February 14, 2009

Book Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Lia is very good at keeping secrets. Yes, everyone knows that her ex-best friend Cassie was found dead in a motel room, but no one knows that she called Lia 33 times that same night. Yes her parents know that Lia is anorexic and weigh her each week to make sure she stays at 107, but they don't know that she has sewn rock in the pockets of her bathrobe to hide the fact that she is below 100 lbs. And her parents also know that she is going to counseling, but they don't know that she is still cutting herself with razors on the hidden areas of her body.

Lia has a complicated life, and the reader feels the pain of this. She has to count calories to reach her personal goal weight. Right now, it's 99 lbs. Her parents all seem to care, but it's hard for Lia to feel they really do. Her mother is a doctor that gives more heart to her patients than her own daughter. And Dad is a typical workaholic father, just glowing in his personal success. And the complication continues: a man calls her house to tell her he has a message from Cassie. Lia isn't sure she wants to hear it. Now she keeps seeing Cassie at night in the dark. What will it take to get Lia to change her ways? And can she get relief from being haunted by Cassie?

Laurie Halse Anderson has written another fine young adult novel. Like Speak, it features a female protagonist that cannot tell anyone what is really wrong with her.

February 12, 2009

Movie Review: Lawrence of Arabia

Last week, I received the awesome privilege of being able to watch Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen at a local theater. And yes, it makes a difference. You can actually see the grains of sand blowing around the Nefud desert. You feel the sun burning down as Lawrence rides through the scorching Devil's Anvil. And more than once, you see those blue penetrating eyes staring straight into your heart and know how a skinny, white British soldier inspired the Arab people to almost free themselves once and for all from imperialism.

If you haven't seen Lawrence of Arabia , it is an experience worth having. True, at 216 minutes, it is longer than your average film. But unlike some films of this length, the viewer stays involved. In fact, at the end of this film, I am always wanting more. It seems impossible that a people group could get so close to their goal only to turn back. And I want to see Lawrence and Sherif Ali continue their strange, endearing fellowship past what this film shows. And unlike some biopics, we don't see some long drawn out story about how painful Lawrence's childhood was or follow him past his prime to see him sighing over lost opportunities. The ending is abrupt with no sense of conclusion. The whole thing seems like a big buildup to failure, but no one ever said the man Lawrence of Arabia could be put into a nice, neat box.

February 09, 2009

Understanding Movies, Lesson 1 Continued: More Griffith, Lillian Gish, and Charlie Chaplin

Before moving onto lesson 2, I watched a few more of the movies suggested in lesson 1. One important thing I forgot to mention is that in the beginning, films were all silent. The characters did not speak audibly. In most movies, the actors did pantomime speech, but any words that were "spoken" were done so through the use of title cards. Sometimes the title cards tell what a character is saying. Other times, they add narrative to a picture to direct the viewer to consider a particular thing. For instance, a famous title card in Griffith's The Birth of a Nation reads "War's peace." After the words, the camera pans onto the Civil War battlefield after a battle has taken place. We see dead and injured bodies. The words suggest the irony of how quiet this field is when just moments before, it was filled with bodies, guns, blood, and probably screaming.

With only the moving pictures able to tell the story, Shargel says that we are talking about a "pure cinema." The success of the movie leans heavily on the actors on screen to clearly tell the tale. Or the emphasis can be on the director (which is covered in lesson 2). This is why in early films, the acting seems so comical and over exaggerated. The actors must really use every device to tell their tale: facial expressions, body language, actions.

There are two notable people that excelled in this area: Lillian Gish and Charlie Chaplin.

February 02, 2009

Movie Course: Understanding Movies, Lesson 1

As part of my foray into movie reviewing, I decided to learn more about the history of film. Now, let me tell you, I think I have watched a lot of movies. I made it my goal to watch the AFI 100 best movies and did so (until they updated the list in 2007). But there is a gap between someone who just watches a lot of movies and someone who understands the history and grammar of film. Luckily, I work at a library and have resources at my fingertips. I found Understanding Movies: The Art and History of Film. It is taught by Professor Raphael Shargel from Providence College. It is an audio course. You listen to a chapter on CD, which includes a brief lesson. You are also asked to view some movies in light of what Professor Shargel has just discussed. There are also discussion questions. Each chapter covers a period of movie history.

Chapter 1 was on the Origins of Cinema and the Grammar of Film. Shargel begins by discussing the dualist nature of film. It is the most real and most false of the arts, he says. It seems the most real because it includes the visual sense. We think we are viewing real life in a well made film. On the other hand, it is completely a false vision. What you think are movements are actually a rapid succession of still photos that make the image appear to be moving. There are about 24 frames a second. You may remember as a child seeing the large film reels. Each reel was made of long chains of still photos. Compare this to say a comic book or graphic novel. In comic strips, the artist also uses individual still frames, but the reader must use his imagination to fill in the spaces between each frame. Thus, film seems more real than comic strips.

He also says that film is a unique art form in that it is meant to be watched in community. Films are made to be shared, discussed, and critiqued. In this way, it is a very social art form. Also, movies are made to be watched on the large movie house screens. When you watch older films on a regular TV, even if it is a huge flat screen, the images you see can appear small and unimpressive. When that same image is viewed on a large movie house screen, the grandeur the director intended are much more apparent in these panoramic type of shots.

Now here's the fun part: the movies for chapter 1.

February 01, 2009

Book Review and Series Review: Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox

I looooooooove the Artemis Fowl series. This is one of my favorite series of all time, and I just read the 6th book in this stupendiferous series. It's still awesome, even after the 6th book. What makes this series for me is the characters that Eoin Colfer created from the get go. These same characters come up in every book, and I wouldn't have it any other way. We have Artemis (or Artie to his friends), the genius mastermind who used to be an evil genius mastermind. Now he's older and kinder, but still a mastermind (although his need to dominate comes out once in awhile). Captain Holly Short, is the feisty fairy who has a Tom Cruise Top Gun type of side (she goes maverick). Butler is Artemis' faithful manservant who has the reflexes of a lynx but the heart of a teddy bear. Foaly the centaur who works on the fairy technology but can't help but admire Artemis' brain. And of course, the lovable Mulch Diggums, a dwarf with enough energy in his stocky legs and mouth to dig a tunnel through almost anything (although you DON'T want to be behind him when it all comes out). This cast of flawed characters make this series what it is. I want to hang with them over and over again.

Let me set this up for you. In book one, Artemis was still the genius, criminal mastermind. He can hack any computer and can win any mind game you throw. He has the brains, and Butler has the brawn. Together, they are unstoppable. Artemis needs money. Before you think he's greedy, just know that his Dad is missing in the Arctic somewhere and his Mom is a basket case. Artemis had to get tough! Okay, he's a little greedy, but somewhat unhappy, too. Like any unhappy person, he doesn't realize how unhappy he is and is just out to rule the world.

His plan is to find a fairy, get the fairy's book, copy all the pages, and find out how he can steal fairy gold. Then he will have enough funds to put all of his schemes into places, including finding his father. Everything does according to plan until he picks Captain Holly Short, of the LEPrecon as the fairy to kidnap for ransom. The LEP aren't the sweet, beautiful fairies of tales told in the storybooks. These are the roughest, toughest fairies you've ever seen. They have gadgets that James Bond never dreamed of. They have Foaly, a centaur who has the the hooves to invent the gadgets that will keep the humans in their place. Artemis has no idea what's in store for him.

It's the perfect combination of science fiction, fantasy, and humor.