2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 28,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Advertisements

The Theory of Everything (NOW PLAYING)

Stephen and Jane falling in love
Stephen and Jane falling in love

NOTE: This review contains MILD spoilers.

This is a feel-good love story that’s suitable for all ages (if you need something to watch w/ the family).  The film is based on the autobiography by renowned physicist Stephen Hawkings’ wife, Jane.  In 1963, Oxford Ph.D. student, Stephen (Eddie Redmayne), meets pretty/approachable undergrad Jane (Felicity Jones) at a school dance.  Since he’s not much of  dancer, they spend most of the night talking.  There is mutual interest, though Jane’s gal pal calls Stephen “odd, but clever.”  We learn that Jane also wants to get a Ph.D. though she’s in the arts.

Reality vs. film wedding photos
Reality vs. film wedding photos

Stephen’s closest pal, and fellow physicist, Brian is played by up-and-coming Harry Lloyd (who I’ve watched in Robin Hood and Dr. Who).  His role wasn’t too big, but he added touches of humor to the film.  Solid character actor David Thewlis plays Stephen’s supportive advisor, Dennis Shiama.

Stephen playing with his kids
Stephen playing with his kids

Stephen collapses one day in the yard.  A doctor tells him that he has a rare, early onset form of ALS (a condition that will weaken his body, but leave his mind intact).  He doesn’t want to talk, even w/ Brian, and decides to avoid Jane.  Being a concerned, Jane seeks Stephen out in his dorm.  He tries to get rid of her (thinking that he’s gotten a death sentence), but she won’t have it.

Eddie Redmayne & Felicity Jones at Toronto International Film Festival
Eddie Redmayne & Felicity Jones at Toronto International Film Festival

Over time, they date, marry, have children, though the road is not smooth.  Studying for Ph.D.s, living on a small budget, and raising a family is very challenging/stressful; my parents did it as immigrants to the US.  Along with that, Stephen copes with his disease, writes a book about his black hole theory, and (slowly) makes a mark in the field on cosmology.

Eddie Redmayne on The Daily Show
Eddie Redmayne on The Daily Show

Before I watched this film, I didn’t even know that Hawking was British!  I’m not knowledgeable about his work, but science is only a small part of this story.  The focus is the love between two very mentally strong, caring, resilient, and intellectual individuals.  The leads have great chemistry- they fit perfectly as a couple.  (I’ve been following these actors for some years, so was glad to see them in these meaty roles.)  Redmayne, who always has an innocent and likable quality, must’ve worked very hard on his physical transformation! Some critics call this type of movie “Oscar bait.”  The colors are saturated, the music is very well-suited, and there is a very rosy outlook throughout the film.  My friends and I liked it a lot.  Stephen Hawking commented that watching this film “was like watching myself as a young man.”

Rock the Casbah (2013)

The acting is great- all were convincing as Moroccans with good accents and French language.  The highlight was Nadine Labaki’s performance, though a secondary role, she stole the scenes with her funny “bitchy” attitude and added many comic relief along with her Grandma.  Nadine is famous Lebanese director known for “Caramel” but she is also an acclaimed actress. The multi-talented Hiaam Abbas who appears in many foreign movies, she manages to reincarnate the role of a Moroccan mother with strict high values and morals.  -IMDB reviewer

Miriam (Nadine Labaki) and Kenza (Lubna Azabal) sit at each sside their mother Aicha (Hiam Abbas) during their father's wake.
Miriam (Nadine Labaki) and Kenza (Lubna Azabal) sit at each side their mother Aicha (Hiam Abbas) during their father’s wake.

This stereotype-defying film (a mix of comedy and drama) was part of the Arabian Sights Film Festival in DC.  It was written/directed by Laila Marrakchi, a young Moroccan woman.  I saw it this Fall (with 2 members of a movie Meetup) at the French Embassy; the main language in the film is French (with a good mix of Arabic and English). 

The ladies of the Hassan family find their thoughts drifting to the past.
The ladies of the Hassan family find their thoughts drifting to the past.

When patriarch Moulay Hassan (Omar Sharif) dies, his extended family, employees, and community gather at his palatial estate (in Marrakech by the coast) for his funeral.  We meet his strong widow, Aicha (internationally-renown Israeli Arab actress, Hiam Abbas, from The Visitor).  Moulay’s daughters are all quite unique wome; there is NYC-based actress/black sheep Sofia (Morjana Alaoui) with her young son, glamorous/dramatic housewife Miriam (Nadine Labaki)- on the verge of an affair, and straight-laced/religious professor Kenza (Lubna Azabal) whose teen son wants to act on Broadway.  Sharif appears in a few scenes, adding a magical element of this fine film.       

Three sisters with very different lives come together.
Three sisters with very different lives come together.

We are put in the shoes of the outsider, Sofia, who has recently separated from her director husband (an Irish-American).  She hasn’t been home in many years; it was too painful to face the past (we learn why) and she has made a moderate success of herself in the U.S. (usually playing a terrorist).  Sofia’s adorable 6 year-old son, Noah, is excited about experiencing a new culture and playing with a large crew of cousins.  He’s hesitant to eat the new foods. 

rock-the-casbah-omar-sharif
Noah bonds with his grandfather, Moulay (Omar Sharif), in a few scenes.

When her reddish-haired grandmother comments that Sofia shouldn’t have married a “foreigner,” Sofia good-naturedly reminds the older lady that she was once a foreigner (being a French woman).  “But I married a Muslim and an Arab,” the grandmother says with a sly smile.  As the days go by, secrets are revealed about another sister, their beloved housekeeper Yacout (who raised all the girls, as well as her own son), and Moulay.  Sofia, who yearns for openness and honesty, is frustrated by (more conventional) sisters.  However, she doesn’t have to live in the strictly stratified, dualistic society (people pray in the morning, but don’t necessarily shy away from alcohol and dancing later in the day).