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.