December 23, 2008
Casey Affleck as Robert Ford is amazing. Casey is Ben's younger brother and usually plays the village idiot. His first role I recall is playing the underling to Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in Good Will Hunting. And he reprises this type of character as one of the two getaway drivers in the Ocean's 11, 12, and 13 movies. In this film, although he still plays someone's doormat, he is underestimated by those around him.
December 02, 2008
I went to my second viewing of The Dark Knight over Thanksgiving weekend. During my first viewing, I remember thinking, "This is awesome!" What's not to like? It has great special effects, riveting performances by many of the characters, though not necessarily Christian Bale (What's with that lisp?), haunting music, and a stellar plot. Even though it goes longer than two hours, you don't get bored.
On this second viewing, I found myself in a more contemplative mood. I was thinking, of course, about Heath Ledger's Joker. I think this character has a great deal to teach us about the true nature of evil. In fact, I would say this is the most honest portrayal of pure evil we have ever seen in a movie. There is a trend in recent media to try to "understand" criminals. Oh, he had a rough childhood. Poor him, that's why he's the way he is. And I am not belittling that. Often there are circumstances we can't see. And if we are truly going to love people unconditionally we need to hear their stories without judgment.
But the Dark Knight's Joker has no reasons. He gives so many different stories about why his face is cut up, that we don't know which one is the truth. Maybe all of them are true; maybe none of them are. Why is he evil? Because he just is.
December 01, 2008
Make mine Vampire!
As a young adult librarian, it was my God sworn duty to view the movie that is causing teen girls all over the universe to roll over, clutching their hearts and suffering from increased heart palpitations: Twilight. I am going to try to review this as the movie alone.
The acting was okay. Of course, not much acting was required. To be cast in this movie, you had to be sexy hot and make cool poses. It's similar to 300 in that sense. Robert Pattinson is convincing as Edward. He takes the acting up a step by hiding his accent and giving lots of smoldering glances. Kristen Stewart as Bella-- hmmm, I could go either way. Yes, her performance was a little bland, but let's face it, the character of Bella is bland. She has no life outside of Edward. She refuses to have any sort of meaningful relationship with her parents or any of her friends.
The supporting vampires were acceptable. Like I said, not much was required except to look attractive and make cool poses like you are about ready to pounce on someone.
November 24, 2008
I forgot how good this movie was. Recently I watched it for a screenplay analysis. You can read that post here. This film is just so good. I believe Baz Luhrmann's masterpiece is what re-ignited interest in the movie musical. Everything about this movie keeps you captivated. The characters do an impressive job. Ewan McGregor is convincing as the starry-eyed idealistic poet who falls in love with Satine. He sees nothing but her, and his face lights up when she walks into the room. Nicole Kidman does a decent job in her role as well, although all she has to do is be gorgeous and tantalizing. Towards the end of the movie, she does pick up her game and presents a haunting portrait of a woman who knows she has doomed herself to a life of torment without her love. Both of them do fine as singers. I am sure their voices were touched up a lot, but who cares?
The supporting cast is great as well. The Duke sneers effectively. Jim Broadbent as Harold Zigler is great as the manager of the Moulin Rouge. He is a kind man, although his first love is his theater. He truly is sorry he has to ask Satine to sacrifice herself, but not sorry enough that he is willing to see the Moulin Rouge go bankrupt. He has a great number towards the end called The Show Must Go On. My favorite supporting actor by far has to be John Leguizamo, a Baz Luhrmann regular. He plays the dwarfed version of Toulouse-Lautrec well and represents all that glitters in the Bohemian. He believes in truth, beauty, and love and wants everyone around him to have all 3 if possible.
November 23, 2008
1. A good screenplay lasts no more than two hours. After that, an audience will get antsy. Of course, some movies are longer than two hours, but you do this at great risk and will have to do something special to compensate.
2. A good story is when someone wants something very badly and is having trouble getting it.
3. Each screenplay has three acts. Act I is about 45 minutes to an hour. Acts II will be the longest. Act III is the shortest because a movie should accelerate at the end. Each act ends with a cliffhanger to keep people from walking out.
4. Besides that structure, a two hour movie is made up of eight 15-minute sequences.
5. Right in the middle, there is a moment called a midpoint where something is reversed.
6. Each story should have a protagonist and an antagonist. In action, adventure type movies, this person is a villain. In a romance, the lover is the antagonist. Not an enemy, but the person standing in the main character's way.
Okay, so I went home and watched Moulin Rouge. This is such a great example. I could really see what she was talking about by watching this movie. Not everything was exactly 15 minutes, but I got the idea of the structure and could follow along.
NOTE: IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE AND DON'T WANT IT SPOILED, DON'T READ BELOW HERE. THIS WILL GIVE AWAY THE PLOT AND ENDING.
Act I is what I call the Falling in Love act. In this act, our hero, Christian, accompanies his new friends to the Moulin Rouge, where they hope to employ him as the lead composer for their theoretical play that will give a voice to the Bohemian Revolution. That night, Christian meets and falls for Satine, the lead courtesan that works at the Moulin Rouge. This lasts about 55 minutes. It starts at the beginning and ends when Christian and Satine kiss for the first time and realize they are in love. They decide to be lovers.
November 17, 2008
I wish I had more time to read. People think that librarians get to read books all the time. No, I just help other people find books that they have time to read. When I start a book, it usually takes me at least a couple weeks to finish it. This is because sometimes the only moments I have to read are during my lunch break.
I remember the days when I found time to snuggle up and read a delicious book. Sometimes I would finish one in a night. Well, I got to relive those days by reading The Harrowingin one evening. You see, the author, Alex Sokoloff, came to speak at my library. And before she came, I really wanted to finish her book. Lucky for me, the book was entertaining and the story moved.
The story takes place on a college campus. It's Thanksgiving break, and while most students are going to have turkey day with their family, five students choose to stay on campus: the jock, a slut, a bookworm, a musician, and our heroine, the lonely Robin. There's not much friendship between them, but as the hour runs late, illegal substances are passed around and someone finds a Ouija board. Then the students meet Zachary, and the game turns into a nightmare.
October 22, 2008
The difficulty I have is giving a plot summary. It's one of those books that is really hard to describe. Rather than try to describe the plot, I will just tell you how the book starts. We meet Ivy, our protagonist, when she is seven years old. She tells us that she lives in a small town and that she is often in a drug store where the Rumbaugh twins live and work. We aren't sure why she spends so much time there, yet, but she is there often enough that the twins have a playroom for her. One day, she goes down to the playroom and she sees the twins' mother--the twins' mother, who happens to be dead--The twins' mother who happens to be dead and stuffed through taxidermy. Yes, that's right, just like Norman Bates. Although the twins deny it and say she's a stuffed bear, Ivy can't get this image out of her mind.
She is frightened and fascinated by what she sees. That's when she finds out about the curse of the Rumbaughs, who love their mothers to the point of obsession. What Ivy sees that day will connect her to the twins for the rest of her life.
Now, although this book is creepy, there's no murder or incest, so it's a far cry from Psycho. Gantos, who writes the popular Joey Pigza books, gets the combination of elements just right. The mood is that of a psychological fairy tale. It has the subtle creepiness of a Grimm fairytale.
Give this to older teens that enjoy darker reads such as Francesca Lia Block.
October 16, 2008
So, not too long ago a movie came out called Blindness. Keep in mind I haven't seen this movie. In short, the movie is about a place where all people start going blind. The city feels like it could be catching, so they quarantine all the blind people in one prison. As the new people try to deal with their blindness, they begin to act like animals, becoming more and more cruel.
September 16, 2008
In the middle of our world's hard look at the Muslim religion and the Asian world in general, the movie Traitor is just one of many that has come up in the last couple years to focus on the world of Muslim suicide bombers and "terrorists." I have trouble with the word terrorist because it assumes that someone is trying to cause terror. I am not sure this is always true of Muslim extremists, but in the American mindset right now, Muslim often equates terrorist. Or if you say the word terrorist, they are likely to think of those from traditional Muslim countries.
The question this movie prompts in my mind is who does the title refer to? Who is the traitor? Does it refer to Samir, who betrays those who trust him? Is it the men who have twisted the message of Islam to include radical killings? Are they traitors to Islam because they have walked away from the true message? Is it Roy, the American agent who assumes he understands the situation and is hunting down the one man who is actually capable of stopping a crime?
In this movie we meet Samir, whose father was killed in a bombing. Now he builds explosives that he sells under the table to militants. We assume he is a Muslim extremist. He goes to a prison camp and, after a rocky start, is befriended by another Muslim extremist. They escape their prison, and that's when the fun begins.
They linger in a spot, finding recruits and running missions until their location gets tracked down. Then they move onto another place. Wherever they go, they try to blend in with the locals. They are complete in their devotion to the tasks set before them. Samir gives careful training on the mechanics of setting off a bomb in a public place.
September 11, 2008
A young girl who lives in a romanticized island in Greece is about to tie the knot with a handsome but forgettable fellow. The one thing she feels lacking in her heart is having her father give her away. She doesn't know her father. She lives with her mother, who runs a quaint hotel for vacationing guests. But now she has the solution: she found her Mother's diary and has it narrowed down to 3 candidates. Her plan is to invite all 3 estranged lovers to the wedding festivities. She believes that when she meets her father, she'll just know. It's a preposterous plan, but this movie works. It might not work for men, but it works for me.
Now Mom is confronted with THE ONE from her past. When they met, he had a fiance, and he never returned.
Along the way, the characters sing ABBA songs with much glee. The setting is gorgeous. The island has a mysterious, romantic gleam. You cannot imagine living there. It is something out of a postcard, although it is supposedly rundown. The beauty of the hotel and the surrounding landscape makes you believe that anything can happen, even magic. I wanted to be there amongst them, enjoying the island sangrias. I can't emphasize enough how happy I felt when I left the theater. You will believe in love again.
September 08, 2008
Rose and Lissa are like most teenage girls. They like boys, like to shop at the mall, and feel misunderstood. The only difference is that they are vampires. Lissa is a Moroi princess, a member of the vampire royalty, while Rose is a dhampir guardian who has sworn to protect Lissa even to death. Two years ago, they ran away from St. Vladimir’s Academy, a private school for the Moroi and Dhampir races, for reasons that only Rose fully knows.
Now, the school’s guardians have caught up with them and want to bring them back to the academy against their will. The halls of St. Vladimir’s are filled with the same things they have always been: snotty Moroi, secrets, clan loyalties, and a deathly fear of the Striogoi: vampires who have become immortal and seek to destroy all of the royal family.
As a punishment for running away, Rose has to train every second that she is not in class. Her mentor is Dimitri, a stoic, handsome guardian whom she finds to be ever increasingly attractive. While Rose is training to become deadly to the Strigoi, Lissa is discovering how to be a royal without losing who she is inside. And why does someone keep planting dead animals in Lissa’s path? Is someone out to get Lissa, and if they are, can Rose truly protect her friend?
This book was better than I expected. At first, I felt Rose was just an angst-ridden teenager just complaining about everything. But after awhile, the characters began to take on more depth. Rose and Lissa have a deep bond that goes beyond friendship. The scandals that takes place in the halls of St. Vlad's will keep vampire book lovers thoroughly entertained. There is some sexual content. Not too heavy, but vampires are sexual by nature, so this was expected. There are also levels of vampire sins so it was interesting to read about what this society found to be unspeakable. By the end of the book, you will be rooting for Rose.
August 31, 2008
Recently, I went up to Knoxville to visit with a friend. While I was there, I got a chance to visit with a cousin I have not seen in ten years. It's not so unusual. She is much older than I am, and we have never been close. I was glad to reconnect with her and hope we can be more a part of each other's lives.
As I mentioned, the last time I saw her was ten years ago. The occasion? The death of our mutual grandmother, Lois Dunn, or Mimi, as I called her. When our grandmother died, different people received different things. I guess this lamp was one of the things my cousin received. I received some bedroom furniture, which I still have. At our breakfast, my cousin told me she was moving and needed to get rid of some possessions. One of these was this lamp, which belonged to my grandmother. So now the lamp is reunited with the bedroom furniture.
It's a very unusual lamp. It's a ceramic lamp, almost like a vase. The color is a mint green with tiny pink rosebuds all over it. I was really happy to receive it. It's an unusual piece, very vintage looking. It goes well with my floral Asian bedspread, even though the greens do not exactly match. And it's in great condition, just one small tear in the lampshade.
Honestly, I never really appreciated my grandmother until after she died. I like having her furniture and the lamp because it makes me feel like I am carrying a part of her with me. Anyway, just wanted to share my new possession.
August 16, 2008
A few weeks ago, I held a murder mystery party as a teen program. My hope was that teen would attend this program. A few did, but the majority of the people that showed up were the parents and siblings of my actors. Like last year, I bought my party kit at a website called Host-Party.com. This one was called The Murder Game, and it takes place in the 1920s.
The scenario is that a very powerful woman, who had her finger on almost every major industry that made money during that time, was strangled during her own dinner party. The guests were a flapper, a silent film star, a gangster, a stockbroker, a speak-easy manager, a secretary, a jazz musician, and a journalist.
The game is played a lot like Clue. Each guest has a set of clues. Based on the clues, guests deduce the who, the where, and the why of the murder.
My only complaint is that this year, the kit didn't give a lot of guidance. My last kit had a script. I thought just having the clues might be easier, but it was hard to know what order the clues should be said in. So I had to take the clues and write a script myself.
August 06, 2008
Susan Blech was on a downhill path. In her late 30s, she weighed an amazing 468 pounds. This amazing book is about the path she took to get to that place, what life was like in that place, and about the steps she took to lose over 268 pounds without surgery. I call this book amazing because I probably had my mouth open the entire time I was reading it. You won't believe what this girl used to put in her mouth every day. That someone could eat this much and still be alive is amazing. For all her lack of self control, Susan must be a very strong woman. She was still alive and able to turn her life around. Some people never get that chance.
She used to go up and down both sides of the street picking up gigantic bags of food from every fast food place, eat it all in her car, and then dispose of the bags, convincing herself that it didn't count if she ate the food in her car. Some weeks she would spend $300 to $400 dollars on fast food.
This was especially interesting to me because she lost the majority of her weight at a weight loss center in Durham, NC called the Rice House. That's only about an hour from my house.
Anyway, this is a fascinating read. Susan also includes recipes of low-calorie, low-fat foods. I have been trying some of them, and they are good.
August 03, 2008
July 30, 2008
Okay, I am going to review this movie, but first a rant. I am so sick and tired of everyone dogging on M. Night Shyamalan and saying how much he stinks as a director. The truth is, this guy doesn't fit into our current Hollywood box. You know what? He isn't out for your votes. He is out to refine himself as a director. Let me give you just one example of this. I was at the movie theater buying my ticket for The Happening. A man in front of me is buying his ticket for the same movie. Then a 2nd gentleman walks up who isn't sure what movie to see. When the guy hears what movie that man is seeing, he says, "What's the Happening about?" The man turns to him and says, "It's a horror movie." I'm standing there in shock. What? A horror movie? What in the world gave him that idea? If you watched the preview at all, it's not a horror movie. It's freaky if anything, and you really couldn't tell what it was going to be about. Just because he made one movie that was sort of horror, doesn't mean you can put him in that category. I think this is the essential problem. People go into movies expecting to see a certain thing. When that expectation isn't met, they get angry.
Some of you might be wondering why I am making such a big deal about this. A couple years ago, M. Night came out with a movie called Lady in the Water. Movie critics hated it. A lot of people hated it. I almost didn't go see it. I am glad I ignored everyone. That was one of my favorite movies of the year. To me his movies are art. He isn't about plot or character development. It's more about the mood. He plays the audience. He is the closest thing to Hitchcock I have seen. Hitchcock was the ultimate director. I don't think M Night is on a level with Hitch yet but he is out for the same thing. He throws people off balance. They don't know what to make of him, so they reject him as a director. Not every movie of his has been successful at the box office, but he chooses his projects carefully. He makes movies that are different from anyone else. And I respect him. More than anything, I respect his search for the spiritual in the every day.
For the Happening, I again heard all sort of slanderous remarks about the movie, about Shyamalan himself, about Mark Wahlberg. Nothing happened or it's too slow or it didn't make sense. Well, maybe he did that on purpose. Maybe he doesn't want it to make sense. Maybe it's about the moment and getting a response from people, even if that response is anger.
So now that's out of the way, I can tell you I very much enjoyed The Happening. The movie is freaky more than scary.
Cross-posted at Flip the Switch
Wicked Lovely is the sort of book that will make most teen girls swoon. Aislinn has always been able to see the fairy folk, but the most important rule she has followed all her life is never let them notice you. So what’s a poor girl to do when Keenan, the gorgeous Summer King, decides that Aislinn is the girl of his dreams and his only hope for finally claiming to his throne?
The truth of Keenan’s plight is much darker than Aislinn knows. He is bound by the powers of his mother, the Winter Queen, until he can meet a girl who will be able to hold the winter staff and not be overcome by the cold. He believes Aislinn is that girl.
But Aislinn is reluctant to be courted by Keenan. She hates all fairies, for one thing, and she is crazy about her best friend (with benefits), Seth. She tries everything she can to resist Keenan’s advances, but doing so may result in tragic consequences for her, everyone she loves, and the whole of mankind and faery-kind. Will her heart be softened by Keenan’s plight?
This book is magic realism at its finest for teens. It includes hot guys (and fairies), a decision of eternal significance, and tragic love.
July 21, 2008
We had high hopes for the event but I ended up having a big challenge when I decided to design a game based on the books. What was I thinking? More on that later.
The first thing I had to do was read the book! What I read was highly appealing to teen girls because it was dark, romantic, Victorian, and angst-y. It also involves a girl who is not necessarily beautiful but very bold and brave.
July 19, 2008
Hancock was worth the money in my book. It was funny, and it had the best surprise mid-plot twist I have seen in awhile. This movie could have been just another mindless comedy if it wasn't for the fact that it has heart. Will Smith's character seem genuinely depressed. Yes, there are plenty of sarcastic one-liners and humorous moments. But Hancock, for all his drunken boorishness, is (shed a tear) lonely.
Hancock has super-powers of strength, speed, and resistance to bullets, but he is also a drunken, rude, sweaty mess. And every time he helps someone, he manages to mess things up. Either he costs the citizens thousands in tax dollars for city damages or he insults somebody. And his breath stinks, taboot!
Then a soft-hearted guy with a nice suit gets saved by Hancock one day. He witnesses the anger people display afterwards and decides, gee, maybe Hancock needs a face-lift. He's a PR man, and he wants to give Hancock a new image. He brings Hancock home for dinner (it's spaghetti madness night) and exhibits the same attitude towards Hancock as one would a puppy that is destroying your shoes. Can't we keep him, hon?
His son loves Hancock immediately, but the wifey seem like she's not impressed. His plan is simple: get Hancock sequestered in prison so that people will miss him. Then, when the cops call, he'll be ready to impress 'em with his "new attitude."
It's fun, flashy, and a perfect summer film. I have mixed feelings about the ending, but I still enjoyed it.
July 14, 2008
This is a book the female world has been waiting for. As a girl, growing up, did you ever wish there was a book that would just "get real" about girl's body issues? This is a book you would have liked to turn to in those difficult moments. Of course, it's ideal for girls to be able to talk to mothers, other family members, or trusted female mentors about these issues. But where does that leave teen girls that don't have one of the aforementioned in their lives? Nancy Redd, a former Miss America swimsuit winner has written the quintessential book on female adolescent sexuality. Gone are those cheesy pencil drawings with the female anatomy. Redd gets up front and personal with photographs about all parts of the female anatomy. This book has every question you have never read before that a girl might ask.
Problems such as embarrassing smells, zits, breast sizes, and pubic hair are all covered. No issue is too off-limits. This is a book for women only. Yes, I imagine a few horny teenage guys will find it at the library or bookstore and have a thrill, but this book is intended for women.
Just a sample of topics: My vagina smells, I hate the way I look down there, My breasts are too heavy, It hurts to pee, I go poo too much, I have a mustache, I feel fat, I'm addicted to tanning, and the list goes on. There are handy things like how to make a pad with toilet paper. Redd even makes some confessions about some of the topics that readers will appreciate.
July 13, 2008
Mirabelle is turned off, but she is lonely, so he gives him another shot. The second time doesn't get much better. Then she meets Ray (Steve Martin). Ray is the total opposite of Jeremy. He is middle-aged, well off, suave. He wants to wine and dine Mirabelle and get her into bed. He doesn't really want a relationship with her, just a companion.
While we watch the evolution and devolution of her relationship with Ray, we continue to see what happens to Jeremy. It makes it pretty obvious that he and Mirabelle will get back together since there would be no other reason to continue to show us what is happening with Jeremy.
The movie is pretty scattered. Many scenes don't seem to have a purpose. It holds together because Mirabelle is a likable girl, albeit a little naive. I think the only audience that would enjoy this movie is a girl who, like Mirabelle, is looking for that perfect relationship. It's a first date movie if I ever saw one. By the third or any post dates a couple might have, no self respecting man would choose to watch Steve Martin wine and dine anyone. He's just not handsome or charming enough to play this character. So, single gals, rent Shopgirl for an amusing trifle. All guys, whether single or otherwise, don't come within 3 feet of this movie.
June 27, 2008
Ted Dekker is one of the freshest voices in Christian fiction today. His works could be characterized as psychological fiction with pulse-pounding action as well. The Circle Trilogy is one of the best series I have ever read. What I like best? Besides, the lack of foul language or sex, you can't really tell it's Christian fiction until the end. His works have just as much tension as any author today. He has taken on such topics as beauty, abuse, psychopathic killers, guilt, and good and evil. Most of the time his main characters are not Christian. Usually, they have mixed feelings about the church and are trying to escape painful pasts.
His latest work of fiction plays more like The Exorcist than anything else. Daniel Clark is obsessed with finding out the identity of the serial killer known only as Eve. He has given up everything for this quest, including his marriage to devoted Heather. When Eve's latest killing gets delayed, he shoots Daniel to reclaim the almost-dead body of his intended victim. Miraculously, Daniel is brought back to life by his new work partner.
The good thing is Daniel has now seen the face of Eve. The bad thing is that he has having night terrors and can't remember what the face looked like. Daniel tries drug-induced trips to make himself remember. But the only result is the nightmares are getting worse. Now, Eve is after the one person Daniel cares about.
June 03, 2008
It takes place right in the middle of the "witch hunts" McCarthy instigated back in the 1950s. Various government employees, actors, and other people on the fringe were accused of being part Communists or Communist sympathizers. Perhaps this person was a Russian spy? They do seem suspicious. I saw them reading leftist newspaper articles the other day. Her brother used to be involved with an organization that is now funding the Russians, etc. McCarthy claimed he had a whole list of people that were suspicious characters. And he had evidence! However, it was in a sealed envelope with nothing written on it, and no one had actually seen the contents that could attest to them. The whole thing was suspicion and hearsay. But, it was effective! People were fired from their jobs, shunned from society, and whispered about in corridors. Imagine the shame.
So in this movie, a CBS news correspondent, Edward R. Murrow, decided to challenge McCarthy. He didn't directly claim that McCarthy was lying. Only that he wanted to see what was in all of these evidence reports. After a tug of war for the hearts of the American people, McCarthy was impeached. This may or may not have been a direct result of the Murrow shows, but it was clear the public tide was turning. In this movie, they show how the events surrounding this showdown might have played out on the inside. There are many meetings and threats. There is much brow-wiping and collar twisting. And it makes for a very riveting film.
May 26, 2008
*Only some of the pictures I took at this event are in this post. For the complete set of pictures, click here.
Well, the Animazement Con went above and beyond my wildest expectations. Many times, I have this vision in my head of what something will be like. My Myers Briggs type is idealist. So often I am let down by the reality. In this case, though, it went even better than I imagined. The enthusiasm people demonstrated about the library setting up a booth was very touching. They seemed excited that we had come onto their turf.
Michelle and I went to set up our table at around 4 pm. The convention officially starts at 1 pm, so there were many folks there when we arrived. There were no places to park so I dropped Michelle and all our junk at the door while I found a place to park. This was my first time ever being at this convention, so I had no idea what to expect or where to go.
I found a parking spot at a building across the street from the hotel and walked over. Registration was in a white tent, and the lines were small. We picked up our cards while one of the teens from Michelle's library watched our stuff. We had a LOT of stuff. After checking in, we loaded up both our tow dolly carts, but there still weren't enough hands. I was very pleased that a stranger chose to help us carry stuff in. I was already feeling warm fuzzies for the convention folk.
Jeremy Fink is in a terrible spot. He has just received a wooden box that his deceased father left him to open on his thirteenth birthday. He didn't know about this box until just a few days ago. The box is labeled "The Meaning of Life." Jeremy's 13th birthday is right around the corner. He can't wait to open the box. There's only one problem: the lawyer who was keeping it until the right moment has lost the keys that are the only way to open it.
The search for the keys begins Jeremy on a search within himself for what he believes about friendship, loss, the meaning of life, and why we are here on this Earth.
The plot moves at a great pace. Jeremy and his best friend, Lizzie, are a hoot to be around. Jeremy, an observer and scientist at heart, is full of curiosity about everything around him. He has random facts jammed in his head like a Jeopardy expert. Lizzie, on the other hand, is the practical one, full of vinegar. Both feel a definite affection for each other. They have been childhood friends since birth.
There is a lot of plot packed into this story, but the impressive thing is that it isn't too long. Many things that seem meaningless at the time become meaningful later, such as the talent show that Jeremy and Lizzie enter.
May 15, 2008
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Finally got through this treasure since my library bought it on audiobook. The Book Thief was a Printz Honor award winner and tells the story of a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany. This has been done before, of course, but what gives this book its unique flavor is that it is narrated by Death. Death is fascinated by Liesel, this book thief, and claims he gets distracted by her. After blowing the end of the story for everyone, Death goes back to the beginning and tells Liesel's tale. Death is a great character here, and exhibits the perfect combination of sly humor, a solemn tone, and a miraculous awe at the humans he watches from afar until the fateful moment. Full of heartbreaking characters and miraculous moments, this book will leave you hungry for MORE ZUSAK.
Must . . . go . . . see . . . Iron Man. I'm not sure what makes Iron Man so good. Could it be Robert Downey's performance? He is amiable enough. Could it be all the cool techie gadgets? Yes, they are neat. Could it be that it involves the Middle East, and Americans can't seem to get enough of that right now? Yes, it has cultural relevancy. Could it be that the spring line of movies has sucked so bad that it doesn't take much to impress me at this point? Yes, that's quite on the money.
For me, I love any movie where a power hungry person changes their tune and makes a mental shift. Downey gives a solid performance as someone who has seen the light of day and wants to change his ways. It was fairly clean, too.
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
This movie has certainly pushed some buttons. Went to see it at the theaters and was fairly sure I was going to be joined by people that already agreed with Ben Stein's initial premise like myself. I was right about that. The audience was clapping and audibly showing their approval. But, I can't truly call this a documentary. If it was a documentary, Stein would have let the facts speak for themselves more than he did. He took the facts and then tried to hammer the nail into the coffin. The result was that he ended up looking like he was trying to hard to make his point. A true documentary is when the director is an objective viewer. Stein is hardly objective. He has his beliefs and only speaks the things that support his side.
Don't get me wrong, I think Stein has some good things to say but I don't think this movie is going to sway anyone's mind. The people that already agreed will agree. The people that disagree will continue to disagree. And I really wish he had not brought up the Holocaust. I think this just served to alienate a whole portion of the audience.
More to Come!
May 06, 2008
The thing I really like about graphic novels is that you can usually read them in less than an hour. There are notable exceptions, of course, such as Alan Moore's The Watchmen. But most of the time, they read fast. I finally gave The Arrival a viewing, and it's quite an intriguing read.
The problem with describing it is that it's wordless. Much of the content is up to the viewer. You can make a guess as to what is happening or what is represented. Then, in about a year, you could look at it again and have a new take.
From what I can tell, this is the story of an immigrant that comes to a new land. We don't know why, only that he decides to pack up his bags and travel to a new home. He leaves a spouse and a daughter behind with great sadness. You can tell this parting brings them all pain. You can tell because of the drawings Shaun Tan made. Each one is packed with emotional punch.
This past April, I held an art contest for students in grades 6-12. This is a great program to try. First of all, it is pretty easy to put together. The work you have to do is minimal. It takes a little longer if you want to make those extras that will make it special for the teens, which of course you do. Once you have your materials made, you can continue to use them again every year. Another thing that's good about an art contest is that it gives teens a real feeling of accomplishment. They can put something like this on their resume. So parents will really dig it. Also, this is a great way to advocate for teens. You can have the exhibit at your library, and library patrons will get a chance to look at the artwork and be impressed. This is a way we can show all ages how talented teens can be. This is a way to counter attack those negative stereotypes of teens that adults sometimes hold. The last thing is that your community will get into it. Local businesses will likely be willing to donate prizes. You can find judges at local schools or local art studios.
April 30, 2008
Do you have a childhood habit you can't stop doing? Sure, everyone does. Whether, it's biting your nails, picking your nose, or rocking back and forth, we all have things that bring us comfort. In Thumbsucker, we are introduced to Justin, a boy who sucks his thumb, even though he is a teenager.
Like most teenage boys, Justin has a troubled relationships with his parents, brilliantly played by Vincent D'Onofrio and Tilda Swinton. His thumbsucking brings comfort to him. His Dad ignores him unless it's to chide him for his habit, and his Mom treats him more like a buddy. Case in point, she takes him shopping for pretty dresses and insists that he call her by her first name to make her feel younger.
What follows is similar to what happens to Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes in Justin's life. He tries multiple things to make his life more meaningful: achievement, love, sex, drugs, and therapy. In the end, it's all meaningless. None of the things he tries ends up being the magic button that sticks. It's a journey of discomfort, pain, and growing to be a man. But this isn't just a depressing movie about how meaningless everything is. Instead, it's about how we try to make our life more meaningful through achievement or a relationship or an addiction that makes you feel fun or just numb. In the end, we're still just us with a thumb or ragged nails.
The performances in this film were great. There were many supporting characters that are part of Justin's path. Each of them plays the role convincingly.
April 21, 2008
Shay Bourne is a convicted killer on Death Row. Eleven years ago, he was convicted of killing a little girl and her stepfather. Now he is convinced that he needs to donate his heart to the murdered girl's sister, Claire Nealon, who needs a heart transplant if she's to finish out the year.
The state of New Hampshire only carries out executions by lethal injection, which won't allow for an organ transplant. But, if Shay can be executed by hanging, he can be brain dead but have a still viable heart. Enter ACLU lawyer, Maggie. She wants to help Shay donate his heart to the little girl and, if possible, strike a blow for her anti-Death penalty beliefs. Then, there's Father Michael, the Catholic priest with a secret of his own: eleven years ago, he was on the jury that sentenced Shay to death. He wants to clear his conscience and help Shay make peace with the Lord before he dies.
Everyone wants to use Shay for their own cause, but no one is prepared for how Shay will impact their life.
Take one obese suicidal teenage boy and put him with an anorexic looking superstar of a guitar player, and what do you get? Apparently, a band named Rage Tectonic. Troy is considering the best way to kill himself when he is interrupted by Curt, a guitar player who is famous at Troy's high school. Curt decides he wants Troy to be the drummer for what will be the next breakout punk band, Rage Tectonic. There's only one problem: Troy can't play the drums. Undeterred, Curt pushes, cajoles, and manipulates Troy into thinking maybe he can learn. Are Curt's optimism and spunk enough to turn Troy from a fat loser into a punk rock drummer?
Life has never been easy for Troy. His mom is dead, his dad is a repressed ex-Marine, and his younger brother can't keep the contempt out of his voice when he speaks to Troy. What does Curt see in Troy? It turns out Curt has problems of his own. But Curt doesn't need anyone. He's a free bird. The characters are extremely lovable. The narrator is witty, lonely, and filled with pain. We learn who this fat kid is from the guts out.
Let me tell you, boys will love this book. Parents won't. Be very careful who you recommend this to. There is tons of language and sexual innuendo. Troy is a very sexually repressed teenage guy who has never been noticed by girls. He notices them a lot in this book. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone under the age of 16.
April 02, 2008
I love Kinsella's books. They are fun and fabulous. The characters get themselves in the most awkward situations, and you, as reader, think there is no way things can be right again. Then, presto, BLAMO, life is beautiful and perfect again. It makes you absolutely jealous. You also want her flawed female protagonists to be your best friends.
If you woke up and had everything you had ever dreamed of, would you be happy? In Remember Me, Lexi Smart awakes from a coma to discover she can't remember the last 3 years of her life. Right before her accident, she was going nowhere in her career, had just been stood up by Loser Dave, and her father had just died. When she wakes up, she has the perfect career, the perfect husband, and the perfect body and face. She almost doesn't recognize herself.
But everything isn't as perfect as it seems. Lexi has no friends since she became a cut-throat businesswoman. And her husband, although handsome, seems a little shallow. Can Lexi find happiness in being this new, "improved" version of herself?
For more of Kinsella's books, I highly recommend the Shopaholic series, starring the lovable Becky Bloomwood.
March 24, 2008
Take one rape and murder case, add a misunderstood child, and mix it all with some good old Southern hospitality, and you get a ghost tale that will make your skin crawl. Phantom Nights is an absorbing tale of murder, lust, racism, greed, and guilt. If you liked To Kill a Mockingbird or the film, In the Heat of the Night, you will find much to appreciate here.
Priest Howard, a wealthy Southern gent, has just died. Moments before his last breath, he accused his son, Leland, of being a thief in front of his black nurse, Mally Shaw. Leland is sure that Mally has evidence that will sink him in the upcoming elections. In the hopes of retrieving the evidence, Leland pays Mally a "friendly" visit, which ends badly for Mally. Leland covers up the evidence and believes the incident is over. There are only two problems. One, there was a witness. And two, Mally's ghost can't seem to rest until Leland's sins are brought to light and punished.
The characters are clearly drawn. The prose is written in a lyrical style that is poetic. This has real Southern flava. Has there ever been a more despicable character than the Bobby Gambier's mother-in-law? Leland Howard is the perfect bad guy, who starts out the book a suave, confident politician and gradually shrinks to a pathetic shrimp with an oral fixation. Readers who enjoy murder mysteries, ghost stories, or Southern fiction will love this so it has wide appeal. Read it in the summertime with a nice, tall glass of lemonade.
March 12, 2008
It is set in one of those neighborhoods where everyone knows everyone. There are crazy, quirky characters. They tolerate each other and even feel fondness for one another. On the corner is the little video shop where you can rent a video for a dollar a day.
The video shop is owned by Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), an aging man who is proud of his shop. He is equally proud of the history and tells everyone how Fats Waller was born in that building. The loyal clerk is Mike (Mos Def). Jerry (Jack Black) is Mike's friend who is always talking him into doing stupid stuff. On one such occasion, Jerry gets electrocuted, and his brain is magnetized. Mr. Fletcher is "out of town" doing research at the chain video store (think Blockbuster). When Jerry comes into work the next day, his magnetized brain erases all the videotapes.
Mike and Jerry decide to "remake" Ghostbusters to keep one of their regular customers happy. The re-made videos are shot like home movies with cheap special effects and lousy versions of the theme song. The two know they are in big trouble . . . but then . . .the unthinkable happens. People like the videos, and they want more. Mike and Jerry, along with some new friends, start re-making movie after movie. It becomes a pet project. They are raking in the cash. Will it stop the big, bad city builders from tearing down their beloved shop?
This was a cute film. Not a great one, but it shows the power of movies to bring people together. I found the end to be the best part.
Candy is the girl we all want to be: smart, beautiful, popular, and seemingly cold as ice. She runs with the pretty people all over the globe, mostly her wealthy friend, Velma. Although her parents are wealthy, she chooses to live on her own economic means. She goes to college, works part-time as a waitress, and part-time as a model. Where love is concerned, she makes herself as unavailable as possible. She is aware of her good lucks and effect on men and uses it to full advantage.
All seems kosher until she achieves the ultimate celebrity dream and meets her own personal stalker, a rich man named Preston with access to all sorts of transportation and manpower. He wants to hunt her down and force her to date him. When she refuses, he brings in manpower. Candy is equally determined not to date him and runs around the globe trying to avoid him. Oh, and did I mention she knows kung fu?
March 07, 2008
What do you have to do to get guys to come to a teen program? Apparently offer fondue. My passion for chocolate program was a hit with guys and gals alike. The biggest surprise was that I had more guys than girls, though.
We started off by playing a few games. First, I had a jar of chocolate M & M's. They had to guess how many candies were in the jar. The winner got to take home the jar.
The next game I got from the ya-yaac listserv. I divided the groups into two teams. Each team got a pair of mittens. Each person had to run to the end of the room, open a mini chocolate with the mittens on, eat the chocolate, and run back. The people on the winning team each received a box of message heart. It was messy and lots of fun.
March 06, 2008
I went to see this movie last weekend. After the big Oscar win, No Country came back to the local theaters. The movie is about accidents and being at the wrong place at the wrong time and how being evil sometimes comes with a code of morals.
There are three major players: Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who stumbles across a drug deal gone bad, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who starts out chasing Llewelyn for the money and ends up chasing him because of the fact that his chase is taking so long, and Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a sheriff who cracks up and becomes useless. It has a signature Coen brothers look: lots of dreary landscapes and very macabre characters. This is a great movie for all of those cynics out there.
I think of this movie as mostly a character study. It got an Oscar for screenplay, which I don't think was the strongest part of the movie for me.
February 29, 2008
We travel around the streets with Lorenzo and Rachel in alternating chapters. All seems well until a member of Nigel's street gang makes an error of judgment and unknowingly starts a turf war. The turf war will test Lorenzo's resolve to stay away from the people and life of his past. Ms. Lopez gets swept up in the madness, as well. Can these two lost souls, trying to escape from their past, find a way to heal in Drama City?
February 14, 2008
Although Judgment at Nuremberg was made back in 1961, the questions raised in this film are as relevant today as they were back then. The movie is a fictionalized account of a real trial that took place in 1947. Judges that helped send Jews, liberals, and other "undesirables" to their deaths inside Nazi Germany concentration camps were put on trial for their part.
The names in the film are different than the true people involved. For more on the real trials, click here. The film focuses on the trials from the perspective of the head of the US tribunal in charge of the trial, Chief Judge Dan Haywood, played by Spencer Tracey. Haywood and 2 other charges have the heavy responsibility of trying and sentencing 4 German judges. Public interest in this trial was high, as you can imagine. The whole world seems to be watching what Haywood and his tribunal will do. Will they go easy on these men who at one time would have been considered colleagues? Will they really let them have it? Can they really blame the judges for carrying out their duties? Many Americans wanted the whole of Germany to suffer for the pain caused.
About half the film takes place in the courtroom. The other scenes, which are just as powerful, involve Haywood experiencing Germany as a tourist might.
January 21, 2008
Lincoln Six Echo is having nightmares. He is on a boat with a beautiful woman (Johansson, who plays Jordan Two Delta) and is about to join her at the helm, when he gets pushed off the boat and drowns. Other than that, he is doing well in his life. Like the rest of his neighbors, he wears only white, is on a strict diet, and has fun playing simulated Knockout with Jordan Two Delta, his lady friend. Other than the nightmares, his main problem is that he is so darn curious. His job by day is to put drops of food into little holes that go into tubes. Lincoln wants to know where the tubes go and gets a stern look.
The ultimate dream of all of his friends and neighbors is to win the lottery and get chosen to go to the island, which is the only area that was not contaminated. It gives them hope and something to look forward to.
January 18, 2008
*Galley received from Random House booth. To be released February 12, 2008
I picked this book up at Midwinter. The description was intriguing. Yes, it's one of those bullying books I love so much. The editor said something like: "As I read this book, I thought 'Holy Crap! I can't believe how Jonsberg fooled me.'" I like these kind of books. Have you read Pete Hautman's Invisible or Gail Giles' Shattering Glass? In both of those books, you are on shaky ground because you just weren't sure you could trust what the narrator was divulging.
Michael Terny is a fat kid. He's pushed around at every school he's ever attended. At his newest school, he finds himself once again being the victim of two different bullies: Jamie and Martin. But maybe this school will be different. He's met Leah, a girl who actually listens to him, and Mr. Atkins, a teacher who Michael feels comfortable with.
There's more one more difference: Michael has discovered he can make things happen in real life with his dreams. He is powerful. He stands up for himself. And he can make anyone cower.
This was an easy read with the power of a car wreck. Once you see it, it is hard not to stop and gawk for awhile. Michael's tormentors are relentless. Teen that enjoy horror or the macabre will find something to enjoy here.
January 15, 2008
Beige is an amazing read. When I started reading the book, I didn't think I was going to be able to relate to any of the characters. The roster contains Katy, our narrator, who let's face it, is one of those typical teen girls who never sticks up for herself and represses all her feelings, keeping them bottled up until she explodes. I hate characters like that. Then there's the free-spirited mom, totally oblivious to her daughter's pain. There's the father who never grew up. And then we have Lake, who is one of those people that thinks "really original" can only mean one thing and goes around insulting everyone who isn't punk.
But Castellucci treats her characters with a velvet glove. You get inside their heads and see the true heart through the rough edges.
Katy is going to spend the summer with the RAT, her punk rocker father who is the drummer for a once infamous band named Suck. She would much rather be in Peru with her free-spirited mother, excavating caves and stuff.
January 02, 2008
I have a special affection for books where the character is bullied. If you remember, I reviewed King Dork and Nineteen Minutes and liked both. Of course, the love affair began with what I consider the first book about bullying: Blubber. Remember Blubber? They picked on the fat girl, the nice girl stood up for the fat girl, and then the nice girl got bullied, too.
This affection stems from the fact that I have been both the victim and giver (only once) of the bullying. It's a universal thing that happens to everyone at one point or another. Isn't it interesting that the victims of bullying usually end up being amazing people. They just happen to not conform to the usual patterns of other kids. And the bully ends up having problems of their own.
Miriam is known by many names. Her parents call her Miriam. Her friends, Artie and Rosie, call her Shakespeare because of her dramatic presence. But the kids at school call her Freak. Why? For the usual non-reasons bullies have. She doesn't have breasts yet. Her nose is too big. She journals. She likes Shakespeare. All together, the cumulative points of Miriam make her a freak.
And the first movie viewed of '08 is The Kite Runner. What a way to start the year. This film was a touching look into the lives of the people of Afghanistan, a country that often seems so far removed from us. In the beginning of the film, we see a country full of life and color. Boys are flying colorful kites, wealthy men give grand parties, and there are children running in the streets.
Later in the film, after the war has started, gloom dominates. Kites are outlawed, and the streets are bare of any kind of cheerfulness. All is the Taliban. You could get killed for just about anything: a look, a word, an impropriety. A woman is stoned before an arena of men during half-time in the middle of a soccer game. It would be unimaginable to live in this world without losing a piece of what it means to be a human.