2018 has been all about new adventures for me. For the first time ever, I am posting in a blog which I had long ago thought I’d have but never really followed through. I also started regularly (see daily) posting on my Instagram - and most of those are not pictures of my dog. The thought process for the year was, if could learn it, why not give it a shot - if its something I enjoy, why not.
A year spent reading books is probably one of my favorite things of all time. I enjoy the stories, and I enjoy delving into the worlds authors have created, whether real or imaginary. These are the Highlights of my year:
A Death in Vienna - Daniel Silva: Sometime around June, I embarked on a literary journey. I wanted to read the Gabriel Allon series and I wanted to read it in order. I was introduced to this series when I read ‘Prince of Fire’ several years ago, and since then have accumulated quite the collection. In April, I finished purchasing the last few of the initial books, and decided to read through, in order, without any other books in between (broke this rule, but lets not go there). As I read them, I often kept thinking that my favorite story will always be “A Death in Vienna." My favorite aspect is that in a very simplified (which this book is not) summary one can say the main premise is essentially Hunting Nazis (insert a sound clip of Brad Pitt from Inglorious Bastards) - The main character begins an investigation when one of his closest friends is almost killed by a mailed in bomb. He discovers that his friend was investigating a man who seems to be a suspected Nazi who escaped justice. This main character also realizes that the man he is investigating is also played a very important role in the life of his mother, who was a Holocaust survivor (he is not the father.) Within the story itself you find why it is my preferred one out of a series of over 10 - the events of the book are the most personal out of any other book to the protagonist’s story; in this book we truly shed a light to a character that will entrance us as we move forward.
The Fall of Gondolin - J. R. R. Tolkien: Re-released as a standalone book by his son Christopher, this epic tale of the fall of a great city is one of Tolkien’s primary stories. If at this point you have already read The Silmarillion (kudos to you, as this is not an easy feat,) you already know the plot of the story. This 2018 release, will also feature additional content from Unfinished Tales, and content from The History of Middle Earth Volumes. Tolkien’s art was in his world creation, in the sense that reading his books truly feels like a window to another world. The Fall of Gondolin follows the tale of a few key characters interacting, and how those interactions lead to the fall to an Elven stronghold in Middle Earth. This is a tale to rival The Lord of the Rings had Tolkien completed it. And yet, even in the unfinished version, mostly set together by his son from not only the writings his father did complete, is probably one of the greatest tales by this author.
Crazy Rich Asians - Kevin Kwan: This was one of my favorite surprises of the year. Not only did I enjoy the film, but the book was completely entrancing. Kwan has a talent of making a foreign culture feel like your own. A highly satirized universe is created but it is not too far removed from reality. It is a world of opulence, extravagance and excess. People can also recognize so many aspects depicted in the novel that can apply to their lives today, regardless of financial standing or location - the almost instantaneous way that gossip spreads, the clashes between old and new money, and anyone without enough of either. The amount of characters introduced at the beginning of the book can be daunting, but once you get into the story, it is very difficult to let it go.
Love, Simon: If there was ever a type of movie that I love, it is those that are about discovering one self. This movie was incredible in so many ways. While I personally never had to come out, I did have friends growing up who did go through that, and just remembering their experiences and the fact that at their time, this movie would have never been released, it actually makes me really hopeful that it is now a regular and normal part of the conversation. The movie is a book adaptation (Young Adult novels tend to lend themselves to film entirely too well,) and while as always, I find the book is better than the movie - this particular movie is strong enough to stand right along its literary companion. The acting was incredible, with Nick Robinson taking us along on Simon’s journey; Josh Duhamel had probably on of the most emotional scenes in the film, as he breaks down in tears. This was probably my favorite movie of the year.
Ready Player One: I have come to expect that movies produced and directed by Steven Spielberg are very likely to become one of my favorites. Ready Player One is a nostalgia filled action movie on a grand scale. It is carried by Spielberg’s capability of both thoughtful timing and thrilling sequences. Performances in this film are incredible with only a few that missed solely on the fact that they felt robotic (although, it did fit their character). The Oasis itself was perfection - the animation, the characters that appeared, even the things mentioned but you only got glimpses of - like climbing Everest with Batman - everything synced up to tug at every person’s heartstrings, carried by the retro soundtrack of our dreams. With so much information about this expansive virtual reality it was a pleasant surprise than none of its base details were missing (we know what happens when players “die,” what any mentioned item does, what winning challenges means, etc). This movie was the perfect meld between something you already knew and characters you already loved with its own style of creative action. An action film for the generations.
Ibiza (Netflix): While there were other movies to come out in subscription services, none I remember as much as this over the top comedy. The script itself relies too much in raunchy humor, and extreme situations, and in the end it feels like the adult version of a Spring Break movie. Impressively enough, those are the reasons why it is so enjoyable. If you think about it, every one dreams of travelling to a foreign country, have crazy adventures, and fall in love with a completely stranger who fluently speaks the same language as you. Definitely a new guilty pleasure movie.
Billions (Showtime): This show is based on the investigation into a big hedge fund manager by the District D.A. In truth, it feels like watching Game of Thrones, if GOT was set in modern day New York. The draw of the show is the two main characters - District Attorney Chuck Rhodes, and Axe Capital CEO Bobby Axelrod (Played by Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis respectively). This is the only show where you tend to root for both the hero and the villain at the same time. The show combines drama, with a bit of criminal procedural, and a get away with crime vibe - when you are not chasing after financial crime with Rhodes, you are hiding your tracks with Axe - add in a mix of incredible secondary characters and you have a masterpiece. With Season 4 coming 2019, it is a binge worthy show to get caught up.
The Newsroom (HBO): This was my ‘Need-to -binge-again’ show of the year (again, since I watched it 2016 as well). This show comes from the mind of Aaron Sorkin, who was also the creator of The West Wing, and much like The West Wing, it deals in the reality of the world, this time through the eyes of a fake News Channel, and the broadcast of the evening news. The shows boasts an incredible cast led by Jeff Daniels as Anchorman Will McAvoy, a beautifully written script that tackles pretty much every issue of note in the news, and they do not hold back punches. My favorite part of the show is the structure: it is centered around the telling of the nightly news, which are always actual events from our history. We see how a news network finds their information, validates their facts, and finds corroborating information so that they can present the news to its public. Among stand out episodes are the pilot, in which the news was centered on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, and our characters were juggling a change in the staff; other episodes covered the night Bin Laden was killed, Boston Marathon, the Tea Party, Election Nights, and several others. It is a smart, funny, and moving show, it deals in truths, and it while to some it may come off as preachy, to most it just feels genuine - and on top of it all, it manages to feel relevant, regardless of how long it has been since it aired. It offers a true and moral criticism of real world events, and puts the recent past into perspective. Recommendation for 2019: watch this show - it you already have, give it another go.
May 25-28 Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios
June 17 Maroon 5 Concert
July 31st - Manchester United vs Real Madrid pre season
August 17 Moved
November 2-4 : Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure