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?

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.