May 28, 2007

Book Review: A Friend at Midnight by Carolina Cooney


Caroline Cooney diversifies her writing portfolio with an inspirational fiction novel for teens. I am unaware of any former ventures on the part of Cooney in writing this type of fiction. If any of my readers know of any such works, please leave them in the comments.

When the novel begins, eight-year old Michael is being told to get out of a car by an unidentified voice. He is being dropped off at the La Guardia airport without breakfast, money, luggage, or a plane ticket. We are then told the unidentified voice belongs to Michael's father. Michael has grown up living with his mother, stepfather, and brothers and sisters. When he decides to go live with his estranged father, the whole family is worried about him, especially his older sister, 15-year old Lily.

Lily receives the call from Michael, who is trapped in the airport, without any means of helping himself. She doesn't know what to do. Her mother and stepfather have left to take her older sister, Reb, to college. Lily is alone with Nathaniel, her toddler stepbrother. Finally, Lily, who is not old enough to drive yet, decides to fly herself and Nathaniel to Michael and fly them all back.

May 24, 2007

Movie Review: Away From Her


Away From Her had a sense of realism for which I was unprepared. The modern movie has so many special effects, screen touch-ups, and impossible stunts that the viewer stays in a suspended belief stage for most of the film. Movies like this are rare in this day and age. The characters could be your parents, grandparents, or aunts and uncles. This could be your life. The suspended belief is removed leaving only a raw, uncomfortable feeling.

The Notebook was another movie about a woman with dementia, but it had many elements that clearly indicated it was still a movie (perky flashbacks, recognizable actors, lots of strange camera angles, and a sun-kissed look).

Away from her is a phrase the main character uses when he is telling people how he and his wife got engaged. "I never wanted to be away from her." But that is exactly what is going to happen, for Fiona is showing the signs of forgetfulness and fading common in a person with Alzheimer's. Fiona wants to be checked into a nursing home. Grant, her husband, is clearly fazed by the thought of them being separated, but Fiona insists. I am not sure why she insists. Usually we think of family deciding they can't handle an individual, not the individual deciding she doesn't want to be handled.

Grant checks her into a nursing home. To his dismay, they have a first 30 days "no visitor" policy, which means he has to cope without her physically for a month. Gordon Pinsent, who plays Grant, is an actor with a stoic face, but under the surface we can see he is dying. This isn't a suave actor; he is a little pudgy and clumsy-looking. Julie Christie is Fiona, and she is a recognizable face, but she fades into her character so well you forget she is an actor.

May 21, 2007

Book Review: Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset sisters


Eleven-year old Cornelia is a lonely girl whose mother is a famous concert pianist. Her mother is always travelling and never takes Cornelia on the road with her. Cornelia is always left at home with just the nosy housekeeper, Madame Desjardins. Her quiet nature causes the other students in her class to alienate her, leaving Cornelia to cope in the best way she knows how: by learning loads of advanced vocabulary words. She uses these words as a wall whenever brown-nosing parents want to know more about Cornelia's mom. Cornelia just uses a big words, and POOF!, the questions stop.


Cornelia lives in a high-rise apartment building in the middle of Greenwich Village, and it looks like some new neighbors have moved in. One day, Cornelia is walking down the wall, when a black blur comes dashing out of the new neighbor's door. It is Mister Kinyatta, a black bull terrier puppy. Cornelia meets Mister Kinyatta's owner, the elegant Virginia, and her housekeeper/companion, Patel. Cornelia becomes friends with Virginia, a strange, elusive woman with a love of words and a different room in her home to represent the trips she has taken around the world with her sisters--to Morocco, France, England, and India.


Virginia shares her life with Cornelia story by story, becoming like Scheherazade from the Arabian Nights, only the stories aren't told to save her own life, but Cornelia's. Virginia has an Auntie Mame quality. She is well-travelled and very sophisticated. Her fascinating stories breathe life back in Cornelia's dowdy existence.


The stories are fascinating and entertaining. Sisters Virginia, Beatrice, Alexandra, and chubby Gladys seem to find adventure everywhere they go. For me, the story was just okay, but it was a clean read, and I could see it appealing to middle grade girls that feel isolated or long for adventure. Written by Lesley M. M. Blume. Click here for Amazon information.

May 18, 2007

Movie Stuff: Akira Kurosawa Films and Influenced Films


Last week was Akira Kurosawa week at my place. I have a deep-seated love of everything Japanese. About two years ago, I watched The Seven Samurai, which was one of the BEST movies I have ever seen, hands down. I had heard so much about this movie in pop culture but was never sure what all the fuss was about. It took me several days to get through the film, but it was heavy with meaning. It made think about what is a hero? And what is the cost of being a hero? In the Seven Samurai, poor farmers seek out the help of seven samurai to fight off bandits. The bandits regularly stop by and steal the crops they all slaved to grow. The townspeople know they need help.

They find these samurai superheroes that can kick butt, but most of them also have lovable personalities that make you want to take them home and keep them as a pet. I especially liked the leader of band (played by the amazing Takashi Shimura) and the comic character, Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune). As the town learn how to fight and defend their homes, the whole community changes from a sniveling, helpless bunch into fearsome warriors proud of their heritage. It is amazing how the samurai and the townspeople come together. You can also see that the samurai long for some of the things that the townsmen have: wives, kids, and a home.

May 11, 2007

Book Review: Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman



Author Alice Hoffman is wonderful at balancing the supernatural with the ordinary. She wrote Practical Magic, which was later turned into a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock, in which two witch sisters struggle to balance that fine line between wanting to be normal and embracing their unique gifts.
A few years ago, she wrote the Ice Queen, which was about a librarian who is hit by lightning. The librarian can no longer see the color red and is always cold. She meets a man who was hit by lightning and is always hot, and they are drawn to each other in an electric way that leads to pain and pleasure.
Hoffman's work has a fairy-tale, dreamlike quality. She writes in a genre called magical realism. In The Ice Queen, there is a character who lives in an apartment building with a lime tree out back. The lime tree is brought up repeatedly, almost like a motif in a fairy story or a myth. There is also a motif of flying or wings. Her characters are usually doomed to some horrible fate, but the writing style captivates us. Also, her characters are lovingly crafted.
In Skylight Confessions, Hoffman leads us on a journey through three generations of one family. In one moment, two characters make a decision that changes the course of their lives and the lives of their offspring. What Hoffman seems to be asking us is if that course leads to misery, does that mean it was a mistake? If you could take it back, would you or would you still make the same decision?

May 10, 2007

Book Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Yang


American Born Chinese by Gene Yang was the Printz Award winner for 2007. It's been sitting in my pile for a few months now, even though I was told it would take me no more than an hour to read. All the reviews I read about this graphic novel have been very positive, and I must agree it is a masterpiece.


But, as usual, I have a different viewpoint to bring to this discussion. We all have filters we view the world through, and this is also true of the way we approach media, whether it be books, movies, poetry, etc. My Christian faith is a large filter for me, and it impacts the way I view books.


American Born Chinese is a story told in three separate stories that eventually converge. Remember Holes? Louis Sachar did the same thing. The three plotlines came together in surprising ways that add to the enjoyment of the story. It is part of the mystery of the book.

May 03, 2007

Movie Review: Now, Voyager


Now, Voyager was a movie that made me think of my mom and watching movies with her. It was very comforting. This starred Bette Davis in what I think is her finest role--even better than her performance in All About Eve. I know many may argue, but she was so unbecoming at the beginning of this movie, I barely recognized her. 
 
Charlotte is a spinster with bushy eyebrows and a scared rabbit look in her eyes. Her mother has driven her to the brink of madness from too much attention and too much control. When Charlotte comes downstairs to meet Dr. Jaquith (Claude Raines ), the word that comes to mind is "trapped." Charlotte is trapped in a world of unhappiness. Her mother forces her to wear unattractive clothes, won't allow her to lose weight, and has chased away every suitor.

We find out that Charlotte was born late in life and probably wasn't wanted. The only comfort her mother takes in her birth is knowing that Charlotte will care for her when she is old. So any joy that Charlotte takes in life becomes a threat to her mother. The mother fears Charlotte will leave her alone and helpless if she gets married. Gladys Cooper plays a most detestable mother figure. Charlotte is the most pitiable of all women. She knows she is unloved, was unwanted, and she is faced with a life of eternal misery. To ease her happiness, she lives a secret life behind her closed door, smoking cigarettes and reading unsuitable books.
Dr. Jaquith immediately insists that Charlotte spend some time in his sanitarium to rest up and get her mind straight. Finally she seems well, but of course, she is resisting the idea of going home. Dr. Jaquith and Charlotte's sister conspire to send her on a pleasure cruise. When Charlotte emerges from her cabin, she looks nothing like herself. Her clothes are fashionable, including non-sensible shoes! Her brows are trimmed. Her face is perfect. And the shyness she felt is transferred into an aloof quality we know all men find irresistible.