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Archive for the category “Review”

Review: Ernest et Célestine

ImageIt shouldn’t take a genius to figure out that I would love this movie. Just one look at the poster — and a little bit of knowledge of who I am and what things I like. I love teddy bears, Ernest is a bear. I was born in the year of the rat and have always had special affection for cute rodents, Célestine is a mouse. Add to that mix dreamy watercolor-y drawings, a great soundtrack, and a story based on a well-loved (apparently) children’s book series, and you have the perfect chill-out, relaxing Friday afternoon (as I don’t work on Friday’s) movie.

I must say I had some reservations about the plot, mainly because Ernest and Célestine both help each other out in committing crimes and becoming great fugitives. On a deeper look, however, both of them committed these crimes because of the pressure of a society that was generally corrupt and against a family that were doing business in a pretty nasty way, though not that obvious. 

In any case the movie was mainly about true friendship against all odds. It also spoke about prejudice and labeling — a common “crime” of society. There were also themes of peer pressure, gender inequality and misuse of authority.

All in all, as I said before, loved the movie!

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Review: More Than a Bucket List

I can’t remember when it was that I first came across the term “bucket list” — a list of things you’d like to do before you die (i.e. “kick the bucket”). I do know that I’ve gone through periods of mild obsession over creating my own bucket list ever since. I would spend hours and even days going through websites looking for ideas and tools to make my bucket list as awesome and yet as practical as possible. Believe it or not there are a lot of websites that help you do just that. One of my favorites is dayzeroproject. Another one is 43things.

I have not yet managed to finish my bucket list (in fact, you can find it on my links above, I like to call it life list, because of reasons!), and I don’t think I ever will. There’s just too many awesome things to do in this life. Okay, okay, enough rambling about the bucket list and on to the book. Perhaps somewhat obvious, my obsession on bucket lists is what made me choose this book for review:

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And it did not disappoint!

The book isn’t your traditional “here’s a list of things you could put in your bucket list” kind of thing, although it is meant to inspire you to take some ideas and put it in your list too. The ideas come in such a big variety that surely there will be SOMETHING in it that would make you go “I’d love to do that!”

I also loved that the ideas came in different formats, sometimes they are in a list, sometimes the idea is on the title and there’s an explanation along with a “Real Life Challenge” below it, and sometimes there’s an idea followed by a quotation or bible excerpt. Being a Christian publication, most of the ideas are in fact faith related, a feature you don’t generally find when you do a Google search on bucket lists.

The book was fun to read and I’m looking forward to going through it yet again, this time with a notebook in my other hand, adding stuff to my own bucket list!

Review: Postcards from the Zoo

I knew I had to watch at least one movie from the array of movies being offered as part of the Black Movie movie festival here in Geneva, if only to finally experience what it’s like to go to a movie festival. Coincidentally, one of the movies they are screening is a movie from an Indonesian filmmaker, shot at the Ragunan zoo, the zoo that’s so close to my house that I sometimes consider it my backyard!

Despite my reservations about Indonesian movies (they generally lack good plot, good dialog and good acting, and have a tendency to be quite cheesy, although I’ve heard that some of them have gotten better lately), I decided that watching an Indonesian movie while in Switzerland would be well worth it. And so on Saturday night, I ended up at the Spoutnik cinema, sitting on one of their sofas (on a side note, I love the cinema for its quirkiness), watching “Postcards from the Zoo“.

PostcardsfromtheZoo

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this movie was going to fulfill my (negative) expectations. Yes, it was a confusing story (read: lacked a good plot), the dialog was rough and annoying (lacked good dialogs), and the acting was, uhm… well, stoic (lacked good acting). Yet the more I think about it, the better this movie seems to be, in its own strange way. If anything, the symbolism, juxtaposition and reflection inter weaved in this 95-minute-but-feels-like-forever movie is so intense that most people just miss it.

SPOILER ALERT AHEAD.

The story of Postcards from the Zoo centers around the little girl Lana, who we see for the first 10 minutes or so of the movie, wandering around the zoo. She was looking for her father, who apparently has left her behind. My mom did that once to my aunt’s pet monkey that kept messing up our kitchen. She caught the monkey and released it in the zoo. Little Lana thus is like an animal, presumably unwanted, brought to a new habitat. It’s interesting how little Lana doesn’t seem to be sad nor scared about this. She calls out for her father for a while, but then decided that that was enough effort and just went on exploring, somewhat playfully, observing her surroundings. The last scene we see little Lana, she’s watching a little tiger playing with his caretaker. Next scene, Lana walks into the tigers cage and tells a story to get the tiger to eat. Both have grown up, yet both still very much a child at heart: the tiger sulking, not wanting to eat, and later playing with a ball while being bathed. Further into the movie, we will see Lana getting into the children rides, dreaming away, further implying her childish innocence.

Cut to almost the end of the movie, when Lana ends up as a masseuse/prostitute. Here we get strange video cuts of scenes at the club where Lana is serving a customer followed by scenes of the zoo, more importantly scenes of children at the zoo, and Lana looming around the screen in scenes that makes you think of Where’s Waldo. With each repetition, her existence becomes more and more vague. Here, her childhood innocence has been lost and she becomes less and less significant as a person.

Now that I think about it, does the cowboy/magician, this strange character that makes the movie even stranger, also convey the same message of childhood innocence? After all, who didn’t dream of cowboys and who wasn’t fascinated by magicians? And then of course, Lana’s “dark” life began when the cowboy/magician disappeared on her. Or maybe he was never real? However, when you lose your childhood dreams and your eyes of wonder… you become stuck in a bleak world. The movie isn’t depressing though, in the end we see Lana escaping the “bleak world” in the smiling cow car (just another strange thing), going back to the magician’s lair where she finds a magic dress and then finally, in a princess like dress, manages to touch the giraffe’s belly, the one thing she has always wanted to do. So you can escape, you can reach your dreams, you just have to take action and never forget that you had them.

postcards from the zoo 01

Speaking of the giraffe, here’s a creature that shows up A LOT in the movie, either in person or being talked about. The underlying question here is of course: why? Well, let’s see… why don’t we start with what we know about the giraffe, as mentioned in the movie. First of all, this giraffe is the ONLY giraffe in the zoo, in fact the only one in Jakarta. It is alone, just like Lana (who by the way is the only female in the array of people working in the zoo). The giraffe is quite often described as being strong and powerful despite it’s feeble and soft appearance. Just like Lana?

The workers at the zoo say that the giraffe likes to step out of its cage at night and explore the zoo on its own. Adventurous. Wanting to see what else is out there. When Lana finally decides to go out of the zoo (following the magician who might or might not be real), the camera cuts to the giraffe in the zoo, yet in a place that doesn’t really look like its usual place. Hmm… maybe the stories are true? In any case, Lana and the giraffe are both out of their habitat.

It seems to me the more I write about this movie, the more connections I seem to see and realize. Like the fact that little Lana touched the belly of a giraffe statue, and grown up Lana’s dream is to touch a real giraffe’s belly. Childhood dreams vs. reality? And going back to the strange cowboy/magician, what if he was in fact imaginary, simply a fragment of Lana’s imagination as she ponders having to leave the zoo (he shows up out of nowhere after the zoo official announced that people who are not official employees will no longer be allowed to stay in the compounds). This would explain his mysteriousness, as well as the scene where Lana cuts in front of him and repeats a set of dialog the cowboy once had before, just a few moments before the scene where the cowboy disappears. Perhaps this shows that Lana took ownership again, confident with her new life outside of the zoo, thus eliminating the need of the magic protector.

Or maybe the fact is that it was just a bad movie and I’m trying to salvage it by adding all sorts of meaning, connecting dots and reading signs that aren’t actually intended to be. In any case the movie does leave you in a dreamy state of mind, and would make an excellent relaxation video if you decide to just let it run in the background without paying too much attention to it.

Review: Stained Glass Hearts

Here’s a little not-so-secret fact about me. I love stained glass windows. I think they are extremely pretty. The awesome part about them, though, is that they are made of pieces of glass put together. Pieces. Broken pieces. Made into beautiful art. This is the premise of this book:

Stained Glass Hearts

Isn’t that how we are? Broken? Sharp edges? In need of repair? Longing to be, yet frightened of being seen in the light?

This is the reason why I picked this book up (a while ago). I felt broken and I was longing to be whole again. I didn’t read through it until recently because the introduction was all that I needed. It made me realize that a broken heart can never be whole again, but God is a stained glass artist and a stained glass heart is in fact so much more beautiful!

This book is full of other people’s experiences, the writers as well as her friends and families. I don’t usually like reading books like that because despite identifying with the feelings, I tend to believe that every person experiences things differently, and sometimes when I these stories and people “miraculously overcome” their struggles I’m like err, yeah, no. Not happening in my life and your sweet life made me puke a little.

But Stained Glass Hearts comes with special features: artworks, poetry, further reading, scripture bits, all there for further contemplation. Your own contemplation. And I love it.

Because just like there’s no two stained glass art that are the same, our stained glass hearts are different as well.

Review: Amour, Jagten and Beasts of the Southern Wild

What do these three movies have in common? I saw them all at independent cinemas over the weekend, and they all make you think and reflect on life, love, and social justice issues.

I started Saturday afternoon with Amour. My main reason was its nomination for the Academy Awards’ Best Motion Picture of the Year despite it being a Foreign movie. I didn’t find out until later that it had already won several awards, including the Palme d’Or of Cannes Film Festival. Truth be told, about twenty minutes into the movie I was shifting around in my seat, despising it. I guess drama isn’t exactly my kind of movie, and the slow-paced silent moments (apparently the director’s signature) were driving me insane. I sat through it though, and it took me quite some time afterwards to shake the solemn bubble away, a bubble that was there because for two and a half hours I had been witnessing the lives of two very strong individuals slowly fading away with age as their world becomes confined to the walls of their apartment. This “love” isn’t a glittery fairy tale, but despite many depressing elements of it (and some rich symbolism), in the end you realize that it was a beautiful story of a very deep commitment.

Amour

The movie highlights questions of aging, parent-child relationship especially after the child becomes an adult as well, achieving your dreams versus helping others achieve theirs, what it means to live a fulfilling life and also the question of euthanasia, still relevant albeit not having been discussed as much in the last few years.

Jagten

The second movie, Jagten or “The Hunt” was recommended to me during a training on preventing child abuse, and rightly so as the movie deals with the life of a man wrongfully accused of child molestation. Yes, welcome to yet another somber movie, and one that lowers your faith in humanity drastically. Issues of social dynamics and social perception dominates, with an undertone of teaching and parenting problems as well as a glimpse into children’s minds. The Guardian talks all about the children issues highlighted by this movie in their review. By the way, I think the little girl who plays Klara should be nominated for some sort of award! She’s so good it’s really scary!

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Speaking of children actresses, the third movie I saw, Beasts of the Southern Wild basically owes all its praises to little Quvenzhané Wallis (who is the youngest nominee for Oscar’s Best Actress ever — and I actually kinda hope she wins, although maybe it would be nice to give it to the oldest nominee ever, Emanuelle Riva, who did quite an awesome job in Amour… considering that Quvenzhané probably has a lifetime of awards ahead of her). Well, her and a story that weaves issues of indigenous people, global warming and its impact on nature, human suffering, parenting against all odds, as well as a wonderful, poetic understanding of the universe and how we all fit into the bigger picture into a movie that makes you cry, smile, dream and think.

Because The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece… the whole universe will get busted. (Quote from Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild).

The Waiting Place — Eileen Button

I loved the cover. The excerpts and the previous reviews made this book seem like it would be the perfect read. I wanted it to be inspiring, I wanted to be able to relate to it, I wanted to be able to “learn to appreciate life’s little delays”… but I waited and waited as I turn the pages and it just doesn’t happen!

I guess it might be a cultural thing, maybe I just wasn’t the “intended reader”, maybe I had different expectations, but this book was like a biographical note of the writer and I just didn’t get it. I do love the reflection at the last chapter about “the waiting place”, but it’s about the only thing I like about this book… and I quote:

I’ll embrace the pain, beauty, angst, and joy of this gorgeous life and refuse to concentrate solely on the mundane. I’ll seek laughter amid the tough stuff and loveliness in the sorrow. I’ll search for signs of God’s fingerprints, even when it seems he’s failed to appear. I’ll spend time with the people I adore and creatively show them how much I love them. And I’ll resolve to remember that now — even the most difficutl now — isn’t forever.

Then again maybe that’s the whole point, you are waiting to get through something, and at some point you’re finally there. And then of course you start waiting. In this case, I’m now waiting for something more inspiring.

You Were Born for This — Bruce Wilkinson

To be honest here on my own blog, I never got to finish reading this book… Got all caught up in my preparation for Geneva, you see… and then my reading copy expired!

Nevertheless, I will say this:
I know Bruce Wilkinson has been criticized in many ways, but I personally enjoyed “The Prayer of Jabez” a lot, and I liked this book too. After all, miracles do exist even today. The problem is that we are not seeing it. We tend to expect miracles to happen out of nowhere. No, miracles happen through people, and in fact each of us could make a miracle happen. This book helps us to see this.

— and I like that.

Review: The Expanded Bible

The print-out version of this would’ve been so much better. I’m saying this because I have the e-version of this bible on my Kindle, and am therefore lacking the highly praised wide margins to add your own notes to.

My first reaction to this edition was that it seemed a bit messy, with all the different possible translations as well as commentaries being inserted in brackets. It was indeed a bit hard to read, especially when the comes are “useless” like whenever it says: Good News [Gospel] — seriously, why?

I also can’t help to compare it with the Amplified Bible.

After reading a bit more, however, once your eyes got used to seeing all the brackets and dots and symbols, I can see how reading this Bible would make for a great bible study period. I found the bracketed comments that appear every now and then to be especially useful. It’s way better than having to look at the footnotes, which brings you to the dictionary which leads you to another verse… if you understand what I mean here.

So yeah, definitely recommended for fruitful bible study periods, especially when you’re focusing on historical/literal study.

Book Review: The Voice 2011 — New Testament

Book description:

The Voice™ Bible translation is a faithful dynamic translation of the Scriptures done as a collage  of compelling narratives, poetry, song, truth, and wisdom. The Voice calls the reader to step into the whole story of Scripture and experience the joy and wonder of God’s revelation. Created for and by a church in great transition, The Voice uniquely represents collaboration among scholars, pastors, writers, musicians, poets, and other artists, giving great attention to the beauty of the narrative. The heart of The Voice is retelling the story of the Bible in a form as fluid as modern literary works yet remaining painstakingly true to the original manuscripts. This translation promotes the public reading of longer sections of Scripture—followed by thoughtful engagement with the biblical narrative in its richness and fullness and dramatic flow.

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The fact that there are way too many versions of the Bible in today’s world, especially English ones, has been a problematic issue for many. The two big questions are “how accurate is this translation?” and “how readable is it?” — and if you like to add some more twists to it, well… “what are the additional features?”

I’m the kind of person who loves the fact that we have so many different versions of the Bible. To me it means the Bible will never get boring. It’s like reading a new book everytime! It’s also very helpful to look at the different versions when you’re preparing a sermon because quite often one translation sparks a fresh interpretation, but that’s a whole other story.

Now, The Voice sounds like a promising rendering of the Bible, and it indeed is. Perhaps not so much for academic or theological purposes, but definitely for anyone who would like to simply read the Bible… and if you’re reading the Bible for the very first time, I would recommend it even more because of the explanations that are cleverly inserted in the text (it’s clearly marked though, for those of you concerned about the possibility of additional text to be interpreted as Bible verses).

I am looking forward to reading through the whole New Testament in this version during Easter week as part of this challenge.

Book Review: Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door — Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler

Book description:

“Seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30—both evangelical and mainline—who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23, according to the survey by LifeWay Research.” (USA Today)

Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door gives teens answers that make sense, even for the toughest of questions. Internationally known defender of the faith Josh McDowell and co-author Bob Hostetler offer clarity laced with humor to expose common myths about God, the Bible, religion, and life to show how Christianity stands up to the test of fact and reason. Teens will be better equipped to stick with their faith as they begin to understand why they believe and why it’s important to make a lifetime commitment to Christ and the church.

Now, being a Sunday School teacher working primarily with preteens, this book seemed like a promising one. The introduction is still very promising, and so is the table of contents. It covers an array of topics and does try to answer it.

Each chapter starts with a story and explains how the world perceives things in the view of the topic being discussed. It then says that the world’s view is wrong, and gives the Christian view. Classically apologetic. The chapter is then closed with a set of questions for further explorations.

My complaint? Some of the examples used are old and might not apply to today’s younger generation, and some of the explanations are way to simplicistic to satisfy someone who is really thinking about his/her faith.

I would recommend using it as back-up material to start a presentation/curriculum for kids rather than give the book to a kid to read.

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