November Wrap: East Meets West at the Pond

November is an eclectic month of reading and viewing for me. I’ve watched films ranging from a Chinese wuxia legend from the Tang Dynasty, to the English suffrage movement, to the scandal in the Catholic Church in Boston… and read books from crime thrillers to Westerns to the Gilded Age to India before and after independence.

Arti is a hybrid after all, constantly navigating between cultures and languages. When it comes to books and films, dashing between genres, periods and styles only adds spice to life.

Here’s the list of my November books and films.


The Assassin

The Assassin

Acclaimed Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s genre-defying wuxia epic earned him Best Director at Cannes this May. Hailed as the most beautiful film at the Festival, this adaptation of a 9th century Tang Dynasty Chinese legend may not be as easily grasped in terms of its storyline as its visual appeal. The film is recently voted #1 on the reputable Sight and Sound Magazine‘s Best Films of 2015 list, that’s the result of a poll gathering the views of 168 international film critics. It is a rare gem indeed. My full review at Asian American Press.  ~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

(BTW, Hou’s last film? The Musée d’Orsay commissioned French feature on the Museum’s 20th anniversary: Flight of the Red Balloon.)


A highly watchable adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s 2010 Booker Prize shortlisted novel. Kudos to the actors Brie Larson as Ma, Jacob Tremblay as 5 yr-old Jack, and yes, to Donoghue herself for writing the screenplay. One of those titles that I’ve enjoyed watching more than the literary source. My review on Ripple Effects.  ~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples
Update Jan. 14, 2016: 4 Oscar Nominations including Best Picture


Carey Mulligan has put forth a nuanced performance as the laundry gal turned suffragette in this Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane, 2007) directed historical drama. It’s worthwhile to watch the informative depiction of the actual events woven with fictional personal stories, especially Mulligan’s riveting portrayal of Maud, how her beginning naivety is forged into committed devotion to the suffrage movement. Prolific screenwriter Abi Morgan (Irony Lady, 2011, just to name one of her works) has laid out a fact-based drama with a heart-wrenching climatic scene. The sacrifice these voiceless, working women were willing to lay down is inspiring.
~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

Secret in their Eyes

The Hollywood re-make of Argentine author Eduardo Sacheri’s crime thriller is a tall order, for its previous film adaptation is the Oscar winner of 2009 Best Foreign Language Film. My post on the book, original film, and Hollywood version is here. ~ ~ ~ Ripples


One of the best films I’ve seen this year, detailing the sequences of how the Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ team of investigative journalists uncovered the systemic cover-up of child sexual abuse among Catholic priests. The Pulitzer winning reporting is presented in the film as painstaking procedurals in matter-of-fact dramatizing. For those who may be a bit worried about the subject matter, there is no sensationalized scenes of abuse, and on the part of the reporters, no portrayal of heroism. Such may well be the praise-worthy elements of this production. The cast’s performance is convincing, in particular, Liev Schreiber as the soft-spoken but motivating, no-nonsense editor Marty Baron. Come Awards time, I trust the production, its cast and crew, and director Tom McCarthy (The Visitor, 2007) will be duly recognized.    ~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples
Update Jan. 14, 2016: 6 Oscar Nominations including Best Picture

Fireflies in the Garden

My guess is, you haven’t heard of this 2008 movie. Neither have I until I saw it on TV a few days ago. The story about a father-son’s love-hate relationship from childhood to adulthood is realistically depicted. Caught in between the straining conflicts between the always angry and harsh father and a sensitive, vulnerable son, is the mother, always loving and protecting, something like the family dynamics in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. It also echoes the Oscar winning Ordinary People (1981), the small-scaled, Bergman-esque chamber film of deep entanglement of unresolved parent-child conflicts. Another film just popped into mind and that’s Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent’s When Did You Last See your Father.

Fireflies has a well-selected cast with Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe and Julia Roberts. I’m surprised to see the low rating the film received among critics. Disappointed really that it wasn’t well received. What’s that to me, and why am I  concerned? There’s a half-baked screenplay in my closet that’s something along that line. I know, more rewrites.  ~ ~ ~ Ripples


Books (Click on links to my Goodreads reviews)

It’s all a chain reaction started with …

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly (Audiobook)

I’ve not missed a single one of Connelly’s Detective Bosch novels. This time I listened to the audiobook and was much impressed by the voice of its narrator Titus Welliver.

Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker (Audio MP3)

So I checked about Welliver’s other audio works, and found Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker. I’d seen the 2008 film adaptation with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen and quite enjoyed it. So I jumped right in and found it to be a very well-written book, one of the few Westerns I’ve read.

And from this Robert B. Parker, I went on to explore more about him and learned that he was the ‘Dean of American Crime Fiction’. Here are two of his works crime stories I followed up with:

Promised Land  (Audio MP3)
The Godwulf Manuscript  (Audio MP3)

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
From crime fiction to the Gilded Age. I bought this book at Edith Wharton’s home at The Mount during my New England road trip, during which I learned that Julian Fellowes was much influenced by Wharton and especially this title.

The Secret in their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri (Audio MP3)

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein (eBook) – click on link to read my one-line review of this title on Goodreads.

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
Makes me think of Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn which I’m rereading to prep for the upcoming film adaptation.

Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Shifting between the English in India before independence and later the 70’s, a clash in cultures and the human toll of unfulfilled marriages. I reread this to prepare for the James Ivory Retrospective this coming weekend right here in my City, with the legendary director (now 87) attending. Yes, really looking forward to this event.


Currently Reading / Listening

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick (for the upcoming film)

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (reread for the upcoming film)

Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford (Audiobook)


Related posts you may like:

Flight of the Red Balloon (2007)

The Tree of Life (2011) by Terrence Malick

When Did you Last See your Father?

Appaloosa (2008)

Published by


If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

18 thoughts on “November Wrap: East Meets West at the Pond”

    1. Michelle,

      As an artist yourself, no doubt you’d appreciate Zhang’s work. I like House of Flying Daggers which came out shortly after Hero. But it’s his earlier dramas with his muse Gong Li that I enjoy more. As for Hou, if you have the chance, go see The Assassin. I say it’s a ‘genre-defying’ film cause it’s quiet and slow-paced, without blood and gore as in other martial arts films. Best to check out my review before you see it as the storyline baffles many a critics. 😉


  1. I haven’t had a second to go out and do anything like see a movie but Spotlight and of course, Suffragette, are at the top of my list (Brooklyn, too) and I was pleased to read you really enjoyed/appreciated the two you’d already seen. I think the “hot” movies will be coming fast and furious now. Nice summary of all of them!


    1. Jeanie,

      Yes, Spotlight is a good film, captivating storytelling. Suffragette, I must admit there are lines that I missed due to the accents. But the overall effects did stir resonance despite that, especially the climatic scene. Brooklyn hasn’t come out yet so I’m trying to catch up on the book. Yes, lots of good ones coming out now. Awards season had kicked off. Spotlight won Best Feature and Screenplay at the Gotham Awards last night.


      1. There was an article in yesterday’s NYT about Fox’s movies and four that are getting good Oscar buzz. Can’t remember all off the top of my my head, but it dawned on me that titles are getting really short. The contenders (not all from Fox) included “Suffragette,””Brooklyn,” The Martian” “Spotlight,” Reverent”” “Room,” and more!


  2. I was thinking of reading The Boston Girl, but can’t muster much enthusiasm. I enjoyed the audio version of Brooklyn several years ago… may give it a quick reread before seeing the movie. The previews look good! Would like to see Suffragette, too.


    1. JoAnn,

      I’m rereading Brooklyn b/c the first time I really didn’t find much excitement in and about it. So this time around, I read with greater care since the film has been so highly acclaimed, there must be a good story behind it. Still in the first pages now. As for Boston Girl, again, it is so simple and short, many chapters are just 3 – 6 pages long. Can’t say it has stirred many ripples in me. 😉


  3. I laughed at your one-line review of “Plato and a Platypus” over at Goodreads. Thanks for putting me off one that had piqued my curiosity. If I happen to find a copy at Half-Price books, I’ll take a peek inside, but otherwise I’ll let it go.


    1. Linda,

      O but you can still enjoy the other 20% of the jokes. Overall it’s quite informative still, but just made me wonder what they do at Harvard philosophy classes. 😐
      Both the authors are grads from there. I read the eBook downloaded from our public library.


  4. Wow, how did you have time to fit all that in during November? I really would like to see Suffragette. The Assassin sounds intriguing and I will probably have to check that out too!


    1. Stefanie,

      Movies are easy, just two hours each. Books take longer, but as you can see, MP3 or Audiobook CDs are best for me, a slow reader. I drive a lot, that’s when I ‘read’. Of course, I read hard copy books too, whenever I have time. And, curious to hear what you think about the films if you have a chance to see them.

      On another note, I heard about the snow storm in MN. Guess you’re having it worse than we’re here. Trust you’re bundled up and sitting by the fireplace reading. 😉


      1. A good way you have of getting the most time you can to read! The snow will be gone in a few days I suspect as day time temperatures will be pushing 40F/4.5C + through the weekend. A very weird warm front blowing in. Of course everything re-freezes at night so walking to the bus on ice in the early mornings is a challenge. I need to dig out my skates! 🙂


  5. Sorry I’ve been absent for a while. Life has not been very conducive to reading, viewing and blog visiting over the last few months with various calamities occurring.

    However, we did see a special preview of Spotlight a few days ago and were very impressed. I thought it was beautifully restrained in the telling, McCarthy didn’t try to over-dramatise or emotionalise what was intrinsically dramatic and emotional, and the film is better for it. The cast was great, the pacing good. A contender for the awards as you say.

    We are seeing trailers for Suffragette and I’m keen to see that. I do like Carey Mulligan, for a start, and of course the subject matter appeals.

    I suppose you haven’t seen the Aussie film The dressmaker?


    1. WG,

      Good to hear from you again! You’re always welcome here at the pond. It’s a joy hearing you share about your astute views on books and films. Yes, I think Spotlight is a forerunner for the ultimate awards show. I regret to see though, that Suffragette isn’t getting the attention it deserves here in N. America. Maybe it’s too ‘remote’ to identify, albeit we’re all enjoying the rights that had been fought for us by other women, some sacrificially. We haven’t had Dressmaker showing yet. Not even an upcoming announcement or the trailer in theatres. But I’m sure it will come, one day. I look forward to seeing it. But right now, my most anticipated film is Brooklyn, having just reread it.


      1. Suffragette opens here on Boxing Day, and I’m greatly looking forward to it. The trailers have been showing. We’ll see how it goes.

        No, I haven’t seen Room, or trailers. Will look out for it.


  6. I must tell my niece about Suffragette. She is studying history and currently spending a year at university in New Orleans. The Suffragettes were her favourite topic last year and I know she’d love this. And I’m interested in Spotlight as I like films about journalistic heroism. Offers some sort of balance to the awful tabloids we have to put up with. Good Night and Good Luck is one of my favourite films.


    1. Litlove,

      Yes I think your niece will definitely be interested in Suffragette.
      As for Spotlight, it has been noted that investigative journalism is gradually becoming extinct, which makes this sort of films all the more valuable. (Think All the President’s Men) I must stress that kudos to the filmmakers of Spotlight, the journalists are portrayed not as heroes but ordinary people, yes, professionals, doing their jobs. Im sure you’ll appreciate this one.

      Liked by 1 person

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