it is an interesting read and which also deftly conveys Davidson’s insightful observations of her environment, both physical and human.

Much of her solo journey I believe comes down to the fact that Davidson herself is a loner, rarely needing the company of others in order to accomplish any task. This particular trait is evident in her memoir (as well as in the film) when she is pursued by the press (media) for photo ops and quotes about her trip. She shuns any and all spotlight opportunities in spite of her sponsorship. For Davidson, this trek is all about her own private experience rather than any fame or glory in its ultimate achievement. Which invariably makes this such a deeply personal experience.

Personally I think it takes a truckload of mettle but also a kind of grace to accomplish a life altering experience such as this one; you must be self-reliant and possess inner strength whether or not this comes to you before, during or after a journey, of any kind. Davidson tested her limits and embraced uncertainty and finally succeeds where others would have understandably given up at the first sign of trouble. How many of us can say the same? That she survived at all says a great deal about her tenacity, indeed her strength and ultimate courage. I highly recommended this memoir for a look at an adventure that most of us will never even contemplate let alone undergo. But oh! what an adventure! When she was asked by someone before she left why she was going on such a perilous trip, she simply replied, “Why not?”.  Why not, indeed!

The film also entitled Tracks, was directed by John Curran (The Painted Veil) and stars Australian Mia Wasikowska as Robyn. (I found their physical resemblance remarkable). It also stars Adam Driver (Girls) as Rick Smolan. The exquisite cinematography is by Mandy Walker who conveys the harsh landscapes with beauty and dexterity.

It is worth watching with family and friends. Then after perhaps you could discuss the film and ask yourselves whether or not you would ever entertain such an idea as crossing a desert just to get to the other side.


This is the word on books and film for August. Enjoy the remainder of these summer months. Do something green and pay it forward, in every way, every day! Cheers!

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12 Years a Slave

I grew up during the tumultuous sixties and seventies on the East coast of the U.S. During my formative years, I learned, along with most schoolchildren of that era, the history of the U.S. which barely touched upon the reality of slavery and the slave trade, apart from very few mentions in the history textbooks (Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, et al.,).

  The first real and seemingly authentic glimpse of what slavery was actually like was from watching Roots: The Saga of an American Family, a T.V. mini-series taken from Alex Haley’s best-selling book from 1976 (which also happened to mark the nation’s bicentennial). This mini-series was simply called Roots, and was a huge success in terms of television programming (Nielsen ratings) and garnered many awards. My family, along with most American families, were glued every evening to the captivating drama unfolding for eight consecutive nights. The story piqued my interest on the subject of slavery and I subsequently read many of Alex Haley’s books, along with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin as well as many other related stories about slavery in the American South. Then in early 1982 came Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, which was then made into a feature film in 1985 and incidentally introduced the world to Whoopi Goldberg. But I digress, my point being that we haven’t had many feature films since the 1980s specifically depicting the realities of slavery during the antebellum American South. Last year saw Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, a brutally humoristic look at a slave’s well-wrought revenge. Although entertaining, Django is more about fantasy than actual real-life events.

  This generation of youth however, have little or no comprehensive knowledge of America’s shameful history of the Atlantic Slave Trade of nearly 250 years (1619-1865) and how it led to industrial capitalism and the subsequent universal exploitative system of imperialism. Most people were stolen from the West-Indies and various African nations to arduously toil in the American South’s cotton fields which in turn led to the boom of the textile manufacturing mills of New England during the industrial revolution.                                  

These events literally forged a modern nation built from the blood, sweat and tears of African-Americans and made America a leader in manufacturing textiles, as well as giving it the greatest boom in economic growth the country had ever known. The introduction of fashion at the turn-of-the-century, also had the textile industry to thank but more specifically (and importantly), the brutally enslaved African-Americans who picked the cotton and the socially and economically deprived labourers who worked in the textile mills across the country. Often these labourers were illiterate and impoverished individuals who earned pennies a day, toiling under brutal factory conditions. The United Stated economic success during the mid- 19th century as well as the start of the 20th century (and well into the 1970s), is in part due to those generations of individuals who were used, abused and brutalized in order for businessmen and politicians to make America economically prosperous.

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, is a narrative/memoir written about that shameful part of American history. Solomon, who was married, with two children, had been born a free man, and had been educated, was a successful carpenter and musician. As a result of a chance meeting with two white gentlemen, he was duped with the promise of earning quick money, then drugged, beaten and sold into slavery, and thus subsequently spent twelve years on a Louisiana cotton plantation. It was after his rescue that he wrote about his ordeal. The book is short at 288 pages, but eloquently and insightfully written by a man who had enjoyed civil liberties and freedom well into his adulthood but who then lost it by mere coincidence.



Back in November, my daughter and I went to see 12 Years a Slave by director Steve McQueen (Shame, Hunger) and I can say that it is gorgeously shot by cinematographer, Sean Bobbitt and keeps the viewer glued to the screen throughout. The lead role is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor ( Children of Men, Melinda and Melinda) whom I first took notice of in 2002, in the film Dirty, Pretty Things, with Audrey Tautoo (Amélie). Personally, I believe the role of Solomon Northup is the role of a lifetime for any actor, but for Ejiofor, the role has not only garnered well deserved accolades but may just be the role of his career. Ejiofor is riveting and emotional. He portrays Northup with quiet dignity and reverence from beginning to end. It is an all-star cast movie event, with actors, Michael Fassbender in the role of the brutal master, Edwin Epps, and Brad Pitt, with a cameo role, as the kindly carpenter, Bass. The breakout role in this film however is from a newly graduated actress from the Yale University School of Drama, Lupita Nyong’o whose portrayal of the brutalized Patsey, will have you reaching for tissues and someone’s arm to hold. Be forewarned that there are moments of savage brutality during the film but it is a horrifying brutality that was all too real for those human beings who had to suffer and endure years of abuse at the hands of their masters and mistresses during this shamefully and utterly incomprehensible time of the antebellum United Sates.

This years’ 86th Academy Awards has nominated 12 Years a Slave for nine (9) academy awards, including Best Picture, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Lupita Nyong’o), Best Achievement in Directing ( Steve McQueen), among others. See the entire list of nominations for this film here:

12 Years a Slave is an important film to watch and a story that needs to be told to a generation who know little or nothing about the antebellum plantations of the American South and its subsequent generational scars inflicted upon a people who for centuries had been ripped from their families and homelands, in order to satisfy a growing nation intent on economic prosperity, no matter the cost to human lives. The film is an artistic work of dedication towards the truth and the horrors of a time most North Americans would rather forget. Yet McQueen shines light into the dark and horrifying part of history barely mentioned in the American history textbooks of my youth. A must see film if only for the fine acting roles it has produced. I’ll be watching on Oscar night with a box of tissues and all the excitement this film has generated for yours truly, since its release.

That is the word for this cold and wintry January. Do something ‘green’, pay it forward and be wonderful, until the next time.

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Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

   Recently I watched The Road again, starring Viggo Mortensen and based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel. I’d first seen it back in 2009 when it was first released in theaters. This was the first time I’d seen it since then and to my surprise, I realized I’d missed a few things during the first viewing. I won’t spoil anything here but it occurred to me while watching the film that the cinematography is really very well done, and at times quite stunning. It is a post-apocalyptic story so the colors that we do see, as you’d imagine, are quite stark; grey and grim. Nonetheless when the camera takes the viewer to the main character’s flashbacks of an earlier time before the devastated landscape, you are struck by just how colorful our present world really is. And extremely bright! It made me really appreciate the sun and the colors it can illuminate, when so often we just take it for granted. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.

Although I’d first read McCarthy’s novel when it was first published in 2006, I’ve re-read the story a few times now and absolutely admire McCarthy’s lyrical prose. I’ve since become an avid fan and have read his earlier work. I can’t say enough about his talents as a writer and his ability sometimes to turn simple words into divine passages that you just want to share with others; “He knew only that his child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God, God never spoke.”   Gulp!!  That just got to me. I imagine what it must be like to be a parent and have to navigate your way through a world that no longer exists and make the best out of the world that is left. For the father and the son (‘the man’ and ‘the boy’, in the novel), this survival means trying to meet the most basic needs of finding suitable food and shelter. On a daily basis. Not easy when the entire landscape has been destroyed by a nuclear disaster (we’re never told what exactly) and all animals and vegetation have been utterly obliterated! How then can one survive?


In 2007 the novel was awarded the most prestigious prize in the land; the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. And rightly so. A word of warning; if you are like me and enjoy or need to read a story that contains proper punctuation, as in quotation marks when characters are in dialogue together, well, forget it in this novel. McCarthy has stated in an interview that as a writer, he doesn’t have time for proper punctuation, in other words, it’s a waste of time! Ha! Okay! Although it may look awkward at first and you never know when the conversation is coming in the first few pages, you quickly get accustomed to McCarthy’s lack of punctuation and can then relish the words for the meaning they convey.

This is not a feel good movie nor is it a particularly optimistic book; it is a grim, often sad, and truly a despairing story however, there are redemptive and hopeful parts to the story which makes the reader appreciate life as we know it, in this world, even more. Hopefully, more people, ie., politicians and governments, have taken note and realize that the planet we inhabit is precious, as well as the people living here. There is only one Earth; we must guard against small and/or large environmental threats because in the end this could have devastating consequences. We must also keep vigilant of any threat of possible nuclear annihilation and protest en masse when we can and force governments to realize (with our voices and petitions) that nuclear weapons are by no means an option to any war, real or imagined.

Read the novel for its lyrical prose and stark message and watch the movie to really appreciate the life we have here on Earth. Then hug the person closest to you and treasure the fact that for now, the post-apocalyptic world of The Road is all just fiction. Peace to one and all. Pay it forward when you can and please, be kind to one another!

This is the word for today (from Calgary, AB)!

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Cloud Atlas

As so often happens when I read a very good novel, I hesitate in stating that it is a masterful story or a work of genius. Generally it is simply a very good read and sometimes the story stays with me, for a few days, or perhaps a few weeks and then I just simply forget about it, or until the title is mentioned somehow in conversation. But when a book like Cloud Atlas comes along and you, the reader are asked to read six very different novellas that are somehow connected, and which also manage to tie everything together through time, space and humanity, well, what else can you say but that this novel could very well be a work of utter genius. Here’s why. David Mitchell writes in six different genres, namely historical, sci-fi, crime, mystery-thriller, comedy and post-apocalyptic, all in the very same book! Mitchell also interweaves the narratives in such a way that they are somehow ultimately and subtly linked but which span hundreds of years and very different lives. Without giving too much away, they are quite possibly reincarnations of past narrators and characters that we meet throughout the novel.

The trade paperback book cover illustrates six various cloud formations that perhaps connect the elaborate stories but most likely they are symbolic of the various character transformations that span infinity. In Cloud Atlas Mitchell confronts common issues such as slavery and freedom, racism, belonging and rejection, loss and discovery, cruelty and human compassion. But it’s also much more than that. This novel is so utterly complex that you should read it carefully and perhaps several times in order to completely understand its multifaceted mosaic prose. Yet this review of sorts doesn’t begin to describe just how mind-boggling the novel itself is written. Mitchell is truly a gifted writer. Once you begin to unravel its tightly knitted story lines, you will undoubtedly discover that indeed the stories resemble literary Matryoshka dolls. Some readers will also discover Mitchell’s various literary influences from Italo Calvino‘s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler to Nabokov’s Pale Fire. Consequently you must read this novel carefully and thoughtfully and then reread it again to fully appreciate its many themes and messages. Once you have, you may come away thinking that your idea of life as you know it, has been irreversibly altered.

Cloud Atlas was first published in 2004 and ever since, I’ve stumbled across many references to this brilliant story in various literary contexts. It was not until last winter that I finally bought the novel and hunkered down to read it last spring. It is not an easy read as the novellas contain very different narrative styles but it is worth getting through to the end as the reader is ultimately rewarded with countless moments of introspection and clarity. Throughout the stories the reader will no doubt form a myriad of questions about the characters and situations by trying to make credible connections. Yet as you read, you may also ponder your own personal questions about past lives and the possibility of reincarnation. Indeed, are we all connected? Do we continuously return as different people but with the same soul (although somewhat worse for wear)? Do we repeat past mistakes until we eventually learn from them? Do we meet the same people, over and over again? If we do meet our supposed ‘soul mates’, how do we recognize them? Do we know them instantly? These and other questions constantly resurface as you read the novel. This is why I love to read because ultimately, I want to learn about other worlds, past, present and future. I want to learn more about myself and why we are who we are on this big blue marbled ball. I want to have those ‘ah-ha’ moments when I read as well as when I see films. Films are sometimes meant to teach us (as are books!) and not solely to entertain. Such movie moments often leave us wanting more and have us talking about it for days, if not weeks to come. That is the true mark of a great film, as well as a superb novel. This is how I felt when I finished Cloud Atlas. I wanted to tell everyone about it, without of course ruining the plot.

Now comes the film adaptation that will be released on October 26, 2012 in Canada and was directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski (of Run Lola Run and The Matrix Trilogy fame). If the trailer is any indication, it promises to be a thrilling ride both visually and emotionally. It will doubtless be interesting to see the differences in both the film and the book and how the directors actually tackled the various stories to bring the characters together to finally make it all work as one linear film. The trailer itself is so beautifully presented that I hope the entire film satiates our collective curiosities and dare I say, momentous expectations!

In any case, I suggest that if you haven’t read the novel, pick it up soon and read it before you see the film. And do let me know how you feel about the novel and the soon-to-be-released film.

This is the word on books and films for today, gentle readers!

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The Hunger Games trilogy


The feature film is playing in theaters across North America now so I can write about the fact that Hollywood has acquired the rights to yet another teen movie franchise that will no doubt garner many awards and accolades for the writer, Suzanne Collins, not to mention the endless media frenzy surrounding its young stars. The Twilight saga is finally so 15 minutes ago and has been replaced by a more appealing and dare I say, realistic story line for a young audience tired of the Edward-Bella vampire/werewolf chronicles, while many younger audiences will embrace this story of courage and determination.

Although The Hunger Games was initially written for a Young Adult audience, it nevertheless appeals to adult readers. I first read The Hunger Games when it came out in hardcover in 2008 when many high school students were first reading it and out of curiosity, I began to wonder about its initial attraction. Needless to say, I quickly became hooked: the reason being that Collins’ prose reads easily and concisely.

The story is narrated by Katniss Everdeen, the story’s reluctant 16-year-old heroine. It takes place in the distant post-apocalyptic nation of Panem in what was once North America and which has since been divided into 12 Districts and controlled by a wealthy hegemony known as the Capitol. Due to a previous 13th District rebellion against the Capitol, as punishment, an annual event in the form of a lottery states that one male and one female between the ages of 12-18 will be chosen from the 12 Districts and sent to an open outdoor arena (controlled by the Capitol) to fight to the death with only one victor reaping the spoils of a lifetime of untold wealth and luxury.

The second installment is entitled, Catching Fire and the third called, Mockingjay, round off the trilogy and the adventures of Katniss Everdeen.

It is worth mentioning that although the trilogy holds its own in terms of literary abilities by the author, it is controversial in that it’s been criticized for allegedly plagiarizing from the 1999 Japanese cult novel, Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. I admit that there are a few similarities having read the novel recently but publishers will be hard pressed to prove this allegation as well as potentially jeopardizing the future feature films. Collins’ story is much more thought-provoking and its characters well-developed whereas Takami seemed much more interested in the shock value of the violent events surrounding “the game”. His characters numbered 42 and most of them are depicted as cold-hearted, brutal and egotistical maniacs bent on destroying their “classmates” at all costs. The Japanese counterpart has little emotional value and it’s difficult to care for any of the characters. If Ms Collins did indeed ‘plagiarise’ she did so by using the idea of the reality-based games such as TV’s, Survivor, to name one. Having said that, I’m not an expert at comparative literature and I’m too biased to qualify as an objective reader having read The Hunger Games trilogy first.

If you’re interested at all in Young Adult literature and/or post-apocalyptic adventures, these books will satiate and thrill your curiosity. My advice is to read the books first and then see the film. The second installment of the series on film isn’t scheduled for release until the fall of 2013, giving readers plenty of time to catch up on all the buzz surrounding The Hunger Games. Happy reading! This is the word for this April Easter weekend.



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Emotional Arithmetic

I have no excuse for not writing for so long only that I’ve allowed for my hectic life to interfere with blogging. Although I don’t write as often as I should, I still read and watch films, a great deal. Here is a movie I watched last night. I also recommend the book by Matt Cohen. The movie was filmed in the Eastern Townships in the vicinity of Magog and Austin, Quebec where I currently live. It is beautiful country and I love living here.

Emotional Arithmetic is an interesting take on several survivors of the Holocaust. It’s a quiet and thought-provoking film. To watch by yourself or with someone who can enjoy a quiet and small film that has something to say. Best of all, besides the gorgeous scenery, it stars Susan Sarandon, Christopher Plummer, Max von Sydow and Roy Depuis.

This is the word for today.

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I read this lovely novel recently called The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (Alison Anderson translator) and was pleasantly surprised to learn that it has also been made into a film. However being as that the book was originally written in French, the film is also in French. You might however be able to find it in your local video store with English sub-titles. I must say the book’s translator has done a fine job of Barbery’s text, although I cannot vouch for the original French text as I’ve yet to read it. I have perused many reviews on the Web for both the original and translated texts and am delighted to report that most of these reviews are quite positive.

Here is a short synopsis on the story taken from the Goodreads site; “We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her many employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building’s tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.

Then there’s Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.

Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma’s trust and to see through Renée’s time-worn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.”

I enjoyed this story immensely as both Paloma and Renee narrate their views on existentialism. However they do so in such a way that somehow transcends the subject. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean. The novel is quite eloquent in its prose and at 325 pages, reads deftly and gracefully.

Both narrators display a love of language about how one expresses thoughts, images and ideas. Renee sums this up well;“I thought: pity the poor in spirit who know neither the enchantment nor the beauty of language.” As well as Paloma who states, “Personally I think that grammar is a way to attain beauty.” Taken from that quote, I had to completely agree with this statement because I must confess to being a language snob, which is one of the reasons why I loved this novel. I often nitpick when it comes to proper spelling regardless of my profession. Even if I hadn’t become a teacher, I would still feel this way since I’ve picked up on these discrepancies since I was a girl. Sometimes I just cannot help myself and often correct people who mispronounce or incorrectly misspell words and sentences. In social settings, such as parties, I hold my tongue and do my best to ignore the often nerve-grating pronouncements (or should I say mis-pronouncements) of fellow revelers.  At those moments, I usually try to find alcoholic beverages to steel my nerves and more often as not, succeed in silencing the persistent voice within my brain that needs to correct Grammar!

Grammatical peeves aside this novel is wonderfully written with plenty of insightful observations about life in general and philosophical musings on the human condition. This is a thought-provoking essay on the ways in which we treat different classes of people as we perceive them to be and not necessarily who they are. I think that most of us are guilty of assuming that some people are as obtuse as they seem, that is to say that we often judge outward appearances rather than get to know people as they truly are. I believe that this is a human foible that we’ve all been guilty of exhibiting from time to time. These judgments have in turn often created the division of classes and its subjected targets feel less than adequate as they struggle to fit into societal norms. Who among us hasn’t used these stereotypes to define people that we may see everyday? You’ll instantly know what I mean when I mention sanitation workers, janitors, and specifically in this case, the concierge, right?

Here is an observation from Paloma; “Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside she is covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary–and terribly elegant.”

Societal judgments are precisely what Paloma and Renee deal with as they come to realize that they are kindred spirits, though generations apart. I urge you to give The Elegance of the Hedgehog a try and you will hopefully find it equally delightful. If you can rent the film, it is a delightful treat and filmed by Mona Achache (2009) In French the original title is Le Herisson and in English it is simply, The Hedgehog.

This is the word for today, folks, with 14 more days till Christmas!


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PS I Love You

I watched a film last night called, PS I Love You with Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler, (who I first discovered in a small Scottish gem of a movie, Dear, Frankie (2004))based on Cecelia Ahern’s novel of the same title.

The story is primarily about Holly who tries to cope with the loss of her husband, Gerry, a charming Irishman, who dies of a brain tumor. Gerry however, has left a series of letters for Holly over the course of a year, in order to help her during her grief. We watch as Holly goes through the pain of loss and how at times, she still feels Gerry in their apartment. The story is well told, funny at times, and I thoroughly got swept away with the performances by both Butler and Swank. The supporting cast includes Kathy Bates, Holly’s mother and her two best friends, Lisa Kudrow and Gina Gershon. But it is Holly’s sister’s Ciara, played by Nellie McKay, that I enjoyed the most. She practically steals every scene that she’s in. Swank and Butler have good chemistry and make this film a delight. Also Harry Connick Jr. plays Holly’s mother’s employee and does a good job as the comic relief guy. The soundtrack is wonderful too with a few tunes by the great Irish band, The Pogues. It’s a sweet movie to see with your honey, or by yourself. So the next time that you’re in the DVD store and have no idea what to get, try PS I Love You. It’s a feel good movie, and trust me, it’ll make you smile.

That’s the word for today, folks! Remember to pay it forward!

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The Last Station


A month or so ago, I watched a DVD called, The Last Station (2009) which is essentially about the last year of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s life.
The film was based on a book by Jay Parini entitled, The Last Station: A Novel of Tolstoy’s Last Year.

It is a film that includes some historical events but which primarily combines fiction and facts of Tolstoy’s tumultuous last year. The book is similar in scope but to watch the film you don’t need to have read any of the Russian author’s works to enjoy this film directed by Michael Hoffman. Canada’s own legendary Christopher Plummer is perfectly cast as Tolstoy but it is Helen Mirren’s performance as Sofya Andreyevna, Tolstoy’s wife, who gives a tour de force performance in an otherwise enjoyable story. The Last Station relates Tolstoy’s struggle with his wife over his wish to bestow his entire works to the Russian people. His wife is terrified that she will be disavowed and excluded from her and her children’s lawful legacy. Married in 1862,  Sofya bore Tolstoy 13 children, 5 of whom died in early childhood.

They were married for 48 years. When he wrote his masterpieces, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, his wife became his secretary, proof-reader and manager. During the last part of their marriage, he became increasingly iconoclastic and wished to renounce his inherited and acquired wealth including, to his wife utter dismay, the copyrights to his entire life’s works.

Although the film becomes slow and tedious near the end, it is Mirren’s dramatic turn and histrionic episodes that make for an interesting take on the philosopher’s later life. The bickering and arguments about Tolstoy’s will seem petty at times, yet the viewer tends to want to side with Sofya, if only to give her rightful due for having endured Tolstoy’s eccentricities for a life time, as compared to her more pragmatic attitudes. Love abounds between these two, however they seemed to have been incompatible on many levels which in turn brought them both profound grief and sadness, in their turbulent marriage. Tolstoy eventually escapes his home in search of some peace from Sofya, and to wander misanthropically, only to find his health failing him at the train station (Astapovo) where he finally succumbs to pneumonia, in 1910, at the age of 82.
Coincidentally, a few days after I’d watched The Last Station, I came upon a news article that the University of Ottawa Press had picked up the rights to a memoir written by Sofya, entitled My Life, and that it was going to be released in the coming weeks. I have subsequently read a few reviews on the book and look forward to reading it myself having always been a fan of Russian literature, but particularly of Tolstoy.

Check out the books and see the movie when you have some time. The film is an entertaining few hours perhaps curled up on your sofa on a Sunday afternoon while it snows or rains outside, during this unpredictable month of November, when you never know what the weather will bring. You could do worse than The Last Station and could perhaps learn something new about one of the 19th century’s greatest Russian novelists.

This the word on this grey and overcast, November.

Do something good, recycle, re-use and read! Cheers!


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Gone, Baby, Gone

It’s been 6 months since I’ve posted! Wow, time flies when you’ve got several plates spinning in the air at once, I suppose. My bad. My apologies for not keeping my resolve to write more often however my excuse has been at I haven’t seen or read anything in these last few months that has caught my attention or inspired me to write about books that have been turned into films. (It just also happens to be my birthday, so if that doesn’t inspire me, what in heavens will!) Until about two weeks ago when I happened upon this film that came out in 2007, Gone, Baby, Gone starring Casey Affleck (Yes, Ben’s brother). Perhaps you’ve seen it. Perhaps not. Or like me, you were late coming out of the gate and just never got around to seeing it in theaters or on DVD. The book is the same title and written by Dennis Lehane, a Boston native who sets most of his stories in and around Massachusetts, which also happens to be the same state that I grew up in. The other reason for blogging is that I happen to be reading another of his books, entitled, The Given Day. I also read Shutter Island and saw the film, but liked it less. So no forthcoming blog about it.

Now although I’ve seen the film, I still haven’t read the book but intend to. What I liked about this story is the philosophical study (from the audience’s p.o.v.) of a moral question/dilemma that most of us will never have to deal with, yet perhaps police officers deal with similar issues all the time. I don’t know. Without ruining the plot, let me lay it out for you in terms of what happens in the story. The following synopsis comes not from me, but really synthesizes the story without giving too much away.

*The story begins in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester, where the gritty, working-class streets are lined with the wreckage of broken families and dreams. It is here that 4 year-old Amanda McCready has gone missing without a trace. The police have failed to turn up even the narrowest of leads, so Amanda’s desperate Aunt and Uncle plead with local private investigators Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Genarro (Michelle Monaghan) to take the case. Though they’re wary to jump in, Patrick and Angie know the neighborhood and they also know the truth about Amanda’s drug-addicted mother Helene (Amy Ryan). As they dig into her story, they find themselves on a trail that winds into the dark heart of Dorchester and through a chain of drug-dealers, ex-cons and child abusers, but brings them no closer to Amanda. In the glare of the media spotlight, they join forces with a relentless detective Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and police captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) — but just as it seems that the emotionally wrenching case is about to be cracked, in the flash of gunfire, the sad truth of Amanda’s fate is revealed.

As everyone attempts to move forward, a haunted Patrick cannot walk away. As he backtracks through the clues, he finds himself lured into an ever-intensifying web of lies and inexplicable violence, the shocking secret that hid truth and facing a moral dilemma that will leave him, and the audience, questioning what is right. *(

There you have it. Once you’ve seen the film, the moral dilemma is made particularly clear and I, personally was left questioning this dilemma for many days afterward. Let me know what you think, folks. What would you do? Rent the DVD or read the story and get back to me.

Here’s a clip of the movie.

Watch, learn something and get back to me about what your impressions are about the moral dilemma and/or the movie itself, or even the novel if you’ve read it.

This is the word for today, on this, my birth date, Sept. 28th. Cheers!

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