Movie Review: The Debt (2011)

The Debt (2011)

3 out of 5 stars

I have to agree with Roger Ebert on this one.  The time-shifting back and forth detracted from the plot.  I would have preferred the movie stay in the past, reducing the cast and the confusion.  As much as I love watching Helen Mirren work, I actually preferred the actors in the past timeline, especially Sam Worthington.

I learned something (yet again) about the Holocaust and Israel’s response (fictional? or based in fact? – I don’t know for sure) to some of it’s perpetrators of terror and torture.

I am glad I watched the film, but do not plan to rewatch it or add it to my permanent library.

Two Stars or Not Two Stars? That is the Rating Question

Ad Astra Per Aspera

Latin for “To the Stars Through Difficulty” – the State motto of Kansas (my home state).

I decided I should more clearly define my rating scale used here on my blog for all my reviews.  I actually composed most of what follows for my GoodReads profile back when I joined that site in 2008.  GoodReads rating stars include a very brief description of what they mean when you hover over them with your mouse (one star = ‘didn’t like it’; two stars = ‘it was okay’; three stars = ‘liked it’; four stars = ‘really liked it’; and, five stars = ‘it was amazing’).

My difficulty arises from writing a review, not from applying a rating to what ever it is I am reviewing.  The following contains my completely subjective opinion on a five star scale for rating all kinds of things – books, movies, products, services, etc.

So on to the stars!

No Star (or One Star if required to select a minimum): A one star rating from me means I disliked and in some cases loathed the item before me. I would even go so far to equate my one star to no stars, but as I must assign at least a single star, this is my zero.

Two Stars: Two stars usually means I felt unmoved by the book or movie. Roughly equivalent to a “Fair” or “Okay” recommendation. Not something I would probably re-read or re-watch.

Three Stars: My three star rating represents the average to above average range, usually associated with “Good” for me. I might recommend the work and re-visit it, if no other new potential four or five star material was at hand.

Four Stars: When I recommend something to a friend, or even a total stranger, it invariably comes from something in this rating category. I often re-read works I give a four star rating to, because I enjoy reliving the adventure and the character struggles.

Five Stars: For items I just can’t get enough of. Books I’ve read countless times or movies I’ve watched so many times I know all the dialogue and scenes so well I’m wrenched when the networks edit them “to fit in the time allotted.” In the case of a book, a five star rating means I’ve become so emotionally attached to the characters that I’m devastated when I finish the book because I’m not in communion with them any longer. It also means I won’t be able to read a book for a day or two to recover emotionally.

DNF: Did Not Finish.  Pretty self-explanatory.  It just wasn’t my thing or it was affecting my mood or outlook on life negatively and I just needed it to stop.

* * *

I strive to be a five star Scrooge.  Something must be truly gifted, the very pinnacle of excellence, before I will bestow my highest honor upon it.  I am a bit more lenient with a four star rating, often waffling between three and four stars on most of what I consume.  I have friends and the Internet to thank for that last bit, since many other people have already expressed their opinions about just about anything and everything, so I can weed out the obvious chaff.

I also try to let my brain rest for a day or two before applying a rating and composing a review.  Unless,  of course, I couldn’t stomach it, then I’m quick to verbalize my loathing.   All of this only applies in my universe, the one between my ears, so please take my opinions with a grain of salt.

Book Review: The Poisonwood Bible by Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would never have read this book without the nudging of my local library. The Poisonwood Bible hit my radar via the suggested reading list for the adult winter reading program, Destination: Anywhere, sponsored by the Kansas City Public Library. I don’t normally read this flavor of historical fiction, but once I got into the heads of all five women, I stayed the course and finished the book. Not quite in time for the book discussion held by the Trailblazers book club, but far enough along that I could fully participate in the discussion.

Synopsis from KC Library:

When a white preacher from Georgia uproots his family and replants them amid a jungle in the Belgian Congo, the scene is set for a life-threatening culture clash. Kingsolver tells this story from the revolving point-of-view of the wife and daughters of Nathan Price as they observe his repeated frustrations, such as local aversion to baptisms in the nearby river. The Price women watch with growing alarm as the consequences of political instability – involving the CIA – creep ever-closer. But politics never subsume this survival story that describes the toll of danger and decay, while exalting the healing that Africa promises.

Notes from book club discussion:

Most of the readers loved the book (I liked it, but didn’t absolutely love it). The discussion leader remarked it took nearly fifty pages before she really got into it. Many of us agreed it was a long book to attempt in a month (although I read nearly all 400+ pages in two days since the ebook only became available for checkout on the Thursday before the Saturday discussion).

Our leader also remarked she came from a Fundamentalist background and she had met many men similar to the Father portrayed by the four Price girls. Another reader felt the entire book encompassed guilt, especially the older twin, Leah. I remarked that of the four daughters and the mother, the character I identified with most was Adah.

We discussed the political situation in Africa and the Belgian Congo in particular in the late 1950s and early 1960s. We talked about the return of the mother to Africa searching for Ruth Ann’s grave and Adah’s question to her mother about why she saved her later at the river (but not on the night of the ant invasion).

The discussion leader posed the question ‘Is this a woman’s book?’ to which we generally agreed. Written by a woman and featuring the thoughts and recollections of five women, how could it be anything else?

A reader commented how she always tries to find the connection between the title of a book and it’s contents. She struggled somewhat with it, but the discussion leader remarked that things in Africa will bite you and poison you, just like the poisonwood tree did to the Father, even after he was warned by the locals to steer very clear of it. Another reader likened the Bible of the Father to his dissemination of poison to his family and Congonese congregation through his blind faith and intolerant uncompromising adherence to a strict literal interpretation of the Bible. We discussed the differences we see now in modern missions to third world countries, which practice more respect for local customs and preach through service, not shouted espousals and condemnations.

We continued our discussion, moving on to the theme of the novel, proposed by our leader as being only a person born in Africa can truly understand it. We talked about the grandchildren’s visit to Atlanta and their wonder and amazement by the grocery store, filled with many things no one needs. Compared to the subsistence near-starvation standard of living back ‘home’ in Africa, the grandchildren could not fathom the overabundance sprawling across the store shelves.

We wrapped up the discussion with the leader asking us if we had difficulty following the shifting timelines and points of view. I commented that I had no trouble keeping track, but also mentioned that I routinely read epic fantasy which excels at sprawl, large casts of characters, myriad subplots and unexpected shifts in place and time.

My Final Thoughts:

Before I read the last few pages of The Poisonwood Bible, I had decided I would only alot three stars to my rating. At that point, I liked the book, but I didn’t love it. However, with the return of a long silent voice whispering grace and peace to her mother, I resolved to increase the rating to four stars. Officially, I’d still give it a 3.5, but I’m rounding up for the tears I shed on the last paragraph of the last page of The Poisonwood Bible.

Quotes/Highlights Marked While Reading eBook:

*** Warning:  Spoilers Below ***

‘I could never work out whether we were to view religion as a life-insurance policy or a life sentence.’ Orleanna, Book Two, p. 79

‘Oh, and the camel. Was it a camel that could pass through the eye of a needle more easily than a rich man? Or a coarse piece of yarn? The Hebrew words are the same, but which one did they mean? If it’s a camel, the rich man might as well not even try. But if it’s the yarn, he might well succeed with a lot of effort, you see?’ Rachel quoting Brother Fowles, Book Three, p. 189

‘God doesn’t need to punish us. He just grants us a long enough life to punish ourselves.’ Leah, Book Four, p. 244

‘I’m sure Father resented his own daughter being such a distraction. It’s just lucky for Father he never had any sons. he might have been forced to respect them.’ Rachel on Leah joining the hunting party, Book Four, p. 252

‘In organic chemistry, invertebrate zoology, and the inspired symmetry of Mendelian genetics, I have found a religion that serves. I recite the Periodic Table of Elements like a prayer. I take my examinations as Holy Communion, and the pass of the first semester was a sacrament. My mind is crowded with a forest of facts. Between the trees lie wide-open plains of despair. I skirt around them. I stick to the woods.’ Adah, Book Five, p. 303

‘I learned the balance of power in one long Congolese night, when the drive ants came: Out into the moonlight where the ground boild and there stood Mother like a tree rooted motionless in the middle of a storm. Mother staring at me, holding Ruth May in her arms, weighing the two of us against one another. The sweet intact child with golden ringlets and perfectly paired strong legs, or the dark mute adolescent dragging a stubborn half-body. Which? After hesitating only a second, she choose to save perfection and leave the damaged. Everyone must choose.’ Adah, Book Five, p. 306

‘It’s the only time I get homesick, when America lands on my doorstep in a missionary guise. … They’re so unlike Father. As I bear the emptiness of life without God, it’s a comfort to know these soft-spoken men who organize hospitals under thatched roofs, or stoop alongside village mamas to plant soybeans, or rig up electrical generators for a school. They’ve risked … every imaginable parasite in the backwater places where children were left to die or endure when the Underdowns and their ilk fled the country. As Brother Fowles told us long ago: there are Christians, and there are Christians.’ Leah, Book Five, p. 324

‘What I carried out of Congo on my crooked little back is a ferocious uncertainty about the worth of a life. And now I am becoming a doctor. How very sensible of me.’ Adah, Book Five, p. 331

‘I called her. It was the dead-flat middle of the night. The night before Christmas and all through the house I am Adah who expects no gifts, Adah who does not need or care what others say. Yet I woke up my mother and finally asked her why she choose me, that day at the Kwenge River. Mother hesitated, understanding that there were many wrong answers. I did not want to hear that the others could take care of themselves, nor that she felt she had no other choice. Finally she said, “After Ruth May you were my youngest, Adah. When push comes to shove, a mother takes care of her children from the bottom up.” … I find this remarkably comforting. I have decided to live with it.’ Adah, Book Five, p. 331-2

‘Adah got a very strange look and said, “He got The Verse. … the last one. Old Testament. Second Maccabees 13:4 … I must have gotten that one fifty times. It’s the final ‘The Verse’ in the Old Testament … One-hundred-count from the end. If you include the Apocrypha, which of course he always did. … the Closing statement of the Old Testament: ‘So this will be the end.'” Rachel quoting Adah as they discuss their Father’s demise in a blaze of glory, Book Five, p. 370

‘There is not justice in this world. Father, forgive me wherever you are, but this world has brought one vile abomination after another down on the heads of the gentle, and I’ll not live to see the meek inherit anything. What there is in this world, I think, is a tendency for human errors to level themselves like water throughout their sphere of influence. … There’s the possibility of balance. Unbearable burdens that the world somehow does bear with a certain grace.’ Leah, Book Six, p. 395

‘When Albert Schweizter walked into the jungle, bless his heart, he carried antibacterials and a potent, altogether new conviction that no one should die young. He meant to save every child, thinking Africa would then learn how to have fewer children. But when families have spent a million years making nine in the hope of saving one, they cannot stop making nine. Culture is a slingshot moved by the force of its past. when the strap lets go, what flies forward will not be family planning, it will be the small, hard head of a child. Over-population has deforested three-quarters of Africa, yielding drought, famine, and the probable extinction of all animals most beloved by children and zoos. … No other continent has endured such an unspeakably bizarre combination of foreign thievery and foreign goodwill.’ Adah, Book Six, p. 400

‘Mother, you can still hold on but forgive, forgive and give for long as long as we both shall live I forgive you, Mother. You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember. Think of the vine that curls from the small square plot that was once my heart. That is the only marker you need. Move on. Walk forward into the light.’ Ruth May, Book Seven, p. 412

View all my reviews

Bright Evening Star at Dark Moon

I got home from work yesterday before 5:15 p.m., leaving me plenty of time before the sunset to walk Apollo.  Terry got him so excited, whispering the word ‘walk’ in his eagerly raised ears.  By the time I had changed my clothes and laced up my walking shoes, Apollo was whining and jumping around the living room.  I grabbed my water bottle and the leash and off we went for a quick forty-five minute walk.

Once back home, I dashed down to the basement and unburied the telescope equipment from last week’s water heater install which necessitated a redistribution of the junk languishing down there.  The last thing I brought up to the band room was the large tripod.  I took it out the patio door and set it up on the strip of concrete patio just south of the hot tub.  I took the case of lenses out to the hot tub wooden steps as well as the box containing the hand-held device that controls the telescope, helping to align it and find objects in the night sky.

I took the telescope out of its box and secured it to the tripod’s base.  Something didn’t look quite right.  I dug out the manuals for the telescope and the tripod, but nothing would focus.  Ah, I needed my reading glasses!  I ran upstairs and grabbed them off the kitchen table.  Much better!  I refreshed my aging memory on the finer points of placing the telescope correctly on the tripod.  I disconnected the telescope, turned it 180 degrees and re-secured it to the base.  Then I aligned the tripod legs more-or-less on a north-south orientation. Finally, I was ready to connect to Autostar hand-held control device and the 12-volt power supply.

I looked over my shoulder to the southwest and could already see Venus and Jupiter in the still lit dusky sky.  I plugged in the power supply and the Autostar and flipped the switch at the base of the telescope to the on position.  The Autostar woke up and warned me not to look through my telescope, ever, at the sun directly.  Well, darn, the sun had already set so I didn’t really need to worry about that.

I entered today’s date and time and told the Autostar that, no, currently I wasn’t using daylight savings time.  I skipped the alignment, since I couldn’t see any stars yet, and, from past experience, the stars it would want to use for aligning the telescope would be blocked by either my house (which rose thirty feet high to my east only about six feet away from the base of the tripod) or the trees in my backyard (a very tall pine tree, tall maple tree and my neighbor’s large pear tree – all block my western, northwestern and north horizons from my backyard).  Basically, I can only look up, to the south or southwest, with a mostly unobstructed view from my back yard.  Oh, and there’s a large hill about a quarter of a mile to my west, so I can’t really see the sunsets either.

Using my finder’s scope, I zeroed in on Venus and then programmed the Autostar to find Venus, without actually finding it.  I found it in the Autostar’s database of observing objects and then told it to start slewing (also known as tracking the object so it always stays centered in the eyepiece).  I put in my 26mm eyepiece and then paused the slewing.  I used the directional arrow keys on the keypad to center Venus in the field of view and then unpaused slewing.  Wow!  Was Venus bright!  But smaller than I anticipated.  I tried a variety of lenses (16mm, 9mm and the doubling one with a combination of all of those) and got brave and tried three different types of colored filters.

I quickly read through the one page reference guide for the lenses, each of which gave tips for the various types of objects you could observe and what you could expect from the different colors.  I first tried the blue filter, which helped reduce the glare from the still well-lit western sky.  Venus was still very bright.  I next tried the orange filter, which really brought down the brightness and I believe I even saw some cloud formations.  The last color I tried was the green filter, but I don’t believe that one added to my viewing experience.

After observing Venus for several minutes with various filter and eyepiece combinations, I told the Autostar to go find Jupiter.  Since I had not aligned the telescope previously, I had my doubts as to whether the computer and the drives could actually find it.  I knew where it was, because I could see it.  The Autostar got close, but not close enough to see Jupiter in my 26mm eyepiece.  I pause slewing and used the finder scope and the directional controls to center Jupiter.  I unpaused slewing and was amazed at the size and clarity of Jupiter and four of its moons.

The first thing that struck me was the fact that Jupiter looked at least as large as Venus had, if not larger!  Yet Venus is closer to Earth by a long shot.  This really  made me wonder about the sheer size of Jupiter, all those billions of miles away, out past Mars and the asteroid belt.  It’s own miniature solar system.  Awesome!

All but one of Jupiter’s moons were lined up perfectly on one side of the gas giant.  I could clearly see the striations in the clouds, but I did not see the Red Spot.  I spent several very enjoyable minutes observing them all with various eyepieces, but no filters (as I could see detail very clearly without them).


My last longshot of the night was a whimsical hope that I would be able to see one of the nebulae in Orion.  I told the Autostar to go find the Horsehead Nebula.  Off it went, taking the telescope generally to the belt or sword area of the constellation Orion.  I hadn’t yet grabbed my Sky & Telescope Pocket Sky Atlas, so I couldn’t remember exactly where the Horsehead Nebula resided in relation to Orion’s belt.  I traversed up and down the sword, but did not further investigate the belt, where I should have concentrated.  However, since the skies were still quite bright (not dark) and the light pollution continued to obscure my ability to see such dark nebulae, I gave up on that hunt and saved it for another  night when I could transport my entire setup to a dark sky site.  Thanks to a gift from my father, the prospect of observing at a dark sky site have gotten markedly better.  He repaired an old portable emergency battery and light (both white and red) device that can be used as a power source, once I find (or buy) the power cord for the telescope that includes the standard car cigarette lighter-type connector.

On a whim, I told the Autostar to go find the Pleiades, another open star cluster I could easily see between Orion and Jupiter.  I couldn’t easily find it listed in the observing objects database, so I looked it up in my Sky Atlas and determined it also had the M45 designation.  The Autostar took the telescope to the general vicinity of the Pleiades, but I could not confirm this from the eyepiece.  And, since the Pleiades were very high in the night sky, I could not use the finder scope to manually re-align the telescope.  Why?  Because on the ETX-90, the OEM finder scope becomes unusable at vertical or near vertical angles when using the Alt/Az mount (instead of the Equatorial mount).  I have a replacement finder scope, but have not yet installed.  Terry volunteered to give it a go this week since I left the telescope on its tripod smack dab in the middle of the band room last night.

I may or may not be able to participate in Sky & Telescope’s Moon Mercury challenge this evening.  Tonight, about thirty minutes after sunset, the tiniest sliver of the new moon will be visible right next to Mercury.  My drive in to work today produced a stunning sunrise, thanks to a mostly cloudy sky, so unless these clouds blow away before I get home, I doubt I’ll be able to see the sun, let alone the pencil-thin moon and the small bright fleeting dot of Mercury.  If, by some miracle, the skies are crystal clear when I get home tonight, I will at least packup my digital camera and its tripod and find a spot on a hilltop with a clear unobstructed view of the setting sun.