Monday, February 29, 2016

ABC Reads: February Review

Today is the day to link up your ABC Reads!!  Here's a refresher on the terms of the challenge in case you missed it previously:

What does the challenge entail?  Well, I'm glad you asked.  There are 26 letters of the alphabet and Mia and I challenge you, during the course of 2016, to read a book that starts with each letter.  For example, Atonement (A), The Bell Jar (B), Catching Fire (C), and so on.  Makes sense, right? You don't need to go in order - if you want to start with S, go for it.  On the last day of each month, we'll host a link-up for you to share your ABC Reads.  We will award one point for each letter you review AND a bonus point for linking up with us!  At the end of the year (or when the first participant reviews a book beginning with each of the 26 letters), the winner will be awarded a $30 Amazon gift card.  So, what do you say?  Do you accept our ABC Reads challenge?

I read my first ABC Reads book that I didn't particularly enjoy this month.  However, I really loved the other two I read so I guess that balanced things out.  I completed the following letters: A, M, and I.  Here are my thoughts...

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

As a big John Green fan, I was shocked by how little I enjoyed this one.  From the beginning, I just couldn't get into it.  It picked up a little toward the end, but the way it was written was a bit too abstract.  Lots of beginnings and ends of beginnings and middles of ends.  I didn't mind the actual story, but I think I would have preferred it in a bit more of a logical manner.  I kept confusing myself about which Katherine was being discussed before I finally realized it didn't really matter all that much in the end.  Definitely not a book I would recommend.

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

I have never read a Mitch Albom book that I wasn't in awe of how it was written.  Albom is the truest talent of the art.  I love how he brings everything to life in his writing.  It is both fascinating and inspiring.  The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto absolutely blew me away.  The story, the characters, the narration - SO completely wonderful.  My dad gifted me with the book (as he's done so many others) for Christmas.  I hesitated to start it because it didn't seem exactly like my type.  I totally misjudged this book by its cover.  Yes, the book is about music.  In fact, Music narrates.  But it is also about love, loss, and making your way through whatever life brings your way.  It is fantastic.  I highly suggest it to everyone!

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling 

I'm a little late to the Mindy Kaling party since she has already authored a second book, but better late than never.  Lots of laughs and nods of agreement throughout.  Such a funny lady.  Definitely a good book to pick up when you just want a mindless read.  Nothing gets too deep.  Nothing leaves you scratching your head in amazement.  Just lots of humor and stories about real life adventures.

Which letters did you cross off your list this month?

Andrea :)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

#collaboreads: A Classic

With all the buzz about Go Set A Watchman this past summer, I decided to re-read To Kill A Mockingbird before I ventured to grab Harper Lee's newest book.  This month's #collaboreads category gave me the perfect chance delve into the old classic.

What part of the book could you NOT get enough of?

The most riveting part of the book was easily Tom Robinson's trial that takes place in the second half of the book.  I can appreciate the extended back story and details of the fascination with Boo Radley as it plays a major part in the story's ending, but the trial was hands down the most intriguing and mind-boggling part of the book.  Definitely a page turner throughout the second half of the book. 

How did you relate to/care for the characters?
What's your thought on the plot line and twists and turns?

It was easy for me to relate to Scout in some ways, but also to Jem in other ways.  I grew up running around with the boys.  I was always playing and riding bikes in the summers.  However, I was usually the oldest in the bunch which meant the responsibility to stay within the boundaries fell to me (like Jem).  I was also more wise to the ways of the world before the younger ones.  Oh, to be an innocent youth again!

The characters I cared for the most were Tom Robinson and Boo Radley.  Obviously, Tom Robinson was set up.  And unfortunately paid for it with his life.  Boo Radley was simply misunderstood.  It is an awful feeling to be misunderstood.  It often means people simply don't take the time or make the effort to understand.  Not matter what one does, they can't change other people.  It is up to others to become aware of their ignorance or fear and address it.

As you most likely know, there were a number of twists and turns throughout the novel.  I really love the way Harper Lee weaves them into the story seamlessly.  The novel is extremely well written.  I loved the twists even though they often turned out to be heartbreaking. 

What other books are like this one? If none, did it remind you of a particular TV or movie with it's themes and characters? Does it serendipitous-ly line-up with things going on in your life or the news right now? 

A Time to Kill by John Grisham is vaguely similar in that it follows a trial and race plays a major factor. However, reading To Kill A Mockingbird again made me realize how things haven't really changed all that much today.  Sure, blacks and whites co-exist, but they aren't viewed as equals.  It is a horrible shame, but it is true.  Recently, there has been a tremendous amount of attention placed on a number of black lives destroyed by white men in power only to be have these white men held overwhelmingly unaccountable for their actions.  The families of these young black men don't even get their day in court.  The white man's action is considered right without juries (and the public) ever hearing the full evidence.  The content of this book (and the implications of racial issues that are still present today) lines up with my life in ways that affect me daily.  My future children will face these issues in a way that I never had to growing up so it is something I think about often.

You know you judged this book by the cover. What did you think of it? 
How did it relate to the contents of the novel? And the font and layout of the pages? 

The cover of the book is great.  I really like the tree design since it is prevalent throughout the novel.  And the silhouette of the kid is perfect.  The cover also has a way of drawing you into the text.   

How many out of five do you give this book? Would you recommend this book to a friend?  

I give this book 4.5 stars!  I only withhold the final half star because I would have preferred a tad less of the first half and a tad more of the second half.  Regardless, I would recommend this book to anyone!
Andrea :)

Friday, February 26, 2016

Hail to Christopher!!

Today is a special day!  A great day!  The day my wonderful husband throws his [Pitt] hat into the Presidential Race.  Well...some of that is true.  Today is his 35th Birthday.  And while I don't foresee us packing our bags for the White House anytime soon...he's technically eligible.  The way things are looking these days - he's also likely the best choice.

 Let's take a look at ten solid reasons why...
1 - He's been a fighter since Day One.  Literally.  Not a man that gives up easily.

2 - He's honest and fair.  Unfortunately, not everyone values these characteristics as much as they should.

3 - He's got a sense of humor that's hard to deny.  Quick wit intact. 

4 - He's charismatic.  People are just drawn to him.  He's likable, fun, and easy to be around.

5 - He has a fantastic speech-making voice.  People listen.  Babies are fascinated.  And he even sings from time to time.

6 - He likes to help others.  He wants everyone to have an equal opportunity - a chance.  He tries to make the world a better place - one day at a time.

7 - He is consistent.  You can count on him - always.

8 - He's devoted.  His word is his bond.  He doesn't make promises lightly.  He takes his commitments seriously.

9 - He's never met a stranger.  He finds a way to connect with others - despite the generations between them, the color of their skin, or their life circumstances.  He can talk to anyone about anything.

10 - He's resourceful.  A clever man that always finds a way.

Happy 35th Birthday to the love of my life! 
Can't wait to celebrate all weekend long!

Andrea :)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The 2016 Mac & Cheese Bowl

Mac & Cheese.  Yum!  Honestly, who doesn't love macaroni and cheese?  So tasty!  This weekend, Chris and I were able to taste 30 different types of the delicious stuff.  It may (or may not) have been a tad TOO much, but for a worthy cause - the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York - you can't really say no.

Fortunately, we had the expertise of multiple year Mac & Cheese Bowler (our friend, Shannon) to help us craft a strategy and provide extremely helpful tips!  The #1 tip was to only taste one noodle initially.  If you like the sample, go for it.  If you don't like the sample, trash it.  There is too much good mac and cheese out there to waste stomach space on so-so samples.  Genius!

Ironically, our first stop - Wolff's Biergarten - turned out to be our favorite of the whole day.  They boasted a five cheese concoction topped with crumbled bacon.  It was as good as it sounds...and, subsequently, the only sample I tried a second time.  So good.

Most of the samples blended together after awhile.  Lots of pulled pork and sriracha found themselves in the mix.  The most bizarre of the day was a Big Mac version of mac and cheese - um, no thanks!  It was the only one where I totally recoiled at the taste.  The spicy versions weren't too high on my list either, but some of them weren't so bad.  Valente's Three Little Pigs gave samples that included three cheeses and three meats - surprisingly not terrible...and actually good enough for third-place as it turns out.

The longest line was for Druthers Brewing's fantastic creation - a chicken-and-waffles mac and cheese.  It featured a fried nugget of chicken and seven-cheese blend macaroni soaked in sriracha-maple syrup on a bed of country gravy with a red velvet waffle on the side.  It bested Wolff's by a mere 2% of the ballots cast for first-place at the competition.  Definitely a tasty sample with a fantastic presentation!  Besides judging the actual samples, Bowl attendees were also asked to judge the overall display at each booth. Mazzone Hospitality won the award for best display, but we thought that Elegant Touch (pictured below on bottom left) was most unique.

The second best tip of the day was actually given weeks in advance - arrive early!  We were there when the doors opened.  It really made a difference that first hour.  After that, the crowds became nearly unbearable.  The crowd was estimated at more than 2,500 people for the seventh annual event held inside the gymnasium at Siena College.  Thankfully, we hit most of the booths before the crowd became unmanageable.

What is your favorite type of mac and cheese?

Andrea :)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My Oscar Predictions

Despite all the controversy, I really enjoyed watching the films nominated in each of the major categories this year.  I wish there was time for me to delve into the documentaries and the animated films, too.  In short, I love the movies.  And I enjoy the Oscars' celebration of them.  However, I do sincerely hope the Academy is serious about making changes that will enhance the opportunities for all races to star in leading roles as well as be recognized for their outstanding work.  It will only make the whole that much better!  And now for my preferences and predictions...

Best Picture 
(in order of my preference)
1 - Brooklyn
2 - Spotlight
3 - Room
4 - The Martian
5 - Bridge of Spies
6 - The Revenant
7 - The Big Short
8 - Mad Max: Fury Road

*However, I think The Revenant will win Best Picture and Directing this year.*

Actor - Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Supporting Actor - Christian Bale (The Big Short)
Actress - Brie Larson (Room)
Supporting Actress - Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)

*In case you missed it yesterday, check out the reasoning behind my selections in the Actor and Actress categories here.*

Regardless of which individuals take home the golden statues, I'm looking forward to an exciting show with Chris Rock at the helm on Sunday!  Cheers to another wonderful year of movies!

Andrea :)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Look at Actors and Actresses...

This year, I perhaps went a bit overboard by not only watching all the Best Picture nominees (there were eight this year), but also watching the additional eight movies that had individuals nominated in the actress and actor categories.  To be honest, there were a couple of the latter movies (Trumbo and The Danish Girl) that I enjoyed a great deal more than most of those nominated in the Best Picture category!

Supporting Actress Nominees:
Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)
Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)
*Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)*
Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
Rooney Mara (Carol)

I'll go ahead and just say that I wasn't a fan of Carol.  It was slow and boring.  And the story line was predictable and not very interesting.  Spotlight was great, but I didn't think McAdams performed in any particularly spectacular manner.  The other three nominees - Winslet, Vikander, and Leigh - were phenomenal.  Any of them would be more than deserving, but my vote goes to Leigh (with an extremely close second to Vikander).  Leigh simply blew me away in her role (and I actually really liked the story of The Hateful Eight, too).

Supporting Actor Nominees:
*Christian Bale (The Big Short)*
Tom Hardy (The Revenant)
Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)
Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
Sylvestor Stallone (Creed)

I was unimpressed with many of these characters.  Hardy was good, but better in Mad Max: Fury Road.  Stallone was solid, but not spectacular.  Rylance and Ruffalo really weren't that special.  Bale was great in a difficult role so he takes this category fairly easily in my opinion.  If I could nominate a write-in candidate it would be Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight - he was fantastic!

Best Actress Nominees
Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
*Brie Larson (Room)*
Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)

As I already mentioned, I wasn't impressed with Carol.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the worst performance in this category - Rampling was by far the least impressive nominee I've ever see.  I can't understand why she was nominated at all.  Her male counterpart was far more impressive than she in 45 Years - though neither did enough to hold my interest for longer than 45 minutes.  Easily my least favorite of all the movies I watched this season.  But back to the much more fabulous actresses in this category - Lawrence, Ronan, and Larson.  Lawrence wasn't super special, but she did carry the film.  Ronan and Larson were both wonderful.  I'm already looking forward to future films where they are cast. Ultimately, I selected Larson to win this year.

Best Actor Nominees:
 Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)
*Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)*
 Matt Damon (The Martian)
Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Wow!  The actors in this category were each fantastic.  Damon is the weakest link by a pretty fair margin, but still did a fine job.  The other four - Redmayne, Fassbender, DiCaprio, and Cranston - were tremendous in four quite different and distinct roles.  First, The Danish Girl was a wonderful film.  I was disappointed it was not named a Best Picture nominee since it would have been in my top three without a doubt.  Redmayne is nothing short of phenomenal...and at this point I honestly wouldn't expect anything less.  Fassbender as Steve Jobs (what a complete jerk!) is amazing.  I haven't watched the other Steve Jobs movies, but this guy was on point.  And well supported by Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels.  I've been a Cranston fan since my Breaking Bad binge days, but he really outdoes himself as Dalton Trumbo.  Trumbo is an absolute must-see movie.  Chris and I loved it!  Honestly, it was quite difficult for me to select a winner here.  I finally decided it was Leo's time.  He played an extremely difficult role with the majority of the lengthy film featuring his solo struggle to survive.  I'd be happy for any of these men to collect an Oscar, but I think it will be DiCaprio's night.

Do you have actor and actress predictions?

Andrea :)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Best Picture Review - Spotlight

The Boston Globe's "Spotlight" team of reporters dig deep into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church.  Their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston's religious, legal, and government establishments setting off a wave of revelations around the world.

Having recently watched All the President's Men, Spotlight felt like a modern day version with a more wide spread and heart wrenching impact on local communities. I was fully engaged throughout the entire movie.  I never got bored or disinterested.  Each new turn or seeming dead-end held my attention.  The fact that it was a true story made it increasingly interesting as well.  I was stunned by the lengths that the Catholic Church made to cover-up for the inhumane priests that were abusing children.  Many of them simply being reassigned to other areas of the country.  It was sickening and frightening, but seeking truth remains paramount from beginning to end with each reporter playing a crucial part in telling the whole story.  I believe this is an important movie for all to see.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Other Nominations:
Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo), Supporting Actress (Rachel McAdams), Directing (Tom McCarthy), Film Editing, Writing (Original Screenplay)

Have you seen Spotlight yet?

Andrea :)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Best Picture Review - Room

A single mother (Brie Larson) has been held captive for nearly a decade.  She has converted a tiny shed into a living space for her and her five-year-old son (Jacob Tremblay).  It's time to break free from their captor, but it won't be an easy feat.  This movie is a touching tale of survival, isolation, and the struggle to adjust to an ever-changing society. The movie is based on the novel by Emma Donoghue.

Such an emotional journey!  I immediately felt strangely vested in these two characters and their well being.  And I was incredibly impressed with how the movie was filmed as well.  Half the movie takes place in a room roughly the size of my former Manhattan apartment.  Fortunately, I had the ability to leave my room.  I was blown away with their creativity and resourcefulness - they truly built their own little world inside that room.  The latter portion of the film where they attempt to integrate themselves into a world they've been absent from for far too long was fascinating.  I can only imagine how difficult that situation would be for not only those held captive, but also for their loved ones that had likely long ago given up hope they would ever return.  Certainly an emotional portrayal with solid acting throughout.  I didn't realize it was based on a book, but that book is definitely on my to read list now! 

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Other Nominations:
Best Actress (Brie Larson), Directing (Lenny Abrahamson), Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Have you seen Room yet?

Andrea :)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Best Picture Review - The Revenant

Set in the 1820's, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his son, Hawk, live on a settlement with other fur trappers. After attack by a native Arikara Indian tribe, a small group of the hunting party escapes into the vast wilderness. Fellow fur trader John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) tried to start trouble by antagonizing Hawk. Glass defends his son and attempts to make peace in the group.  However, things begin to rapidly go downhill for Glass after a nearly fatal bear attack.  Without going into all the details, Glass, boasting a number of injuries and ailments, is eventually left for dead by members of his own hunting party.  His survival does not look promising, but he is quite resourceful.  A final confrontation with Fitzgerald proves the climax of this long and winding tale.

Leonardo DiCaprio, who I have loved for ages now, and Tom Hardy were both fantastic in this film.  While I did thoroughly enjoy certain scenes, I didn't love the movie overall.  It was entirely too long.  Entirely.  Life was a struggle for Glass.  I understood that after one or two scenes.  I didn't need an hour worth of incident after incident to comprehend it was NOT a fun and exciting adventure.  This is a survival story.  This is a revenge story.  This is not a walk in the park for any of the characters involved.  I got it.  I typically like a story based on true events, but this one was a little over the top (particularly the bear scene).  The Revenant is an extremely intense film that just didn't manage to captivate me like it did so many others.  I loved the actors - truly superb.  I just didn't love the movie.  I'm not too surprised because I didn't really care for Alejandro G. Inarritu's Birdman last year either.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Other Nominations:
Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy), Cinematography, Costume Design, Directing (Alejandro G. Inarritu), Film Editing, Makeup & Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

Have you seen The Revenant yet?

Andrea :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Best Picture Review - The Martian

During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a wild storm and left behind by his crew. Remarkably, Watney manages to survive and wakes to find himself stranded and alone. With only meager supplies, his ingenuity, wit, and spirit to live allow him to find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring "the Martian" home with the whole world watching and cheering for a safe return.

I heard wonderful things about this book and intended to read it before I watched the film, but I simply ran out of time.  I thought the movie was a much needed change from the other astronaut movies in recent years (Interstellar, Gravity) using humor to lighten many intense and stressful situations throughout the film.  I'm not a huge Matt Damon fan, but he forced me to like him in this role.  He spends a majority of the movie talking straight into the camera, but it is filmed in a way that makes the movie quite watchable.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  Definitely a fun movie that will have you rooting for all involved in keeping "the Martian" from having to eat next to nothing for even one more sol.  Definitely gets a thumbs up from me!

My Rating: 4 stars

Other Nominations:
Best Actor (Matt Damon), Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Have you seen The Martian yet?

Andrea :)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Hamilton: A Man of Many Shots!

"I'm just like my county -
I'm young, scrappy, and hungry...
And I am not throwing away my shot!"

Hamilton is easily the must-see musical of the season.  Truly phenomenal, clever, and catchy!  Unlike anything I've ever seen on stage...and absolutely wonderful.  But let me rewind for a moment.

Christopher mentioned Hamilton to me for the first time in the summer.  He'd heard about it on twitter.  It was set to be the next BIG thing.  Didn't take much to convince me to get on board.  We bought tickets for an early January show back in August.  We didn't think about it too much until the rumblings began later in the fall.  Hamilton became overwhelmingly popular.  It even broke the internet when it tried to instate an online lottery for tickets after those waiting at the theater were causing dangerous traffic issues.  It was officially the BIG thing.  And we began counting down the days until we'd take part in the magic.

Over dinner before the show, Chris discovered we could sell our back row of the balcony tickets for a few hundred dollars.  Tempting, but not as tempting as seeing writer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda star as Hamilton.  On the way to the theater, fate was sealed as I bent down to scoop up a folded $10 bill on the busy midtown sidewalk.  It was our night for Hamilton! 

The show chronicles Hamilton's life - particularly his rise to political power during the tumultuous beginnings of our great country. Catchy upbeat hip-hop songs and rap battles are prominent throughout.  It took unbelievable talent to create these unique and exciting songs.  I spent the entire show in absolute awe.  Such a fun night!  We immediately purchased the soundtrack...and have basically kept it on repeat ever since.  Total addicts!  My top five favorites are "My Shot", "Non-Stop", "The Room Where It Happens", "Your Obedient Servant", and everything featuring King George (laugh out loud funny!).  Chris loved the Cabinet Battles, "The Ten Duel Commandments", "The Schuyler Sisters", and "Washington on Your Side."  There aren't any bad songs though.  I've heard them all multiple times...every single one still has me listening!


There is nothing on Broadway right now that can complete with this show.  If you can manage to find tickets, buy them!  And then start an official countdown to the best day of your year!  Seriously, you MUST find a way to see this one on stage.  I'm glad we got our shot!!

Andrea :)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Flashback Friday: NYTM Style

Over the holidays, I discovered that an old subway car made certain stops along the F line as a way to garner interest in learning more about the NYC transit system at their Brooklyn based museum.  Chris had shown interest in visiting the museum for several months so I took this random sighting as an opportunity to gift him with not only a chance to ride the special holiday train, but also tickets to the museum!

We waited on the platform where the train was set to arrive with a number of other excited passengers in Queens one Sunday morning.  We intended to ride it from one end to the other while checking out all the cool old advertisements lining each car.  It surprised us to discover how much more quickly it felt like this train ran than the current ones in our system now.  These older cars were also equipped with ceiling fans rather than air conditioning - an interesting feature that would make for a very sticky and smelly summer!  As the crowd thinned from stop to stop, we moved from car to car exploring each before we departed at the final stop - 2nd Ave.  At this last stop, there were several actors dressed in period clothing that socialized and took photos on the train - quite an interesting way to end the adventure!

A few weeks later, we made our way over to the transit museum to spend some time learning about the history of the subway system.  We both really enjoyed discovering more about the process involved in physically building the system as well as the politics behind implementing the system(s) - there was more than one subway line company in the early days!  My favorite part of the museum was exploring the various cars from different time periods.  Chris enjoyed checking out the different forms of fare payment over the years...and how the system worked to prevent fake coins before it moved to an electronic swipe method.  We were surprised to see how popular the museum was for families until we came upon a whole section of interactive games and videos set up for kids.  There was also a really neat area set up to detail how the subway system handled various times of disaster and devastation chronicling the 9/11 attacks, major blackouts, and various hurricanes.  Definitely a museum worth checking out if you have spare time on your next trip to NYC!

Andrea :)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Best Picture Review - Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is an apocalyptic story set in a desert landscape where humanity is broken. Everyone is fighting for the necessities of life.  Water is a hot commodity. Within this world, two rebels on the run - Max (Tom Hardy), a former policeman seeking peace of mind following the loss of his wife and child in the aftermath of the chaos AND Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a woman who believes her path to survival may be achieved if she can make it across the desert back to her childhood homeland - attempt to restore order.

This movie is all action!  Not exactly my type of movie, but it honestly wasn't as terrible as I anticipated.  I really liked Charlize Theron.  I think she performed in this role just as well as many others nominated in the actress category.  Perhaps even better than a few.  The high speed car chases, violent battles, and other makeup and costume feats were certainly well executed and no doubt made for an exciting story, but it's just not my cup of tea.  I need something based a bit more in the reality of the here and now.  If you enjoy action, I hope you make time for this one!

My Rating: 2.5 stars

Other Nominations: 
Cinematography, Costume Design, Directing (George Miller), Film Editing, Makeup & Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

Have you seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet?

Andrea :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Best Picture Review - Brooklyn

Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish woman travels to the United States in the 1950's in hopes of a better future.  She suffers from a severe case of homesickness initially, but eventually finds her way in Brooklyn.  Eilis lives at an Irish boarding house where she dines each night with the traditionalist landlady and her fellow residents, a truly comical crew.  She secures a job and meets a lovely Italian gentleman, Tony (Emory Cohen).  Then come some unexpected twists and turns that I don't want to spoil for you.

I absolutely loved this film.  Absolutely!  It is easily my favorite of all the nominees.  Perhaps it was because I identified with so many of the feelings that Eilis experienced along her journey.  But it couldn't be just that.  This film is the perfect mix of humor and drama.  I laughed many times, but also teared up right along with Eilis on a number of occasions.  I also really enjoyed Saoirse in this role.  She was a fresh face and quite talented as she truly carried this film from beginning to end.  We are planning to see her live in Arthur Miller's The Crucible on Broadway this spring.  Super excited to see more from this lovely leading lady!  Please find a way to check out Brooklyn - you won't regret it!!

My Rating: 5 stars

Other Nominations: 
Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Have you seen Brooklyn yet?

Andrea :)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Best Picture Review - Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies takes place during the Cold War.  An American lawyer, James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance).  A friendship of sorts is built between the two so despite losing the trial, Donovan pleads with the judge to keep Abel alive theorizing he could be used as a bargaining chip with Russia down the line.  Remarkably, such an event occurs causing the CIA to rely on Hanks to facilitate an exchange of Abel for a Soviet captured American spy plane pilot.

I'm always a fan of the true story tale...and this was no exception.  Doesn't hurt that I am a major Tom Hanks fan, but still it proved quite an intriguing movie.  I am unclear why Mark Rylance was nominated for Supporting Actor when others (like Samuel Jackson in Hateful Eight) were more deserving in my opinion.  Rylance did a fine job, but he didn't really have to do much.  His role was crucial to the film's plot, but limited on screen.  I didn't feel like he made an overwhelming impression overall.  Regardless, I did enjoy Hanks as he struggled from high to low throughout the film.  The ending left me wanting to know a bit more...and I think that is often a sign of a good film.
My Rating: 4 stars

Other Nominations: 
Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance), Music (Original Score), Production Design, Sound Mixing, Writing (Original Screenplay)

Have you seen Bridge of Spies yet?

Andrea :)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Different Kind of Super Bowl Sunday

It feels strange to NOT be working on Super Bowl Sunday.  For the past six years, I've spent this week and day Super busy.  As it turns out, it's actually a lot of fun to not be stressed and exhausted during Super Bowl week.  I was able to get a lot done this week with most of my colleagues out on the west coast.  And I'll certainly enjoy watching the game in my pajamas rather than running around on the field level concourse in a suit! I'm hoping for an exciting game regardless of the outcome. It would be nice to see Manning win and ride off into the sunset, but I also love the heart and personality of Cam and the Panthers.  Honestly, I'm most excited about the commercials and our tasty array of goodies!  Happy Super Bowl Sunday, friends!!

Who are you rooting for tonight - Panthers or Broncos?

Andrea :)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Our January Date Nights

One of our goals as a couple this year is to have at least two dedicated date nights each month. We had no problem accomplishing that feat in January!  One fabulous date night we'd had on our books for months - the phenomenal Broadway performance of Hamilton!  A couple others were tied to Christmas gifts - a trek to Brooklyn for a visit at the New York Transit Museum (recap coming this week!) and a night at the theater to check out Misery.  And we saw an absurd amount of movies on my mission to watch the Oscar nominees. However, we did manage to find two additional nights to work in our special monthly dates for January.

I selected another show, but in a much smaller and more intimate setting.  The play was an adapted version of Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie...and we really enjoyed it!  A simple one-act two-man show, but a very moving story that left a deep impression much like the book did for me so many years ago.  We were on the front row of a roughly 60 person theater in the Village, but the experience was a welcome change.

Chris decided we would spend some time with the King in Brooklyn on the date night he selected.  Which King you might ask?  King James.  And what a spectacular show he put on with his teammates at the Barclay Center that evening.  We enjoyed Nathan's hot dogs and saw multiple dunks from our nosebleed seats.  Most importantly, we had a fun time together!

Did you enjoy any fun dates in January?

Andrea :)

Friday, February 5, 2016

Best Picture Review - The Big Short

Simply put, The Big Short is a tale of the very real housing crisis of the mid-2000's.  Three separate, but parallel stories are told. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) - an eccentric hedge fund manager, Wall Street Trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and Mark Baum (Steve Carell) - an idealist fed up with corruption in the financial industry, and the start-up team of Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) partnered with retired investment banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) bet against (AKA "short") the housing market via a number of banks that prove naive in realizing the full scope of their issues. For the three groups to win, the general economy has to lose - ultimately, meaning the general investor (AKA the greater American population) who trusts the financial institutions suffers. 

Are you lost yet?  I know the feeling!  Since the story is based off our reality just a short decade ago, there were no real surprises.  However, the movie was made in sort of comedic manner.  The presentation was a little odd for me given the seriousness of the subject for many who were affected by the crisis, but it did provide a much needed lightness throughout.  Christian Bale, nominated for Best Supporting Actor, proved fantastic in his role.  His character is off-beat, borderline genius, and certainly on the autistic spectrum.  Additionally, he has one false eye from an accident as a boy.  Needless to say, he doesn't relate well to others.  A challenging role without a doubt...and Bale pulled it off flawlessly.  Steve Carell, not nominated, was equally as great in his role.  He plays a very serious and perpetually angry man.  I really enjoyed his performance.

In the end, I wasn't a huge fan of the movie overall.  Mostly because the subject matter didn't really interest me.  At first, I tried to keep up (there are various comedic vignettes throughout the film to assist), but ultimately just focused on the various character story lines.  If it had been about a half hour shorter, I might have enjoyed it more overall though.  As it stands, I'm happy I was able to see such great acting even if I didn't love the movie itself. 

My Rating: 3 Stars

Other Nominations: 
Supporting Actor (Christian Bale), Directing (Adam McKay), Film Editing, Adapted Screenplay

Have you seen The Big Short yet?

Andrea :)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Little Taste of Hawaii - Pro Bowl Style

After roughly 11 hours in the air, I landed in Honolulu late last Tuesday night.  I hadn't eaten a solid meal the whole day so my first task after checking into the sprawling Sherton Waikiki hotel was finding some food.  This task was much more difficult than it sounds around 11pm on a Tuesday, but I finally stumbled upon an open restaurant - McDonald's!

Surprisingly, sleeping wasn't an easy task that first night either.  And the morning came quickly!  Unfortunately, I was up before the sun nearly every day of the quick trip. Our first day held a walk-through at the stadium and assistance with the Pro Bowl Draft that afternoon.

The Draft proved to be the most exciting part of the week for me.  My job was securing various players for on-stage interviews in a room set aside for entertaining military personnel.  Along the way, I chatted with a few of my beloved Bengals that were roaming the area.  We commiserated that they wouldn't be playing in the Super Bowl, but everyone seemed to have high hopes for the future!  It turned out to be a fun, yet tiring afternoon - I returned to the hotel and immediately fell asleep.  So much for dinner!

An early morning was in place for Thursday with our group set to make the hour and a half journey out to Turtle Bay resort for practice.  Team Irvin and Team Rice each had their time on the field and we monitored the fans to ensure they stayed within their boundaries.  The highlight of the day was stopping at Matsumoto's Shave Ice stand on the way back to the hotel.  And checking out the massive North Shore waves along the coast as we drove back to Waikiki.

Friday was a day of relaxation.  I didn't have any specific assignments so I spent the day relaxing, reading, and doing a bit of work on the computer.  Thankfully, each room had a balcony with a fabulous view of the ocean.

Saturday, we repeated our trek out to practice stopping at Kahuku Grill for lunch.  I tried the world famous coconut shrimp...and loved it!  So tasty!  I spend the rest of the evening packing up since I was set to fly home on a red eye right after the Sunday afternoon game.

Game day went by in a flash!  Our group helped to activate various on-field experiences so we were busy non-stop from pre-game to post-game.  I was able to spend a little time on the field during the 3rd quarter experience, but otherwise I was shuffling people to and fro all day.  Needless to say, I didn't have any problem sleeping the entire 11 hours back to NYC!   

I was surprised to arrive home to beautiful flowers from my lovely husband!  More importantly, I was glad to see him again after a week away!

Andrea :)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

February Faves

February has finally arrived.  My (second) favorite month for a number of reasons.  One of them being today - Groundhog's Day!!  Thank you Phil for not seeing your shadow!  I will be happy to bid winter adieu as soon as possible! 

Further reasons for being a February fan include it being a month of love. Yeah, I know Valentine's Day is kinda cheesy (and entirely commercial), but it is nice to have some time devoted to passing out treats and loving on others.  I've always liked the idea...even throughout my many years of singleness!

It's also a month to celebrate Black History.  A time to reflect on the leaders of the past and the progress made, but also a chance to determine how to make a difference going forward.  Our country has a long way to go in terms of equality.  It is an unfortunate truth, but reviewing history can help propel current strategies and policies designed to bridge the gap.  I challenge you to learn more about how you can do your part to break down barriers and cultivate change in your communities!  If you have an interest in learning more about Black History, check out my friend @evancsharp on instagram!

February also holds one very significant date for my wonderful husband. He gets to put on his party hat and add another candle to his cake toward the end of the month.  I look forward to celebrating him all month long!!  You know how I love birthdays!! :)

Finally, it's a month of Oscar buzz!!  Prepare yourself now for the onslaught of Oscar posts headed your way this month!  This year, I took my Oscar watching a step further than just viewing the nominated Best Pictures.  I also made an effort to watch all the movies that had nominated actors and actresses.  And I'm happy to announce, I've completed the task.  I look forward to sharing more about each film as the month progresses.  The countdown to the Oscars is officially on - consider yourself warned!

How do you feel about our shortest month?  
Have any fun plans for February?

Andrea :)