Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cairo Time

Movie:  Cairo Time
Like/Don't Like:  Like

I watched this on my way home from Tunisia and it reflected my own experience in an arab country that I was bound to like it.  I don't know how I would feel if it didn't seem so familiar but we all judge movies by what we know.

Patricia Clarkson plays a magazine editor who is in Egypt to meet her husband, a UN official who is stuck fixing a problem in the Gaza Strip.  He sends his Egyptian friend to pick her up from the airport and show her around the city until he gets there.  I was a little nervous that this would turn into an adulterous tale, which I hate, but it just skims the surface.  It's really about how these two people connect in and through the city.  It's a very quiet movie, and at times a bit slow but worth watching.

Get Low

Movie:  Get Low
Like/Don't Like:  Like

I watched this on the flight from Rome to New York, which, for the record, is a very long flight, so I don't know if it was a lack of sleep of my giddiness on returning home, but this one really got to me. 

It's based on the true story of a recluse who staged his own funeral so he could be there to hear the stories people told of him.  Which is a genius idea, by the way.  Wouldn't we all love to do that?

I love Robert Duvall in this.  Really, I love him in anything, but he played this guy with so much humanity.  I loved it.  Bill Murray was a little wrong for the part.  He seemed from another time period all together.  But I have a hard time not adoring Bill Murray so we'll just drop it.  There were some really beautiful moments to this story and I was really touched by how it unfolded.  So much so that I started to cry and my seat mates, Maureen and Al, were a little concerned.  But Al ended up watching it a few hours later and loved it too.


Movie:  Tangled
Like/Don't Like:  Cute.  And clever in some parts.

I went with the Blessed Nephews to see this so I was distracted by their cuteness through a lot of it.  But this was a pretty good flick.  I didn't know it was Mandy Moore doing the voice of Rapunzel until the credits, which was a blessing because I normally find her to be really annoying.  But if that was her doing the singing, she has lovely voice.  The story was clever and a few of the songs were pretty funny.  It had some of the old school Disney charm, which I appreciate.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I

Movie:  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
Like/Don't Like:  Knights of Columbus, I LOVED IT!!!!!

Here are a few complaints I've heard about this movie:  It's too long.  It's too truncated.  It just feels like a build up for the final one.  It's slow in the middle. 

And to all of this I say:  BALONEY.  And not just any baloney but old baloney that has been sitting in the fridge for months and has turned green.  Truth be told, I haven't actually eaten baloney in years but it was a staple of my childhood so I know baloney and all that whining about this movie is baloney.  Because have you seen it?  It's rad.

(Side note:  the only criticism I will allow is on that bit with Harry and Hermoine making out when Ron is trying to kill the horcrux.  On that they are all right to whine.  And also, give me a break.)

The whole thing just felt right.  All the technical aspects clicked, from the music to the locations to the direction and angles of the camera.  They all just worked.  And the kids have improved leaps and bounds with their acting. It was true to the book without being a copy of it and it captured the dark tone perfectly.  And that animated part in the middle was genius.  As was the casting of Rhys Ifans at Xenophilius Lovegood.  I felt like it paced itself really well.  There is a whole lot of story to get in and a lot of that is spent wandering the forest but it did a good job at keeping the action moving.  And in defense of cutting it in half - let's get real, it had to be done.  They cut it in the perfect place and give you a little resolution to tied you over until July.

July! I'm so relieved that I loved it this much.  Except that now I have to start on my paper chain until the next one. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Help

Book:  The Help
Author:  Kathryn Stockett
Like/Don't Like:  Liked (ish)

This is one of those books that I probably wouldn't have gotten around to reading.  I do this with books that are everywhere.  And this book is everywhere.  I see it and think, I'll get around to it eventually - when it's in paperback, but then never do because I get annoyed with seeing its cover in every display and that puts a bad connotation in my head and suddenly I have convinced myself that it's a horrible book and I'd be so dumb to waste my time on it.  I wasn't too that point with this book but it was inevitable.

But I did a preemptive strike and saved myself the trouble of hating it without reading it and just read Bronwyn's copy.  And I liked it, mostly.

It's set in Jackson, Miss. in the 1960s so obviously it's about racism and civil rights and all those things.  When I read about that time period I start feeling really punchy.  I have a hard time with people being dumb.  And I can't think of anything dumber than saying a person of a different color has to use a different drinking fountain because they have germs.  It makes me cringe.  It follows the stories of 3 women - two black maids, Aibileen and Minny, and one white woman, Miss Skeeter.  Skeeter grew up in Jackson and was raised by a black maid, whom she loved.  When she returns from college and finds that her maid is no longer working at her house she starts to question the racial system she was brought up in.  This gets her talking to Aibileen and Minny - who are her friends' maids - and they start to write a tell-all book about what it's like for a black woman to work for a white family.

I felt it did a good job at conveying the very real fear black people lived in.  There were ample examples told in the book of beatins, lynchings, firings, and abuse.  And the story kept me going for quite a while.  Not having grown up in an age of rampant racial discrimination the whole thing is so foreign to me.  I felt like it was well told and thoughtful.

But I did have a few issues:  1.)  It could have been cut down.  I was really into at the beginning.  But the format - which switched between the points of view of 3 characters - is a pet peeve of mine unless done exceptionally well.  This was not.  It got a little long about 2/3 of the way through and I found myself wishing it would just end.  2.)  The author seemed to be on a mission to make sure we knew it was set in the sixties.  It was like there was a check list she was working off of, trying to get as mean signs of the decade in.  Tab - check.  Space race - check.  Pucci mini dresses, Kennedy assasination, hippies, freedome-riders, Rosa Parks - all of them checked off the list.  I know that they are meant to give an sense of the time but it just seemed labored and distracting.  Especially when I was already getting tired of the book.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Great Expectations

Book:  Great Expectations
Author:  Charles Dickens
Like/Don't Like:  I think Dickens and I would be BFF

I have said it before and I will say it until I die:  teenagers shouldn't read Dickens.  What a horrible way to treat both the kids and the author.  Great Expectations was the first Dickens book I ever read and it completely turned me off to him for years and years.  I was a freshman in high school and all I can remember of it is Miss Havisham in her wedding dress and the cake full of critters.  And also that I was bored out of my mind.  Because I was 14 and dumb.  14 year olds don't get Dickens.  How can they?  He's so subtle and dry and his stories weave in and out of dozens of characters' lives.  What 14 year old has that sort of attention span?  I wish that I had been introduced to him in college.  All it would have taken for me to be completely smitten was a few more years under my belt.  But instead I spent almost 20 years thinking he was the biggest bore.

Well, I love him now.  I think we would be the best of friends if we were ever in the same neighborhood, or century.  He's just so funny.  So because I love him I thought I'd go back to the book that started it all and see if my impression of it had evolved beyond, "Ugh, lame."  It has.  I thought it was clever and, proving that my memory for books is non-existent, everything was a surprise.  I remembered that Miss Havisham went up in flames, but other than that I kept gasping and saying, "Really?!"  I love that he ties everything up in a nice bow at the end.  Everyone gets what they deserve.  Good people learn lessons and end up happier and wiser than before.  I never worry that his stories will end poorly, which is a relief sometimes in reading.

Plus, there are always a one or two characters that are just so endearing.  Wemmick was the one this time.  He lives in a teeny castle, complete with a moat and tends to his old father, whom he calls The Aged Parent, sometimes shortened just to Aged or Aged P.  My Dad can consider himself warned that I will be calling him this in the near future.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What is the What

Book:  What is the What
Author:  Dave Eggers
Like/Don't Like:  It's tough to like a book like this, but I have to say I did.

Unless you've been living under a rock you have probably heard of all the horrible things that have gone on in Sudan for the last 30 years of civil war.  It's miserable over there and whenever I read about it the whole thing seems too gruesome to be true.  And yet reading this book not only makes it all too real, it also puts a name and a face to it.  It is not a picnic, reading this book.

While technically a novel (it is explained in the beginning why they had to call it one) the book is the real life story of Valentino Achak Deng, a southern Sudanese refuge who is now living in the states.  Around the age of 9 his village was attacked by the Arab run government from the north and he had to flee without knowing the fate of his home or family.  He ended up walking to Ethiopia and eventually Kenya, from one refugee camp to another over 9 years until he was relocated to the US.  He tells of such attrocities that it seems impossible for one human to suffer so much and live, let alone the millions who have such similar stories.

At the beginning of his story he mentions how in the early part of his walk with thousands of other young boys two of them were taken off by lions - just snatched up in the night as they walked single file through the desert.  At that point I didn't think I would be able to read any more because I was sure that worse things were to come.  And they do.  Far worse.  I won't go into it.  But you wouldn't be able to imagine it if you tried.

So it's a rough read, topic-wise.  But the style is effortless.  There is so much suffering and yet there is a good amount of humor.  And it flows beautifully from present day to flashbacks.  Even the present day accounts are hard to read - they start off with Achak being beaten and robbed in his own home (seriously, the kid can't catch a break) - but the pacing of it is manageable.  I'm glad I didn't stop reading.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wuthering Heights

Book: Wuthering Heights

Author: Emily Bronte

Like/Don't Like: Liked. It was inevitable that I would.

So, it's true. I've never read Wuthering Heights. I give you leave to be shocked. Here's the thing, I've started it like seven times and I would normally get to the scenes with Heathcliff and put it down because he got on me nerves. And then I wouldn't pick it back up until about a year later when I'd give it another try, only to stop in the same place for the same reason. It has been my one literary shame that I haven't read this book.

Well, I suddenly found myself in Tunisia. I didn't bring any books for my three month stay because 1.) I didn't have room in my luggage and 2.) I trusted Bronwyn's taste in books. So on the first night I was perusing her library and came across Wurthering Heights and thought, oh why not. These are extraordinary circumstances. Maybe this is what it will take to get me through the book.

And apparently it was because I finished it. Rejoice!

And I really liked it. How could I not. Once I became to terms with hating Heathcliff and not really liking Catherine I was fine. He's just so detestable. But the story was fantastic and the writing was wonderful and, as with all the Bronte books, it made me want to march across the moors, preferably in a swoon.

So here's my biggest concern with it. I've always heard that this was one of the great romantic novels. I hope that I've always just missed the Big R in Romantic because if they're just talking about small r romantic then we have a problem. Heathcliff and Cathy's relationship was twisted and weird. And his passion for her later on was even weirder. And I fear for people who think that's romantic. It made me want to punch him in the face a little.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Book: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Like/Don't Like: I can't think of anything to adequately describe how I felt about it so I'll just do the injustice of saying yes, I liked it.

After several debriefings with a number of people via email, phone and in person, and several days distance to compose myself and gather my thoughts, I think I'm finally able to write about this book. Sort of. Oh, gee whiz, could I be more dramatic? But seriously, this book had a strange grasp on me that I was wholly unprepared for.

Before I start I should tell you that Camille just finished it and we spend 30 minutes breaking it down and she asked why I was so emotional about the ending. To explain here is something Hannah said during our discussion of the book that I completely agree with. She said that some people are just talented readers. That for some, reading is a God-given gift. So for example, I can play the piano, but I've never considered myself to be a talented pianist. There is a vast difference between the notes I play and the notes that a truly talented musician plays. They can take the skill of playing the piano and infuse it with all the emotion it deserves. I can't do that on the piano, but I can do that with a book. When I read I pour every single emotion into it. It comes without any thought and it's been that way since I was a kid. You should have seen me when Johnny died in The Outsiders. I was 10 and devastated. When a story is this good and the characters are this real I can't help but put everything into it. It can be exhausting. (It's a shame I can't make money off of loving books. There are times when I'll say I wish I had a talent for accounting or auto repair (you know, something marketable) but in all honesty I'm pretty stoked that I got reading.)

So yes, reading this book was a really powerful experience. On many levels. But I'm not going to go into all the reasons why. People who have read the first two books and are looking for some kind of hint as to how the book was, all I can tell you is that it wasn't easy. You already know that they're at war and Katniss has to fight and with war comes some gruesome stuff. But it wasn't the violence that got me. It was the human cruelty. And it was also the human frailty. Both meanness and kindness do me in.

I won't tell you all the thoughts I had on it but I will tell you that the writing is masterful. Suzanne Collins has a gift. She paces the story at a breakneck speed and she doesn't let superfluous description slow it down. She describes things in a way that with just a few short phrases you have a clear image in your head of the setting and mood. She does not waste words, which I consider to be one of the greatest talents a writer can have. And she had a very light touch with the themes. It could very easily have gone over board in any number of directions with the environment and war and equality. But she let the story do the talking without being preachy at all.

I can't say too much about the plot without giving things away but I will tell you that it was so much more than I expected. I was genuinely surprised at plot twists. And the ending was solid. When I finished I really had no idea what to say about it. People have asked if I loved it. And I wanted to say that I loved it but I say things like, "I love the Sound of Music," or, "I love chocolate ice cream." It was a little bit more complex than that. What I did love was the experience of it. It tore me up but in such a good way. Oy, again with the drama.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

These is my Words

Book: These is my Words
Author: Nancy E. Turner
Like/Don't Like: LOVED. A lot. Even though the title hurt my heart.

You're asking how I can read a book with such a title. And I'm with you on that. Every time I say the name of this book I die a little on the inside.

Except that it is AMAZING. And I can certainly forgive a gimmicky title in exchange for an incredible story.

Emma lent it out to Teresa who then passed it on to me on Sunday and both of them said I had to start it right away. I was in between books and had some free time in the afternoon so why not. Here's why not. I could not put it down. From that time until I finished it this evening every spare minute I had was spent reading this book. Things like work and already scheduled activities got in the way but things that did not get in the way were sleep, meals and other responsibilities that could be procrastinated. It is the type of book that makes you put life on hold and you don't feel guilty at all about it.

Which completely surprised me. I'm not naturally drawn to those types of stories - those being stories of pioneers living the hard life in the West. Mostly because tales of hardship exhaust me. And oh, are there hardships in this book. So many hardships. So many that I regularly found myself saying prayers of gratitude that I was born in a time with running water and cars and hospitals and roads and food aplenty and no threats of Indian attacks or scarlet fever or blood poisoning or snake bites or train robberies or your horse rolling over you after it's been shot by and arrow. And worse things too. Like rape. Egads! It's a good thing there are good, strong male characters in this story because because every other man in it had leering eyes and grabby hands. The main character, Sarah Prine, always carried a pistol in her apron pocket, and for good reason.

All of those things and more happened to either Sarah or her loved ones and looking back on them it's a miracle I kept reading. But the writing was so straightforward and honest that it just sucked me right in. I loved her voice. It felt true. There wasn't a single moment when I thought that a pioneer woman wouldn't say that. I also loved all the other characters, both those on the side who come in and out as the years go along and those who stick around through the whole thing. (You will fall in love with Jack. Even you who are married. You will find yourself wishing your husband would grow a mustache and join the army. That's how great he is!)

There isn't much of a plot, it's just her journal spanning two decades so it's mostly just chronically her life and the joys and struggles that come with it. So it's high praise when I say that you don't even notice the lack of one. When I finished it tonight I immediately headed over to our stitching group where Emma and Teresa were and the first thing I said to them was that I finished it but couldn't really talk about the ending because I hadn't had time to process it all. I love it when a book fills you up like that.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Movie: Departures
Like/Don't Like: Like.

Once upon a time at BYU a cute guy in one of my classes asked if I wanted to go see a Japanese film at the International Cinema. Um, duh. Cute guy + movie = yes please. We agreed to meet and I showed up and he didn't. As I am 80 it should not surprise you that this was back in the days when not everyone had a cell phone. So I saw him in class the next day and he was apologetic and gave me some line about homework and weather and whatever. And all of that would have been a fine excuse and I could have gotten over it except that the movie was a huge drag. It was two hours of nothing but this old couple sitting in their home waiting for their family to come visit them before they die. So the whole time I'm watching it I was bored out of my mind and peeved that the cute guy stood me up.

This naturally left a bad taste in my mouth for Japanese film. Which is ridiculous, I know. But I'm a girl. I can be like that. I've seen a few Japanese films since and have begrudgingly enjoyed them but I'm still never very thrilled at the prospect.

So you can imagine how I felt tonight when I showed up at my friends house for a movie night (on a school night, no less) and found that the movie she had selected was Japanese. (The sad truth is that this movie has been recommended to me on Netflix several times and has been in my queue for a while and had I ever found out that it was Japanese it would never has seen the inside of my mailbox.) I instantly prepared my mind to be bored and got comfy just in case I found it more interesting to sleep instead of watch.

But it was actually pretty good. Not boring at all, really. It's about a man who has lost his job as a cellist when the orchestra he played in is dissolved. He moves back to his home town and the first job he lands is performing the ceremonial preparations for cremation. (I should tell you that if you watch it, it is helpful to know that the Japanese are a little squeamish when it comes to dead people. We didn't figure that out until halfway through when people started shunning him because of his work.)

The music is lovely (full of the cello, which I love) and the scenes where he's preparing the bodies are actually quite beautiful. There are some funny moments, which kept things light and I thought it had a pretty good message about how death softens the living and puts important things into focus.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Brothers Bloom

Movie: The Brothers Bloom
Like/Don't Like: Eh, not so much

I am a sucker for highly stylized films. I love all the attention to detail, the clothes, the music, the lighting, the settings, and the generally quirkiness that goes into them. I am pretty susceptible to being carried away by them. I guess I just really appreciate it when film maker has a vision and goes for it whole hog.

This was about 3/4 hog. It had the vision, but it just didn't carry it through to the end.

It follows the capers of two con artist brothers, one the mastermind and the other his faithful front man. They're trying to scam a rich woman out of her fortune by convincing her to go on a decoy con with them. I actually loved her character, played by Rachel Weisz. Mostly because were I a woman of independent means I would be very much like her. She has spent her time and money learning new hobbies like karate and the tuba and DJing. Basically she's living my dream.

The story was a little hard to follow, which I was okay with because I always assume that mysteries will work themselves out in the end and I shouldn't get caught up in the details. And this one did. But it also had a heavier ending than I was expecting and the stylized form with it's retro gothic feel had petered out a little by then and that left the emotional ending a little flat. There were some clever and funny moments throughout but they weren't enough to make it feel like a whole film.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Catching Fire

Book: Catching Fire
Author: Suzane Collins
Like/Don't Like: Gah! Cliff Hanger!!!!!

This is the sequel to The Hunger Games which I started as soon as I finished the first. And just like the first I couldn't put it down. One of these days my Wealthy Benefactor will show up and I won't have to ever worry about my dumb job interfering with my desire to read all day long.

This time we're still following Katniss and Peeta and they're still in peril and fighting the good fight and the bad guys just seem to be getting worse and worse and oooh, I just can't wait for the 3rd and final book to come out.

I am still incredibly impressed with the author's ability to convey horrific scenes in such sparse words. I think it actually makes it even more powerful. Even when I had an issue with a plot twist (I won't tell you. It would ruin things.) and felt like maybe it was a bit of a cop-out, she still managed to win me over with it because it just felt so raw and real. It's as if you're reading a newspaper account of a terrible accident where the impact of what happened hits you hard because there's no flowery language to soften the blow.

I will now admit that I lifted my Book Buying Moratorium and pre-ordered Mockingjay. And even though it will be my last weekend at home before I flit off to Tunis for three months and will no doubt have a bajillion things to accomplish I fully plan to finish it before I leave. Do you really think I can wait until November to find out what happens? Um...no.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Hunger Games

Book: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Like/Don't Like: Ooh, liked!

Tell me if this doesn't turn you stomach a bit: a post-apocalyptic society that each year makes 24 teenagers fight each other to the death on live television.

That's what this story is about. And when I realized it I almost stopped reading. Because I don't like reading about people killing each other. I especially don't like reading about teenagers killing each other. But oh so many people recommended this book to me. And one even went so far as to bring it by my house, wherein I started reading and could not stop. Sure, sleep and work got in the way but everything else fell by the side because this just sucked me right in.

Right off the bat we learn that the United States is no more. There aren't many details as to what caused it but what is left are 12 districts. There used to be 13 but there was a rebellion and the 13th was destroyed in it. In its aftermath the leaders decide that the only way to keep the people under control is to starve them and then have a competition where 2 teens are randomly chosen from each district to fight it out in a vast landscape live on TV. The last person alive gets glory and food for their district. Katniss and Peeta (biggest complaint: lame names) are the representatives from district 12, the poorest and most looked down upon district. They recognize what winning can mean to their family and friends back home but they also recognize that in order to win they will have to kill the other. The complexity of their relationship is an interesting side story.

The central idea is pretty gruesome but the writing is not. There are some horrible things that happen but the writing is so sparse that it's almost like reading about it in a newspaper. This actually was a huge bonus for me. It allowed the story to be the star. I can not tell you how exhausted I am of books dripping with adjectives and metaphors and foreshadowing. A story should be able to stand up on it's own. I don't like to be tricked into reading by hints as to what will happen in the future. I should keep reading because I legitimately care about the characters and their story. This book makes you care. The characters are strong and well written and the pacing is dead on. I didn't want to put it down.

Thanks for the recommendaition, Everyone!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Book Thief

Book: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Like/Don't Like: Like. Even though there are Nazis in it.

When I finished this book I had a hard time believing that my friend Amanda actually sent it to me. For two very good reasons.

1.) It is a book, albeit peripherally, about Nazis and the Holocaust. And Amanda hates books about those topics.

2.) I literally cried through the last 60 pages of it and I can not fathom why Amanda, who is also a big time cry baby, would send me such a tear jerker and NOT WARN ME ABOUT IT.

It follows Liesel, a 10 year old girl who has just been essentially orphaned and given to foster parents in Munich at the start of World War II. She quickly makes friends with the neighborhood kids and adjusts to living with her new family. But she feels restless and helpless because of the war and all the trials it brings. Through the course of the story she learns to love to read, especially from books she has stolen, and how to navigate both adolescence and the war.

Death is the narrator. As in the Grim Reaper. I thought it was a bit gimmicky at first but with death being such a real presence during wartime it became fitting and beautiful in a way. He admits to being both confused and frightened by humans - how a single moment can show the worst and the best in us. You see a lot of examples in the story of this.

The writing style was a little different. Lately in books I've been noticing the way information is given out. Some authors dump it on you and others let it drip out. This was given in bits and pieces with no regard to time line or story line. And I have to say that I liked it. You find out important information - like people dying - way in advance, long before it even happens. And not just hinting at it but outright telling you that this is what's going to happen. It was kind of fun to read something different like that.

Although fun is a relative term here. There were some funny moments and some sweet ones too. But people do die. A lot of them. And you love them all. There were a few times when I had to stop myself from wailing out loud. Even over the ones I knew were coming because Death said it would happen.

I finished the last 100 pages tonight on the couch while Katie sat at the table and finished the last 100 pages of Emma and I had a bit of reader envy - that she was reading something that didn't make her sob. But it was a fleeting envy because this is a really beautiful book. Even through all the agony of so many people suffering and dying - it was still beautifully written and a wonderful story.

I will mention one pet peeve though, and it is not exclusive to this book, it was just done often in it. It bothers me when an author will use a foreign word and then put the translation in. For example:

"Danke," I said. "Thanks."

This was done a lot and it was distracting. I know it's nitpicking, and maybe it wouldn't have bothered me so much if I didn't know a little German (although not nearly as much as I should considering how many years I studied it in school) but I feel that, if used properly, most foreign words can be understood in context. Particularly because most of the German that was used was slang. I think we all can guess the dirty words in any language. And all you have to do is watch Indian Jones to know that schnell means fast. And further more, we all know they're speaking German. Does it even need to be written?

Of course, this had no baring on the quality of the story and really it's just me being cranky. We'll blame the Nazis for that. It's a wonderful book.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Toy Story III

Movie:  Toy Story III
Like/Don't Like:  Loved.  No, really.

Camille has been Without Gall and cooped up in the house since Friday and felt like it was time to get out.  So we picked up some ice cream in honor of Grandma and went to the movies.  Neither of us was particularly excited to see this movie because we're both hard hearted curmudgeons.  Or, you know, we're just not that excited about animated movies.  But it was either that or the A-Team and I'm still not sold on that movie.  Why mess with a classic?

Well, let me tell you, I was wrong to not be excited.  So wrong.  Because this movie was great.  I laughed, I cried, I laughed again, and then again.  The story was fresh and there were enough new characters and a good plot line to keep it interesting the whole way through.  It was suspenseful and heart warming and funny.  And kind of scary in parts.  The kids in the audience didn't really seem scared but there is a droopy eyed baby doll in it that FREAKED ME OUT.  Oh, the nightmares I will have over it.  But that's just me.  It probably won't even faze you when you see it.  Which you should.  Soon.  Because it's that good.  And this coming from a hard hearted curmudgeon.

Monday, June 21, 2010

How the Earth Changed History

Show:  How the Earth Changed History
Channel:  National Geographic
Time:  What, Like I'm your TV Guide?  Look it up.
Like/Don't Like:  I'm putting in my pocket protector and pushing up my glasses.  It brings out the geek in me big time.

You may not know this about me but I'm a huge geek when it comes to geology.  Nothing sucks me in faster than a good show on how lakes or mountains or islands are formed.  I can spend hours reading about plate tectonics and erosion and rock formations.  You may have to give me a wedgie and shove me in a locker to shut me up about it but I make no apologies. 

This is a week long miniseries about how the geologic changes on the planet have affected the course of human history.  How China has become so fertile and rich and how, conversely, Australia has suffered from decades of drought because of the exact same winds.  How people continually live on major fault lines (Hi!) because they're rich in natural resources.  It's hosted by a Scottish geologist, so his accent is entertaining - especially when he gets excited about rock formations.  And it focuses on one specific geological condition - say wind or fire - and shows how they have created not just the earth but also the societies that live on it.  It's fascinating. 

It's showing this week but I'm sure there will be reruns of it.  And the next time I see you I promise not to rumble on too much about volcanoes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Dante Club

Book:  The Dante Club
Author:  Matthew Pearl
Like/Don't Like:  Once I got passed the ickiness I liked it a lot.

Several years ago a friend recommended this book to me.  I got it, started reading and then stopped about 30 pages in.  Details are fuzzy as to why.

Fast-forward to last year.  I read and loved The Last Dickens.  It wasn't until the end when I realized that the same guy wrote The Dante Club.  So I vowed to give it another shot.

And now the fuzzy details have cleared up.  The beginning is gruesome.  It is not for the weak-stomached or faint-hearted.  There are bugs.  Lots of them.  Particularly maggots.  And Matthew Pearl is a very skilled writer in making you squirm. 

He is also a very smart writer.  Smart as in he knows a lot of stuff.  And he spends the first third of the book dumping that stuff on you.  To the point where it can drag a bit and confuse you as to who's who.  Every man in the story has outrageous facial hair and is or at one point was married to women named Fanny.  It took me quite some time to get everyone straight in my head. 

This is historical fiction taking place in Boston at the end of the Civil War.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is translating Dante's Divine Comedy into English with the help of his friends, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and JT Fields.  This is the historical part.  The fiction part is that a mad man is on the loose and is killing people in very Dantean fashions.  Hence, the maggots.  The four men recognize the patterns and set out to figure the whole thing out.

Once I got over the ickiness at the beginning and got used to his style of information overload I could hardly put it down.  It moved along at a pretty good pace.  The majority of the information he dumps on you was pretty interesting.  And the mystery was great.  I love it when I'm completely surprised by the killer.  I mean, I was shocked!  I gasped rather loudly. 

I should put it out there that you don't have to know anything about the four main characters or Dante to enjoy it.  I didn't know anything about him or the Divine Comedy other then that there are various circles of Hell.  But you should probably have an appreciation for literature in general.  The mystery can stand alone but you're going to get a lot of literary critique with it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Letters to Juliet

Movie:  Letters to Juliet
Like/Don't Like:  Let's all take a vacation to Italy.  We'll eat gelatto!

I suppose as far as romantic comedies go this one was harmless.  It didn't have any of the ridiculous slapsticks that seem to be peppering the genre lately - for which I was incredibly grateful.  And the premise of helping an old lady find love was sweet (We all agreed later that Vanessa Redgrave is one classy broad.)  The leading man was awkward and jittery through the entire first half of the movie and that made me feel slightly awkward and jittery.  But then there were all those scenes of them driving through the Italian countryside.  Rows of twirling cypress trees have a very calming effect on me.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Just Wright

Movie:  Just Wright
Like/Don't Like:  Just Wrong

You know how people who go through traumatic events together share a special lifelong bond?  War buddies and survivors of plane crashes - those types.  So no matter how far apart they are or how many years separate them from the event they still can call each other up and say, "Hey, remember that time we were marooned on an island?"

Well, I had my Band of Brothers experience tonight with 8 other girls watching this movie.  We all went out to celebrate Camille's birthday and had a grand time at dinner before hand.  We were giggly and full and relieved we weren't in line for Sex and the City II, where there appeared to be a skanky dress and laughably inappropriate-for-a-movie-theater high heel shoes dress code going on.  And it's a Queen Latifah movie, and well, I think she's great.  I mean, she doesn't really have a wide range or anything but she plays sassy really well, and we all know how much I love the sass. 

It all seemed so promising.

And then Common came on.  He played the man who's suppose to fall in love with her - and that would have been fine and believable except that a.) they had sub-zero chemistry and b.) he has sub-zero acting skills.  I know that Common is a rapper but I've never heard any of his music.  But based strictly on his acting abilities, he had better stick with his day job.  Knights of Columbus, he was BAD!  Painfully bad.  Awkwardly bad.  There were moments when I had to avert my eyes because I was so embarrassed that he was so bad.  And it was slow.  And long.  And Paula Patton had freaky teeth, like her dentist just laid a set of veneers over her original teeth, thus making them too big for her mouth.  It was distracting.  But also a relief because then I could focus on them instead of how crappy the movie was.

At the end of it we all gathered in the lobby and stood in stunned silence over what we had experienced - knowing that this would be the day that forged our friendship forever.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

Movie:  Sherlock Holmes
Like/Don't Like:  A solid Like.

By sheer coincidence I read a few of the Sherlock Holmes stories just before this movie came out.  I'm very glad I didn't see it in the theater because I think I would have been a little annoyed with the liberties that were taken.  But as I have no memory for things I read I only had a vague discomfort about it and then got over the whole thing and enjoyed the movie. 

The story sort of gave me the creeps (secret society practicing the dark arts), and also, was a little dull, and I have a hard time watching fighting sequences with all those realistic sound effects.  I can close my eyes through the rough parts but I can still hear the bones snapping.  Eek.  But Sherlock Holmes is one of the best literary characters of all times and Robert Downey Jr. played him expertly.  Well, for a pumped up action hero - which is a bit ridiculous - he played him expertly.  I also think he would have done a great job with the traditional more cerebral/less punchy Holmes with the deerstalker cap.  He got the essence of him - making him the smartest guy in the room and knowing it.  Jude Law was surprisingly good as well.  I say surprisingly because I'm always surprised when I like him in something.  The mustache helped - as it always does.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gentlemen Broncos

Movie:  Gentlemen Broncos
Like/Don't Like:  Um.  Well.  Okay, yes, I'm on board with this.

As a general rule I'm not much for movies with excessive vomiting or other gross-out humor.  I'm a sensitive soul.  And I usually max out with a Jared Hess movie about an hour into them. 

But there were several times during this movie when I laughed loud and hard.  So yes, I liked it.  I liked it mostly because of Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords, who played a sci-fi writer.  And Sam Rockwell, who plays essentially the same character he played in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - which is not a bad thing.

The story is sparse, and also irrelevant because the whole point of these types of movies is to have a succession of random scenes that show off funny characters and non-sequiturs.  If you know this going in you'll love it.  Especially the scene where we learn how to make up sci-fi names.  It is hilarious and also dead-on.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series

Books: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Series! (The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan's Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian)
Author: Rick Riordan
Like/Don't Like: Really liked

First, I need to thank two people: 1.) Valerie, who lent me the first book, which may not seem like such a big deal but really is when you consider that she lives in New York and mailed it to me, and 2.) Teresa, who bought the whole series and then let me read it before she did, which, if you're a book lender-outer, is a sacrifice. May the gods of Olympus shower peanut M&Ms upon you girls.

Okay, on to the review. I'm going to say this upfront because when you read the first book you're going to get the feeling that you've read this all before. Perhaps in a really epic series about a wizard. Percy Jackson is a kid who finds out he's the son of Poseidon and he ends up at this magical camp for half-bloods. He has two best friends, a fumbling satyr named Grover and smarty-pants Annabeth. He finds out that there is a prophecy about him that he will need to save the world. So yes, there are some similarities. Just like there are similarities in Harry Potter to Star Wars. It's a classic tale. And after the first book you don't even notice them anymore.

The books involve a lot of Greek mythology - something I know very little about - and they're presented in a way that doesn't make you feel like you're sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture. The major and minor gods are all presented as well as the recounting of a lot of the heros' tales. But it's all done through the action - which is fast paced and fun. That's my biggest praise for the books actually. There isn't a lot of downtime. The story just keeps on moving. Perfect for kids as well as adults (ahem) with short attention spans. The characters are great. The monsters are scary but not too scary for kids. The melding of reality and mythology was seamless. And they were just really fun to read.

If I had one complaint it would be this: the headquarters for the evil Titans is in San Fransisco and the entrance to the underworld is in Los Angeles. Why at the hate for the west coast, Riordan? Do you have something against sunshine?

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Young Victoria

Movie: The Young Victoria
Like/Don't Like: Um...sure, I liked it.
I'm a bit on the fence on this one. I liked it. And I liked it better the second time around. But I didn't like that I had to watch it a second time to catch everything. It had a great potential for being a spectacular story but it was lacking. There were gaping holes in the narrative that made it hard to follow at times. And everyone was dressed alike and had the same hair styles and there were times when certain characters were referred to and I wouldn't have a single idea of who they were talking about. Somethings became clearer when I watched the deleted scenes - which, um, shouldn't those scenes have been kept in?
Maybe that was it's problem. It didn't have a clear focus so it got out of control and then hacked up in the editing process.
But for all its flaws I still enjoyed it. Maybe I saw the potential. It chronicles Queen Victoria's years just before her coronation at 18 through the first years of her marriage to Albert and it shows the difficulty she faced as a young queen with all the different people pulling at her for favors and power. All of that was pretty interesting. Emily Blunt was great and Rupert Friend was better than I anticipated. I didn't like him much in Pride and Prejudice but I thought he was good here. The mustache may have won me over.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Running the Sahara

Documentary: Running the Sahara
Like/Don't Like: If you like watching crazy people, sure

I've never really understood runners (she types as she puts another Sour Patch Watermelon in her mouth). Even casual joggers seem slightly off balanced. Unless you're being chased by a bear, or possibly zombies, I don't really see the point in running. I also don't see the point in pushing yourself to the ultimate physical and mental limits to achieve some sort of enlightenment. Couldn't you just read The Secret?

So you can imagine my confusion when I came across this documentary of three men who decided to run across the Sahara Desert. Let me state that again - in caps, because I'm screaming it - RUN ACROSS THE SAHARA DESERT!!!!!!!!!!!!! Do you have any idea how big the Sahara is? It's BIG. It's more than 4000 miles across. They ran from the Atlantic Ocean in Senegal across the desert to the Red Sea in Egypt. It took them 111 days to run the equivalent of 170 marathons. They did not take a day off. In fact, once they reached the pyramids which were about 120 miles from their final destination, they decided to not take any more breaks and just jog to the end. CRAZY TOWN! There isn't much to the story but it was pretty interesting seeing the mental toll waking up every morning and running 40-60 miles through the desert every single day takes on a man. It caused them to have some jerky moments and there were a few break-downs. But there were some really legitimate moments of camaraderie and the old team spirit. And I was really impressed by the lack of whining. I can guarantee you that were I to be on a similar expedition I would be an enormous baby even riding in the support jeep and the team would be looking for the nearest oasis to dump me at.

There was one point in the middle of the run when they were in Niger and their view was literally nothing but hundreds of miles of sand dunes and one of the guys (who had lost 40 pounds by that point) wanted to quit and the team leader said to him, "Alright, if you want to quit then quit. If you want to live your life with no excitement just go run a marathon where they hand you the water and give you a medal at the end." Pansy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bright Star

Movie: Bright Star
Like/Don't Like: Arrow to the Heart

Oh, this is a Romantic movie. I mean poetry by firelight, picnics in fields of bluebells, doomed love, death by consumption Romantic. And it's good. Beautifully shot, well acted, amazing costumes, and lots and lots of poetry. I loved it.

It follows the three year relationship of John Keats and Fanny Brawne. She was his muse and later his fiance (sort of). He was too poor for them to marry and it was broken off when his friends convinced him to travel to Italy for his health. And we all know what happened to him in Italy (consumption!). I cried and cried. And then I pulled out my Keats and started memorizing poems.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Movie: Fantastic Mr. Fox
Like/Don't Like: Fantastic!

This movie is kind of awesome. It's quirky. It's funny. It has great music. And Bill Murray. And it has a real home-made feel to it. It's 100% Wes Anderson, which means that even puppet animals wear skinny short pants and talk into Dictaphones. (Side note: I watched this movie last night. And this morning I happened to catch the last 15 minutes of The Life Aquatic and I have to say that stop action animation seems to be the perfect fit for Wes Anderson. It's as if his live action films could only take him so far in creating the world that's in his head.)

There is also an immense attention to detail that I thought was brilliant. Every scene was filled with little tiny items that could easily have been looked over but added a very complete, homey, warm feel to it. Like the corduroy jacket on Foxy, or Mrs. Fox's pair of scissors she always had on her. It made me wish I could reach my hand in and touch everything. Years ago I watched a documentary on doll house enthusiasts. It showed them scouring the country for months to find just the right wee sized chair or picture frame and, frankly, it freaked me out. But here it made sense. Had I been on the design team I can completely see myself staying up all night to hand stitch a track suit or make a teeny chair cushion because it all just seemed so magical.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Movie: Emma (The newest miniseries on Masterpiece. I'm 80)
Like/Don't Like: Coming around to it.

It's seems about time for a new Emma adaptation, right? The Gwyneth Paltrow one is old enough now to warrant it. And for the most part I liked it. It was faithful enough to the book to please any purest but added just enough imagined scenes to make it its own. The side characters were well played. Michael Gabon plays her dad and I am of the belief that you cannot go wrong by casting Dumbledore. And Johnny Lee Miller was Mr. Knightley and I have to say he has aged well. He always struck me as an uncomfortable actor in his younger days but he seems to have found his groove. Anyway, yes, all side characters well played.

My biggest gripe, and it's not that big but needs to be mentioned, was with Romola Garai, who played Emma. I thought she played her too modern, too over the top. I know that Emma is suppose to be bratty and immature, but she seemed closer to a college co-ed then a proper English lady, which, bratty aside, she also was. It could just be a personal preference on my part but I found it kind of distracting. I will say that I liked her better in the second half, which may be the whole point. Even Jane Austen said we probably wouldn't like her too much.

It Might Get Loud

Documentary: It Might Get Loud

Like/Don’t Like: It was pretty loud

What is there to say about this documentary except that it’s Jimmy Page, Jack White and The Edge getting together to talk about electric guitars and jam. Kind of awesome. Especially because all three are such different guitarists. They talk about their first guitars, how they got to their signature sounds, how their bands were formed. It’s pretty cool hearing the perspective of the guitarists in iconic bands. It’s usually the vocalist who does all the talking (Just try to ignore Bono. You can’t. He won’t let you.) but it’s the guitarist you hear first. You can always tell a U2 or Led Zepplin song from the first few notes on the guitar. Which brings me to Jack White. There’s no denying the guy is talented but I like him so much more in this film because he was talking more than he was singing. His voice doesn’t just drive me to the loony bin, it checks me in and laces up the straight jacket

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Book: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Like/Don't Like: Loved

Let's just get this out of the way: this is a ridiculous title for a book. It's just way too precious and it made me think of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood or the Jane Austen Bookclub and does the world really need any more books about women who get together to talk about their man troubles and the enduring spirit of womanhood. No. It doesn't. And that title is the only reason why it took me ages to get around to reading it. Despite it being highly recommended by several trusted friends.

So I am happy to report that it is nothing like those books. It is a lovely little story. It is written entirely in letters (which I thought would drive me nuts but didn't) primarily between a writer in London, Juliet, and a group of people in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, who formed a literary society during the German Occupation of World War II. They write about their love of books and the troubles they've had during the war and the whole thing is utterly wonderful. It's funny and clever and was much deeper than the title would suggest. It will make you 1.) want to study up on Guernsey and 2.) want to find a pen pal.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Book: Run
Author: Ann Patchett
Like/Don't Like: Really liked

Blast. I've gone too long. I finished this book a week ago and now all I can remember is that I liked it a lot. It was centered around a rich Irish Catholic family in Boston consisting of a father and his three sons, two of whom are adopted and black. And there's a car accident that changes their lives. And that is about it. I am clearly pathetic.

Oh, wait! I can remember that it was beautifully written. I mean, seriously. Ann Patchett has a gift for writing from different perspectives. You feel like you're sitting in a room with a bunch of interesting people and they're all telling their version of a story all at once but one voice will carry over the others, then it will subside and another will rise up, then another, then another until the whole story comes out.

Is that enough to make you want to read it?

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Movie: Adam
Like/Don't Like: It was very sweet.

So Aspergers Syndrome is so common now that there's a movie about a guy who has it. I'm still waiting for a movie about Restless Leg Syndrome.

Adam is a 29 year old guy with Aspergers whose father has just died, leaving him alone in the world. He has a job and an apartment and his father's best friend, but other then that he's on his own. A school teacher, Beth, moves into the apartment upstairs and starts up a relationship with him. It's sweet and awkward and has the looming question of whether or not this could actually work out. She helps him become more independent and he teachers her to be more compassionate and also more specific in the things she wants. It's a lovely little film.

Young at Heart

Documentary: Young at Heart
Like/Don't Like: Pensioners singing Sonic Youth - Love

You MUST see this documentary. Must. Here's why:

1.) There is nothing more wonderful/beautiful/hilarious then a group of old people doing something fun. This documents a singing group called Young at Heart that is made up of elderly folk singing non-standards. You would expect them to sing In the Good Old Summertime or Stardust or something, but they've moved on from those. They sing Golden Years by David Bowie, and I Wanna Be Sedated by the Ramones. Their version of Fix You by Coldplay will have you in tears.

2.) It makes you want to LIVE. It seems like the biggest challenge of the choir is keeping its members alive - the choir director asked who has ever had last rites said for them and more then a few hands shot up - and yet all of these people participate because they love to it. They've hit on the secret of life and if makes you want to join in.

3.) My black grandma is in it. Katie saw it first so when I was watching it she said, "There's a black woman who looks exactly like Grandma Knecht in this" and she was right. I picked her out just from the profile. And then she smiled and she had the gap in her teeth and it was uncanny. Had she been wearing a muumuu and watching the People's Court I would not have been able to tell the difference.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging. The movie!

Movie: Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging.
Like/Don't Like: Double Cool with Knobs.

By now you must know my love for the Georgia Nicholson books, those embarrassingly hilarious novels by Louise Rennison about a teenage British girl that make you snort-laugh in public. I have lent them out to so many people I'm thinking about getting a second set just to have around for emergencies.

So awhile ago I got an urgent text from a friend whom I introduced them to saying: "They're making Georgia into a movie!!!!!!!!!" It was released in England but not here. And then it was released on DVD in England but not here, which is an important distinction because while you can buy ye olde English DVDs online, if you don't have ye olde English DVD player you can't watch it. Fortunately I have a friend who has a magical DVD player that can plays DVDs from all around the world and she bought the movie and we had a fab viewing party about a year ago, wherein we wore boy entrancers and ate cheesy whats-its and jammie dodgers and midget gems. None of this will make sense to you unless you have read the books, so READ THE BOOKS!

I didn't write about it then because it wasn't widely released. But it is now - Katie just got it through Netflix - so I can tell you it is pretty funny and you should watch it. If only to justify wearing fake eyelashes with your ace gang. It lacks a bit of the charm that the books have but it has enough of it to make you want to re-read the entire series and laugh like a loon on loon pills. All the awkward moments are there, including Georgia showing up to a party dressed as a stuffed olive. Classic.

Leap Year

Movie: Leap Year
Like/Don't Like: Um...

You know the premise to the movie: Amy Adams wants to propose to her boyfriend and flies to Ireland to do it because in Ireland a woman can propose to man on leap day. I neither liked nor disliked this movie so I'm just going to give you the facts:

1.) Amy Adams has magical hair. On several occasions her character gets doused by rain and mud and her hair still comes out looking like a Pantene ad.
2.) I couldn't completely buy into her character because she didn't bring a single pair of sensible shoes on her trip to Ireland. It's difficult to like a girl who travels across the Irish countryside in 4 inch heels.
3.) Matthew Goode is adorable.
4.) Matthew Goode should always have facial hair.
5.) My obsession with facial hair is reaching epic heights.
6.) I want to go to Ireland.
7.) For a romantic comedy it wasn't very funny.
8.) It had a romantic ending and I'm a sucker for that. Almost as big of a sucker as I am for facial hair.

I was going to give you a rant about how much it annoys me when romantic comedies ask you to believe that two people who have spent the whole movie annoying each other can magically fall in love without actually showing you any reason why they should be, but I realize that that is the nature of the genre and I should stop being a grump.

I'm giving this an "um..." because while I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to anyone I can see myself wasting a few hours on a Saturday afternoon watching in when it inevitably turns up on Lifetime. It could be my new "Lakehouse".

The Class

Movie: The Class
Like/Don't Like: Loved

I'm going to give you a heads up on this one because I was slightly confused until I finished the movie and watched the special features. It looks like a documentary about a middle school French class in a rough Paris neighborhood. It is not. It's a fictitious movie about a middle school French class in a rough Paris neighborhood. But it's not a traditional movie either. It doesn't use professional actors and most of it is improvised. Which gives it an eerily real vibe.

Francois Begaudeau wrote a novel about his time teaching at a middle school and then made it into a movie using real students who had gone through an improve class. There was a script but a big chunk of the action was made up by the kids. Which was fascinating because you really see that teenagers are exactly the same no matter where in the world they are. When I worked for a school district I had to go to a few middle school and high school classes and the only difference between those classes and the class in the movie was the language. But even that wasn't much of a difference because teenagers speak the same way too. There are the mumblers who are trying to make excuses for not doing their work, and the girls who can't control their volume when they're excited, and the shy smart kids who speak clearly and directly when spoken too.

You also get to see teachers who face problems like cultural and generational differences, and social and moral issues such as how much should a teacher interfere in a student's home life and where is the line between loving educator and strict disciplinarian. It makes you realize that teaching young minds is a universally tricky business.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Documentary: Helvetica
Like/Don't Like: Like. But I like this sort of stuff.

Who knew there was so much to say about a font. And not just any font. The most straight forward font there is - Helvetica.

And who knew that they could make such a fascinating documentary about this font. Or, excuse me, typeface (I don't want to offend the typeface designers who - I'm not kidding - are PASSIONATE about it.) It basically draws a line from its creation in Switzerland in the 50s when Modernism was all the rage, to a backlash against it in the 70s and 80s when we were all down with the Establishment, to today with the hipsters going crazy for it. Case in point - American Apparel uses it. One typeface designer - a product of the 70s graphic design theory actually blames Helvetica for both the Vietnam war and the current war in Iraq.

You would either love it or be totally confused as to why it was even made. And I bet you know what side you're on. But I'll end with brief exchange I had with a friend a few days after seeing it.

Teresa: I love that at the end of the Harry Potter books there is a page telling you about the typeface.

Me: I have a movie I think you'll love.