30 September 2014

Wordless Wednesday 309

Most Popular Instagram Photo, September 2014

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Book to Movie News: Gone Girl

GoneGirlMovieI know almost all of you have read or listened to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl (click the link for my review). It was the physiological thriller of the year when it was first published. It's thus no surprise that the novel has been adapted for the silver screen; the plot is perfect movie fodder.

In case you're concerned about how closely the movie will follow the book, here's a clue: the screenplay was written by Flynn herself, so you know the essence of the characters and the story have been preserved. The film (from Twentieth Century Fox) is directed by David Fincher (House of Cards, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and stars Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, and Neil Patrick Harris.

For those who you don't know the story, here's the studio's description:

The couple at the center of the story—former New York writer Nick Dunne and his formerly “cool girl” wife Amy, now trying to make ends meet in the mid-recession Midwest—have all the sinuous outer contours of contemporary marital bliss. But on the occasion of their 5th wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing—and those contours crack into a maze of fissures. Nick becomes the prime suspect, shrouded in a fog of suspicious behavior. Amy becomes the vaunted object of a media frenzy as the search for her, dead or alive, plays out before the eyes of a world thirsting for revelations.
From the trailer, it looks like the match of characters to actors is perfect. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see the movie when it comes out on October 3.

For more movie news, see the Gone Girl website, follow it on Twitter (hashtag #GoneGirl), and like it on Facebook.

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29 September 2014

The Best of Me Movie Set Visit: Part 1

Best of Me MovieAs many of you know, I was lucky enough to be invited to watch the filming of The Best of Me, a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel that will be in theaters on October 17. Thanks to Relativity Media, I flew down to New Orleans, met up with other bloggers, and was treated to a day of making silver screen magic.

I have a lot share about what I learned while on the set of The Best of Me. I loved the setting and learning about how movies are created, and I was fortunate enough to be part of a group interview for all four stars plus author Nicholas Sparks.

What's The Best of Me all about and who are those mysterious four stars? Here's a synopsis from the studio:

Based on the bestselling novel by acclaimed author Nicholas Sparks, The Best of Me tells the story of Dawson (Luke Bracey / James Marsden) and Amanda (Liana Liberato / Michelle Monaghan), two former high school sweethearts who find themselves reunited after 20 years apart, when they return to their small town for the funeral of a beloved friend. Their bittersweet reunion reignites the love they've never forgotten, but soon they discover the forces that drove them apart 20 years ago live on, posing even more serious threats today. Spanning decades, this epic love story captures the enduring power of our first true love and the wrenching choices we face when confronted with elusive second chances. [Directed by Michael Hoffman]
Today I'm going to talk about the movie production and the location. On Friday I will share the best moments of the interviews, including photos of the stars and stills from the movie itself. Let's get started with a look at the NOLA skyline from my hotel room and photo of the bloggers after a long morning on the set. (To see the photos full size, click on the image. Use the back button in your browser to return to the post)

The day started early when we all piled into two vans to drive west out of New Orleans to meet up with the cast and crew. Our first stop was to Base Camp, which was made up of trailers, each of which had a different function, including temporary refuge for the actors and others. After a quick look around, we got back into the vans and finally arrived at the beautiful The Best of Me set.

The majestic and historic Magnolia Plantation was used for Amanda's childhood home. You may recognize the house because it has appeared in several films, including 12 Years a Slave and Crazy in Alabama. The house was built in the early 1800s, was a working sugar plantation, was used as a hospital for Union soldiers during the Civil War, and has been in the hands of the same family since 1870s.

Because the crew was filming interior shots, we weren't allowed inside the house, but we'll all get to see it in October when the movie comes out. One of the family members told us the windows, shutters, trimwork, and floors are original and that upgrades have respected the historic nature of the plantation.

As I mentioned, the director was shooting indoors that day, but he also was working on a couple of exterior scenes. To keep us and everyone else out of the line of the cameras, we watched the filming on monitors.

Despite the number of people wandering around, the sound level was kept low. Just before turning on the cameras, the director would shout "Rolling, rolling, rolling! Very quiet please." And we would have to move carefully, not saying a word or only whispering, until we heard someone shout "Cut!" At one point, a visitor to the set  (fortunately it was not one of the bloggers) accidentally appeared on film; let me just say that the director was not a happy camper. I'm so glad I didn't make that mistake because the entire scene had to be refilmed.

I was fascinated to learn that scenes are shot multiple times even when the first take looks great. For each retake, a change would be made. I noticed differences in lighting, in subtle hand gestures, and in props. There were even slight costume and hair changes. Later, the director and editor would have choices for both continuity and visual interest.

Although it was important to maintain quiet, I was surprised by how much activity was going on around the house and property, even when the cameras were rolling. Some groups were setting up the next shot, the bloggers were conducting group interviews (at a distance), a company was there filming promos, people were checking equipment, and someone was taking official cast photos.

In addition, there were food carts and medical people. It was fun to watch the costumers, hairdressers, and makeup experts on The Best of Me team as they followed the actors around, making adjustments as necessary. We visitors may have spent a lot a time sitting still and observing, but the cast and crew seemed to be in constant motion.

The grounds of Magnolia Plantation are absolutely beautiful; it was almost like being in a dream--at least for this Yankee. During the afternoon, we even had a visit from a wild alligator! I didn't get close enough to get a photo and was thankful there were gator wranglers (not kidding) on the set.

At the very end of the day, we were able to witness one of the problems with filming on location. The crew was in a race with the sunset to film two scenes that presumably were taking place in two different time periods but needed to be shot at the exact same time of day in the exact same spot. Actors and crew had to work quickly and accurately before the sun got too low. I was so impressed with how calm everyone looked; I think I would have been frantic.

After an exhausting day, we looked forward to getting back in the vans to have a late dinner in the French Quarter. The day wasn't over for The Best of Me people, though. After a quick bite to eat, they were returning for a night shoot.

We had dinner at the Tableau Restaurant on St. Peter Street. I loved the wine selection and my dinner. I ate shrimp for four meals while I was in NOLA (I just couldn't help myself), and the BBQ shrimp and grits I had for this dinner was delicious. Here's the description from the menu:
Jumbo Gulf shrimp in a New Orleans style BBQ sauce spiked with local beer and served over stone ground chévre grits.
After dinner, it was time to return to the hotel, pack, and get a good night's sleep before heading back to the real world. Thanks so much to Relativity Media for this exciting opportunity. And thanks to Jawbone for the very cool wrist pedometer; what a great way to keep track of my fitness goals.

Don't forget to return on Friday, when I'll have photos of the stars, stills from The Best of Me movie, a special soundtrack movie trailer, and lots of fun things I learned from interviewing Nicholas Sparks, Luke Bracey, James Marsden, Liana Liberato, and Michelle Monaghan. I can't wait to see the movie on October 17.

In the meantime, you can follow all The Best of Me movie news by searching for hashtag #TheBestOfMe on Twitter or by liking and/or following the movie on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube.

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27 September 2014

Weekend Cooking (& Giveaway): A Fine Romance by Susan Branch

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

A Fine Romance by Susan BranchI'm not quite sure where I first learned about Susan Branch, but once I peeked inside one of her books, I became a fan. I adore her paintings, photographs, and recipes, but I really love her zest for life. She has a positive outlook and finds the beauty around her. Even when seasick, she remembers her ancestors who sailed in much less comfort and raises her teacup in awe of their bravery.

So what's A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside all about and what does it have to do with Weekend Cooking? Well, the book is an illustrated diary of the author's two-month trip to England in 2012--and it contains a descriptions of meals and even a few recipes!

Although Branch and her sweet Joe had been to England before, they always dreamed of returning. Once their second trip was booked, the couple decided to keep a diary of their experiences; A Fine Romance tells the story of that incredible journey.

The pair left New York aboard the Queen Mary 2 on May 3, 2012, arriving in England about a week later. From Portsmouth to Kent to the Lake District and back, Branch used words, paintings, and photographs to record everything they saw and did, including much of what they ate, over the next two months.

copyright Susan BranchWhat kinds of things does Branch share with us? Pubs, history, birds, walks, castles, cottages, people, and gardens. I laughed at her descriptions of getting used to driving on the "wrong" side of the road and car (I can tell you from personal experience it's not easy), and I was fascinated with the information about the historic sites they visited. I was glad to see that Branch included several pages about British authors (Kipling, Austen, and Potter, for example) whose homes they toured.

Her own observations are supplemented by charming literary quotes, sweet paintings, and beautiful photos. We even get a few recipes, from an upscale grilled cheese to simple lemon butter cookies. Take a look at the scan (click to enlarge it), to get an idea of her style and how fun this book is to read. I couldn't decide what pages to share because each one is interesting and visually pleasing. In the end, I just opened the book to a random spread and went with that.

Susan Branch's A Fine Romance will appeal to Anglophiles, artists, travelers, gardeners, and cooks. There are hours of enjoyable reading between the covers.

Giveaway. I was fortunate enough to meet Susan Branch at BookExpo America this past June, and she kindly signed a copy of her book for me. She was thrilled to learn that I was planning on offering that book to one of you. This giveaway is open internationally, so don't be shy. You'll get lost in A Fine Romance and start to dream of your own magical trip to the English countryside.

All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is fill out the form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on October 6. Once I've verified the winner, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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26 September 2014

Review: One Plus One by JoJo Moyes

One Plus One by JoJo MoyesGood thing I do not have very strict rules about what I'm willing to read. If I did, I might not have given JoJo Moyes's delightful One Plus One a try.

Although I'm not a dedicated fan of contemporary women's fiction, I need to remember that some authors, like Moyes, can take the basic formula and create something fresh. The major plot points may offer few surprises, but the journey from one stop to the next is where to find the heart of this novel.

What's all about? Hardworking but poor Jess Thomas remains upbeat and hopeful even after her husband leaves her to raise their math-whiz daughter and his Goth-silent son all on her own. When ten-year-old Tanzie has a chance to go to private school on a partial scholarship, Jess is tempted to do something ethically questionable to give her daughter a bright future. Meanwhile, successful dot-com entrepreneur Ed Nicholls is accused of insider trading after he divulges information in a desperate attempt to break up with a clingy girlfriend. Of course, the Thomases hook up with Ed, who ends up driving them to Scotland so Tanzie can participate in a math contest (the prize money would pay her remaining tuition). As you can imagine, the road trip is full of adventures and personal growth as the four learn to ask for both help and forgiveness.

Plotting and characters. If you boiled One Plus One down to its bare bones you would find the typical story of girl meets boy, girl doesn't like boy, girl falls in love with boy, girl and boy have a misunderstanding, girl and boy finally get back together. Fortunately, there is a lot of meat on this skeleton, and Moyes adds depth and humor as she takes us through these phases of her newest novel. One of Moyes's strengths is her characters, and we fall hard for the flawed but good-hearted people who pile into Ed's car that fateful day. We cheer on Jess, whose attitude to all problems is, "We'll sort something out." We cross our fingers for Tanzie who loves numbers more than people and needs a safe place to thrive. We want to protect Nicky, who has been abandoned twice and is the target of the neighborhood bullies. And we wish we could straighten out Ed, who is caught between his loyalties and selfishness and never meant to do wrong. We can't wait so see what they'll learn about themselves and each other after being locked in a slow-moving car for days on end.

Themes, issues, things to think about. Through the personalities of and interactions among the four main characters, Moyes explores bullying, friendship, family, love, honesty, ethics, the socioeconomic divide, forgiveness, and parenting. Among several takeaway messages this may be the most prominent: No matter how independent and self-sufficient you want to be, it's not a weakness to ask for help when you really need it.

Overall thoughts and recommendations. Good characters, thoughtful issues, and plenty of humor make JoJo Moyes's One Plus One the perfect weekend read. Jess and the gang remind us that it's never too late to create the family we choose and through that family we find our strength.

Audiobook. One Plus One is told from multiple viewpoints, and the unabridged audiobook from Penguin Audio (12 h, 19 min) highlights this by using four narrators (one each for Jess, Ed, Tanzie, and Nicky). Elizabeth Bower, Ben Elliot, Nicola Stanton, and Steven France make a great team, each one nicely conveying his or her character's personality. All the narrators were new to me, and I'm not sure who read which parts, but the performances blended well together, making this an enjoyable listen.

Penguin USA / Pamela Dorman Books, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780525426585
Source: Review (both print & audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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