Friday, May 31, 2013

Movie Review: Epic

Title: Epic
Author: Disney
Genre: Fantasy, romance, adventure
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: PG
Age Group: 6+

It's a fight of evil against good; light versus dark. Life versus death.
It takes place in a forest. Death is always fighting life in the forest. Balance is the answer, which life knows well. Death refuses to accept balance.
Of course, M. K. knows nothing about this. She has other problems, like the fact that her mother has just died and she's stuck with her father who appears to be...delusional. When M. K. needs someone to talk to, he's off in the woods searching for little people he's just sure exist but hasn't actually ever seen. M. K. gives up. She wants to go back to the city. She's almost old enough to live on her own anyway. So off she goes, but first she has to catch her surprisingly fast three-legged dog Ozzy (who might be just as delusional as her father).
Meanwhile, Nod has problems too. He doesn't have any parents, he doesn't know how to work with a team, and he's fed up with being treated like a kid. So when the Leafmen (an army of sorts) need him, he takes off to enjoy life for once.
At the wrong moment.
M. K.'s world collides with Nod's when she comes across a dying queen who holds the power of life in her arms and hands it over--to the shrunken M. K.
You thought it was crazy before? Well hold on to your seat! It just gets crazier from here.

Word of Warning
Wow. Um, were there any problems? I was really impressed. There were, of course, bad guys. They wear the skulls of dead animals. A queen is shot with an arrow (we see the arrow, but no blood, and the death is, all things considered, rather calm). Bad guys die left and right, people get knocked all over the place. M. K.'s father doesn't listen to her (but that changes). M. K. and her mother had not lived with her father and M. K., getting frustrated with her father (who apparently doesn't care for her) is a bit rude toward him. A mouse tries to kill some characters. Jokes are made, insults are thrown, but no swear words or poor uses of the Lord's name are to be found here. A bit of flirting by a slug and Nod. An animated kiss.
Really. Not a whole lot to object to in this movie. Battles and drama, but even those weren't too hard to handle. It is, by far, one of the best PG movies I've seen in a long time.

My Thoughts
I wouldn't say this film was "epic", but it was pretty spectacular. The voices of the characters were fantastic, and the romance was really well done. The action was balanced out well with beautiful moments between characters and just of the forest landscape. Characters had personal struggles along with the bigger problem, and these were dealt with gently. A small message of "protect the forest" was there, but it was hidden very deeply behind an exciting adventure.
What is there to say about such a movie? Nothing. Except this: watch it.
At least, that's my personal recommendation. If you only watch it for the animation, you won't be disappointed. The scenery, the characters, the story, they're all beautiful in a very thrilling way. This is not a movie you want to miss.
And it can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon

Title: How to Train Your Dragon
Author: DreamWorks Animation
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Adventure
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: PG
Age Group: 10+

Hiccup has a bit of a problem, and that doesn't even include his name (hey, it beats Fishlegs and Snotlout). See, Hiccup is a small Viking who really doesn't have anything in common with other Vikings aside from an awful name and living in a miserable place on a cliff. He can't even fight without getting himself almost killed. To top it all off, he doesn't really get the parental support he should have. See, his mom is dead. His dad is the chief of their little village. Which means he's tough and doesn't have much time for a son who isn't what everyone expects him to be.
All Hiccup wants is to be like everyone else. And that seems to be the only thing he can't do.
But when Hiccup captures the rarest dragon of all time, things change--for everyone. See, Hiccup doesn't kill the Nightfury. He feels bad for it and feeds it. Once you feed something, it never goes away. This thing needs help flying, and Hiccup steps up and does just that. He also learns all sorts of interesting bits of information about dragons.
Unfortunately, just when Hiccup has a change of heart, his dad does too. He decides to sign Hiccup up to be a dragon killer just like all the other Vikings and their teenage kids. This just proves Hiccup's point: his dad doesn't listen to him.
Hiccup also has another problem: a girl. See, he sort of gets in her way (the spotlight) by accident. Which is too bad, because he's got a crush on her. Then, she finds out his secret. What's he going to do with a girl who seems to have him, a dragon that's so mysterious all that is written in the dragon book is to hide and pray to the gods, and a dad who doesn't listen?
A lot, actually.

Word of Warning
  • The gods are mentioned, I believe two by name (Odin and Thor).
  • At least two characters have lost limbs but this is common in this society.
  • Hiccup's dad doesn't listen to him, but he really does try to turn things around. At one point, he disowns the boy.
  • Hiccup, lacking parental...anything, does whatever he pleases and disobeys his father at times.
  • Two siblings are constantly fighting.
  • This is the culture of warriors, so there are very few gentle characters. Those who are hide it. Characters get tossed around, fight violently with dragons, and so forth. All that can be expected from a war with dragons happens--except deaths of course.
  • Hiccup's dad gives him a helmet made from part of Hiccup's mother's breastplate. The other half is worn by Hiccup's dad.
  • There is a kiss on the cheek and one on the lips. All animated of course and quick as well.
  • In the midst of a life-or-death battle training sequence, Astrid falls on top of Hiccup and someone remarks "Love on the battlefield."
There were a few more smaller things, but these are the major problems, and even they aren't all that problematic.

My Thoughts
It's nearly impossible not to fall for Toothless, the Nightfury Hiccup captures. And how can one keep from looking at Hiccup and seeing self? It's also nearly impossible not to feel a little sore after laughing at a good portion of the movie. And as for Hiccup and his father, well, that should strike home even for those with a good relationship with their parents. Because doesn't everyone, at some time, feel like people just aren't listening? The beautiful part is that both father and son try hard to solve the problem, but their solutions just don't always go in the right direction. Eventually all is solved.
This is a great movie that should be watched over and over. It's funny, the animation is very well done, and it's got a great hits-you-right-there [insert single tear and little sniff here] story that leaves one feeling ready to burst after watching something that is full of such greatness.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Movie Review: North & South

Title: North & South (TV mini-series - 2004)
Author: BBC
Genre: Period Drama, Romance
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: None, but probably either PG or PG-13
Age Group: 14+

Summary -
The Industrial Revolution in England brought about many changes in city life: the streets were dirtier, the people poorer, and the employers more anxious than ever to make as much money as they can.
Margaret Hale is thrown from her beautiful home in the southern English countryside and forced to move to Milton, an industrial town, with her father and mother when her father defected from the Church of England. She finds herself thrust into the society of Mr. Thornton, a cotton mill owner, and immediately dislikes him, while he, in turn, begins to take interest in her.
But as Margaret befriends the factory workers, and Thornton attempts to keep his company afloat through a union strike, the two equally-stubborn people seem unable to conquer their differences. The tragedy surrounding Margaret only strengthens her resolve against Thornton.

The Bad -
This is a dark and sad story, but there is very little that is objectionable, and most of it is violence:
  • We see Thornton beat a man for smoking in his factory (a very dangerous thing in a cotton mill.)
  • The strikers were originally peaceful, but under the leadership of a desperate man, they threaten violence, and wound Margaret with a rock.
  • The union leader knocks around the man who betrayed the union. This man eventually goes mad and dies. We see his dead body.
  • Margaret is slightly bullied by factory workers, who tease her for fun.
  • Margaret hugs her brother, and is seen by Thornton. Thornton doesn't know that he is her brother, and so assumes the worst about Margaret. This is never clearly stated, but it is obvious, especially when Thornton's pushy mother confronts Margaret about the situation.
  • We see various images of absolute poverty.
  • Margaret lies in order to cover up her brother's presence in their home, for her brother is a fugitive from the law.
  • Thornton's father is said to have committed suicide.
The Good -
Margaret wishes to help the poor, and often brings them food and money. She tries to convince Thornton to let up on the strikers and give in to them, for most have starving families.
Margaret is also a very moral and upright person, always trying to do what is right in every situation. She makes some innocent mistakes, and learns from them. She rarely makes big mistakes, and when she does, she immediately is sorry for them and apologizes.
Thornton truly believes that he is doing what is best for himself and his workers when he resists the union. He is very conscious of his duties to his family, and does everything in his power to keep them from poverty. Despite his eventual dislike for Margaret, he aids her in her time of need.
Thornton comes to realize how horrible the living conditions of his workers are, and begins to show compassion to them.
Nicholas, the union leader, stands up for his rights, but when forced to choose his family or his pride in his union, he chooses family. He charitably adopts six orphaned children, even though he can barely afford to keep his own from starving. He cares deeply for his very sick daughter and does everything possible to help her condition.

My Conclusion -
North & South is a story about people. There is no "bad" guy or "good" guy; every character is trying to make their way in a crazy world as best as they can. They all make mistakes, some of them pretty serious ones, but they atone for them when they realize what they have done. Their motives are never malicious, and they love each other, whether for good or for ill. The beauty of this movie lies in the utter humanity of the characters, and how they struggle against the stark reality of the Industrial Revolution.
This movie is a BBC adaptation of an Elizabeth Gaskell book, which basically means that the plot is utterly beautiful, the characters are well-rounded and realistic, and the cinematography is astounding(quite frankly, I would recommend any BBC movie in this particular genre). It is a very sad story, but a very good one, and I can honestly say that I enjoyed every minute of it. North & South certainly isn't for everyone - it is a period drama, after all - but I think that if you take the time to watch it, you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Movie Review: Superman Returns

Please note that while I (Maria Gianna) wrote the first draft of this post, Stacy C. has added her thoughts in italics (not that I really needed to... Maria did a pretty awesome job already. :D).

Title: Superman Returns
Author: Warner Brothers
Genre: Action, science fiction
My Rating: ***
Stacy's Rating: ****
Official Rating: PG-13
Age Group: 14+

Have you ever heard the story of Prometheus, the Greek Titan? Well, he stole fire from the gods and brought it to the humans. Lex Luther says he wants to be like Prometheus. He wants to rule the world by bringing something to the humans. His sidekick Kitty promptly points out that he is not a god (he sort of neglects to specify that Prometheus was a Titan, not a god). He says gods are selfish beings who fly around in red capes and don't share their powers with mankind. Lex wants to share--and he wants his cut.
There is one more thing he forgets to mention: Prometheus's punishment for disobeying the gods was to hang from a mountain by chains and have his (immortal) liver eaten out every day by a vulture. The liver would grow back every night, and be eaten the next day. Lex sort of neglects to mention this in his account of Prometheus.
What a mistake he made. Superman, who has been gone for years, returns. And he's going to give Lex a run for his money. Lex wants to create land ("It's the one thing they're not making anymore") and then sell it. A small glitch in the plan is the deaths of billions of people, but Lex can move on.
Superman can't. And he doesn't. Because Superman has always stood for justice and truth and he never tells a lie. But what's he going to do when Lex builds his land out of crystals?
Out of kryptonite.

Word of Warning
All things considered, I was very impressed by how clean this movie was. The PG-13 rating is for violence, and even that is low. Very few people die. Here is a short list of the biggest problems in the movie:
  • Five sexual references. An old woman mentions Lex has shown her "pleasures she had never known", though this reference is easily missed. Mr. White says that three things sell newspapers, one of these things being sex, but Ms. Lane cannot "write a d**m about sex." Ms. Lane wrote an article titled "I Spent the Night With Superman" but insists it was only the title of an interview when her fiancĂ© asks (SPOILER: turns out it wasn't, but more on that later). Ms. Lane says "I did Superman" but intends it to mean that she interviewed him and worked on his story. She clarifies this quickly. A woman is referred to as a hooker, but in passing and it is not entirely clear what the word means (for those viewers who don't know).
  • The words a**, h**l, and d**m. A few were used more than once (maybe three times?) but I believe that was all of them. God's name was taken in vain one or two times.
  • A man uses a huge automatic weapon to shoot at police officers and their cars. We don't actually see their deaths, but we can assume the outcome.
  • The same man shoots at Superman but the bullets do nothing. He then pulls a handgun and shoots right at Superman's eye, but the bullet crumples upon impact in a beautiful slow-motion moment and falls to the ground.
  • People fall from buildings but are saved by Superman.
  • A plane full of people ends up in space after a technology problem and Ms. Lane is tossed about the plane rather violently but never actually injured. She does pass out at the end, but it is assumed to be from shock, not from injuries.
  • Ms. Lane and Jason (a young boy) are caught. Ms. Lane is beaten (but, strangely, physically fine) and a gang member is killed by a flying piano. Later Ms. Lane, her fiancĂ© Richard, and Jason are trapped and almost drown. Ms. Lane is knocked unconscious and it looks like it's all over.
  • Superman is kicked and beaten very badly and is stabbed twice. He is left with a piece of the weapon in his body and falls, drowning. He is rescued and the piece of the weapon is pulled from his body with a pliers--this does not go over well (as can be expected) and he cries out more than once.
  • Superman is rushed to the hospital where his super suit is stripped off (at least, the top is) and they medical personnel attempt to poke him with a needle and shock his heart--both of which fail. They remove a small piece of the weapon which had been embedded within his side.
  • It is implied that a dog eats another dog.
  • Superman uses his X-ray vision and super-hearing to do a few questionable things, including observing Lois' personal life; this is more sneaky than really wrong. He also uses his X-ray vision to "scan" a hurt woman for internal injuries, which ends up being kinda awkward.
  • Lex, in a fit of anger, says he would trade many things, including all of Kitty's blood, in exchange for a quart of gas for his helicopter.
  • A gang is killed by a falling rock, but they are under it and no sound is heard.
  • Ms. Lane is not married to Richard but lives with him. She has a son--who turns out not to be Richard's (though both the son and Richard are unaware of this).

My Thoughts
All things considered (including the date this movie was made--2006) this movie was very clean and a great adventure. The beginning is rather slow and boring, but it really picks up and keeps going at high speed until the very end. One thing that was neat was Superman's similarities to Christ. He comes from a father who sent him, he is different from everyone else, and he suffers to save the world. Really, it's a great reference--until we find out that Superman has a son. Oops. Yeah, that sort of went in the wrong direction. As the wonderful people over at PluggedIn pointed out, we all expect Superman to be above that sort of thing. Not having kids (nothing is wrong with that happening--within wedlock), but having them without getting married and then leaving. I guess this particular instance of Superman's weakness reinforces a really cool truth: true heroes can reflect Christ, but Christ is the only one who can be a Perfect Hero. Our superheroes' weaknesses only magnify His Perfection. For the record, I though Superman's story was one of the best modern secular allegories for Christ I've seen in a while. :)
One particular line was especially beautiful. Lois Lane wrote in an article that the world doesn't need a savior. Superman objects, saying that he hears the world crying for one.
Yes, we cry for a savior like Superman. If only we could see we already have one.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Book Review: Scat

Title: Scat
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Genre: Adventure, Mystery
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: Teen Fiction
Age Group: 14+ (could possibly be 12+)

Summary: Nick has a very big problem: his biology teacher (the one nobody likes) has gone missing. Now, few of his classmates actually care (aside from his close friend Marta and a girl named Libby), but Nick, being a nice boy, really does care. Since she went missing the day of a wildfire, which happened in a swamp where Nick had hoped to see a panther, he decides to start there.
That's when things kind of explode. Nick gets involved with a strange man named Twilly, learns the truth about his biology teacher, finds out a very unexpected truth about the bad-boy Smoke (Duane Jr.), and gets his wish. He gets to see a panther.
Two, actually. One is a cub.
In the process, an evil business man tries to work behind the law and Nick's dad encounters difficulties in Iraq.
The biggest question is, how in the world is the author going to tie all of this together, and off, by the end of the book?

Word of Warning:
  • A business man ignores laws and drills for oil where it is illegal to do so.
  • A kid is arrested and admits to lighting at least two fires.
  • A man loses his arm (but not "on page").
  • Nick breaks his arm, is attacked by a panther, and falls out of a tree and blacks out.
  • Guns are fired (not at people).
  • The story eventually ends up circling around an endangered species and people's treatment of this delicate issue.
  • Kids continually do things their parents would not want them to do.
  • People are very rude and disrespectful toward each other.
  • The words d**n and a** are used more than once.

My Thoughts:
Within the genre, the problems above really aren't a huge problem. The voice of the narration was fantastic and I am beginning to see that this is simply Hiaasen and his amazing-ness. Even the plot of saving the panthers was, for the most part, realistic and not over done (as much of the save-the-animals stuff can be). It's impressive how Hiaasen manages to whip up so many different story-lines and actually work them together. The characters are fantastic and while the dialogue can be choppy, it's far too funny to really get frustrated with.
I would reread this over, and over, and over again. It's just too good not to.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Labels Make It Simple

Hello all,

Are you looking for a specific genre? Age group? Rating? We label our posts with the following information: format (book, movie, music, author alcove, etc), recommended age, genre, and official rating. All you have to do is scroll down a little ways and look over at the right sidebar. All our labels are listed there, as links, and clicking on them will bring up all posts with that label. We hope this makes it easier to find what you're looking for.

Also, if you have any suggestions, we are happy to consider them. More books? Movies? A specific genre? We're eager to hear from you.

If you've found this blog helpful, please pass on the link to your friends. We want to reach as many people as possible with these reviews, hoping to make picking acceptable books, movies, music, and authors easier. It should be fun, not frustrating. Hopefully we're able to take some of the pain out of the search.

God bless!
~ Maria Gianna

Friday, May 17, 2013

Movie Review: Aquamarine

Title: Aquamarine
Author: N/A
Genre: Mythology? Fantasy?
My Rating: *
Official Rating: PG
Age Group: 12+

Hailey and Claire are two 8th graders struggling with life. Life, of course, means Hailey is moving to a different country, Claire is terrified of water (with a good reason and a touching back story that isn't really explained), and boys. Well, boy. Raymond. They know everything about him, but he doesn't notice them any more than the other people on the beach he lifeguards. This might be because he's old enough to head off to college next year, but that's not really something the girls bring up.
Still, when the sun goes down, they're worried about Hailey leaving. She doesn't want to. She whispers a chant, and the next morning they find a mermaid. She offers them a wish in exchange for helping her prove to her father that love exists. The girls are torn, but in the interest of wishing Hailey to remain in Florida, they agree to help the mermaid, Aquamarine, fall in love--with Raymond.

Word of Warning:
The first part of the movie was utterly shocking, and things actually recovered after that.
  • Throughout the movie we see girls in bikinis, though the main characters rarely wear them (if at all).
  • 8th graders obsess (yes, obsess) over a guy who is college-age.
  • Hailey and Claire are hooked on teen magazines and everything the magazines say about love. They believe every word of it, and though the movie does make it look silly, it never actually debunks any of the ideas it throws out to the viewer.
  • Aquamarine, in true mermaid style, does not wear a shirt. Or anything. But her hair is long enough and we never see anything.... Still, the knowledge that she isn't wearing anything is overkill.
  • It is mentioned that everyone knows Raymond, and everybody wants him, "even some of the boys."
  • Hailey and Claire make a passing remark about another (older) girl's breasts. Claire wishes hers would "appear" like Hailey's fish does when Aquamarine coaxes it out of hiding.
  • There is a passing reference to "undies".
  • The word "bullshark" is used for swearing, "oh my God" is heard at least twice, and one girl is referred to as a b**ch.
  • Raymond spends much of the movie without a shirt. For a guy that everyone has fallen for, he's pretty much what we'd expect: shallow. He does turn around a little bit, but overall, he's just a face with a name everybody knows.
  • Characters sneak off the the mall and spend their own savings on dresses, hair-do's, nails, etc. They are not allowed to do this and have to make sure their parents don't find out.
  • Aquamarine tries to dance, attempting some awkward and almost seductive moves (common among the age group dancing) but fails so badly there is nothing seductive about it.
  • There are two rather chaste kisses.
  • Characters lie, are disrespectful to their parents, and act like spoiled brats.
  • Characters hide out in a water tower (which is clearly off limits to the public).
  • Love is portrayed as an emotion only.
My Thoughts
Had the ages been changed a it, and the obsession over boys been dealt with, the language cleaned up, and the obsession over physical looks been banished into near-nonexistence, this movie would have been kind of entertaining. Let's face it, a girl who knows nothing about real life is suddenly tossed into it and, as a teenager, is expected by those around her to know what she's doing. It's funny.
And the funny pretty much disappears in the shadow of all the negative elements.

One line I liked was something to the effect that love is the closest thing humans have to magic. Yes, taking God out of the picture, that's true. Putting God back into the picture, things line up. But there is no God in this world. Maye that's why it's so painfully empty and petty.

Hailey remarks that love doesn't always work. Ahh, Hailey, you have so much to learn. Love isn't an emotion, contrary to what the movie wants the viewer to think. It's an act of the will.
I was happy that Raymond was hesitant to say he loved Aquamarine because, as he points out, they've know each other for three days and had one date. He needs time. He's right, but Aquamarine doesn't understand. Then again, that's understandable. She needs him to say he loves her or else she's whisked off to a dreaded fate. But is saying it meaning it? This is never mentioned, or answered.

In the end, Aquamarine does win after all. She proves love exists. Hailey and Claire love Aquamarine. This was, perhaps, the only element that I really liked in the movie that wasn't spoiled by other things. In our world today, the love of friendship is so overlooked in our books, movies, and music. It's just...friendship. At least one movie got it right.
I just wish it hadn't gotten so much else wrong.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Author Alcove: Mike Lupica and Bryan Davis

Author Alcove is more about authors and less about one particular work. Since these two are a bit short and slightly different than the regular Author Alcove format (these here were pre-written for a different purpose and I am short on time), I am posting them together instead of separately. Here are two authors more (who have almost nothing in common):

Author Mike Lupica:
Why I read The Underdogs: because it was about football and I needed to know more about football for my own novels. At the time, I didn't have a whole lot of time to actually research with nonfiction books so a novel was a good way to go.
What I thought: AMAZING!
Why: His style is perfect for what he writes. It's simple and to the point and yet it does some comfortable pacing now and then. The voice he uses is clear and matter-of-fact. His girl characters seem to always be tough on the outside and sweet on the inside, but unfortunately are almost all identical. His boy characters sound very real and are funny and yet serious and honest and over all very realistic. And the way sports are worked into the story.....I believe every story (at least the ones I've read so far) has a character conflict (not enough funding for the football team and now a girl joins the team, a friend going blind, death of a father, etc) along with sports things worked in. It's smooth and great. Plus, his conversations. I would have to say the dialogue in his books beats nearly all dialogue I've read in nearly all other genres.
Overall: simple but lovely in a mud-and-grass-stain way. Plus, can't forget the dialogue. :)
Read it: if you want to read some good dialogue, strong characters, a good voice, and some sports mixed in. I've never played football for real but when I read it I sure felt like I was right there on the field.

Author Bryan Davis:
Why I started reading: a former soccer teammate told me I just had to read the first Dragons In Our Midst book and wouldn't tell me anything else. So I read. And I fell in love. Ok, maybe that's a bit of a strong word, but I really do enjoy Bryan Davis's books to the extreme. I can't seem to stop reading them and I'll be very sad when there aren't any more. The only problem is one has to be in the right mood for his books. Sometimes, I simply cannot stomach his writing. Other days, I can't get enough.
What I thought: WOW! Unlike Mike Lupica's books, Bryan Davis's books have quite a few unbelievable speeches. You know the kind. The kind that make you think, "Awww. I love that. Why hasn't anyone said something like that to me?" and then you realize, "That's not realistic. It would take a few rehearsals before anyone in real life could get that out." But have you ever read a book where that just doesn't matter? Where the realistic-ness isn't really compromised because that isn't the point. The point here is beauty, I think. These books are beautiful. They're C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien beautiful, they're Madeline L'Engle beautiful. Yes, they are that kind of beautiful. The first time I read is for the plot and the stuff with music (Echoes from the Edge) or the King Arthur references (Dragons In Our Midst) or the mythology (Starlighter). The second time is for the Christianity hidden just below the surface. The third time is because I know I will never be able to get everything out of it. The fourth is because there are so many quotes I love. And the fifth is because I just can't get enough. The girl characters are strong but gentle and sweet. The boy characters are gentlemen, strong and gentle, caring and protecting, and yet they still make mistakes. I hate a book where the girl or boy is too perfect. Even these characters make mistakes. But in all, a must read.
Overall: beautiful. Absolutely beautiful and deep and containing so many layers that I'm afraid no matter how many times I read it I won't find the bottom. Incredibly creative. I have never read any thing like what Davis has written.
Read it: for King Arthur, for dragons, for strong guy characters like Paul Fester and Alex O'Donnell (Regina Doman's characters, not Bryan's), for good girl characters (no comparison here), for music, for family, for faith, for depth. For beauty.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review: Artemis Fowl

Title: Artemis Fowl
Author: Eoin Colfer
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: Teen Fiction
Age Group: 12+

Summary: Artemis Fowl is a twelve year old genius. Absolutely nothing can stop him. Unfortunately for the world, he's a criminal mastermind, the son of a rich family, and has a huge and powerful butler named, well, Butler. This all adds up to something very bad for the world. In fact, nearly the only limitation Artemis has is his mother's illness, but even that doesn't hold him back. When he hears about fairies and their gold, he wants some. He believes, and he does everything necessary to take this gold.
What he didn't plan for was the fairies. It was strange, really, since Artemis Fowl always plans for everything. This is the first time he made a mistake.

Word of Warning
  • The main character is a criminal mastermind who is twelve.
  • Magic. Yes, the fairies have magic and use it to do various things. In order to get this magic and keep it, they have to plant an acorn in a certain spot once a year during a certain time of night.
  • Artemis has almost no human feelings. At times we glimpse a love for his mother, but we can never be sure if that is genuine.
  • Mr. Fowl is dead or has disappeared.
  • Mrs. Fowl is insane and does not recognize her son most of the time. She lives in the attic and refuses to open the windows. SPOILER: this is resolved, but it's a rather pitiful and sad description nonetheless.
  • Butler uses force all the time. This involves weapons and using his own hands.
  • Fairies die.
  • A fairy swears, but it's in the fairy language and all we know is that translated, it would be a swear word (the author doesn't translate it).
  • Characters shoot at things and each other, things blow up, characters die.

My Thoughts
This was a fun read, but at times it was frustrating. I think it really depends on the mood of the reader. Sometimes I was enthralled by the narration and the story line. At other times, I became frustrated with the wordiness. I have read other books by Colfer, and I believe this is really due to his writing style.
Overall it was fun and creative and I never knew what was going to happen next. While I wouldn't reread it (currently don't have the time), I would recommend it to others.
The one thing lacking here was a true friendship. There were plenty of near-friendships, but nothing true. As a result of this, there was, of course, no romance (which is, written correctly, a form of friendship). This made the book feel empty. It felt exciting and thrilling--and didn't go anywhere. Friendship, that is, love, seems to be necessary in order to make anything feel worthwhile. Even Artemis's relationship with his mother was unclear as to whether it was because of a need for money, or because he actually cared for her.
While the thrills and crazy turns were great, the end was a bit of a let down thanks to that simple fact: it lacked what makes the world go 'round.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Movie Review: Tom Brown's Schooldays

Title: Tom Brown's Schooldays
Author: Alex Pettyfer
Genre: Drama
My Rating: ***
Age Group: 16+ (that's generous in favor of the movie)
Official Rating: None (at least, none that I could find on the DVD case)

My Summary:
This is a drama. It's a story of growth, renewal, redemption. It's the story of a fall and a rise.
Tom Brown (Alex Pettyfer) is a boy sent away to rugby school. He's a good boy, promising to say his prayers and write his mother weekly. But rugby school seems to be as rough as the sport itself and it doesn't take long for Tom's eyes to be filled with hatred. Yes, you can see it in his eyes. His expression radiates it. He resists anything he sees as unjust but his childish view of this is simply "Anything which causes me harm is unjust and requires revenge."
And then George Aurthur arrives. He's a small boy, pale and prayerful like Tom was. He writes his mother and reads books and tells Tom, "Wouldn't it be a boring old world if everyone was the same?" Tom silences him. Fool! Do you want to get killed? Blend in, fight back, shut up, be normal.
But Aurthur has stirred something in Tom. What happened, he begins to wonder (or so we assume)? Is what I've become an improvement? And then Aurthur is drowned (almost)--and Tom wakes up.
He fights for justice this time. Yes, fighting has its place. Fighting is not bad for its own sake, but only when done for the wrong reasons. Tom learns just this and puts his new found knowledge to use in the climax.
But is it too late? Unfortunately, for Aurthur, it is. R. I. P., Arther. And Tom? Well, he's learned the lesson that few boys are able to learn in a world like ours: fighting can be honorable, resistance can be admirable and good, but only when in the right context.

Word of Warning:
It seems that most of the negative points (of which there are many) are centered around Flashman, the school bully. Because what is it that turns Tom to hatred? Bullying. Here are some of the most important things to note:
  •  Flashman attempts to drown two young boys. It's not clear he intends their death but he does put them in situations that would cause such a thing.
  • He drinks alcohol and has a gun. At one point he seems drunk.
  • He lies constantly.
  • He is the "head bully" and pushes everyone around, often using his cane to back up his orders.
  • He attempts to force a girl to kiss him (she later reports to the headmaster that he attempted to seduce her). Later, he feigns engagement to her and sleeps with her, though this is off-screen. We see him kiss her neck as she cringes, then lift her dress, then the scene closes. Still later we find out that she is with child.
  • The girl, Sally, has an abortion, though the details are uncertain and it is nothing like what we have today as this is the day of the horse and carriage.
  • Flashman offers to "buy" someone a girl, later using the same comment and directing it at Brown, adding, "Then he won't have to go sniffing around little boys." Brown challenges him to a fight.
  • Flashman cheats, using brass knuckles to knock Brown out with a blow to the head (and then another, which was unnecessary).
  • He has Brown pinned to the hearth until his back has terrible burns/blisters on it, then leaves the boy unconscious and runs.
  • He has Brown tossed into the air and then dropped to the ground, while Brown cries out and eventually loses consciousness.
  • He passionately kisses at least two different women.
We do have some other negative elements that are not centered around Flashman:
  • Fist fights and blood (at least twice)
  • Brown steals a chicken but claims it is not actually stealing, but liberation, a rugby tradition. He is promptly "caned" by the headmaster.
  • Brown pulls down his pants to reveal his bare backside and stripes from the cane, calling out defiance to the headmaster. The view is brief.
  • It is suggested that the boys gamble and hunt for sport.
  • There is a scene in which Brown and Aurthur take baths in two tin tubs. I believe we see no more than their bare upper bodies.
I dearly hope I did not forget to mention anything, but I believe I got the bulk of the problems, and definitely the more serious ones.
Please note that none of these are looked upon as positive. Even Brown's resistance is shown as negative, through the look in his eyes and the firm guiding hand of the headmaster. All of Flashman's actions are clearly wrong and dealt with as such.

Why watch it?
A very good question. With all that negative material, why would one watch something like that?
Personally, I think several things need to be taken into consideration: Can the audience handle such things? Are they old enough? While the violence is on screen, and the sexual scenes usually just implied, there is some serious content here.
But this is a story of redemption. Brown goes in good, turns bad, then turns again in a very realistic way. The headmaster is a good man, set on making this school a Christian school where the boys are believed as though their words were those of men and they do not harass each other.
In my opinion, the most important element is the lesson Brown learns about fighting. The world we live in today views fighting as bad, always bad, and that things should be discussed and worked out with words. That's all well and good, but fighting is not necessarily bad. What about the Knights of the Round Table? The Crusades? The warrior pope? The kings, who are now saints, who took to the battlefield?
No, fighting is not bad. It simply has its place--and its different hats. In our world, that message is not seen enough--and young people suffer because of it. So while that might not be the main message of the movie, that's the most beautiful thing I took away from it.

One simply has to decide if it is worth it, watching something with all those negative elements in it. That is for each person to decide on their own. I'm only here to tell you it's there.

Note on the origin: This movie is based off a book, though I'm afraid I have not read the book so cannot make comparisons.