• Books,  Movies

    The Books of Oscars 2018

    Roll out the red carpet, put on your best outfit and pop the champagne because it’s Oscars Weekend!

    I’m pretty excited about this year’s nominees because of the diverse film genres and titles that you wouldn’t normally see making it to such ceremonies. Of course, my focus is always on book-to-film adaptations and I’m not disappointed at the ones that became blockbuster hits, and have been in the spotlight at film festivals and award shows this year.

    “Call Me By Your Name” by André Aciman is nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role by Timothé Chalamet, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Song for “Mystery of Love” by Sufjan Stevens.

    It tells the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliffside mansion on the Italian Riviera. Each is unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, when, during the restless summer weeks, unrelenting currents of obsession, fascination, and desire intensify their passion and test the charged ground between them. Recklessly, the two verge toward the one thing both fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy. It is an instant classic and one of the great love stories of our time. (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    In the Best Animated Feature category, the Academy fell in love with three children’s books about a baby in charge, a brave eleven year-old Afghan girl during the rule of the Taliban, and a bull not like the others.

    “The Boss Baby” by Marla Frazee

    “The Breadwinner” by Deborah Ellis

    “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf (Ferdinand)

    Christopher Plummer is nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in the movie adaptation of “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty” by John Pearson.

    American oil tycoon J. Paul Getty created the greatest fortune in America-and came close to destroying his own family in the process. Of his four sons who reached manhood, only one survived relatively unscathed. One killed himself, one became a drug-addicted recluse, and the third had to bear the stigma all his life of being disinherited in childhood. The unhappiness continued into the next generation, with the name Getty, as one journalist put it, “becoming synonymous for family dysfunction.” Getty’s once favourite grandson was kidnapped by the Italian mafia, lost his car and, after a lifetime of drink and drugs, became a paraplegic. A granddaughter is currently suffering from AIDS. And the Getty family itself has been torn apart by litigation over their poisoned inheritance. But did the disaster have to happen? (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    Netflix has been behind numerous excellent productions such as “Beasts of No Nation” and “1922”“Mudbound”, a period drama film based on Hillary Jordan’s novel, is no different. It received four nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress in a Supporting Role by Mary J. Blige, Best Original Song for “Mighty River” by Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson, and for Best Cinematography.

    It is the saga of the McAllan family, who struggle to survive on a remote, ramshackle farm, and the Jacksons, their black sharecroppers. When two sons return from World War II to work the land, the unlikely friendship between these brothers-in-arms—one white, one black—arouses the passions of their neighbours. As the women and men of each family tell their version of events, we are drawn into their lives. Striving for love and honour in a brutal time and place, they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale and find redemption where they least expect it. (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    The adaptation of Shrabani Basu’s novel “Victoria & Abdul” is nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

    In the twilight years of her reign, after the devastating deaths of her two great loves—Prince Albert and John Brown—Queen Victoria meets tall and handsome Abdul Karim, a humble servant from Agra waiting tables at her Golden Jubilee. The two form an unlikely bond and within a year Abdul becomes a powerful figure at court, the Queen’s teacher, her counsel on Urdu and Indian affairs, and a friend close to her heart. This marked the beginning of the most scandalous decade in Queen Victoria’s long reign. As the royal household roiled with resentment, Victoria and Abdul’s devotion grew in defiance. Drawn from secrets closely guarded for more than a century, Victoria & Abdul is an extraordinary and intimate history of the last years of the nineteenth-century English court and an unforgettable view onto the passions of an aging Queen. (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    The film “Wonder” based on R.J. Palacio’s novel is also nominated in the category of Best Makeup and Hairstyling. When I saw the trailer, I immediately knew it would do the book justice and pull at the audience’s heartstrings.

    August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    Blade Runner 2049 was very much anticipated this year following the success of the first instalment in 1982. Though this neo-noir sci-fi film is loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, it earned itself five nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects. (I can attest to that)

    By 2021, the World War has killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remain covet any living creature, and for people who can’t afford one, companies built incredibly realistic simulacra: horses, birds, cats, sheep. They’ve even built humans. Immigrants to Mars receive androids so sophisticated they are indistinguishable from true men or women. Fearful of the havoc these artificial humans can wreak, the government bans them from Earth. Driven into hiding, unauthorized androids live among human beings, undetected. Rick Deckard, an officially sanctioned bounty hunter, is commissioned to find rogue androids and “retire” them. But when cornered, androids fight back—with lethal force. (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    The adapted autobiography by Molly Bloom “Molly’s Game” (Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker)  is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. It is the true story of “Hollywood’s poker princess” who gambled everything, won big, then lost it all. When she was a little girl in a small Colorado town, she dreamed of a life without rules and limits, a life where she didn’t have to measure up to anyone or anything—where she could become whatever she wanted. She ultimately got more than she could have ever bargained for. (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    Also nominated in the same category is “The Disaster Artist”. The book written by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell is considered to be one of the most important pieces of literature by the Huffington Post.

    In 2003, an independent film called The Room—starring and written, produced, and directed by a mysteriously wealthy social misfit named Tommy Wiseau—made its disastrous debut in Los Angeles. Described by one reviewer as “like getting stabbed in the head,” the $6 million film earned a grand total of $1,800 at the box office and closed after two weeks. Ten years later, it’s an international cult phenomenon, whose legions of fans attend screenings featuring costumes, audience rituals, merchandising, and thousands of plastic spoons. (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    “Beauty and the Beast” based on Disney’s 1991 Animated Feature and inspired by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s story of the same name, is nominated for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design.

    Both “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “War of the Planet of the Apes” received a nomination for Best Visual Effects, while “Logan” is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. A big part of me is thrilled that these three movies are celebrated because no one would ever think that superhero movies would meet the usual standards of the Oscars or how CGI has become an essential part in the making of certain films.

    There you have it! All of the nominated films that once were only in print.

    Which film(s) will you be cheering for Sunday night?

  • Books

    Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

    One thing that I love about taking literature courses is being assigned readings that are also on my TBR list. Though the professor gave us a little over a week to read the book, I finished it in two days. André Alexis was able to captivate me immediately within the first few pages of his novel Fifteen DogsIt won numerous prizes such as the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2015 and was recently named the winner of the 2017 edition of Canada Reads.

    Synopsis: The story begins with a bet between two brothers, the Greek gods Hermes and Apollo. The latter believed that any animal, if given human intelligence, would be more miserable than humans. And so in exchange for a year of servitude, the gods agree on the bet, and grant human consciousness and language to a group of fifteen dogs. As they free themselves from a veterinarian clinic in Toronto, the canines are forced to live and survive at a nearby park. They soon face a challenge that will determine their own future: accept this intelligence or reject it.

    Even though I read this novel from cover to cover in a couple of days, I thought the idea of the Greek gods was unoriginal. It reminded me of another book I read a few years ago called Gods Behaving Badly. Both stories involved the gods of Mount Olympus living in modern day. They become bored and decide to intervene in the lives of mortals for their own amusement. Sounds like most Greek myths involving the divine, right?

    Because the book is rather short with only four chapters, the story evolved quickly. The author made solid parallels with human behaviours displayed by the dogs. It reminded me how awful we could be at times in order to survive, to protect the lives we are accustomed to, etc. Alexis also explored the relationships between humans and their loyal canine companions. Dog owners are surely able to relate to certain parts of the story. I know I did.

    Beautifully written and meaningful, almost philosophical.

    “Fifteen Dogs” by André Alexis
    Publication date: April 1, 2015
    Publisher: Coach House Books
    Pages: 171
    Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 

  • Books

    The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

    Every so often, if you are lucky, you will be introduced to a book that will resonate with you like the timeless works of J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee and S.E. Hinton. The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel is a novel that should be assigned and studied in literature classes. Professors would praise it for its depth and sensitive subjects. Students would read it cover to cover and be forever changed by the story of Fielding Bliss and his friend Sal.

    Synopsis: During the summer of 1984 in Breathed, Ohio, a boy named Sal appears out of nowhere, claiming to be the devil. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, befriends him and brings him home where he is taken in as a new member of the family. After all, Fielding’s father is the reason why the so-called fallen angel came to the town in the first place. Sal was thought of as an odd boy for identifying himself as the Prince of Darkness. Everyone thought that he was just a runaway from a nearby farm town. When strange accidents start to occur with the unbearable heat of the summer and an old man’s obsession with prosecuting the boy, the people in this small town begin to believe that Sal is indeed the devil. Tension rises as Breathed is overtaken by irrationality, leading to irreparable consequences.

    McDaniel’s debut novel left me with all kinds of emotions, from happiness to heartbreak, from beginning to end. It explored themes such as innocence, love, loss, homosexuality, prejudice, racism, the stupidity of the mass, propaganda…Each character brought something to the story and made it complete, even the antagonist. Why would (or could) anyone empathize with the villain? And yet, each character’s past defined who they became and the reason behind their actions.

    There are many passages in the book that simply cannot be forgotten or ignored. They make you think but most of all, feel.

    “People always ask, Why does God allow suffering? Why does He allow a child to be beaten? A woman to cry? A holocaust to happen? A good dog to die painfully? Simple truth is, He wants to see for Himself what we’ll do. He’s stood up the candle, put the devil at the wick, and now He wants to see if we blow it out or let it burn down. God is suffering’s biggest spectator.” (Chapter 9)

    “One day I said Mary and then I said something else, I know I did, but ended it all with a me. She thought I’d said marry me. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that wasn’t what was said at all. She was just so excited. I thought, hell, this girl really wants to marry me. Why not give it a try? Maybe her love would be enough to paradise the hell. But then I realized, I couldn’t use her like that. Like a shield in the fray. She deserved to marry a man who loved her for all the things she was and not for all the armour she could be.” (Chapter 13)

    “You know why I love the sky, Fielding? Because it makes everyone short. There isn’t a man tall enough to ever look down on the sky. The sky makes everyone look up, and in that, it makes everyone me.” (Chapter 20)

    The author had asked me to review her novel last summer and provided me with an electronic copy. Though it took me several months to read it, I would have done so in a single sitting if it wasn’t for work, school, more work and other distractions. I simply adore this book and cannot help but talk about it to everyone that ask me for a recommendation. Not only did I vote for McDaniel’s novel for the Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards, I also cast my vote for The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. When I finished reading it on my Kindle, I bought myself a hardcopy so that I could hug it better (and I’m not even kidding! I physically hug my books.)

    Quite frankly even though my TBR list is getting longer and longer, I want to read The Summer that Melted Everything again just to relive the beautiful writing of McDaniel and the story of Fielding and Sal.

    “The Summer that Melted Everything” by Tiffany McDaniel
    Publication date: July 26, 2016
    Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
    Pages: 320
    Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

  • Books,  Movies

    The Books of Oscars 2017

    It’s Oscars Weekend! Whether you tune into this awards night religiously every year or simply see the highlights on the internet the next morning, it’s THE biggest event of the year in the movie industry. Other than seeing the A-listers, what they are wearing and of course, the opening monologue, what I’m usually most excited about is to see which movie adaptations of books made the cut.

    For the 89th Academy Awards, 5 movies out of the 9 nominatees for Best Picture are adapted screenplays. You know what they say…never judge a book by its movie but sometimes, they actually get it right.

    “Stories of Your Life” by Ted Chiang (Arrival)

    When mysterious spacecrafts touch down across the globe, an elite team, lead by expert linguist Louise Banks, is brought together to investigate. As mankind is on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers. To find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.

    “Fences” by August Wilson (Fences)

    Fences is the story of Troy Maxson, a mid-century Pittsburgh sanitation worker who once dreamed of a baseball career, but was too old when the major leagues began admitting black players. He tries to be a good husband and father, but his lost dream of glory eats at him, and causes him to make a decision that threatens to tear his family apart.

    “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly (Hidden Figures)

    A group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” helped launch rockets, and astronauts, into space in the 1960s. This book tells the true stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden. These four African-American women lived through the Civil Rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and still, their work changed the face of NASA.

    “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley (Lion)

    Five year old Saroo gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of miles across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty five years later, armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home.

    “Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight)

    An unpublished semi-autobiographical play, Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, better known as Moonlight, “presents three stages in the life of the main character, Chiron. It explores the difficulties he faces with his own sexuality and identity, including the physical and emotional abuse he receives as a result of it.

    Many other movies based on books were also nominated but under different categories:

    Actor in a supporting role
    Tony and Susan by Austin Wright (Nocturnal Animals)

    Actress in a leading role
    Oh…by Philippe Djian (Elle)

    Animated featured film
    Autobiographie d’une Courgette by Gilles Paris (My Life as a Courgette)

    Silence by Shūsaku Endō (Silence)

    Costume design and Production design
    Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them (J.K. Rowling)

    Foreign language film
    A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

    Short film (animated)
    Blind Vaysha by Georgi Gospodinov

    Sound editing and Visual effects
    Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours by David Barstow, David Rohde and Stephanie Saul (Deepwater Horizon)

    Sound editing
    Highest Duty by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow (Sully)

    Sound mixing
    13 Hours by Mitchell Zuckoff (13 hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi)

    Visual effects
    The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book)


    What do you think about this year’s nominated books-to-movies?

  • Books

    Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel

    In a previous book review, I shared with you my thoughts on Ru by Canadian author Kim Thúy (click here to read the review). I sincerely wanted to fall in love with her debut novel but ended up being disappointed due to the lack of…heart. The story was told in a perspective that I wasn’t able to connect with; the story felt like sunshine and butterflies when in reality, Vietnamese refugees did not experience an easy and poetic journey as the author made her character’s to be. This week, I thought I’d revisit another novel that shares a similar topic. It was never stated throughout the novel that the story was based on the Vietnam War but you can speculate by the name used for the main character and the circumstances.

    Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel was recommended to me by a colleague about 6 or 7 years ago. Because of my Vietnamese heritage, she somehow knew that I would find this piece of French literature as heartfelt as she did. She was spot on! I remember reading this book cover to cover in a day and having my heart completely broken when the story came to an end. No spoilers! You will need to read this one to find out.

    Synopsis: It is the story of Monsieur Linh, an old man who travels to a foreign land following the death of his son and his daughter-in-law after a bombing in a rice field where they were working. Traumatized by the memories of his war-ravaged country and the death of his loved ones, Monsieur Linh leaves on a boat carrying with him a small suitcase and his newborn granddaughter Sang Diû that was spared from the attack that claimed the lives of her parents. After his arrival at the detention center, he shares his living space with a group of younger refugees who regarded him as old and senile who spends his days taking care of a little baby. He later befriends a man named Monsieur Bark who also suffered the loss of a loved one. They somehow develop a sincere friendship regardless of the fact that they didn’t understand each other for they spoke a different language from one another.

    I read this book in French (La petite fille de Monsieur Linh) as it was originally published in 2005. Sometimes, stories can lose their essence when they are translated into another language. I won’t be able to tell you whether the English translation will affect the readers in the same manner as if they would have read it in French but the author was able to capture everything I had hoped for while reading the previously reviewed book. Monsieur Linh and His Child is a heartfelt story. I was able to imagine how Monsieur Linh must have felt when he discovered the bodies of his son and daughter-in-law in the rice fields. I was able to feel his broken heart, and the slight bit of hope and joy when he found his granddaughter. I understood the loneliness and detachment that he felt caused by the other refugees at the detention center who look at him with mocking stares whenever he would take care of Sang Diû. But most of all, I connected with the character, with his pain and loneliness. When I turned the last page of this book, I remember hugging it against my chest. Claudel was able to deliver an emotional story effortlessly and humbly.

    For this blog post, I wanted to find out more about the author’s inspiration for this touching story. Instead, I stumbled upon an interview for Le Figaro, an online version of a French newspaper of the same name. The journalist informed Claudel that a reader affirmed that the story of Monsieur Linh made her cry. Was this his objective when writing stories, to evoke such emotions from the readers? This is his response:

    Every time I write a text, I do it with great sincerity. I think that is what affects people. They realize that they are not fabricated books, objects destined to invade displays at bookstores or the book market. Whenever I write a book, it’s always something urgent and that affects me personally. Readers – and I’m first and foremost a reader – are not fooled. I think you know when a book is or is not sincere…” – Philippe Claudel, interview with Le Figaro March 10, 2006 

    The complete interview in French can be read here.

    Monsieur Linh and His Child is one of a few books that I strongly recommend and I hope you will give yourself a chance to discover this beautiful piece of literature.

    “Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel
    Publication date: 2005
    Publisher: Le Livre de Poche
    Originally published by Éditions Stock
    Pages: 183
    Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥