January 11, 2007

Movie Review: Unforgiven, Starring Clint Eastwood

Unforgiven starring Clint Eastwood
This movie I saw about 14 years ago when it first came out in theaters. I remembered it being a really great movie. It is number #98 on the AFI Greatest Movies of All Time List, but this time the movie seemed very depressing.

For those of you that haven't seen this movie, here is a summary. Clint Eastwood plays William Munny, a man who in his younger days killed all sorts of people, committed a multitude of crimes, was perpetually drunk, and mistreated animals. It turns out that sometime later, he meets a woman who is virtuous and kind. Against her family's wishes, she gets married to the nefarious Mr. Munny. We never learn why she did or even meet her. When the movie starts she is dead.

Two years later, Munny is a pig farmer raising two kids by himself.

January 09, 2007

Movie Review: Shall We Dance

Shall We Dance starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez
Richard Gere plays an overworked estate attorney. After your loved one dies, he makes sure all the papers are signed and all the "i's" are dotted. Gere is bored of his life: he and his wife pass like two tumbleweeds, each running to an endless series of work and school-related meetings. One night while riding home on the metro, he looks up and sees J.Lo looking forlornly out the window. Enraptured by her face, he continues this stalker-like behavior until he gets the guts to go into her dance studio and sign up for ballroom dancing lessons.
It turns out that J.Lo is the assistant at Madame Mitzi's School of Dance. He and two other guys, one an overweight dude who wants to impress his girlfriend and the other a guy who wants a girlfriend (or so he says), take lessons from Madame Mitzi herself. He begins to enjoy the dancing and feels more alive. Even his daughter starts noticing a change in him.
Okay, so it is a little predictable. Gere becomes a fabulous dancer; he considers cheating on his wife with J.Lo (but doesn't); both his classmates end up pretty good, too. All of this comes together in a grand dance championship with Gere almost winning the prize. It was still very fun. I found it most surprising that Gere did not cheat on his wife. In most of today's movies, they can't seem to exist without a bedroom scene. This time, the audiences have to make-do with a little sultry dancing.
Susan Sarandon plays Gere's wife. This is the 2nd time I have seen Sarandon dancing (the first was in Elizabethtown). There is also a fun performance from Stanley Tucci (he recently played Niles in The Devil Wears Prada, and he will be in the upcoming Tale of Despereaux movie). Tucci plays Link, a man who is embarrassed of his ballroom dancing interest. He hides his hobby from his co-workers, and when he dances he dons a wig and false teeth. I really like Tucci and hope I see him in more movies.
I recommend this movie to anyone who likes ballroom dancing, musicals, or chick flicks with good parts for men.

January 07, 2007

Book Reviews: Defining Dulcie by Paul Acampora and Gossamer by Lois Lowry

Defining Dulcie by Paul Acampora
Who would like it?: I am guessing mostly girls, ages 12-14. Fans of books like Dovey Coe by Frances Dowell, Shug by Jenny Han or Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Giff,, which have strong female characters. Dulcie has a lot of independence but also tenderness.
Well, what can I say? Dulcie is a winning character. I really liked this girl and wanted to meet her in person. She plays a stubborn sixteen-year old girl whose father has just died. In a mad rush to get away from her past and make a new life for herself, Dulcie's mother decides to pack up her daughter and drive from Connecticut to California. Dulcie hates this idea and just to prove it, she steals her dad's truck (the one and only possession left behind) and drives on back to her hometown by herself. When she gets there, her grandfather, a school janitor, decides to let her stay if she works for no pay as one of his staff. Dulcie, by the way, had always worked as a janitor with her dad and grandfather. She would do anything to stay, so she agrees to take the job, working alongside a new recruit Roxanne, who becomes a fast friend. The decisions she makes during that summer will show her that holding onto a dead person too tightly can only keep you warm for a short time.

I loved the characters in this book. Roxanne, we find out, is suffering a bad homelife, but I really liked how she wasn't all bitter about it. She seemed to have a great attitude, despite her situation. So often, we hear criminals saying they couldn't help how they turned out because of a bad homelife. I could predict that Roxanne would turn it okay in the long run. She didn't believe she was a bad girl or that she deserved the treatment. She saw her mother for who she was. I also thought the relationship between Dulcie and her mom was honest and true to life. They had their issues but they also have a deep love for one another.
One really fun thing about this book is that even though the main story is set after Dulcie has stolen the truck and arrived back in Connecticut, we hear about her roadtrip after the fact. We learn about places she stopped to visit and people she met along the way. We find out how much she grew up on the way home and why she loved her father so much. It is never out and and out explained; we just learn it naturally as the story unfolds.

Gossamer by Lois Lowry
Who would like it?: Boys or girls ages 13-15 who like to read about the spirit world (ghosts, paranormal, dream interpretation), children who like tender stories (Goodnight, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian). This would also pair nicely with reading a biography like A Child Called "It" for older teens, ages 16 and up. I would recommend pairing this with something because it will raise a lot of questions in whoever reads it.
Some consider Lowry to be disturbing with books such as The Giver under her belt. After reading this book, I think I would have to agree: Lowry will not be appreciated by every teen. Her work is very serious and not always fun to read. In this book, I must say I didn't even like the character I was supposed to feel sorry for, but maybe that's not the goal.
In Gossamer, there are creatures who are responsible for giving people good dreams. They are called The Heap. The beings of the Heap go into your house at night and touch objects in your house to collect good memories that they combine to give you good dreams. Likewise, there is The Horde who give humans nightmares. We meet several characters in this book. The member of the Heap we get to know best is Littlest. Littlest has a lot of enthusiasm, but she is a beginner at this dream-giving thing, so she tends to ask a lot of questions and gets distracted from her task. Littlest and her mentor, Thin Elderly, are assigned to a home where a foster mom is taking on a new child, a boy who was formerly abused by his father. The conflict is that even though Littlest is trying to give this boy good dreams and hope, the collective Horde is equally working to ruin him by giving him nightmares.
What saves this story is that the concept is interesting enough to keep you reading. I didn't particularly care for any of the characters. The book is incredibly short, so none of the characters are fleshed out enough for us to form a relationship with them. In addition, you look inside the head of Littlest, Thin Elderly, the little boy (John), the foster mom, his read mom, and other Heap members. Your attention is so divided, it is hard to get into the story. Plus, the little boy is such a brat. He continues to say hateful things to the foster mom even as she is trying to care for him. I didn't really believe the little boy would be that nasty, no matter how much abuse he suffered. I didn't find the dialogue particularly true to life. But, if you are a fan of Lowry, you will want to read this book. I know this review doesn't sound very positive, but I do respect Lowry and think she tried something challenging here. I think she wanted us to care about the boy and be happy about his redemption. I think she also wanted to realistically portray how an abused child might treat others. I just think she failed at these important elements.