Movies: I ended up sleeping a lot on airplanes, so just a few movies this quarter.
- Free Solo: This documentary tells the story of Alex Honnold and his quest to perform a free solo climb (i.e. alone and without ropes) of El Capitan. As a person who is terrified of heights, I found this tense, but absorbing, to watch. At one level, it’s a reckless thing to do. But Honnold clearly planned carefully, figuring out exactly what he had to do. The film crew capturing his climb has a good grasp of the moral implications of the filming. And his girlfriend’s hesitation about the whole thing adds another dimension. Literally breathtaking.
- Green Book: A successful African-American musician hires a working class Italian as a chauffeur for a trip through the Southern U.S. in the early 1960’s. Don Shirley is forced to endure numerous indignities, such as a mansion where he is hired to perform a concert, but they won’t let him use a bathroom inside the building. Tony Lip is crude and confrontational, but does prove to be capable of learning and the two men achieve genuine friendship. I’ve seen criticisms that the movie is cliched, but I didn’t care. I thought it was entertaining and I found myself genuinely liking the characters for their ability to learn and confront their own weaknesses. Recommended.
- Eighth Grade: This story involves a shy eight grade girl who tries to remake herself in her last week of middle school. She makes videos that offer advice she finds herself unable to take herself. Her father worries about her – but he also lets her retreat into a world based on Instagram and the like. The most cringeworthy part is an evening she spends with some high school kids. One of the boys drives her home and initiates a game of truth or dare, during which I was sure he was about to assault her. Mostly, this movie made me glad social media didn’t exist when I was that age. This was listed under comedy, but there was absolutely nothing funny. I watched all the way through because I kept waiting for something interesting to happen. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.
Books: I only managed to finish four books this quarter. It did not help that a couple of them were over 500 pages.
- Cathie Pelletier, A Marriage Made in Woodstock. This was a book club book, though I ended up missing the book club meeting due to a last minute business trip. That’s just as well as I thought this book was dull. Years after Woodstock, the man is an accountant, while the woman remains a bit of a free spirit, teaching new age psychology groups and participating in protests. Their marriage splits up for less obvious reasons and he falls apart, encouraged by his brother in binge drinking and picking up young women. Basically, this was about unlikeable people who needed to grow up.
- Robert Ludlum, The Holcroft Covenant. The plot of this novel involves a young man who discovers that his real father was a Nazi who, along with two friends, claimed to have squirreled away money to compensate victims of the Holocaust. At the same time, there are children of the Nazis, who were raised to grow up and recreate the Third Reich, led by an assassin called the Tinamou. This was a complex, suspenseful novel, in which it was impossible to tell who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. I found it riveting, though I hesitate to recommend it due to the sheer level of violence.
- John Dunning, The Bookman’s Promise. I’ve read a couple of the other Cliff Janeway detective novels by Dunning and liked them. This one had the added appeal of involving a mysterious journal by the explorer, Sir Richard Francis Burton. Janeway travels to Baltimore and Charleston to find out what Burton might have done in the American South just before the Civil War. I thought this was a good, absorbing read, but I was less than crazy about the ending.
- Rosemary Rogers, The Crowd Pleasers. The daughter of one prominent politician and the wife of another decides to leave her unfulfilling marriage. As a result of a childhood friendship, she gets involved with modeling and a movie and has a passionate affair with an actor, who may also be working with the Mafia. There is a lot of violence and multiple pornographic elements, including her filmed gang rape, with undertones of political intrigue. In other words, this is trash, though it does have a satisfying resolution.
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