Friday, May 29, 2009

Last Chance Harvey

Movie: Last Chance Harvey
Like/Don't Like: Like. Despite the awkward moments.

You can't go wrong with a movie with Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. A movie, which was, according to the special features, specifically written for them to star in. They had such a good time working together on Stranger than Fiction that Emma Thompson practically commissioned someone to write them a movie. You would do it, right? If Emma Thompson asked. Because she just seems like a lovely person and you're sure you would be fast friends.

Dustin Hoffman plays an unhappy musician who does commercial jingles for a living. He's in London for his daughter's wedding and he meets Emma Thompson and starts up a friendship. That's pretty much it. But I liked the simplicity of it. It had a very authentic feel. Especially in the awkward moments. I hate awkward moments in movies. They make me want to hit the fast-forward button. And this movie had a few of them. But they were very real moments that usually happen to people and that somehow made them more bearable. Definitely more believable.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Last Dickens

Book: The Last Dickens
Author: Matthew Pearl
Like/Don't Like: Liked very much

This was a ridiculously fun book for me to read. Wait, I mean it was fun reading experience. The book itself wasn't exactly a disco party but it had such a good story that I couldn't help but smile like a loon whenever I picked it up.

The gist: when Charles Dickens died he was 6 parts into a 12 part serial called The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He was a bit of a superstar writer and people were devastated at his death and agitated over the fact that he had only made it through half of the story. There was a lot of speculation as to whether or not he had finished the novel but no proof has ever come up that he did. The story is a take on what could have happened. It sets his real-life publisher, James Osgood, on a fictional adventure around Boston and London looking for the rest of the manuscript before the rival publishing houses get their hands on it or make up the rest of the story, which, apparently, was common practice back in the day. There are Chinese pirates and opium dens and spies and slick business men and it's all centered around some fairly interesting historical facts.

I am usually pretty critical of historical fiction, mostly because people who write them tend to be big fat bores. The story generally suffers at the expense of too much information. There were some times in the story when I had had enough lecturing. Particularly the sections that flashbacked to Dicken's last tour of America. But those parts were rare and on the whole it was a nice blend of scholarly research and really good writing and I enjoyed the whole thing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Movie: Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian
Like/Don't Like: Pretty entertaining

This should have been named Night at the Improve. There was a whole lot of ad-libbing going on and I have to say, it was pretty funny.

You know exactly what you're getting with this movie, and that's the appeal. You know that there will be silly hijinks and zany characters and lots of shtick. And who doesn't love shtick?

Ben Stiller is once again called up to save a museum, this time from an evil pharaoh (played by Hank Azaria - who STOLE the show). It took all of 5 minutes to set the plot in motion, thus maximizing the amount of screen time to fill up with all that shtick. I shouldn't actually say plot because there wasn't one. There was a lot of metaphorical screaming of "Come to the Smithsonian! It's AWESOME!" But I didn't mind that too much because it actually does look awesome.

A couple of things I was grateful for: 1.) There was less of Robin Williams than in the first movie, 2.) There was less of that monkey than in the first one (I hate monkeys in movies. HATE.) 3.) It was captivating enough for the kids in the audience that they all sat through it without causing a ruckus. The theater was packed, mostly with kids, and they were great through the whole thing. I wanted to high-five them all as we walked out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Movie: X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Staring the Very Attractive Hugh Jackman: Who Is Very Attractive
Like/Don't Like: Hugh Jackman

Tell me if you feel this way sometimes - you're watching an action movie and about half-way through you say, "Okay. I'm good." You've had your fill of punching and throwing and helicopters spinning through the air and you're ready to move on to the story. Only the punching doesn't stop. There is always another scene of punching and more punching. It's kind of boring. Especially in this particular movie because SPOILER! Wolverine lives. You know he's not going to die. So whatever new and improved mutant they throw at him will not be able to kill him. Now, the scenes were all action packed and I'm not saying that they weren't fun to watch, but I just got to a point where I was done with seeing Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber stab each other in the chest.

This isn't so much a problem with the movie as it is with the whole genre. It's so saturated with tricks and stunts and things blowing up that there isn't anything left to impress us so they have to just keep filling every moment up with them until the really super big fight to the death at the end. What I'm saying is that it's getting old and that I don't see anything wrong with substituting one or two of those fight sequences with a little bit of story line.

But did I mention that Hugh Jackman was in this? Hugh Jackman wearing nicely fitted jeans? Those jeans and an Icee could have carried me through another hour of punching.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

Book: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
Author: Tiffany Baker
Like/Don't Like: I liked it in a different way than I expected.

For some reason I was expecting something entirely different. More quirky small townish. But this book is a whole lot more than that. It had a much darker, earthier feel to it that I found surprising and really enjoyable.

First a brief synopsis: Truly Plaic is Aberdeen's largest resident and she's been tormented about it her whole like. She was born abnormally large and just continued to get bigger. And she grew up in a time when it was apparently okay to say, "You're fat and ugly," because she got that a lot. Over the course of events Truly ends up living at her brother-in-law's house raising her nephew after her sister left them. Her brother-in-law, Robert Morgan, is the town doctor and is as cruel as they come and a lot of the tragedy that has been a part of Truly's life, and the lives of her two closest friends, has a lot to do with him. The plot weaves around how they deal with those tragedies and come to grips with the lives they've been given.

I appreciated a lot of things about this book, particularly how flawed the characters were. Truly was bitter and vengeful towards the town and Robert Morgan for almost the entire book and while it made her a little hard to love it was also a very honest take on how things really are. People hold grudges, even fictional ones. I loved the character of Marcus, one of Truly's friends, who is a great foil to her. He has plenty of reason to be just as bitter but he manages to make the most of his rough life. Robert Morgan is a great bad guy - an enormous jerk - but he also shows a hints of humanity every once in a while.

I did have some minor problems with it. For one thing, it's dripping with metaphors and foreshadowing and it kind of got in the way of story. It also made the ending a little anti-climactic because you saw it coming a mile away. And for another, I thought the choice of the 1st person perspective was odd because there were so many stories to be told. Truly was the voice but she was telling things about other people, feelings and details, that she would never have known. I kept wondering if we were going to find out that she was a witch at the end of it (which would not be farfetched in this story). I realize that this is just literary license but it was kind of distracting to me.

But the story was worth it. The first part of the book was a little on the slow side but after that it picks right up and sucks you in.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Book: The Mysterious Benedict Society
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Like/Don't Like: I liked it. Mostly.

It's been a few days since I've finished this book but it's taken me a while to determine that I liked it. I didn't love it, but I definitely had a good time reading it. But even though I liked it and whizzed right through it, the whole time I felt like something was wrong, or something was missing, or my chakras were not aligned. Actually, it wasn't my chakras. It was definitely the book. I'll get to that in a bit.

Why don't I start with a synopsis. Four bright kids, all orphaned (natch), end up being part of a little spy organization whose purpose is to take down a bad guy. They are sent to a school on an island and their job is to find out what is the evil plan and figure out a way to stop it. Along the way they receive clues and get help from Mr. Benedict and his assistants on the mainland and work together to solve the problems. It was a pretty good story. I got caught up in the action and it was kind of fun to solve the problems along with the kids.

So, yeah, a fun read. But there was still something wrong. And I think it was the tone. It just didn't feel right to me. It felt a little too forced and mapped out. Like you could see the author 3 steps ahead saying, "Now look here. Then over here." Not really a dreadful thing. All authors do this. But it was just a little too transparent for me. So I just told myself to get over it an stop being such an unbearable snob about things and I enjoyed the rest of the book.