Month: December 2014

Movie Review: Gone Girl

Title: Gone Girl
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Running Time: 145 minutes

Plot
Nick and Amy Dunne neared the seventh year itch in their marriage. The two lost their jobs in New York City and moved back to Nick’s hometown in Missouri to take care of his ailing parents. Using the last bits of Amy’s trust funds, Nick opened a bar with his sister. Things seemed to have found a rhythm again, until Amy went missing on their fifth year anniversary. Now the whole town is left to wonder… Did Nick kill his wife?

He Said
With very superficial knowledge and having not read the book the movie is based on, I really did not know what to expect – and for that I am grateful. You do not feel the 2+ hour length because the movie flows so beautifully and runs at an exhilarating pace delivering endless thrills and chills. It was very well directed and mostly well cast. The dark cinematography truly captivated me into the movie’s actions. Gone Girl highlights how so much of what we think we “know” is all about perceptions (and oh, how easily that can be manipulated!). When it comes to crime, as a society we rely on “evidence” to convict, but the truth? Only the victim and the culprit will ever really know. The depiction of modern media’s (or is it the public?) lust for scandal was spot-on.

She Said
The singular merit of Gillian Flynn’s novel is its twisty, fast-paced narratives. Having read the book, it unfortunately robbed me of a raw movie experience. The film remained faithful to the book, smartly cutting out scenes/characters. Affleck gave a believable performance as someone confused, outwitted yet cunning. Pike half-convinced me that she’s the titular sociopath, but most of the time carried a blank expression. I honestly don’t understand the Oscar’s buzz surrounding her. David Fincher did not impress me as the movie’s director, either. There was nothing exquisite about the picture. Overall, it was an average movie with a terribly bleak message about marriage:

Nick: Yes, I loved you and then all we did was resent each other, try to control each other. We caused each other pain.
Amy: That’s marriage.

We Say
The best way to view Gone Girl is to have as little knowledge about it as possible. The twisty ride will be much more enjoyable and keep you at the edge of your seat!

Travels: Venice, Italy

While Paris kept reminding us of America, Venice instantly introduced a new culture. We entered it by water taxi, marveling at the old structures surrounded by water and intricate bridges before us. We were forewarned that Venice has a foul stench, but the cold November air was nothing but pleasant. The people here are very friendly and eager to speak English. You can definitely tour Venice in a day. Should you do so, we recommend the following rough itinerary. Please note that most shops close from 1pm-3pm for “siesta” so do double check business hours when planning your day.

Caffe Florian

Start the day at the oldest coffee house in the world. It’s been in operation since 1720! Charles Dickens was a frequent customer here. Next time, Nhi will bring along a blank notebook and hopefully leave with a finished manuscript. :P We ordered two coffees and two croissants (pictured above) for the lovely price of 30 euros. No regrets. :)

Piazza San Marco

This social, religious, and political center of Venice is constantly ranked among Europe’s top attractions. We were fortunate to encounter a light morning rain, enabling a marvelous view of the piazza reflected in water. There is often live music going on. You can always count on the many pigeons that flood the square and delight young children.

Bridge of Sighs

Perhaps catch a gondola ride (for 100 euros) and steal a kiss with your loved one beneath the Bridge of Sighs, sealing eternal bliss. The bridge is made of white limestone and has windows. Its name was given by Lord Byron during the 19th century, suggesting the sighs prisoners gave as they witnessed their last view of Venice through the bridge’s windows immediately before their imprisonment. The local legend tells a separate story, of lovers sighing in bliss as they kiss beneath the bridge during sunset.

Rialto Bridge & Market

The oldest stone bridge that spans across the Grand Canal, Rialto is arguably the busiest spot in Venice. Surrounding the bridge are shops and restaurants eager to delight tourists. (We were honestly pulled into a restaurant for lunch.) A commercial and financial center, indeed. We did most of our souvenir shopping here as we couldn’t resist the beautiful creations from their famous Murano glass.

Dining

We absolutely think Venice must be experienced through one’s taste buds. The food here, especially their super fresh seafood, is divine. Dinner is served with a complimentary glass of wine. We honestly think Ristorante Trovatore was the highlight of our trip to Venice. The best Italian foods. The most friendly and personable service. We had to open a TripAdvisor account to write a glowing review for them.

We Say

Venice is small and manageable. We really think the objective here is to get lost and discover hidden charms. As we left the city, we witnessed children catching the water taxi to school. How lovely it is to have the main mode of transportation be by boat. It forces you to slow down and provides a tranquility hardly present on the road. While the businesses/attractions seem duplicative after awhile, Venice is unlike anywhere else in the world because of its unique location, cityscape, and history.

Be sure to check out our upcoming post on Rome.

Click here to view all photos from our honeymoon!

Book Review: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Title: Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Author: Harriet Beecher Stowe
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 384 pages

Plot
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a historically significant fictional work that raised awareness on the tragedy of slavery. Depicting the lives of the multidimensional slaves and slave owners, this rich story brings to life a time period preceding the Civil War (with the novel being credited as spurning some of the seeds leading to war!).

He Said
I was captivated by the strong characterizations and the initial plot promised to be an exciting tale. Unfortunately, the novel fell short due to glossed over details, too many characters, and contrived/convenient plot devices. The characters, with distinct voices, were far more interesting and well-fleshed out than the situations they found themselves in. I really enjoyed the way Stowe presented both sides of the slavery debate. By the novel’s end, however, it sadly became propaganda for Stowe’s beliefs. The ending was terribly unrealistic and overly simplistic. In this case, the sum of the parts (so many moving, insightful, and humorous storytelling) is better than the whole.

She Said
Powerful characterization. Moving language. While the narratives were captivating in the beginning, the novel soon suffered a plague of characters that simply could not tell all their stories within the short span of 300+ pages. While each character’s plight was distinct, most reached a similar (if not identical) conclusion that was convenient and contrived. For example, I was very drawn into George’s and Eliza’s journey. I stood by their ideals and feared for their lives. Then suddenly, their planning was interrupted with the narratives of many more characters. When we resumed their journey, we found they arrived at safety. Just like that. Despite these shortcomings, Stowe’s work is a true classic and should be taught in schools.

We Say
While poised to be a literary classic, the novel does not live up to its fullest potential. However, the degree of clarity and insight in which Stowe presents such a controversial topic of her time is astounding and worth reading.

Holiday’s Gift Guide

Happy Holidays everyone! December 25th is just around the corner and we have some gift ideas for you last minute shoppers! :) We will not cover gifts for significant others or BFF’s as we feel these gifts must be unique and personable. After all, you shouldn’t need a guide to shop for the ones dearest to your heart. But sometimes, gift shopping can be tricky when thinking of colleagues and children. We’re here to help!

Gifts for Children
We have adorable nieces and nephews that we dote very much. Finding the right gift means it must entertain as well as enrich the young ones. Over the years, we’ve become consistent in providing gifts that delight the little ones as well as approved by their parents. Note that all our gifts are gender neutral.

To promote creativity & analytical thinking

1000-Pieces Augmented Reality Puzzle
The Magic School Bus: A Journey into the Human Body
Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Kit
DIY Snow Globe Kit
Gears Super Set
Scientific Explorer My First Mind Blowing Science Kit
Scientific Explorer Meteor Rocket Science Kit

You can never go wrong with books

The Fables of La Fontaine
Where the Sidewalk Ends
National Geographic Kids Beginner’s World Atlas
First Human Body Encyclopedia
Scholastic Children’s Encyclopedia
First Space Encyclopedia
National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Why
The LEGO Ideas Book

Gifts for Colleagues
We spend countless hours with our colleagues – they know our coffee order and lunch preferences. So this holiday, celebrate our coworkers’ support and camaraderie with the following thoughtful/useful gifts:

Thomas Kinkade wall calendar
Anthropologie monogram mug
Espresso set
Sparkling champagne water bottle
Glass bud vases
Waterscape votives
Agate bookends
Urban Outfitters’ knit eternity scarf
Cube terrarium
Garden-in-a-Bag

We Say
Above all, give a gift that comes from the heart. Have a great holiday season! Stay warm and merry!

Travels: Paris, France

City of Love. City of Light. Paris has been romanticized for centuries through novels, arts, music, television, and films. But up close, what is Paris like? Below is our take.

Eiffel Tower

Among the most iconic structures in the world, the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the downfall of the Bastilles. At 1000 feet tall, this doubled the tallest building at that time (Washington monument). After the Paris World Fair, the tower was used by scientists to study weather and later used as a radio tower. Today, at the pinnacle of the tower, there is still a small preservation of the apartment Eiffel lived in. At night, the tower lights up and for five minutes at the top of every hour, it sparkles with dazzling lights.

Louvre Museum

One of the most visited museums in the world, the Louvre houses a magnificent quantity of artifacts and arts. Nevertheless, most visitors are here for the great Mona Lisa. We were aware of long lines, the crowd, and the fact that Mona Lisa would be behind a glaring glass and at a distance, but we were still surprised at how small the actual canvas is. Be forewarned: you will be disappointed. This Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece took three years to complete. Originally, da Vinci set out to paint a landscape but he messed up. As the cost for a canvas was expensive, he painted Mona on top of his mistake. If only all of our mistakes could get transformed into world-renowned works of art. :P

Seine River

The Seine River spans 37 bridges within Paris, one of which was a shooting location for Inception. It was once the site of water sports during a Summer Olympics. The Seine is also heavily featured in films. We read raving reviews about the river cruise but honestly felt underwhelmed as we have seen these sites already by foot. The audio narration gave little new insights (although it is nice that it was multilingual).

Arc de Triomphe

Standing 164 feet tall at the western end of Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France during the French Revolution. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. While the arc has historical significance, it is lacking in intricacies from a purely architectural view. After all, the arc mimicked the Roman Arch of Titus, and we’ve always been partial to original works.

Champs Elysees
The grandest boulevard in Paris and arguably all of Europe, Champs Elysees has chic boutiques and high-end shopping. This area greatly reminds us of Manhattan, but cleaner. Traveling in November, we accidentally walked into a winter carnival. The smell of hot wine and roasted chestnuts was extremely inviting.

General Traveling Advice
1. Arrange in advance for travel from and to the airport with your hotel’s shuttle service. This is more secure and cost effective.

2. Never exchange currencies at the airport. You will get a better rate in the city. Most ATM’s in the city do not charge a fee for use and we found the exchange rate was on par and current. Of course, you should check with your bank first and notify them of your overseas travels. Some banks charge their own foreign transaction fees. We are thankful that Capital One 360 offers a free checking account with a debit card that was accepted at all ATM’s we encountered without accruing any extra fees.

3. If you forgot to pack a European plug adapter, use the TV’s USB port to charge your phone (if available). Your hotel may also be able to provide you with an adapter.

4. Pack melatonin to reset your sleeping cycle.

5. A rule of thumb is to dine where the locals are. Avoid restaurants that cater to tourists. Make sure the waiter gives you the same menu as the one posted outside. Plan at least two hours per meal. Yes, we’re serious. Parisians are very leisure and seemingly never in a hurry. Their service is purposefully slow.

6. Buy your souvenirs far from iconic monuments for better deals.

7. “Bonjour. Parlez vous anglais?” will get you anywhere in Paris. We were pleasantly surprised how fluent in American English the Parisian locals are. We could barely detect an accent.

8. When possible, pay with a credit card that doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee. You will get the most bang for your buck (as the exchange rate will always be the rate for the date of transaction). Capital One offers a no-fee MasterCard credit card that proved to be extremely useful as MasterCard was accepted at all places we went.

We Say
We felt Paris’s nicknames were undeserved. The city did not carry a romantic vibe, although a walk down the Seine River does suggest a more appropriate nickname – city of PDA (public displays of affection). :P As for City of Light, we feel the nickname better befits Las Vegas. And yes, we do believe Paris in two days is totally doable. We walked 9+ miles in a day, but you can cut down on traveling time by using the metro (be sure to download the official app prior to your arrival to help you navigate the metro).

Paris was the first leg of our honeymoon. Be sure to read our upcoming posts on Venice and Rome!

View all our honeymoon photos here!