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Monday, April 21, 2014

The most expensive book in the world

As a writer, I obviously love books, so I wanted to share a special one with you today.  It's a copy of John James Audubon's The Birds of America that was sold at an auction in London for $11.5 million!  To date, it's the most expensive book ever sold.  Why?

It's one of the best preserved editions of the 19th century masterpiece and includes 435 hand-colored illustrations.  Only about 120 complete sets of these illustrations are believed to exist in the world.  Richard Davies, a rare and used books specialist, explained the interest in this book: "Aside from being famous in the rare book world, The Birds of America has also immense historical and ornithological importance.  Some of the birds John James Audubon painted are extinct and he also discovered new species."

Measuring over three feet in height, the book was created between 1827 and 1838.   The author was insistent that The Birds of America be made up of life-size illustrations that showed all the known species of North America.  He hunted the birds down and shot them so that he could prop them up on wires to paint.  Each drawing took about 60 hours to complete.  Sadly, and ironically, many of the birds in his book are now extinct, such as the Labrador Duck, Great Auk, Esquimaux Curlew and Carolina Parakeet.

It takes two people to pick up the book...and they do so very carefully since the book costs more money than they will ever earn in a lifetime!

Check out this video that shows some of the beautiful artwork in this famous masterpiece!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Are comic books literature or big movie magic or both?

Some might argue that comic books aren't true literature, but they sure make for great movies!  I have a cousin who has a business that certifies comic books with a grading system once they have been autographed.  He has worked with Stan Lee many times and has a list of upcoming signing events on his web site. It's big business on paper, as well as on the big screen!

Below is my review from my movie review maven blog from this weekend:

Grade:   A-

In a Nutshell:   
A great marvel!  This mile-a-minute action flick is the second installment in the Captain America franchise and a terrific stand-alone story that is compelling and complex.  Sequels are notorious for not being as good, but this gritty one is winning high praises from Marvel fans and newbies alike.  It’s a smart political thriller that makes you feel like you just saw a real movie.  It’s brave enough to tackle serious issues such as national security, government surveillance and the price of freedom.

Marvel is really doing it right, pumping out one fun flick after another.  The Amazing Spider-Man , X-Men: Days of Future Past , and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1: Cosmic Avengers hit the big screen in just weeks!  It’s a little bit helpful to have seen the first Captain America film, but if not, don’t worry…you’ll catch on quickly.

Uplifting theme:  Wouldn’t it be great if American patriotism were cool again?

Things I liked:
  • The Winter Soldier is an interesting villain.
  • Three Days of the Condor [HD] star Robert Redford reminds us how cool those 1970s espionage movies were.
  • I love clever banter between fun characters.  Scarlett Johansson plays Natasha Romanoff who steals scenes with Rogers (Captain America), played by the impressively buff Chris Evans.  You’ll most likely see a trailer before this movie that features Scarlett Johansson in the upcoming film that looks like it has some good potential: Lucy
  • I love Sam Wilson’s evolution into a superhero with the aid of his uber-awesome jet-powered wings.
  • The opening scene with Chris Evans in an Under Armour shirt…wow.  My kids gross out whenever I talk about male actors like that, but hey, I’m not dead.
  • Scenes where everyone points a gun at everyone else in a stand-off always crack me up.
  • I’m glad we get to see the man behind the mask.  The Winter Soldier’s mask gets knocked off fairly early in the film and we learn more about him as the film develops.
  • The CGI was great and believable. 
  • I thought the slow-motion scene toward the end was great.
  • I thought the list of things Captain America made of things he needed to catch up on was pretty cute.  It included Tai food, Disco, Moon landing, and Marvin Gaye.
  • I LOVED the finale of How I Met Your Mother: The Complete Series , so I enjoyed seeing Cobie Smulders again.
  • I love it when Stan Lee makes his cameo performance.  His big line in this installment of his Marvel character movies is “Oh man!  I am so fired.”  Ha ha
  • I loved watching a middle-aged woman in a dress suit kick bad-guy butt.
(PHOTO ON LEFT:  One of our pastry students at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School, where I teach, designed a special sugar structure to celebrate Captain America!  Everything in her design is edible!)

Things I didn’t like:
  • It didn’t have as much humor as The Avengers or Iron Man movies.
  • Some people may criticize the movie for being unrealistic.  Well, duh…it’s a superhero movie.

Funny lines:
  • Nick Fury says “We’re gonna neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen.”  Captain America replies “I thought the punishment came after the crime.”
  • Natasha asks “Hey fellas, either one of you know where the Smithsonian is?   I’m here to pick up a fossil.”  Captain America says “That’s hilarious” as he gets in her car.
  • Falcon yells “How do we know the good guys from the bad guys?”  Captain America yells back as they run towards danger “If they’re shooting at you, they’re bad!”
  • Natasha asks “You doing anything fun Saturday night?”  Captain America answers “Well, all the guys in my barbershop quartet are dead…so, no, not really.”
  • Captain America says “You don’t have to come with me.”  Falcon replies “I know.  When do we start?”
  • Falcon says to the Cap “You know you’re a lot heavier than you look.”  Captain America chirps back “I had a big breakfast.”
  • A soldier on a plane that Captain America jumps out of says to another soldier “Was he wearing a parachute?”  “No, no he wasn’t.”
  • “Secure the engine room.  Then find me a date.”  - Captain America
  • “You’re wrong about me.  I do share.  I’m nice like that.” – Agent Nick Fury
  • “I do what he does, just slower.”  - Falcon, referring to Captain America.

Did you know?
  • The Avengers was almost a rated R movie.   Some of the violence was a bit too much, so the directors had to tone it down and resubmit it.  There is LOT of violence in Captain America: The Winter Soldier [HD] , but they tried hard to not get an R rating so that kids could watch it.  Parents, be prepared for lots of shooting, explosions, and collateral damage.
  • Robert Downey Jr. has already convinced us how cool he is, but he took it up another notch when he invited 20 kids to join him at his house to watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier [HD] .  He posted this note on his Facebook page “What better way to spend my birthday than recognizing the cosmic miracle of Captain America 2 opening the same day.”  Nice.
  • Agent Nick Fury trades in his eye patch for a set of cool shades.  You even get to see what’s underneath his patch.
  • If you’re currently watching the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show, see this movie first, and then continue watching the TV series.
  • Keep watching after the credits roll for a teaser.
  • If you liked the Trouble Man song from the movie, check out the entire Marvin Gaye album:

Tips for parents:  Try having a conversation with your kids about which is more important: freedom or security.  I liked the line Captain America said “Soldiers trust each other.  That’s what makes it an Army.”  Have your kids write some letters of encouragement to some soldiers who are willing to give their lives to protect our country and you.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ender's Game book turned movie now out on DVD

I'm always so happy for authors who are able to get their words onto the big screen as a feature film!  Congrats to Orson Scott Card!   His movie is now out on DVD, so I figured I'd share one of the movie reviews I write on my movie review blog.

Movie Title:  Ender's Game
PG-13, 1 hour 53 minutes

Grade: A-

In a Nutshell:  This sci-fi tween thriller deserved to be made into a film, as the book has been popular with kids since 1985.  Most of the source book fans have been very pleased with the movie adaptation, although they admit that a few interesting aspects were rushed or necessarily left out because of the time constraints. The battle scenes feel like you’re watching someone play a video game, but the special effects are pretty amazing.  You’ll feel like a 12 year old kid again and wish you could float around in the battle simulator.

Things I liked:   
  • I love Harrison Ford, even if I have to see him as a grumpy, aging man. 
  • I’ve also adored Ben Kingsley ever since he won an Oscar for Best Actor in Gandhi many years ago.  The design on his face was very cool and supposed to represent a way to speak for the dead.  His father was a Maori.  I have a friend whose ancestry is Maori.  He plays the ukulele and sings songs in Maori for his students.
  • You feel like you get your money’s worth because the film is long, but moves quickly.  
  • I thought Ender’s squeaky, pubescent voice was perfect because it constantly reminds you that he is still just a boy.  Asa Butterfield does a terrific job.  I loved him in Hugo.  Ben Kingsley was in that movie as well.  It was simply stunning in 3D.
  • I liked the cadets’ white casual wear and would like one for myself to wear at home when I’m just kicking around.
  • I hadn’t read the book, so I had no idea what was going to happen.  I love twists.
  •  The zero gravity room looks super fun!  I went Indoor Skydiving in Las Vegas recently and had a blast…literally!  A giant fan blasts air at you so that you float.  I highly recommend it!  This is a picture of my husband, son, and I after our indoor skydiving experience, which is probably the closest we'll ever get to a zero gravity feeling:   

Things I didn’t like:
  • So, it only takes 3 adults to run that entire spaceship? 
  • I was surprised at the amateur-looking credits at the end of the movie.
  • It takes itself a little bit too seriously and could have been improved with more peppering of humor.

Uplifting theme:
  • The way we win matters.
  • “Let us train our soldiers so they can be gifted at war AND peace.”

Funny lines:
  • “This is basic rocket science, people!”  - teacher
  • “Game over.” - Ender

Interesting lines:
*  When you truly understand your enemy, you love them.”

Things to look for:
  • The button on the back of their necks that is used to monitor them reminded me of The Matrix .
  • Hailee Steinfeld plays a character whose name is Petra.   Petra means rock in Latin.  She becomes Ender’s rock throughout their experience in the training experience in the International Fleet.

Tips for parents: There is a lot of violence, some bullying, and a repeated use of the word “A**hole” in Spanish by a character named Bonzo.  There is no other profanity, other than mean name-calling by bullies.  There are some interesting moral dilemmas that could provide interesting dinner conversations for your family.

If your tween loved the movie, you can find the box set of the book series here: