Friday, August 30, 2013

Trojan Horse Book Review: The Last Song

Before I do the review, I think I should explain what a Trojan Horse Review is. The Greeks left the Trojans a gift, a great wooden horse. Inside, Greek soldiers waited to spring a deadly trap upon the Trojans and completely destroy their city. A Trojan Horse Review is a review of one of those books/movies/albums/other that comes highly recommended, disguised as something good, and is a nearly deadly attack. Due to the deadly nature of these materials, the author of the post may, on moral grounds, not be as detailed in the review as usual. While the main and major problems will be listed, smaller ones may not be mentioned or noticed by the post author due to a skimming of the material. Also, some Trojan Horses will be more dangerous than others. It really depends on how many soldiers the author can fit into the horse.


Title: The Last Song
Author: Nicholas Sparks
Genre: Romance, family, death
My Rating: **
Official Rating: Teen Fiction
Age Group: 18+
The Horse: the author's name and fame

Ronnie is pretty upset that her parents divorced, and rightly so. So she takes it out on her mom and breaks all the rules possible. She hangs out with the wrong people, in the wrong places, and almost completely ignores any sort of parental direction she is given. Her mom just doesn't know what to do about it.
But when Ronnie and her little brother end up stuck spending the summer with their dad on the beach, things turn around. How could they not, after Ronnie meets a cute boy who also turns to be rich, interested in her, and rather charming?
Things are going well until Ronnie learns the truth about her father. Then it all falls apart.

Word of Warning
  • Disrespect, rudeness toward other human beings, and a sort of mean sense of humor that is not portrayed as negative.
  • Complete disrespect for parents and those in authority in general. Rudeness, ignoring rules, etc. As for the parents, Ronnie's mom is angry and tries to combat the disobedience. This plan fails and Ronnie only gets worse. Her father, on the other hand, ignores her disobedience and refusal to follow rules, instead confessing concern for her well-being but demanding nothing of her. Her father's plan succeeds and Ronnie turns into a better person.
  • Ronnie is mixed up with the wrong people. While she doesn't do anything, they do. They smoke, do drugs, drink, and take their relationships too far. Nothing graphic, but all implied and there.
  • Ronnie steals from a store but only because she was bored. Later, she's framed, but hasn't done it. She knows what she did was wrong and even confessed it while on trial.
  • A group of entertainers use fire for their shows and are reckless jerks. At one point, a girl's arm is set on fire (by accident) and her group takes off because legally they can't perform where they are performing. She does get help.
  • Marcus is dating Blaze but decides he's tired of her and flirts with Ronnie. Ronnie ignores him, but he does imply he'd like to take things too far and doesn't seem to see anything wrong with that.
  • Fist fights, one in which a man's nose is broken.
  • Women are continually objectified either because of the clothes they wear or by the men they hang out with. Marcus even goes so far as to think about how small and strong looking Ronnie's body seems, but that's about as far as it goes while he is narrating.
  • Volleyball tournaments involve bikinis and shirtless guys.
  • Ronnie stays with her father until he dies of cancer. This can be a bit disturbing to read about.
  • Will covers for his friend who committed a terrible crime by accident. Will spends the whole book battling with whether or not to tell, and even Ronnie suggests he tell at some point. Then, it turns out Will's friend did not commit the crime, and everyone is glad that Will didn't reveal his secret. Not exactly satisfactory from a moral standpoint.
  • Ronnie and Will kiss quite often, especially considering how long they've been dating. Usually the kiss is mentioned briefly, but there are one or two where it goes on for a while and starts to get a bit too involved (Will's hands move from Ronnie's shoulders, down her back, to her waist; Ronnie's hands in Will's hair; Will kissing Ronnie's mouth, then her neck, and back to her mouth; etc). Jonah (Ronnie's little brother) sees one of these intense kisses from the house and refers to it as making out. Ronnie objects, saying they were just kissing (exactly what Will told her moments before). What? She proved to the reader during the kiss that she is well aware something was up because she did push Will away and tell him to stop because it felt like it was going farther--and she didn't want her dad to catch her.
  • Scott, Will's friend, is happy to date girls with the sole purpose of taking them to bed for a night or two before moving on (in the text, this is referred to as scoring with them). He encourages Will to do the same, but luckily Will doesn't go that far.
  • Will and Ronnie stay on the beach all night to protect a turtle nest. Not necessarily a bad thing, but they're alone and it is night and they do sleep at some point (although not together).
  • Will's mom is controlling of his life. In her defense, she has a good and tragic reason to be so, and to Will's credit, he knows this and is willing to put up with her control. Eventually he breaks free without hurting her.
  • Many other smaller problems.

My Thoughts
Granted, this really isn't that much of a Trojan Horse, but it was bad enough that I wasn't about to give it a regular book review. After all, I'm not about to start reading stuff like this regularly and purposely.

So why did I read this? It was actually an accident. See, I'd listened to A Walk to Remember by the same author a while back and though it had some mature content, it was a good story and had a great narration voice (that of the author, interestingly enough). I just loved the style. When I saw The Last Song at a church book sale, I grabbed it (really, .25 is not much of a price to pay), I made the mistake of forgetting the title of the book I'd listened to on tape and thought it was the one before me on the table. When I started reading, I knew it wasn't, but the story didn't seem too bad and Will was too funny to shut the book just yet. Plus, there was the promise of redemption for many of the characters and I liked that idea.
It might've been better if I'd just put it down.

The conclusion was disappointing, Ronnie's parents were disappointing, everything was disappointing, even Will. Because when Will started kissing Ronnie too much, telling her it was just kissing, it didn't make any sense to me. He'd just spent a good chapter thinking about how he values people, not physical interaction, and he liked Ronnie as a person. I get it. He slipped like any human can, but he was never redeemed.
And the thing about media is this: the author has the chance to redeem every character.

What makes the author then is simple: which characters does he redeem, and how?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Movie Review: The Swiss Family Robinson

Title: The Swiss Family Robinson
Author: N/A
Genre: Adventure, romance, animals, family
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: G
Age Group: 6+

Caught in a storm, a family from Switzerland traveling to New Guinea is shipwrecked and forced to live on a deserted island with all sorts of animals. They fight for survival, grow closer, and deal with pirates. But when the two oldest sons rescue a girl, things start to fall apart. As if that isn't enough, the pirates are back.

Word of Warning
  • Countless deaths of pirates (none of which are graphic or seen up close). They are stabbed by the sword, shot by arrows, blow up by gunpowder, shot with guns, attacked by a tiger, tossed over cliffs, hit with falling logs and rocks, and various other small things.
  • Francis is mischievous and always getting into trouble, and danger. He is scolded briefly and lightly and does not seem to regret his adventures. He encounters a tiger and almost falls out of a tree, among other things.
  • The movie starts with a ship in a storm and people struggling to save themselves, screaming for help. When the storm is over and the family escapes the ship, they do not find any survivors. It is not clear what happened to the others (death by drowning or simply escaping on smaller boats).
  • A few fist fights between brothers, often because of a girl (who does not encourage the fighting).
  • Fritz and Ernst both try to win the love of Roberta, often with sweet gestures and a helping hand when possible. Roberta, for her part, doesn't seem to know who to go with. At one point in the movie, it's clear she chooses Fritz, but she still is a bit too nice to Ernst, probably leading him on unintentionally.
  • Fritz and Roberta share two almost-kisses (they do kiss, but it's clearly cut short), then two real ones, and finally one longer one. They plan to stay behind and it is implied that they'll get married, though that might be a challenge without a priest around. Still, it is suggested that others will join the shipwrecked family on the island, so this may not be a problem.
  • Fritz and Ernst fight with a giant snake in the water, nearly drowning.
  • Roberta shoots at Ernst. Ernst, for his part, throws rocks at her. This is before he knows she's a girl.
  • Roberta's grandfather has her dress up as a boy for fear the pirates will know she is a girl. Later, when the pirates come looking for her, Roberta suggests she turn herself over to protect the shipwrecked family. Fritz objects, saying she doesn't look like a boy anymore, and she knows what they will do to her as a girl. She tears up but still insists it would be better than anything the family would suffer. Fritz is angry and refuses to listen to such talk. Nothing beyond that is explained, everything is implied, and the younger audience completely misses the point.
  • When Roberta is still disguised as a boy, Fritz and Ernst are a little hard on her. When they tell her to take her clothes off to cross a river, she decides she's had enough and refuses. Soon after they discover (by pulling off her hat, and a quick wrestling match) that she's a girl, and things change dramatically.
  • Various minor cuts and scrapes shown with fake blood.
  • Father, Fritz, and Ernst spend much of the movie without shirts on, working hard outside in the sun.
The Good
This movie deserves one of these.
  • The family dynamics are beautiful. Support, love, and trust are shown continually. All the men (including little Francis) show extra respect for their mother, who is the only woman on the island (until Roberta comes along).
  • The parents of the family portray a beautiful and strong marriage on-screen, supporting each other, speaking softly, sharing tender moments, and just being there. This was incredibly refreshing, especially considering what most movies now show.
  • The bond between the brothers (Fritz, Ernst, and Francis) is fun to watch and rather wholesome. There is barely any bickering, and even when Fritz and Ernst butt heads when it comes to Roberta, they still seem to respect each other and remain friends. A hard thing to balance, but balanced well in this movie.
  • The instant Fritz and Ernst realize Roberta is a girl, their treatment of her changes dramatically. They're more gentle, they help her along, and they speak softly to her. While it can get some of the audience laughing because it's almost over the top, the beauty in their actions and the instant change in respect and treatment of Roberta is far too wonderful to be overlooked.

My Thoughts
Who doesn't want to watch a great adventure that focuses on a great family? Honestly, the scenery and the animals would be enough to make me watch the movie, but throwing in such a beautiful portrayal of a true family just makes everything ten times better. Add to that the fundamentals shown here (chivalry, a strong marriage, friendship among brothers, etc), and there really aren't many reasons not to watch the movie.
Best of all? It's appropriate for the whole family, and makes for a great movie night.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Book Review: Stormbreaker

Title: Stormbreaker (Alex Rider series)
Author: Anthony Horowitz
Genre: Teen, Action, Thriller
My Rating: *
Age Group: 14+

Summary -
After his uncle dies in a tragic car accident, Alex has nothing to look forward to in life. He's a fourteen-year-old orphan with no friends and no real knowledge of his uncle's past. But when he begins to suspect that his uncle's death wasn't an accident and starts to investigate, he's picked up by the MI6. Apparently, his uncle was more interesting than Alex thought; he was actually a spy whose last mission killed him.
And now MI6 wants Alex to complete the mission. They don't really give him much of a choice in the matter. So he's packed off to a computer manufacturing facility to discover why his uncle died and what Herod Sayle, a technology mogul, is doing. Neither MI6 or Alex realize just how dangerous the mission will be.

The Bad -
 - Ian Rider is killed by an assassin (not described).
 - Alex gets into various dangerous situations, either purposely or accidently, most of which you would expect to find in a spy book. Some are: sneaking into a junkyard and getting trapped in a car about to be destroyed, various fistfights, gunfights, climbing dangerously high buildings, sneaking around a high-security facility, being dropped into a jellyfish tank to die, etc.
 - MI6 blackmails Alex into joining them, knowing full well that he might not live. This is made more serious because he's only 14.
 - A man at the training camp that Alex is sent to purposely sabotages him.
 - A remark is made in a description of a fat man about his buttocks.
 - A remark is made about how jellyfish have no anus.
 - There is a mention of drug smuggling.
 - There are several uses of the euphemism "bliddy" for a popular British swearword.
 - Herod Sayle, the bad guy, is genuinely evil, with many evil sidekicks. They all threaten Alex's life at some point. Sayle's evil plot includes killing thousands of children in order to get revenge for bullying he received when he was in school.
 - An assassin kills a man for dropping a box (described).
 - While Alex tries to avoid killing anyone in cold blood, he does cause quite a few accidental deaths as he escapes from various dangers.
 - Alex shoots a gun in a crowded room. He misses everyone but the bad guy, whom he wounds.
 - Sayle is assassinated.
 - Alex states his intention to kill the man who murdered his uncle.
 - While this does not become more apparent until later books, the characters of the Alex Rider stories have very little moral sense of right and wrong. Their general philosophy seems to be that as long as everything ends up alright, anything can be done to get to that conclusion. Alex himself seems to have at least an inclination toward good, but his irresponsibility and selfishness tends to drown this out in later books.

The Good -
 - In this story at least, Alex tries to do what he thinks is right.
 - Alex shows great resourcefulness and bravery.

Conclusion -
I'll admit that I've read quite a few of the Alex Rider books, though it's been a few years since I bothered to pick one up. And rereading this book reminded me exactly why I stopped bothering.
No matter how hard he tries, Anthony Horowitz cannot write. I don't know how these books became popular, or even sold to a publisher, but it's like Horowitz wrote them in his sleep and published them without editing them at all.
Outside of the utter sloppiness of the writing, the Alex Rider books don't really tell an uplifting or enlightening story anyway. The "get it done" attitude of the characters leads them into doing many things which would disgust many sensible readers, and while this first book in the series is relatively clean, you can still pick up hints of this attitude, particularly in the adult characters.
Would a younger reader enjoy it? Maybe, if they're the sort who can overlook a bad writing style. But should they read it? The first book is innocuous, but as it ends on a semi-cliffhanger, parents should probably be wary of introducing the series, because the later books become much less innocent.

Please Note: This is the first book in the Alex Rider series, and while it is relatively appropriate for a 14+ age group, the rest of the series is not. I would suggest that parents read the series before giving it to anyone under the age of 16. 

Maria has also written a review of a movie based off of this book: Operation Stormbreaker

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Movie Review: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Please note: I intend to review the first movie and the books. I am reviewing this one first because it is currently in theaters.
Also, I do not claim to mention everything that could be listed under the "Word of Warning" section. My goal is to mention as much as possible, focusing on mentioning most (if not all) bigger problems and as many small ones as I can remember.

Title: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Author: Fox 2000 Pictures
Genre: Adventure, fantasy, mythology
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: PG (for fantasy action violence, some scary images, and mild language)
Age Group: 12+

Life seems to be working out for Percy Jackson. He's found a place where he fits in (mostly) and isn't being attacked by vicious monsters anymore. In fact, he's got it so good that he even has time to slow down and do some thinking. That's when it hits him (with a little help from Clarisse): he's not as good as people say he is. More accurately: he's finding it a bit hard to live up to what he imagines his father's expectations are. Especially when he discovers a brother--who happens to be a Cyclops.
Enter Luke. Apparently the guy can swim and wasn't killed in the first movie after all. Luke has a plan, and that involves the end of the world and the resurrection of Kronos, the evil Titan lord. It also involves Thalia's death. Well, it involves the death of the tree she's become (long story). This tree protects Camp Half-Blood and without it, all the demigods and other mythological characters are pretty much doomed to a terrible end.
Clarisse is picked to go on a quest to save the camp and the whole world.
That doesn't do much good for Percy's personal struggle, but he takes off on his own little quest anyway. Things don't go as planned and the end of the world is quickly approaching.

SPOILER ALERT for the following sections.

Word of Warning
  • The movie starts with three young children running for their lives from a few Cyclops. One is hurt by a falling tree, and a little girl offers to hold off the monsters to save the others. She sacrifices her own life, but her father (Zeus) turns her into a tree so she can continue living and protect the camp at the same time.
  • Tyson (the Cyclops) looks a little disturbing with one eye but for much of the movie this is solved with spray-on Mist or sunglasses. He acts very immature and the movie fails to explain this is because in Cyclops years he is barely older than a baby. He is referred to as a sort of failure, the son of Poseidon and a naiad, a monster of sorts.
  • The Greek gods are the center of these kids' universe, which results in almost no Christian references. The kids don't exactly worship their parents, however. They just realize these gods are more powerful than themselves and are respectful out of fear (most of the time). When they do meet one, they do not fall to their knees and worship.
  • The kids all have Greek gods for parents on one side and humans for parents on the other. For example, Percy's father is Poseidon, and his mother is a human (who isn't in this particular movie). This is not dwelt upon (it's a fact for all the kids at camp) and not explained. However, different children who have the same Greek parent do not have the same human parent. This is a theme in Greek mythology, but can be especially disturbing when put into a modern perspective.
  • Dionysus says, after his wine turns into water, "The Christians have a guy who can do this in reverse. Now that's a god." He likes his wine (he's the god of it!) but because of a relationship (no details given) with a naiad that Zeus liked as well, he has been punished. All his wine turns to water before he can drink it.
  • The camp directors aren't too concerned about the safety of the kids. Granted, they don't want anyone dying, but they know it's going to happen at some point and aren't overly protective. Kids play games with weapons (attacking each other) and climb up giant spinning structures where they fall off and are sometimes carted away on stretchers (in the background). It's a contest, so they're not above pushing each other off and using dirty tricks to win.
  • Percy gets hurt. Repeatedly. He is bruised by the spinning structure competition in the beginning and falls off, not getting up right away. Later, a bull drags him through things and across a brick-paved road, resulting in a few minor (but realistic) bloody cuts on his face. He's involved in swordfights and is bloodied again later. Lucky for him, by touching water he can be completely healed.
  • A bull has a sort of flamethrower that he aims right at Tyson. Tyson is engulfed in the flames and is completely unharmed (Cyclops are nearly invincible). Later, he takes an arrow for Percy, right in the stomach, and falls over a cliff, apparently dead. He's not, and returns later (having been healed by water).
  • The kids get a ride from Three Fates who drive a taxi. They only have one eye, which they must take turns using. This results in a crazy and dangerous ride, as well as the eyeball bouncing around the back of the car until Percy picks it up and uses it to bargain with them for information.
  • Annabeth, like the others, is tossed around a bit and gets into some battles. Eventually, she is stabbed in the stomach (from the back) by a beast. She dies. And is resurrected by the Golden Fleece, but not before we're almost convinced she's not going to live through this.
  • Various battles involving swords and punching. Characters generally don't die on screen but are hurt, tossed around, and disappear off screen when it looks pretty serious and they're not a main character.
  • Clarisse is the daughter of Ares, god of war. He loans her a ship from the Civil War for her quest. The ship is run by dead Confederate Soldiers who gave their lives for Ares (as they prefer to be referred to), but they'll accept zombies too. They look gray, have sunken cheeks, and have hollow looking eyes, but are not as graphic (no blood and gore) as most zombies are. In fact, it's almost easy to forget they're meant to be zombies.
  • A few of the main characters are swallowed by a giant monster and end up in its stomach. They're in danger of being digested before they blast a hole in its stomach and sail out, barely escaping.
  • Words: oh my gods, d**mit, d**n, Hades and Styx are also used. Tyson says "bull" and the others misinterpret this as the beginning of a swearword, but then he explains that he smells a bull, which then charges into camp and almost kills everyone.
  • Kronos was so cruel he ate his own children (we see this in the form of pictures that look like colored glass windows). He is resurrected and his body is made up of pieces of flesh that look like chunks of lava. They fly around as he assembles. He looks something like a rock-monster or transformer-ish. He later falls apart again and is back to being "dead."
  • Annabeth is rude to Tyson, but we find out later that this is the result of a traumatic event she suffered in her childhood. Not an excuse, but at least an explanation for her nastiness.
  • Grover pretends to be a chambermaid so that he does not get eaten.
  • Cyclops eat people and that's a known fact. At one point it is revealed that an amusement park was opened and demigods lined up to have fun, then were eaten by the Cyclops.
  • The kids get on a ride called "The Plummet of Death" to find the Cyclops. It is slow, squeaky, and extremely anticlimactic.
  • Mythical beasts are shown, Cyclops, and the gods.
  • Percy and Annabeth hug at least five times, almost always after moments where one of the two almost died. This isn't of much concern, but it is a hint at a slowly developing romance. There is nothing beyond the hugs.
Good Points
I don't usually do a section like this, but this movie deserves one only because it's good points are not clear in contrast to all the stuff that deserves a warning. So, borrowing an idea from Stacy, here are just a few good points of this movie.
  • The line from Dionysus: "The Christians have a guy who can do this in reverse. Now that's a god." It might be the only direct (or indirect) reference to Christianity in the film, and it was awesome.
  • Percy does come to terms with not being as good as he thinks Poseidon wants him to be. This is a journey aided by Tyson, his brother (who, at first, he didn't want).
  • Percy helps Tyson to realize that he's great just as he is, even if he only has one eye.
  • Percy selflessly allows Clarisse to bring the Fleece back to camp and save the day even though it's probably very tempting for him to do that (especially considering his personal struggle).
  • Tyson sacrifices his life to save Percy.
  • Tyson, Annabeth, Percy, and Grover decide to help Clarisse even though she is generally rather rude and cruel to them. Clarisse learns her lesson and manages to at least acknowledge some of their kindness.
  • There is a strong bond of friendship between the four main characters (Tyson, Annabeth, Percy, and Grover). This results in moments where they risk it all to save each other from harm and also small random acts of kindness.
  • Some of these small random acts of kindness might be the result of a slowly developing romance between Percy and Annabeth. Percy is enough of a gentleman (though where he learned this we have no idea) to help her off of a "sea horse" and out of a carnival ride. The romance itself is sweet and hardly develops at all (consistent with the books).

My Thoughts
For the book purist, this is not a movie you'd enjoy.
Did I love the books? Yes, I loved the books. They were amazing (for reasons I will explain in another post). This movie was amazing too even though it wasn't as accurate as we were lead to believe it would be. At first, I felt a little disappointed. Then, I didn't care. The adventure was so fun, the acting so good, and the whole thing so well done, that it just didn't matter how accurate it was.
One thing to keep in mind is that it is Greek mythology, and characters do encounter near-death situations. This gives it a very high PG rating, possibly even a low PG-13 rating. It really depends on what the kids can handle.
For those who can handle this, they are in for a wild and great adventure.
Me? I saw it twice. Within two days. And I'd gladly see it again.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Movie Review: Rise of the Guardians

Title: Rise of the Guardians
Author: DreamWorks
Genre: Fantasy, Animals, Christmas, Easter, Animation
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some mildly scary action)
Age Group: 10+

Jack has no idea who he is, and no one else does either. There's a very simple explanation for that last problem: they can't seem to see Jack. Indeed, Jack has powers any kid would love (Jack Frost that is) and has a great time running about and using them, but no one can see him. He's all alone.
Kind of like Pitch Black. See, he's the Boogeyman, and he's real.
So are Santa Claus (North), the Easter Bunny (Bunnymund), the Tooth Fairy (Tooth), and the Sandman. They make up an elite group called Guardians who protect children, give them hope, and pretty much just keep them happy kids who are not consumed by fear.
Unfortunately, Pitch Black is tired of not being believed in, and he's got a plan to remind everyone that he exists. When this plan puts the Guardians and the kids in danger, they turn to the Man in the Moon for guidance.
Moon sends them Jack. What was Moon thinking?!


Word of Warning
  • Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, the Tooth Fairy, and Jack Frost are assumed real, portrayed as real, and the whole story depends upon them being real. In contrast, they are portrayed as very different compared to most kids' views. In fact, the Guardians aren't even very good with kids because it's been so long since they played with them.
  • Pitch Black is scary. He creates nightmares, both the kind in a dream and the kind that are black horses made of sand that chase down people and attack them. He creates fear.
  • Jack's past involves him falling into a hole in the ice to protect his sister. She is saved, and he drowns (almost).
  • Jack and Bunnymund have their differences (mainly because Jack is bored and annoying with no one to play with) and argue often.
  • The Tooth Fairy has little tooth fairies working for her. They seem to have a thing for Jack, and can barely keep from fainting when he's around (which, all things considered, is rather funny since they fit in his hand). Tooth also seems to like him, though it's more subtle (a hug once, a conversation another time). Jack apparently feels the same (toward Tooth, not her fairies) and returns the hug, the conversation, and is quite chivalrous to her, but nothing more.
  • Various battles are fought between Pitch, the Nightmares, and the Guardians.
  • Jack wants nothing to do with responsibility and being a Guardian. He's selfish and simply wants to know his past. He feels like without knowing his past, he doesn't know who he is.
  • Pitch is consumed (yes, attacked, eaten, disappears, etc) by the nightmares he created.
  • Jack is reckless and though the kids he plays with never actually get hurt, they do encounter some pretty crazy situations, and one even looses a tooth after a couch hits him (he's not hurt). He sends a kid sledding down a street but makes sure the kid doesn't hit any cars, following along beside him. The cars, on the other hand, do bump into each other a bit in the background.
  • Tooth terrifies a little kid by showing the child teeth with a bit of blood and gum still on them (not at all graphic), trying to make the kid happy. Obviously this doesn't work out, proving once again that the Guardians are not very good with kids anymore.
  • Bunnymund says "bloody" and "crikey."
  • The Sandman is stabbed with a sandy black spike made by Pitch, which slowly turns Sandman into black sand and he eventually disappears.
  • When kids stop believing in the Guardians, the Guardians lose their powers.
  • North and Bunnymund seem to have an age-old argument going about what's more important, Christmas or Easter.
  • Kids run around with the Guardians at night and their parents apparently have no idea what's going on. This particular night involves a battle with Pitch and then lots of fun and frolicking in the snow and witnessing a oath-taking ceremony for Jack.
  • Easter ceases to exist because there are no eggs. It's apparently about hope and new beginnings, but it's nothing with new eggs. I think it's safe to assume the same would happen with Christmas.
  • Christianity is lacking from the film, which is slightly disturbing given that North and Bunnymund are involved in the two biggest holidays (read: Holy Days) of the year.
My Thoughts
It's fun. Jack's struggle is tough and sad, but nicely done and in the end he does save the day.
What more is there to say? It was a unique twist on all these different classic characters. The storyline was exciting and fun and Jack was a relatively new addition for this story. The animation was fantastic.
But then, in the end, it's just a story. It feels like one of those picture books at the library that has no point. There's no moral, no message, not even a striking end. The funny thing is, this movie had a very strong message: don't stop believing in _______(fill in the blank however you like).
Without Christianity to back up that message, it disappears into the air just as quickly as Sandman's good dreams, or Pitch's nightmares.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review: Rapunzel's Revenge (Graphic Novel)

Title: Rapunzel's Revenge
Author: Shannon and Dean Hale
Illustrator: Nathan Hale
Genre: Graphic Novel, Fairy Tale, Fantasy
My Rating: ****
Age Group: 12+

Summary -
Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Rapunzel who was raised by Mother Gothel in a grand, beautiful villa, surrounded by the woman's growth-magic. But the villa was encircled by a great wall, and Rapunzel, being curious, wanted to see over that wall, even though Mother Gothel had forbidden it. One day, Rapunzel found a way to the top of the wall and saw that Mother Gothel's villa was surrounded by death and ugliness.
Enraged by the girl's inquisitiveness, Mother Gothel imprisons her in a tree, and for four years, Rapunzel remains in the tower with only her thoughts as company.

Rapunzel escapes. After years of imprisonment, her hair has grown long... and she is able to use it as a lasso. Her time in the tree has changed her in other ways as well; she is now quite willing to do whatever it takes to bring down the tyrannical reign of Mother Gothel and free the poor slaves under her rule. With the help of thieving Jack and his pet goose, she's ready to take on her arch-nemesis.

The Bad -
- Mother Gothel is a thoroughly bad villain, who uses threats and violence to keep the people under control.
- Rapunzel's travels lead her into many violent adventures, and we see images of wild dogs, run-away buffalo, bad guys being conked out, guns waved at people, frightening outlaws, and various other images of the Wild (with a great emphasis on wild) West.
- As the story is set in a Wild West setting, we hear various Western exclamations (nothing too bad), and several scenes contain swearing (off-scene) that Rapunzel reprimands the characters for.
- Jack is an incorrigible thief, and while Rapunzel adamantly refuses to willingly participate in the thieving directly, she is often forced by circumstances to go along with Jack, though she insists that they pay back whoever they wronged later.
- Jack makes underwear jokes, especially after Rapunzel is forced to go around in (extremely conservative) underclothes.
- While planning an attack, Jack suggests that Rapunzel uses her feminine wiles and "do a sultry little dance" to distract the bad guys. Rapunzel immediately vetoes the plan, and mockingly brings it up later in the story.
- Jack has a female admirer who makes a few (rather veiled) advances.
- Mother Gothel learned growth-magic from a witch-doctorish man, who tells Rapunzel that Gothel's power comes from a sort of totem. This is never fully explained.
- Jack sees a couple kissing, and gets it into his head to kiss Rapunzel. He succeeds at the end of the story, saying that he has been "dying to steal" the kiss for a long time.

The Good -
- Rapunzel had a good upbringing, and she expects to see good in everyone. She's disappointed by the ugliness of the people in the world around her, and wants them all to stop being greedy and nasty.
- While maintaining a jokingly-teasing relationship with Jack, Rapunzel manages to actually begin to care for him as a good friend, and often risks her safety for Jack. Jack does the same for Rapunzel.
- During all their adventures, Rapunzel and Jack never forget their ultimate goal: to defeat Gothel and free the people.

My Conclusion -
I am not a big fan of graphic novels, and it is rare when I actually am able to enjoy one. I picked up Rapunzel because I had read the author's other books, and I expected it to be at least diverting, if not particularly good.
I wasn't completely wrong, but I underestimated the book just a bit. While the illustrations and the narration certainly lacked polish, the story itself was quite a different take on the classic fairy tale than I was accustomed to. It was clever and interesting, if rough. I suppose putting any fairy tale in the Wild West is going to get rather unexpected results; and while many scenes were more violent than they really needed to be because of the setting change, it certainly gave a new spin to an old story.
Erring on the side of caution, I'm putting the age range at 12+, but I think (if you parents out there don't mind wading through a graphic novel) that it could be given to younger children depending on the maturity of the reader.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Book Review: The Twits

Title: The Twits
Author: Roald Dahl
Genre: Fantasy, Animals, Children's Fiction
My Rating: *
Official Rating: Children's Fiction
Age Group: 10+
Summary: Mr. and Mrs. Twit are not nice people. No, not at all. They're ugly, mean to each other, always playing tricks, and they force their monkeys to stand on their heads all day long. They even paint their trees with glue to catch birds for bird pie. And when little boys are caught, well, they're not above that either.
It seems like they will keep getting away with these terrible things. When all seems lost, Roly-Poly Bird arrives and, with the help of Muggle-Wump, teach the Twits a lesson.

Word of Warning:
Honestly, this book disappointed me. It was fully of petty nastiness. I guess that should be expected from a book titled The Twits. Here are the highlights:
  • Dahl starts out by bashing men with beards and complaining of bits of food getting stuck in a beard.
  • Mrs. Twit is dubbed fearfully ugly with crooked teeth. She carries a walking stick to smack children and dogs with. She was not originally ugly, but had ugly thoughts, which turned her ugly. She has a glass eye.
  • Mrs. Twit takes her glass eye out and puts it in her husband's beer to frighten him. Mr. Twit calls her an old hag.
  • Mr. Twit puts a frog in Mrs. Twit's bed, telling her that it is going to eat her (she's not aware that it's a frog).
  • Mrs. Twit puts worms in Mr. Twit's spaghetti. He eats it, commenting on the strange texture/flavor.
  • Mr. Twit tricks Mrs. Twit into thinking she has what he calls the shrinking disease. He claims she only has a short time left before she shrinks down into nothing but a pile of old clothes.
  • Mr. Twit tries to send his wife off forever by tying her to balloons and setting her free. She returns, landing right on top of him and hitting him with her stick violently.
  • The Twits abuse their monkeys, making them stand on their heads always. They also capture birds to eat.
  • The Twits catch little boys by accident instead of birds and, annoyed that they will have no bird pie, decide to have boy pie. The boys escape without their pants.
  • The Twits go off to buy guns and shoot birds.
  • The monkeys escape and take revenge. Eventually, the Twits are trapped upside down on their heads for too long and shrink into their old clothes, ending up as nothing. Even the mailman is happy about this.

My Thoughts
The whole book is filled with nastiness. Small things, sure, but still nasty. The Twits are always fighting and playing tricks on each other that aren't even funny. The monkeys are granted revenge, which eventually results in the death of the Twits (the word death is not used, but that's essentially what happens). Dahl spends the first chapter ranting about beards and how awful they are.
And yet, for an older reader such as myself, it was a pleasantly fast read and rather funny. At first. Someone clearly had fun coming up with all these tricks and I found myself laughing at the absolute craziness of it all. I also had a soft spot for the moment where Dahl explains why Mrs. Twit is ugly, and how a woman who does not have ugly thoughts will never be able to become ugly.
But what a price to pay for that laugh and that scene about ugliness. Is it worth it?
I think it was a bit expensive.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Movie Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Title: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Author N/A
Genre: Romance, musical, comedy
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: G
Age Group: 8+

Adam and his six brothers live alone in the mountains. One day, Adam decides to go to town for supplies--and a wife. And he brings one back! His understanding of a wife is completely different from hers, however. He wants someone to cook and clean. She wants love.
Adam goes about his life normally except for sharing a bedroom with Milly. Milly decides to teach Adam's younger brothers how to get girls of their own. All is going well until the boys are forced to defend themselves. Afraid they will never get their girls back, the boys sulk until Adam comes up with a plan. They're going to kidnap their girls like the Romans once did.
Of course, that doesn't go over quite as nicely as it sounds.

Word of Warning
All the problems with this movie depend upon the viewer's knowledge of men and women. Nothing is ever shown and it is barely implied. Thus, older viewers with more understanding will get more out of the movie (but not in a bad way), whereas younger viewers will not understand as much (and not be harmed by the watching).
  • Adam and Milly have a brief argument about sharing a bed the night she arrives home. The younger brothers are all downstairs, apparently waiting to see what will happen with a strange but innocent curiosity. 
  • There are a few kisses, various fist fights (one scene with bruises and scrapes being nursed), and guns.
  • The girls are kidnapped against their will by desperate young men who are so in love they simply cannot focus on their chores. There is, however, no suggestion or hint at the young men wanting anything from the women in return. Milly solves an awkward moment by making the men sleep in the barn all winter until the girls can be returned.
  • Milly has a baby, something Adam was not, apparently, aware of (though there is no hint that the child is not his).
  • There is an awkward scene in which the brothers attempt to bring the girls back home (though they now want to stay) and the townsmen walk in. To the random bystander who has not been watching the movie, it looks like the brother is forcing himself upon the girl, who is struggling, and the townsman is there to rescue her. Which is exactly the opposite of what is actually happening.
  • The girls fall in love with their kidnappers and, in order to stay with them, all claim Milly and Adam's baby as their own. A wedding follows, the fathers of the girls standing in the background, the girls and the brothers happily the victims of a shotgun wedding.

My Thoughts:
It was funny and almost completely innocent. It's hard to explain how something like kidnapping girls to make them wives is innocent, but the brothers' intentions were almost childish in that viewers are never once presented with the idea the brothers are only after the girls for pleasure and satisfaction of certain desires--or after them for that reason at all. The boys all genuinely fell in love with the girls and vice versa. Adam and Milly conquered their problem, Adam discovering what love and a wife really were. Milly, well, Milly triumphed over the entire movie.
So, throw together seven redheaded young men singing and dancing, with seven beautiful women doing the same, with a comical story meant to mimic that of the Romans, and there really is only one result: a really good movie, appropriate for nearly the whole family.