Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Book Review: The Map Makers (book 1)

To our blog readers,
I know it is been a very long time since we last posted, and I am so sorry for this. We are sadly more busy than we'd like with school, jobs, writing, and other things. Part of the reason we do not post often is because we do not have much time to read/watch things to post on. I do not say this to give us an excuse not to post, I simply present it as a possible reason as to why we may not post as often as we like. We are, however, working on remedying this. In the meantime, please accept our apologies for not posting often enough and know we are doing what we can to increase the number of posts.
A blessed and very merry Christmas to all our blog readers.

Title: The Map Makers
Author: Matthew Krengel
Genre: fantasy, adventure
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: children's fiction
Age Group: 10+

Summary: Jane is a relatively normal girl by modern standards. She has an iPhone, her parents are divorced, and she takes the train to her grandparents' every summer. Usually, she does that with her sister. Now that her sister's gone missing, however, it's just her.
And a strange little old man. And a creepy tall man dressed in a black robe type thing. And a cute boy named Jacob.
After witnessing a bizarre fight and disappearance, Jane and Jacob are thrust into a world of magic which needs their help. Fairies are being captured. Slaves are being held. Jane's sister might be a captive. Magic is creating huge destructive waves on Lake Superior back in their world. The Divide between the two worlds is in danger, and Jane and Jacob might be the only ones who can help.

Word of Warning
This is not a problem, but you might want to be aware this book takes a few chapters to really get moving. It also has a prologue and epilogue which move slowly and are vague and confusing (they make more sense when you've read half the book). Other than that, it's a quick and enjoyable read with a very real feeling to the life portrayed.

This book was very clean. Jacob and Jane are 16 (we know this because they drive) but they have clean language and, aside from running off on a fantasy adventure without telling their parents (a sort of necessary ingredient in all children's fantasy books), are pretty good kids. There is some fantasy violence, but none of it is graphic. Here is a short list I wrote while reading the book of things you might want to be aware of:
  • Slave ships are mentioned, and there is a suggestion that many do not return. Those who do do not come back the same.
  • Mention of bloody raids on villages
  • Jane's mother, being divorced, has a boyfriend.
  • Jane does not have much respect for her mother. This can be seen more in her wording and annoyance in narration, Jane ignoring her mother to listen to music, and Jane lying to her mother so she can stay with her grandparents, but not in their dialogue. I can't tell if this is because the author wants her to sound like a teenager, or if he really is going for disrespect.
  • There is a mention of the movie Twilight. The only detail we get is that Bella is accusing Edward of being a vampire. We are given no indication as to what that means or what the story is about.
  • Jane's sister disappeared and the police have given up searching.
  • Jane's grandfather calls a reporter a filthy animal. This is the best (and strongest) insult in the book.
  • Jane and Jane take the train alone. This may not be a problem since they are 16 and can drive alone.
  • Jacob makes a half-hearted threat to throw a man who is pestering him off a train.
  • A man is beaten and falls unconscious.
  • A father forgets his son's visit "nonviolently" according to the son. The son is sent back home to his mother and she is angry and yells at the father. The son also seems a bit upset about all of this.
  • A man threatens kids with a knife/sword/dagger.
  • A huge wave hits houses, stores, cars, and leaves behind it destruction. We later find out that seven people died.
  • Kids let a stranger into their car and drive him around.
  • Two kisses. One is described as quick and gentle. The other is a kiss "once long and hard" but no other description.
  • Jane hits a man over the head with a baseball bat and he turns to dust.
  • Jane and Jacob hang out in Jane's bedroom with the door closed to keep away from her grandparents. Nothing happens.
  • Jacob's pants fall down to just above his knees when his belt is cut off so he can fit into a little fairy cave. He pulls them back up, Jane isn't there, and no further mention is made (except that he gets a new belt when he gets home).
  • Jacob's mother doesn't worry about her son until he's been gone for a few days, according to him.
  • Goblins are shot and killed. An old man gets a dagger to his shoulder and dies (it's a good death).
  • A man threatens Jane, saying he is going to "cut you up girl" and waves his daggers at her. This is about as graphically violent as it gets.
The list might seem long, but that's because there was so little in the book I was able to take notes on everything I saw. Often with books that have more problems, I select the ones people have more objection to and share those.

My Thoughts
It was a fun read, especially for a Minnesotan. Seeing the grandfather say "oh yah" (which does happen!) and the kids refer to pop, as, well, pop, was very thrilling for me. Plus, Jane lives in the Cities and can see Interstate 94 from her window. Then they went to Duluth and we were given even more detail on Minnesota. It's not very often a Minnesotan gets to read a book set in her own state that's actually well done. Plus, the characters are decent (for the most part), have clean language, and Jacob is a gentleman (more or less. I mean, he's 16, so he's got some room to improve).
Something I did notice is that the book moved slowly at times and at other times it sounded like a grown man trying to sound like a 16 year old kid. Which, realistically, is what it was.
Overall, it was a great little adventure, fast read, and a pleasant little gem to have on a bookshelf and would like to read the other two some day. I confess I have not come across a fantasy book of this quality that is clean enough that I willingly hand it to my younger brothers without a second thought, but that is what this book is. And for that, I am so very grateful.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Movie Review: Gimme Shelter

Title: Gimme Shelter
Genre: family, drama, true story
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: PG-13 (mature thematic material involving mistreatment, some drug content, violence and language--all concerning teens)
Age Group: 16+

Summary: Apple Bailey has no home and no family. Yes, her mother is still alive and would like her to live with her. Yes, her father is alive and is willing to let her live with him and his wife and two kids (as long as she makes some changes in life). But Apple doesn't really have a home.
Neither does her unborn baby. All Apple knows is she can't abandon her baby like she was abandoned.
As sixteen-year-old Apple flees an abusive home and two people who demand she abort her unborn child, she thinks she is alone. And she is alone--until she allows someone to make her not alone.
Encountering a shelter for young women who want to have their babies, Apple finally finds a home. Still, she faces many challenges on her way there, at the home itself, and after. This is the story of Apple, her baby, and the love she finds when she comes home.

Word of Warning
  • The movie begins with a fight scene in which one woman (a mother) is thrown against a wall. Her daughter flees to a cab and the mother follows, banging on the window and shouting, "You owe me!"
  • The main character has various piercings on her face.
  • A character tries to steal a cab because the driver tells her to get out after he discovers she doesn't have money. He pulls her from the driver's seat, throws her to the ground, and kicks her.
  • A girl more or less breaks into a yard. She is caught by the police and subdued after a brief struggle.
  • A man hands money to his daughter when she asks for a place to stay, clearly intending she leave and he support her from afar.
  • The main character's mother is abusive and has done drugs in the past. Her teeth are yellow and she often has bruises on her face. The father of the main character abandoned the mother (they were not married) and child before the child was even born.
  • A girl has been in the foster care system and has nothing good to stay about it. She says she was taken to a mental hospital because she "didn't fit in." She claims in one house the husband came into her room and "started touching me and feeling all up on me."
  • As stated in the summary, the girl is sixteen and running away from home.
  • We see a girl drink a raw egg. Later, she pukes (the two may or may not be related).
  • Apple says she didn't know she was pregnant, she "only did it once."
  • The wife of the father (Tom) tells Apple she and her husband will not have Apple's baby in their house. She then wants to know if the child's father is in jail.
  • Wife and husband are heard shouting in the background.
  • We see Apple sitting on a toilet (upper bare legs are shown). The camera moves to her face as she places a pregnancy test between her legs.
  • Bare stomach is shown during an ultrasound. This is seen at least twice as the baby grows.
  • The wife leaves Apple behind after bringing her to the doctor.
  • Apple passes out.
  • Tom says Apple is not ready to assume responsibility of motherhood and tells her to "turn the page on this" and she'll forget it ever happened. He doesn't use the word "abortion" but that's what he's telling her to do. It's implied that he will not let his daughter stay at his house unless she aborts the baby.
  • Wife makes an appointment for an abortion against the will of Apple. We seen a room in the clinic (bed, tools on a table, etc). Apple removes her shoe as she begins to undress. She never gets any farther.
  • Apple decides to live on the street. She gets into an unlocked car, eats what she finds, drinks the water, and borrows a blanket. Later, she digs through a garbage bag for food and eats what she finds.
  • A man threateningly orders a girl to get into his car. She steals it and almost crashes it. Later, she is t-boned by a truck and the car swerves off the road and hits a fence. She wakes up in a hospital, cuffed to a bed, bloody and bruised
  • Words: a**, h***, "Oh my God"
  • The girl screams "God don't care about me. Don't waste your time!" and later demands "Where was God when I was getting abused and suffering all these years?"
  • Apple shouts at the hospital chaplain to leave her alone.
  • The mother tries to manipulate Apple into coming back to her. She tells the social worker things are fine at home. She shouts at her daughter and slaps her a few times and accuses the girl of being just like her mother because she wants to keep the baby. She reveals she will let Apple keep the baby because she wants the money the government will send them. She blames her daughter for her life since she gave birth to her. She gives a rather convincing story about being sorry, she messed up, she still loves her daughter. This is shown to be a lie.
  • The mother is very scary looking.
  • Girls break into different rooms in a shelter/house and go through stuff they're not supposed to.
  • As the girls are reading their files, one reads off that she was a prostitute. The others joke about this a bit but in a comforting "we're here for you" kind of way.
  • Daughter tells her mother "I hate you" twice.
  • The girls in the shelter are keeping count of the different "colors" of their babies. One girl declares there will be "Four black babies and four white babies" but that gets the others talking about different shades (caramel, etc). None of this is done in a racist way. It actually sounds rather sweet and innocent.
  • Mother calls her daughter a whore and tries to kill her with a razor she has in her mouth. She cuts the girl's face and blood drips onto her clothes.
  • One girl taunts Apple about her mother and how even though she's really mean, Apple can't help but love her. She continues, bashing the house's rules and voicing her desire to be free of them.
  • We see Apple screaming as she delivers her baby.
  • The father wrote a letter saying he and Apple's mother went out a few times and she just happened unexpectedly. He left her behind because he was off to college and didn't want to disappoint his parents. His reasoning is clear, but he makes it sound like it's ok.
  • The father of Apple's child is never seen or heard from

My Thoughts
What can I say? The first part of the movie starts out feeling very dirty and gritty and even frightening. Then the viewers are offered a slight glimmer of hope, followed by a glimpse of beauty. The beauty continues to grow until it consumes even the dirty and gritty aspects. They still exist, but they have been made into something more.
It was beautiful.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Unfortunate Disappointments: Movie Review: Endless Love

Title: Endless Love
Genre: romance, drama, family, loss
My Rating: -** (yes, that's a negative two stars)
Official Rating: PG-13
Age Group: 18+ (if you really must watch it. but overall, it should be left unwatched)

Summary: David has been in love with Jade all through high school. He only has one problem: Jade doesn't know that, because he's never, ever, spoken with her. It might have something to do with her being rather reserved and very focused on her studies, especially after her older brother died and left her with very loving but overbearing parents.
Or it might just be that David's a chicken. For all his talk of true love, he might just not have it in him to go get it.
At least, that's what Jade's dad says. Because when Jade and David finally do start a relationship,a rather awkward and slightly misinterpreted scene causes Jade's father to strongly dislike David. That and the fact that David is getting in the way of Jade's future career as a doctor.
But Jade is happy, and David is too. Aside from all the family problems he just became a very big part of when he chose to date Jade.
Can the two of them survive the mess and get their happily ever after?

Word of Warning
  •  Jade's brother died sophomore year of high school. We don't get many details, aside from the fact that it was a car crash and his father was there, but we do know it hurt the family deeply. They can't let go of him. His father sleeps in his room and won't let anyone touch the boy's things. He takes it a step further, no longer devoting time and love to his family but becoming determined that they be as good as his now perfect (but dead) son.
  • David has been watching Jade for years and hasn't talked to her. This is made to sound sweet in the movie, but since he really has no relation to her at all (other than going to the same school) it borders on being creepy.
  • A man is rude to the valets who take his car. They take his car for a joy ride (out of revenge) and drag an innocent girl into the mess. The valets are fired, but not before a yelling match and a punch to the face.
  • David glances at Jade's legs as her skirt flies up in the wind. She quickly shoves her skirt down but gives him a mischievous glance.
  • A man remarks, "It's gonna take a lot more than stealing my car to get her to spread her legs" for which he is punched in the face.
  • Girls wear short dresses with slightly low tops, strapless dresses, and bikinis.
  • David prank calls the police to put an end to someone's party for a personal reason and, in addition to many other complaints, says, "Someone is pissing on my mini-cooper!" While this is comical, he is causing an apparent innocent's party canceled for a personal gain and making a joke of it, all while getting the police involved.
  • We see Jade in her underwear more than once. Sometimes unintentionally (like when she spins and her dress flies up), sometimes very intentionally (like when she pulls the side of her dress up so David can see the edge of them).
  • Catcalls are made when Jade and David step out of a closet. Nothing happened in the closet. They intended to kiss but were interrupted.
  • Jade's father is clearly upset about what he assumes happened in the closet, but instead of speaking to either teen involved, he just separates them and doesn't tell them what he is angry about (though they would have to be stupid not to be able to guess).
  • Jade's father shows a lack of communication throughout the entire movie. If he speaks to his family, it's because he dislikes something one of them is doing or because he is giving an order.
  • Multiple passionate kisses.
  • Jade and David meet behind their parents' backs. Later, they do the same when David has a restraining order on him.
  • When Jade clearly intends to have sex, David tells her, "You don't have to do this. As much as I want to, I can wait" but she refuses him and says she wants to "feel this with you" as if that's all it is. The two remove their clothes (we see them in their underwear) and have sex.
  • A couple is shown in a bathtub from the shoulders up. It's presumed neither has any sort of clothing on.
  • The entire first half of the movie and its passionate romance happens in about three days. It's almost as bad as Romeo and Juliet.
  • A girl throws away her internship to be with her new boyfriend she met just a few days before.
  • A father tries to run his daughter's life/future/college plans and yells at her for not doing as he had planned.
  • Father takes his family to the lake house to spite his daughter's decision and to separate her from her boyfriend.
  • Daughter disobeys and talks back to her father.
  • A husband is having an affair with someone's wife.
  • David finds out about the affair and hides it from Jade to protect her. Jade's father threatens David about not revealing the truth, but David assures him he won't because it would hurt Jade.
  • The father figure pressures his living son to be like his older brother (who is now dead) and the son is clearly hurt by this and feels like he will never be good enough for anyone or anything.
  • The father lies and digs up criminal records on David.
  • Jade suggests she and the others be "young and dumb, just for tonight" to which David agrees without hesitation. She then pressures him into doing something which he knows shouldn't be done. He ends up being arrested after fleeing the police.
  • The mother desperately wants to have her romance with her husband back and comes right out and requests this. He ignores her and turns her down.
  • A jealous ex-girlfriend turns her ex-boyfriend and others in to the police.
  • Jade's father bails David out of jail after Jade promises to stay away from David. The father then leads David to believe Jade doesn't love him.
  • The father verbally abuses David, eventually telling him that he's not good enough, that Jade will get bored of him, just like David's mother became bored of his father.
  • We learn that David discovered his mom having an affair and beat the man.
  • David punches two people in the face.
  • A teen defends something that was stupid and wrong because "it was fun" until it went wrong. The implication is that if it hadn't gone wrong, there would have been nothing wrong with doing it. A father figure, as well as a mother figure, also seem to hold the view that a little fun (reckless and stupid as it might be) isn't really a big deal and is just something kids will do.
  • David states, "I know I'm not good enough for you, but I'm not gonna spend my entire life proving that I am."
  • Jade is t-boned and breaks her wrist. She has multiple minor cuts and bruises on her face.
  • The father has a restraining order put on David.
  • David believes in a policy where there is only one girl he is meant to be with and he is afraid of missing that chance.
  • The words d*** and a**hole.
  • The father sabotages David's chances at a future by getting him in legal trouble and not mailing his wife's letter of recommendation--all out of spite.
  • Jade cheats on David because they have not officially broken up and she starts dating another guy. Then, she cheats on that guy by kissing David when she hasn't broken up with the new guy.
  • A wife and son walk out on the father because he is so angry and controlling. It is implied the mother is going to get a divorce but that's seen as ok and everyone is fine with that. The son elopes with his girlfriend.
  • The father chases David with a baseball bat and almost hits him.
  • David and the father are caught in a house fire. A window explodes at David. The two almost die.
  • The father is obsessed with his dead son and won't let go.
  • The movie promotes a strange view of love that proposes there is only one person with whom you are "meant to be" and with whom you can truly be happy. While it also promotes the idea of love that never ends, it sees this more as a feeling and less as an ideal that both people have to work at to achieve. The movie leads the audience to believe that this "meant to be" yet all-feeling love is the only true kind of love and it is attainable.
My Thoughts
Honestly? I think the list above said it all. Aside from my frustration with the trailer making this movie look semi-decent, I still can't get beyond the dysfunctional family (which is making no effort to heal itself) and the sparkly and unrealistic view of love this movie promotes.
But let me take a moment to find goodness in the movie. Because there is goodness in everything, since evil is only goodness used for a selfish purpose.
David's attempts to reconcile his relationship with Jade's father is the goodness I find here. He honestly tries his best to get on her father's good side.
Other than that, the movie was a disappointment. The plot was poorly done, kids running around having fun in reckless ways was seen as acceptable, and the dysfunctional family knew it was not right but made no effort to fix itself.
It was sad, really. There probably is a good way to tell this story (or one similar). The actors were fantastic. It just didn't come together right.
It didn't really come together at all.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Book Review: Ghostscape

Title: Ghostscape
Author: Joe Layburn
Genre: historical fiction, children's fiction
My Rating: **
Official Rating: children's fiction
Age Group: 8+

Summary: Aisha is having a hard time adjusting to life in England after fleeing Somalia. The girls at her new school are mean to her, her mother doesn't understand her, and she can't seem to get beyond watching her father die. It's no surprise that she starts seeing things.
Only, is she actually seeing things? Aisha meets a boy, Richard, and realizes the two of them have somehow managed to time travel. As she gets to know him better, Aisha learns how to deal with the bullies at her school. She hopes to save Richard's life but has a hard time finding out what happened to him during the Blitz. The she discovers a story in an old newspaper that details a horrible tragedy. Can she save Richard before it's too late?

Word of Warning
  • Aisha and a girl named Chevon fight more than once, with Chevon saying mean things to Aisha and gets her in trouble for saying things she never did. They get into a cat fight.
  • Aisha faints. She is also clipped by a side mirror and knocked unconscious.
  • There is mention of Aisha's father being shot by a young man wearing a baseball cap backward. She remembers how her father was just one of many casualties.
  • In Richard's time, Germany is bombing England. Aisha discovers that hundreds of people die when a bomb is dropped on a school but other than calling it a tragedy and mentioning that the search for survivors was abandoned and no one knew how many people died, there were no details.
  • People grumble about others (like a snoring old man or someone singing quietly to calm his nerves).
  • Richard uses the word h*** as an exclamation. Many people in England (mostly Richard's time) use the word "bloody" which can be considered swearing.
  • Aisha's mother is very harsh with her. Frustrated, Aisha finally loses it and yells at her mother that she has met a boy and she likes him a lot and he's not Muslim. Just to bother her mom (it's not true).
  • Richard is invisible to people in Aisha's time. They play tricks on Chevon, throwing things at her (never hitting her) and causing her to think Aisha is a witch.
  • The solution to Aisha's problem with Chevon is the scene where Richard throws things at her and leaves Chevon to believe Aisha is a witch. This isn't exactly the ideal solution to a problem.
My Thoughts
It was a good simple book. I grabbed off a pile of books my sister is going to sell and read it in about an hour. There weren't too many problems with it and it gave a brief glance into the lives of those living in the past, and also those displaced by war today.
In all honesty, my biggest problem with the book was the time line. There is a bit of a mix-up with Aisha changing something in the past, but the change already existing before she does the change. I can't give more details because that would spoil the book, but suffice it to say that for some strange reason it irritated me very much.
Overall: a decent book. I wouldn't buy it and wouldn't read it again, but I don't feel like I wasted an hour of my life either.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Movie Review: The Ultimate Life

Title: The Ultimate Life
Author: based on the book by Jim Stovall
Genre: drama, family
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: PG
Age Group: 12+

Summary: Jason Stevens went through an awful lot of trouble to gain his grandfather's fortune. He also learned an awful lot of life lessons and met his girlfriend along the way. But when running a charity foundation consumes all his time and he neglects those around him who need him most, he is brought back to realty by a hard punch to the gut.
Shaken and confused, he turns to his grandfather's oldest living friend and adviser for help. Mr. Hamilton hands young Stevens his grandfather's journal and shuffles off to bed, muttering something about how Red Stevens wrote the life lessons he'd learned in there and they might help Jason with his problem.
Jason kicks back to read, and we go back in time to meet a young fifteen year old Red Stevens. Long before he was a billionaire, he was a poor ice boy....

Word of Warning:
All things considered, this movie was pretty acceptable. The PG rating was quite accurate. The biggest problem younger viewers might have is the war scene (more details below) but overall language and all other elements were kept well within the PG zone. It was refreshing to see such a good movie manage to stay within its boundary of PG and still turn out so well.
  • A gentle but slightly long chaste kiss between two adults.
  • A man walks out on a woman he just half-proposed to to deal with business matters.
  • A family is constantly bickering, even taking each other to court over money they do not need.
  • Young Red says quite often in the first part of the movie with great determination, "I swear to heaven."
  • The light bullying of the ice boy by "rich snobs."
  • A family cannot afford medicine so the mother remains sick with a terrible hacking cough, tucked away in bed.
  • A father is very hard on his son, not supportive, and quite gruff.
  • A boy runs away from home so his family can afford more food and hopefully medicine for his mother.
  • A man is pulled from a rail car and beaten with a police stick off screen (we here a few grunts).
  • Red and another man freighthop. The other man seems to do it on a regular basis, and Red gives no indication that he sees it as wrong.
  • A teen remarks, "Girls call me stud" but this is somewhere in the 1930s or 1940s.
  • A bank foreclosed on a family ranch, forcing one of the boys to go out and find work away from his family.
  • The slow apparently passionate (it's clear they meant it to be scandalous, but it's not even close to most movie kisses) kiss of a young couple at a dance.
  • One teen says to the other, good-naturedly, "You're like toe fungus."
  • A quick hesitant kiss between teens. They kiss again later but it isn't very long.
  • A war zone scene shows explosions and gunfire. A mine sends shrapnel into Red. A guy runs out to save Red and is almost shot. We see Red with blood on his mouth and stomach and get a brief glance of his bloody wound before Gus covers it and applies pressure. Red screams and the scene ends.
  • A dad is too busy to spend time with his son. After a good talking-to from his wife, he realizes his mistake and, exhausted from working all day and preoccupied, he trudges back outside to play catch with his son.
  • Someone uses the word crap. Someone else states, "Everything's about money" and he lives his life by that philosophy. In the end, he does learn his lesson.
  • A man is careless to others' wants and desires, taking what he wants with money and considering nothing but company profit.
  • On the road to becoming rich, the man continually slips into neglecting his family.
  • A car crash victim is shown in the hospital. We are told he will probably die and he has lost both his kidneys.
  • A married couple kisses.
My Thoughts
This is the sequel to The Ultimate Gift in that it tells the continuation of Jason's story, but the prequel in that it tells Red's story.
It was a great movie but really a one-timer. I saw it twice and the second time wasn't nearly as good as the first.
Still, it has it's moments. We see Red struggling through life alone, trying to figure out how to become rich, being taught lessons by those he meets along the way. It is these lessons that he wanted to pass on to whomever would take charge of the family business one day. These are the lessons which prompted the different tasks Jason had to complete in the first movie.
Perhaps the scene that sums everything up is the one where we see Jason making his "golden list." A list of ten things he is grateful for--just from that day. Because "everybody has got at least ten."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Movie Review: Meet the Robinsons

Title: Meet the Robinsons
Author: Disney
Genre: family, adventure, sci-fi, future, animation
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: G
Age Group: 8+

Summary: Poor Lewis is an orphan who is full of great ideas for inventions that, well, just don't seem to work. He's feeling pretty down and out and is about to give up inventing altogether when he meets a strange boy named Wilbur. Wilbur informs Lewis that he (Wilbur) is from the future. Then he kidnaps Lewis into a world so much better than the one Lewis was living in.
As Lewis helps Wilbur fight off the evil Bowler Hat Man, he comes to love Wilbur's family very much, especially since he doesn't have one of his own. Time is ticking though and Bowler Hat Man needs to be stopped. Wilbur is desperate; Lewis is distracted by the family life he never had.
Can the two boys succeed in saving the world from the terrible fate Bowler Hat Man wants to bring down upon everyone?

Word of Warning
  • A mother leaves her child on the orphanage steps. This being left behind haunts the child forever and he feels unwanted.
  • A man turns red and swells up, reacting to peanuts. It's done more as comic relief than something serious. We find out later that he's alright, but before that his wife stabs him in the leg with an Epi-Pen (also comical).
  • There is a cartoon explosion but no one is injured.
  • A caffeine patch allows its wearer to stay up for days. The woman wearing it comes across as slightly crazy.
  • A man is attacked by fire-ants (again, comical).
  • A kid pushes another kid off a building--onto an invisible ship.
  • Kids crash a flying machine but are fine.
  • The line "Mom and Dad will kill me, and it won't be done with mercy" is said seriously in a mourning tone but is obviously meant to be funny.
  • A kid remarks that his family is going to bury him alive and dance on his grave. He then admits that this might be a bit of an exaggeration.
  • A pillar falls on a guy. We are left to assume he's fine, but really don't know.
  • A frog wears a man's dentures. The owner takes them and puts them back in his mouth without washing them.
  • Insults: puke face, booger breath
  • Frogs go to a frog-bar and order "one dragonfly on the rocks."
  • An old man is seen in boxers.
  • A dinosaur tries to capture and eat a kid. This results in an episode which involves the family humorously, but seriously, trying to save the kid's life.
  • A frog cries, "I gotta go pee!"
  • A kid turns into smoke and blows away (because he no longer exists because the past has been changed).
  • People run from mind-controlling bowler hats.
  • People try to attack the main character because they are being controlled by the hats.
  • A building is a giant hat which chases a kid who flees using a flying ship. The giant hat-building is clearly trying to kill the kid.
  • A man claims his clothes aren't on backward, his head is.
  • The last twenty minutes of the movie have a very dark tone to them as things happening in the past ruin the future and make it absolutely miserable.
My Thoughts
At first, I thought this was just another cute movie that involved a poor kid who doesn't feel wanted. There would be some sort of adventure, then he would learn he was wanted afterall.
And that all happened of course. But as the movie progressed it became darker. Not dark as in dark magic, but dark as in more solemn and serious and scary. Granted, it wasn't that scary, but in contrast to the first part of the movie the darkness was shocking.
Overall though, a great cute movie that can be shared with nearly the whole family. It's full of laughs, a great but crazy family, and a boy who finally learns that if he never gives up, he will eventually get something good--even if it's not what he had originally hoped for.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Movie Review: 16-Love

Title: 16-Love
Genre: romance, teen, sports, chick flick, family
My Rating: **
Official Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements and brief innuendo)
Age Group: 14+
Summary: Ally is a tennis star in high school and looking at a few matches that will lead her to becoming pro. Her life is entirely tennis and she's good. But when she sprains her ankle and is forced to take a break from the one thing she's been doing for as long as she can remember, she finds something different. A life. A real, regular, teenage life.
So how does the guy she's coaching for his own tennis match fit into all of this?

Word of Warning
  • Girls wear short skirts and tank-tops (some are revealing, others not), mostly for their tennis matches. Ally's friend is constantly wearing short shorts or skirts.
  • A boy who is addicted to caffeine is nicknamed "Red Bull" but that's never explained as being related to an actual drink.
  • A guy spends a good amount of time practicing without his shirt on. Girls are clearly attracted to this and one wants a picture with him. Later, we see a slow-mo of him getting out of a pool.
  • The father is inconsiderate of his daughter's actual desires and pushes her to do tennis because he doesn't want her to fail like he did.
  • The girl disobeys her father at her friend's urging. Later, she hides things from him, ultimately outright lying to him.
  • There is significant taunting between rivals and it's not friendly taunting.
  • A scene intended to be comical involves a ball-boy getting hit off scene by a ball. There is a sort of shriek/yell, and the emergency truck drives by. The announcer casually tells everyone to go back to their game, the ball-boy just got on the wrong end of a serve by a famous player. We hear nothing about him after the truck is gone, nor do we see anything.
  • A girl badly sprains her ankle and can't walk.
  • A girl and her love interest share ice cream.
  • A guy remarks that a pro sells his own line of underwear and "they're extremely comfortable."
  • A girl forcefully kisses a guy who looks very shocked and unhappy but doesn't put much effort into pulling away. He is also assumed to be more or less taken by a different girl when this happens.
  • A girl neglects her friends and family, resulting in anger and friends abandoning her.
  • The mother tells her daughter, "All you are is a sum of your choices."
  • The daughter ignores her father's orders and does what she likes, hoping he'll eventually agree that she's right.
  • A few passionate kisses, almost all of which are in the last five minutes of the movie.
  • The cliche of the daughter being misunderstood by her parents, doing what she wants finally, and them realizing how wrong they were and then agreeing with her.
My Thoughts
Honestly, it wasn't too bad for a chick flick. The thing that was the most irritating was all the tennis scenes in which nothing but tennis happened. It might have been a lot more enjoyable if I knew tennis or was interested in it.
But all things considered, the story was a nice (albeit cliche) one and just unique enough not to make me feel like I was watching something I'd already seen. The comical characters were a great addition, there just often enough to make sure the audience didn't become annoyed.
My biggest problems with it were honestly the over-told story of a daughter being misunderstood and then doing what she wants and the parents realizing how wrong they were (what kind of message does that send?) and the long tennis scenes.
So my star count is based less on objectionable content this time and more on boredom.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Book Review: The Silent Governess

Title: The Silent Governess
Author: Julie Klassen
Genre: Romance, Christian, Regency
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: Adult fiction
Age Group: 18+

Summary: Olivia Keene wants to be a teacher, but when she saves her mother's life through a violent act, things change. Fleeing her home town in obedience to her mother, Olivia encounters various friendly and unfriendly people before she is captured by the gamekeeper of the Brightwell Estate. It seems she has overheard a rather confidential conversation between Lord Brightwell and his son, Lord Bradley.
Lord Bradley has his own problems to deal with. He's too much of a gentleman to leave Olivia in a jail where she has been assaulted, but too careful to set her free with the information she knows about him--information he himself has just discovered and isn't quite sure how to come to terms with. The solution is simple: hire Olivia as the under nurse for his cousin's young son and two stepchildren--requiring her complete silence of course. But the problem gets bigger still. Olivia is a charming girl and the servants, and everyone around her, truly enjoys her company whether or not she can speak. That's not really a problem, since Lord Bradley has limited contact with his servants.
No, Lord Bradley has to deal with threats of violence, the possibility of losing his inheritance, and falling in love with the silent under nurse.

Word of Warning
Please note that I did not originally intend to review this book and so did not take notes as I usually do when reviewing a book. This means I may have missed some of the smaller things which should go under this section. By giving the bigger problems, and providing the age rating of 18+, I do not believe anything I may have missed with be a problem. I apologize for not being as thorough with this review as I usually am.

A few small things first:
  • A man brings his young daughter to the bar and has her show off by adding or multiplying big numbers. She enjoys this and he is able to encourage men to bet on this, winning money off her talent.
  • A man is hit with an iron poker from the fireplace over the head. He lives.
  • A fire nearly kills a small child and a man is injured (not seriously) in his rescue attempt.
  • Olivia is choked by a man attempting to rape her.
  • A young woman accidentally walks in on a man bathing (she sees only his upper body).
  • Lord Bradley is obviously attracted to Olivia, physically as well as her character. Most, if not all, descriptions of physical attraction are sweet and handled well (this is a Christian romance novel, after all).
  • A young woman is attacked by wild dogs thought to have rabies. She hits her head on a rock and is bitten by one of the dogs.
  • A young man stands in a doorway, watching a young woman sleep with a child in her arms. His excuse is that he is helping the child's older sister look for him (the child) as she was worried that he was missing. While this excuse is true, the fact that he stands there at all and is clearly enchanted by what he sees is a bit uncomfortable.
  • A man is wrongly accused of embezzlement and nearly sentenced to death.
  • Lord Bradley orders Olivia to remain silent even after she recovers her voice, to protect his reputation. He also forbids her from talking to the outside world without his approval, and various other small measures to keep his secret safe. Eventually he begins to trust her and finally he apologizes for treating her in such a disrespectful manner.
  • It is commonly understood that servants are not allowed to marry other servants from the same household. Also, if a young women (servant) becomes pregnant, she is let go by the household and, if lucky, given a bit of extra money before being sent out into the world to fend for herself and her unborn baby.
  • A young man is constantly flirting with servants and even the young woman everyone understands is intending to marry his cousin. He also squanders his money while away at college.
  • Squandering of money, gambling, drinking (mentioned and sometimes a key part of a minor character's arc).
  • A few rather sweet kisses.
Now for the bigger things:

Olivia escapes attempted rape more than once. A man forces her to kiss him (she promptly punches him in the eye). Sometimes she is rescued, other times she has to fight her way free.

The entire story revolves around illegitimate children. A woman who is unable to give birth adopts the child of another young woman (who was raped) who dies after giving birth to her son. A few more honorable men in the story confess to having love affairs with women other than their wives (often servants) and regret their actions, realizing the actions were not out of love for the women involved. Others do not confess or regret it, but the more honorable ones do this for them.
My Thoughts
The last time I actually finished a Christian romance novel was, well, I can't even remember when. Basically, novels which revolve mainly around romance, especially overly-preachy ones, drive me up a wall and I usually end up throwing them at the wall. It's just not my thing.
But I finished this one in less than a week. It's a sweet story and the romance, as well as the Christian aspect, are skillfully woven in between two mysteries and various other small plot points. Lord Bradley is not perfect and though Olivia boarders on being so, even she has her moments.
It was refreshing. And I can assure you I am off to see if I can find any more books by Julie Klassen. I'm very glad I rescued this book from the pile of books in my friend's bedroom. And I'm glad she let me rescue it and didn't keep it for her own bookshelf.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Album Review: Storyline

Title: Storyline
Author: Hunter Hayes
Genre: Country, pop, young adult, teen
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: Young adult/teen
Age Group: 14+
I'm going to do this by song because it seems like the most efficient way to review an entire album.
(Note: I apologize for the length this method caused, but because of the content of the album and how it is distributed, I thought it would be the best way to review this particular work. Due to the length, I have inserted a break in the post. Please click the link to read my analysis of each song.)

My Thoughts
Wow. I'm honestly impressed. Hayes' first album was a bit disappointing with all the little suggestive lines that made it hard to listen to with younger children around. This album, while it does have its suggestive lines, is a lot deeper than that. I remember listening to the first two albums and being struck by Hayes' ability to really address the desires of fellow human beings in a unique way. This album, though it does have its weaknesses, takes that ability one step further. Yes, at times he sounds like someone playing the victim card and complaining about broken relationships, but for the most part there's a little more there than meets the eye.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Movie Review: Charlie St. Cloud

Title: Charlie St. Cloud
Genre: drama, family, loss, sailing, romance
Author: Universal Pictures
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: PG-13 for language including some sexual references, an intense accident scene, and some sensuality
Age Group: 16+

Summary: Charlie St. Cloud and his little brother are close. Like, really close. So when Charlie and Sam are hit by a semi, and only Charlie survives the crash, he's devastated. Until he realizes that he can still see and talk to his brother. Of course, he's the only one who can, but that's a minor detail. Life is bearable, even if it goes no where, until Charlie meets a girl. As she draws him away from his little brother, both Sam and Charlie are confused and upset. But when Charlie realizes he might have to give up his little brother to save the girl he loves, well, that's not so simple.

Word of Warning
  • Language: 
    • older brother calls younger one a punk (teasingly)
    • older brother warns his little brother to "look out for cops" while they are driving
    • geese cause trouble at a grave yard where they "crap" on things and apparently have corrosive s***
    •  someone is called a "dick"
    • "son of a b****" 
    • someone stops short of saying f***
  • Sexual references:
    • a friend tries to set his buddy up with a girl out of kindness, then adds that she's "saucy" and "promiscuous"
    • a young boy refers to a girl as "hot" and asks if there are any swimsuit shots of her
    • a young boy confesses that he lied when he told his older brother he had kissed a girl
    • a young man kisses his sweetheart's shoulder tenderly
    • a passionate kiss is cut short, another is not (it's more slow than passionate)
    •  silhouettes slip off clothes (we only see the guy lose his shirt, but are lead to believe the rest follows), kiss, and sexual intimacy is implied
    • When Charlie shows up late one morning, his friend jokes, "Please say you got laid at least."
    • Charlie is shown shirtless
  • Violence:
    • Sailing boat tips over, potentially harming the sailors
    • Car crash: car is rear ended, then a semi smashes it from the side and we know the younger brother is on the side it hits. The screen goes black, then we see a shot of the two brothers covered in blood with the younger one whimpering "I hurt so much." Later, a brief shot of the wrecked car is shown with Sam's baseball hat inside. There is at least one flashback to the crash.
    • Ambulance: paramedic is shown using a defibrillator on a shirtless Charlie more than once, he is assumed dead at first. Charlie revives, realizes Sam is dead, is understandably upset.
    • Charlie tries to attack geese with a plane, resulting in them dumping all over and him diving into the water for safety.
    • A brief fight in a bar (not due to drinking), ending with a punch to the face.
    • Blood on a girl's head.
    •  Charlie is trapped and almost drowns (the scene is very intense). His head/body are slammed against rocks.
    • Charlie lies next to an injured Tess, opens her jacket and shirt, and presses himself against her to keep her warm. I put this here and not under sexual references because it was a dramatic, not sexual, scene.
    • A character is shown with a bloody face and blood on the side of his head.
  • Other:
    • Charlie sneaks out when he is supposed to be watching his brother, intending to go to a party.
    • Charlie is able to see dead people and talk to them.
    • Because of his job, and ability to talk to certain dead people, many scenes take place in the graveyard.
    • A comment is made about digging up a dead guy because police suspect his wife in his death.
    • A man has cancer and says his only consolation is that he has lived a full life.
    • Brief mention of werewolves as a joke. It falls flat.
    • Legal drinking.
    • Charlie is hit between the legs by a baseball and collapses.
    • Charlie has burn marks from the defibrillator.
    • Sam claims he will become nothing if Charlie forgets him or moves on. This turns out not to be the case when he actually looks quite happy and disappears.
    • For a portion of the movie, it is assumed that a character formerly thought to be living is dead. Simply put, this "revelation" (which is false) is a little unnerving.
    • Charlie steals a boat with the help of his friend.
My Thoughts
I put off watching this movie because I thought the premise sounded really strange. A guy in a car crash who finds out he can see and talk to dead people? What? Then I finally watched it and realized how beautiful it is. Charlie's relationship with his brother is so great, and Charlie's character struggling to move on from the death of his brother but still remember him is hard to watch simply because it's such a real challenge.
The best part, I think, is that the only time anything good happens to Charlie is when he does something for someone else with no intention of it coming back around to himself. As he begins to realize that holding onto his brother is selfish and not something he does for Sam, he is faced with a hard decision: risk everything for someone who might possibly be alive, or keep living in his comfortable little world. When he dives into frigid waters to quite literally risk his life for another, the message seems to come home at least.
Unfortunately, it's a message so many movies are without.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Movie Review: Beastly

Our most sincere apologies for the lack of posts. We happen to be two college students dealing with finals, internships, jobs, teaching, summer classes...the works. Just like everyone else. But that makes it a bit challenging to write reviews since instead of simply reading or watching the material, we have to pay close attention and take notes. We do plan to get the blog back on track this summer and want to thank you for continuing to visit. Please let us know if you have any requests!

Title: Beastly
Author: Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens
Genre: Romance, fairy-tales, fantasy, drama
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: PG-13 (for language including crude comments, brief violence, and some thematic material)
Age Group: 18+ (due to the crude comments)

Summary: Kyle is a jerk. Like, a super big totally nasty jerk who says whatever he wants and gets away with it, and his choices when it comes to comments are nothing but cruel. He lives by his father's philosophy that how much people like you is directly proportional to how good you look. Lucky for Kyle he's pretty attractive.
But when Kyle messes with the wrong girl, his days of spewing insults are over. His father leaves him in a secluded house because he has become so ugly that he doesn't want anyone to see his son. Kyle is trapped with his ugliness, a kind housekeeper, a blind tutor, and the knowledge that if he can't get someone to say "I love you" within the year, he'll be ugly forever.
Beauty and the beast, pure and simple. Right?

Word of Warning
In all honesty, there wasn't much here except for the really cruel and nasty comments. The first ten minutes of the movie are maddening and make it nearly impossible to like Kyle. They're so bad that only the promise of the beauty and the beast story kept me watching. I'm glad I did, but more on that later. Some things to watch out for:
  • Kyle has numerous moments where he is shirtless, sometimes for no apparent reason.
  • The movie starts with Kyle working out shirtless and in his boxers. As the scene changes to one of the town, we see advertisements which include a young woman lying on her side wearing a bra and panties, along with a few other skimpy shots.
  • Kyle and others throw around the words slut, witch, bitch, and a**.
  • Kyle's father is horrible. First he essentially ignores his son, then when his son becomes ugly, he locks him away from the public and though he continues to support him financially, he never goes to visit and eventually Kyle just asks that they stop pretending and that ends all contact other than money.
  • The insults, as mentioned above, fly constantly for the first part of the movie. So much so that they comprise nearly all of the dialogue.
  • Kyle is cursed by a witch and there are a few minutes where he staggers about hallucinating.
  • Kyle's face and body are transformed to be ugly. He is covered in twisting tattoos that mirror a tree's branches and roots, his face becomes red and puckered and has red slashes running across it. If you want to see how bad this is, all you have to do is look at the cover of the DVD to decide whether this is too much for the audience you intend to show the movie to.
  • Kyle is a reckless motorcycle driver.
  • The tutor remarks that at fifteen, his friends lost their virginity, and he lost his sight. He adds that chicks dig blind guys, and Kyle mourns that chicks don't dig ugly guys. He also makes a remark later to a girl about aliens building rooftop creations which they used to capture virgin human girls and use them for breeding. He quickly adds that this is a joke, albeit a distasteful one.
  • Kyle's former online profile reads: Interests: Anything bangable.
  • Kyle shouts "Jesus!" when startled.
  • A father figure is known to be doing drugs and at one point over-doses and ends up in the hospital (we hear all of this off screen). He is also the cause of a main character's stress as she is constantly worrying about him and trying to fix his life.
  • Kyle's mother leaves him without explanation. Lindy's dies of some unknown cause and she doesn't know what it is.
  • We are almost completely lacking in good parent roles in this movie--except the role of the maid who is working to bring her children into the country and misses them dearly.
  • A man gets in a fight which involves paying a debt. The victim ends up shooting the one asking for money. We hear two gunshots and then we see the dead man lying on his back but the scene is dark.
  • There are, I believe, about five or six kisses total, none too passionate.
  • One couple who is not the focus does get a bit passionate in their kisses, but we're supposed to be disgusted by this (and are).
  • Social media is used to complain about various classmates.
  • Kyle more or less spies on Lindy at the beginning of their romance (Lindy is just reading books or buying candy). This is portrayed as sweet, but really, looking back to the scenes where he stands across the street, hoodie pulled over his face, and watches her, it's a bit creepy.

My Thoughts
I admit it. I was disgusted--with the first part of the movie. I watched it for the storyline and because I like Alex Pettyfer as an actor, and I honestly could not bring myself to like his character while he was being a jerk. At all. Couldn't even bring myself to make excuses for him like "his dad's so mean, he has no idea how to be good" or whatever.
Then I got to watch his character learn how to love. He learned that love couldn't be bought, and he learned that love wasn't merely an attraction. Possibly the most beautiful part of the beauty and the beast story is when the beast sends the beauty back to the real world because he believes that is what is best for her. Watching Kyle reach the point where he did this not because he knew it was true love, but because he just knew it was right, well that was pretty darn awesome.
Did it have any unique twists to the original story? Not really. It was adjusted to be modern, but nothing very unique. That gets me thinking though. Do we really need a unique twist for this story? Personally, I think it's just too good a story to need anything but what it already has.
So, beauty and the beast, pure and simple. And that's a good thing.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Movie Review: Divergent

Title: Divergent
Genre: dystopia, drama, action, adventure, romance, science fiction
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: PG-13 (intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality)
Author: Summit Entertainment
Age Group: 16+

At a certain age, people in Beatrice's world take a test (a mental simulation of sorts) that tells them whether they tend toward one of five different ways of being, broken into five factions where people live: Candor (truthful), Erudite (smart), Amity (kind), Abnegation (selfless), and Dauntless (brave). Then, the next day, they choose (hopefully based on their test results) where they will spend the rest of their lives. It's simple.
And doesn't work for Beatrice. She shows the ability to live in more than one faction. One would think this is a good thing, but in her world it means she can't be easily controlled by the government. She's divergent--and constantly in danger of death.
Beatrice chooses Dauntless and changes her name to Tris. It's there that she encounters a crazy world where kids court death and thrive on the rush of adrenalin. Can she survive this way of life? Will she be found out as a divergent and killed?

Word of Warning
  • Mind control. Lots of characters enter a city of innocent people and usher them out, intending a mass execution. Those who resist die. Later, when the mind control ends, the characters who did this are horrified by their actions.
  • Mental simulations that are induced by the injection of a serum. These are often frightening and intense but rather short scenes that feel real to the character. More on these later.
  • In the simulations: a dog tries to attack Tris, then a little girl; Tris almost drowns more than once; she is attacked by birds; she walks along a few poles over a very high and dangerous chasm; she is nearly squished to death (along with another character) in a shrinking box; a man tries to beat his son (more later); she is approached in a sexually aggressive way (more later); a character is forced to kill an innocent girl (more later); Tris is forced to shoot her family and though we see nothing it is assumed that she does so; Tris is tied to a stake and nearly burned to death (she escapes before receiving any real damage).
  • There is a rumor that a man used to beat his son. In a simulation, Tris encounters the same situation. The father approaches his son (now about 18) with a thick leather belt saying that it's for his son's own good, that he's just trying to make him better. The young man is clearly afraid and does nothing when Tris steps in front of him and takes the blow. Then he punches his father and the simulation ends.
  • Tris is afraid of physical intimacy. In one of her simulations, she is approached by her love interest who kisses her, then starts to slide his hand up her shirt. She slaps him, and he responds by pushing her backward onto a bed. He pins her there, crouching over her, holding her down by her arms. She fights back and asks him to stop but he taunts her, asking if she's brave or not. He forcefully kisses her a few times before she kicks him (presumably in the groin) and he releases her. The simulation ends.
  • Tris is practicing punches when her trainer comes by and tells her to "keep tension here" putting both hands on her abs for a moment longer than necessary. Later, Tris slips while climbing and her love interest catches her, putting a hand on her side to steady her. We see a close shot of his hand on bare skin but when the camera moves out, we see his hand on her shirt, not bare skin.
  • Characters are killed (too many to count). We never see a death on screen, but we see dead bodies with blood (usually a little blood from the corner of the mouth or on the head). Most of the deaths are for shock value and not dwelt upon. However, there are five that get some screen time: a character is killed by a friend in self-defense; two parents are killed (both times when at least one child was present); a character commits suicide (unlike the book, the movie does not show the other Dauntless glorifying this act); a character in a simulation is forced to kill an innocent girl by shooting her in the head which he does, though we see nothing but her limp body (not her head). Tris shoots one character in the leg, then another in his side (presumably a graze, as he doesn't sustain serious injuries and recovers pretty quickly), all the while complaining that people over-estimate her character because they don't think she will shoot.
  • Tris is shot on the shoulder but for the most part we're not even aware she's in pain. At one point someone cruelly presses down on the wound and Tris cries out. The person draws her hand away, blood on her fingertips.
  • Tris is nearly executed. She comes close enough that she's on her knees, subdued, and looking up at a gun. One of her friends is lead away, presumably to be experimented on. We don't get any details, but some experimentation has been done because the character who was formerly uncontrollable is now under the influence of mind control.
  • Characters beat each other up for training purposes. Bruises, bloody noses, and knock-out punches abound. All things considered, they survive with unrealistically mild injuries.
  • Tris is attacked and characters try to murder her by throwing her into a chasm. She is rescued and stands aside as the other characters are beaten (some being slammed against a rock wall more than once).
  • A woman is stabbed in the hand with a knife. We see the knife lodged in her hand, then her hand later, covered in blood.
  • Tris is forced to stand in front of a target while a young man throws knives at her. He purposely cuts her ear (not seriously).
  • Characters cut a little slice into their hands to draw blood, which is then used to show which faction they have chosen, dripping it into the appropriate bowl.
  • Words: b*tch and a**h*le more than once. God's name is used in vain more than once as well. The whispered f-word.
  • Dauntless people nearly all have tattoos. Tris and her friends run off for a wild night to do just that.
  • A very intense zip-line trip through the towers of a city and a near-death ending (no injuries).
  • As mentioned above, one of the characters commits suicide. This is very upsetting for the characters who knew him, and rightly so. It closely follows a scene in which he seeks forgiveness from Tris for attacking her (as mentioned above), to which she angrily refuses forgiveness and threatens to kill him if he ever comes close. She later feels guilty for his suicidal action.
  • Tris' love interest, under simulation, beats her up. She tries to fight back but he's taller and stronger and basically throws her around the room and punches her numerous times. It ends with her holding a gun at him, which she then turns around, pressing it to her own head (in no way is this meant to be a suicidal action). He grabs the hilt of the gun and reaches for the trigger.
  • Tris removes her jacket and one of the boys behind her yells "Take it off, Stiff!" (Stiff refers to her former faction), then follows up with a weak, "Put it back on" in a mocking tone. Later, she takes her shirt off to change into the clothes she is given and we see her in her bra. This scene is set up to be uncomfortable for her and in no way sexual.
  • Tris and other characters wear tight fitting shirts and pants.
  • All Dauntless initiates sleep in the same room (boys and girls) and share the same bathroom (which has no privacy what-so-ever). One of the male initiates says something to the effect of, "That works for me" but the other characters are wary of this set up. Nothing more is shown of this situation, only that it exists.
  • Several male characters remove their shirts. Most of this is for the purpose of changing (as Tris did in the point above). One scene involves Tris' love interest removing his shirt to show her his tattoo. She runs her fingers down his back along the tattoo and we can see from his facial expression (more alert and a little tense) that he's aroused by this.
  • Tris falls in love with one of her leaders. They kiss passionately once. She sleeps in his bedroom a few times. The first time, he lets her take the bed and disappears (apparently to another corner of the room), saying he'll take the floor. The rest of the times it is implied that the same thing happens.
  • Tris tells her love interest she doesn't want to go too fast during their passionate kiss. He backs off and assures her that's ok, then adds that he's "already got my spawn on the floor."
  • A young woman is left to hang over a chasm to teach her never to give up. She nearly lets go and falls, but does not and is pulled up. The scene is not long but feels like forever.
  • Characters jump onto and off of fast moving trains, sometimes onto rooftops (some almost fall). They are shot with darts that stimulate the pain of getting shot for real--this is part of a game of capture of the flag. Characters jump into a dark pit not knowing what is at the bottom, suspecting they might die.
  • Government officials are corrupt.
  • For all the action, there is very little blood and gore. I'm not complaining and asking that it be added, but it feels unbalanced.
  • Other minor problems.
My Thoughts
It was better than the book. Wait, did I just say that? Me, the one who always fights for the movie to follow the book as closely as possible? It was better in the sense that it was more appropriate and properly handled. I really did enjoy the movie, though the story line left it feeling like there was something lacking. It picked up at the end as the problem with the government became a main point and I believe the next installment won't feel quite so flat.

However, a warning to those who have not read the book. I saw the movie twice, both times with friends who had not read the book. I found myself explaining plot points to them not so they would understand what was going on, but so they would understand the deeper implications which were not made clear. I'm not telling you to go read the book, just trying to clarify what you'll be getting into if you go see the movie.

One final note: people have compared the kids fighting in this movie to the kids fighting in The Hunger Games books and movies. I object. In this movie, fighting is for training purposes or under the control of others through mind control. In The Hunger Games the kids know exactly what they're doing and, though they don't choose to enter the games willingly (for the most part), their actions are voluntary.

I reviewed the book this movie is based off of. You can find that review here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Movie Review: Broken Hill

Title: Broken Hill
Author: N/A
Genre: drama, music, romance
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: PG
Age Group: 14+

Summary: Tommy is a young composer who is trapped in a town where no one seems to see, or rather hear, his brilliance. When he makes one bad choice, he ends up in a position that could possibly lead him to the biggest music school in Australia. Does he have what it takes to pull something together in three weeks? What if he's working with an unwilling partner and local inmates?

Word of Warning
  • The movie starts out with the finding of an injured man on the road. There is blood on his forehead and we find out that he might have died had he been left there. He is a local inmate who has escaped from jail several times, and was jailed for stealing diamonds.
  • Tommy is often distracted by his love interest and can become oblivious to everything else around him. His friend refers to this as obsessing, but Tommy objects, so his friend then calls it stalking, another term turned down, and finally settles on fancying her from afar.
  • Tommy is chased by a kid in a wheelchair who has spikes on his wheels. The scene is set to be dramatic, but we find out that it's just his friend and all a joke.
  • Tommy jokingly requests his friend roll over his neck with his wheelchair until he's dead--after getting laughed at by his love interest.
  • Tommy is misunderstood by his father and lies to him. The girl is also misunderstood and nearly ignored by her parents. It is assumed that Tommy works his problems but we have no idea what happens to the girl.
  • Words: jeez and prude (twice).
  • At first, the girl manipulates Tommy, using his crush on her to get her way. She flirts with him to get a ride and then tricks him into getting involved in driving her friends down the street so they can throw watermelons at houses, cars, windows, and other things (more on this later). She leans over and, in a whisper, suggests that if he go along with this "things are gonna get a little bit crazy." It's pretty clear how he interprets that.
  • Due to the watermelon trick, Tommy and the others end up arrested (after fleeing the police, which the girl also encourages). Tommy and the girl are given community service, the rest go free with a warning. Tommy's father leaves him to spend the night in jail instead of bringing him home like all the other parents.
  • The joking exchange, "I'd rather be run over by a truck." "I've got a truck."
  • Tommy's friend refers to the girl as hot more than once. He also calls her the American Honey (she's American, everyone else is Australian).
  • Tommy rides a motorcycle without a helmet and isn't all that careful about it. He also does some reckless driving for fun in the desert with his friend (using his dad's pick-up truck).
  • Man without a shirt seen lifting weights, then imagined as playing a violin (still shirtless).
  • One mention of strip and cavity searches for the prisoners.
  • Tommy signs a paper saying he did more community service hours than he did. This is largely due to the girl taunting him.
  • Tommy lies to his father. Later, he's kicked out of his house for it (tossed the duffle bag and told to leave).
  • Tommy is bowled over during what looks to be a football game (without the pads, but clearly a school event).
  • An older man tells a story of spirits creating the world one layer at a time (first it was too flat, so then came the hills, and the rivers, etc).
  • The girl's prom dress is a few inches above her knees and the V-neck is low but relatively concealing (no cleavage shown because of the way the dress is structured).
  • A man in the prison is often shown staring at the girl. At one point she looses it and shouts at him, "I don't know what prostitute I remind you of, but just stop staring at me." He reveals that she reminds him of his daughter, who has only seen him behind bars.
  • Three kisses.
  • The whole story revolves around a group of inmates becoming a band.
My Thoughts
The music was fantastic. The main character first sets out to create this band for selfish reasons, then does it for those involved. It was an interesting story. What more is there to say?
I wouldn't watch it again, but I don't regret the time I spent on it. I gave it the age recommendation of 14+ because of the innuendo mentioned above. It was a fun journey to go on, especially accompanied by music.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Movie Review: Civil Love

Title: Civil Love
Author: N/A
Genre: period drama, romance, civil war, family
My Rating: **
Official Rating: PG
Age Group: 8+
Summary: Rachel's husband died in the war and it's all she can do to keep the homestead running and her children safe. When her brother-in-law comes around hinting at marriage, she refuses on the grounds of not loving him, though she badly needs the assistance in the home.
Then an escaped Confederate soldier shows up in her barn, badly wounded and close to death. Rachel does what she says is the Christian thing to do and tends to his wound. As he recovers, things become confusing for Rachel, her two children, and Daniel, the man they are hiding from a marshal.

Word of Warning
  • People are shot at. Daniel is shot in the abdomen and we see blood on his shirt, hands, and body, as well as a quick glimpse at the wound (which is so bloody we don't seen anything at all). Another man is shot in the shoulder but no blood is seen. Both these instances are almost under-dramatized (not a word, but I believe it's possible to understand my point).
  • Daniel was held prisoner but escaped because he probably wouldn't have lived to the end of the war (so he says) if he'd stayed. During escape, authorities are killed and so are all his friends.
  • Rachel hides Daniel from the law.
  • Three or four kisses.
  • Men get pushed about, kicked, punched, and hit with chairs.
  • Rachel rides into trouble more than once to save Daniel.
  • Daniel is being hunted by two men who will stop at nothing to kill him.
  • Daniel sleeps in the barn, not the house, even when Rachel and her children decide to trust him. She says it wouldn't feel right for him to be in the house, and he agrees. He does spend one feverish night in the house before this decision, however, it's not all that problematic as he lies on the floor in a fever-induced sleep and is completely unaware of anything.
  • Attempted robbery.
My Thoughts
All things considered, it was a decent film. I admit the acting drove me up a wall, but then again the last film I saw had some very talented actors in it so my judgment might be skewed a little. It's a sweet story of a woman falling in love with a man she viewed as her enemy (ahem, yes, I spoiled it. What, you didn't see that coming?). The best part, in my opinion, is the way this comes about. In gratitude for her kindness, Daniel begins to do little random acts of kindness like helping her son chop wood, doing the dishes, working in the barn, etc. It's these acts that grow on Rachel and show her what kind of man he really is. There is no big romantic moment where he confesses his feelings, no scenes where one of them is trying desperately for the other to notice as in most romances, just peaceful gentle but utterly strong love.
Huh. Kind of like the real world. Imagine that.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Music Review: Popular Country Songs

Dear readers,
While we eagerly await Robin Hood Week (which is currently under construction), I bring you another puzzle-piece type post. The only theme here is popular country songs. The songs are not randomly chosen and this will be just a brief look at a few of the more popular songs on the radio today. Enjoy!

Song: We Are Tonight
Artist: Billy Currington
My Rating: ****
Summary: A fun summer night needs a fun summer song, no? "It's a Friday night, it's a small town girl. Everything is right, and we rule the world....We are tonight." There's dancing, singing, and kids just having fun. "Her tan, her touch, her laugh" lets us know the guy is in love (in case anyone doubted that). Granted, there is an implication there with "we are tonight" and a girl being present, but the order of the lyrics gives us no reason to actually come to the conclusion of an intimate physical relationship. Simply put: it's a fun song.

Song: Goodnight Kiss
Artist: Randy Houser
My Rating: ***
Summary: Let's start with the kiss, shall we? Skip past whatever we do other nights and just move right to the kiss. H*** is used at least once. The chorus goes "start it with a goodnight kiss. My lips, your lips. Baby let's just get gettin' there. Start it with a long goodbye, wrapped up tight. Let's spend all night right here." Basically, the plan is to cancel meeting up with friends and "light that little spark that gets you goin' like you do. Just tell me that you want to." It's not too hard to figure out what's being implied here. The only reason for the three stars is the unfortunately fact that the tune is catchy and I like Randy Houser's voice.

Song: See You Tonight
Artist: Scotty McCreery
My Rating: *****
Summary: Basically, "sweet dreams, baby, goodnight" isn't good enough anymore. Scotty wants to see his girl face to face, not over the phone, and it has to be tonight. He's a little obsessed (with hundreds of pictures on his phone and in his car) to say the least. "So I'm comin' over, I hope it's alright" he sings. What does he plan to do? Apparently simply "holding onto you so tight under that porch light" or at least that's all he says. He's willing to drive far to see his girl and he'll be pulling up at her house no matter what time it is for that "little moonlight kiss." Hopefully she's ok with that. Rating based on the fact that this is Scotty McCreery which means it's his voice--which basically requires no explanation.

Song: Hey Girl
Artist: Billy Currington
My Rating: ***
Summary: This song is one big pick-up line. "Hey girl, what's your name girl? I've been lookin' at you girl, and every guy in here's doin' the same girl." She's "so hot, gotta give it a shot" even though he doesn't know her. But he's not about to let her get away without even trying. This consists of offering to get her a drink, suggesting a ride around the town, and continuing to flatter her with words. That's pretty much all the song is. Rating is based on the catchiness of the song and how fun it is to sing along.

Song: People Are Crazy
Artist: Billy Currington
My Rating: ****
Summary: The singer meets an old man at a bar and they have a little chat about "politics, blond and redhead chicks" and so on. H*** used at least once, d***ed as well. Chorus: "God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy." That's pretty much it. One of them fought in wars, was married and divorced, and they mention "every girl we knew, and what all we put 'em through, like two old boys'll do." Cigarettes are mentioned. Basically, the two have a chat about life (girls, politics, philosophy, God, and everything in-between). In the end, the old man dies and the singer inherits his fortune.

Song: Every Storm (runs out of rain)
Artist: Gary Allen
My Rating: *****
Summary: This is a song about a struggle. The singer sees someone close to him fighting through a storm, getting shoved about by life, and steps up to say "Every storm runs out of rain. Just like every dark night turns into day. Every heartache will fade away. Just like every storm runs out of rain." He's there for (presumably) her and urges perseverance and a belief in something greater. "Go find a new rose, don't be afraid of the thorns, 'cause we've all got thorns." It's that simple--and that awesome.

 Song: Cop Car
Artist: Keith Urban
My Rating: ***
Summary: According to the music video, the couple is trespassing (to watch planes fly) when they are arrested. He's too busy watching the girl's reaction to really care. She gets angry, then tries flirting with the cops, all to no avail. "Your daddy's gonna kill me," he observes, and he's probably right. She considers running but doesn't and they end up in the back of a cop car. Sitting there in the blue lights, he falls in love. H*** is in the chorus. Stars for it being one of the most unique love songs I've heard in country music.

Song: Hey Pretty Girl
Artist: Kit Moore
My Rating: ****
Summary: Simply put, it's a sweet song. The guy meets his future wife at a dance and "hey pretty girl, won't you look my way? Love's in the air tonight. You can bet you'd make this old boy's day. Hey pretty girl won't you look my way?" They dance, he brings her home (his mom makes him sleep on the couch), they get married and have a daughter who looks like her mother, and he dies thanking God for his wife. One questionable verse is "Hey pretty girl, it feels so right, just like it's meant to be. All wrapped up in my arms so tight. Hey pretty girl it feels so right." As to the meaning of that, there is no clarification. It's up to use to decide what we think is going on, but in the music video it's a simple embrace.

Song: Play It Again
Artist: Luke Bryan
My Rating: ***
Summary: The singer sees a girl alone and believes her too beautiful not to have a date. When he walks up to ask, she interrupts him with "Oh my God, this is my song! I've been listenin' to the radio all night long, sittin' around waitin' for it to come on. And here it is. She was like, come here boy, I wanna dance" and that's exactly what they do, kissing at the end. And of course they both want it to play again. Eventually, he ends up playing it for her on his guitar. Whenever he's able to find it, they dance and kiss (as that's what the chorus requires). Rating because it's catchy, but it lost a star due to the use of the Lord's name.

Song: Keep Them Kisses Comin'
Artist: Craig Campbell
My Rating: **(*)
Summary: That last star was questionable. I wish we could do half-stars. The very beginning of the song lets us know what we're in for. "You got your hair down, you got that look in your eye that says come here and get me boy, lay me down and love me just right." And he, of course, is not about to leave that offer behind. A bottle of wine and a bunch of time results in his decision to "be your man tonight. I can't imagine doin' nothin' but what I'm doin'. Just layin' round, tangled up with you. We got our buzz on sippin' on a little somethin'. I need your lovin', just keep them kisses comin'." He's been missing his girl and after a long week, all he wants is her kiss. Then the chorus follows again. He wants this all night, doesn't want her to stop, and swears "there's honey on your lips. Baby give me one more long slow kiss!" The reason for the rating not being negative is that it's catchy and I happen to know the song was about his wife--which makes it a bit more acceptable.

Song: Everything I Shouldn't Be Thinkin' About
Artist: Thompson Square
My Rating: **(*)
Summary: It's catchy! (that's my defense for the rating) Basically, the guy has a lot of things that need to be done "but baby I can only focus on one. The way you're looking back at me right now, I'm thinkin' about everything I shouldn't be thinkin' about. You're playin' with my mind, baby, aint no doubt. I'm thinkin' about everything I shouldn't be thinkin' about." She is too, apparently. The conclusion is that since they're thinking the same thing, "let's do somethin' 'bout it, what do you say?" I say...this is overly suggestive. I'll admit to liking the song, but that's from the perspective of someone who knows the two singing it are married, in which case it ends up being more cute and less turn-that-off-right-now.

And there you have it. A bunch of semi-random country songs that are relatively popular right now. I do fully intend to do Scotty McCreery's new album sometime soon, but I'm not promising a date just yet.
If you have any suggestions for reviews of books, movies, or music, please leave a comment here on the blog and we'll see what we can do for you.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Movie Review: Romeo and Juliet (2013)


Title: Romeo and Juliet
Author: Shakespeare (more or less)
Genre: romance, drama
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and thematic elements)
Age Group: 18+

Summary: We all know the story--or so we think. Shakespeare gives it to us in the first lines of the play. Romeo and Juliet are from warring families and they fall in love. Their love, and marriage, is ultimately torn apart by the families' arguments. When Romeo believes his wife to be dead, he commits suicide. Juliet wakes from her sleep, sees her dear husband dead, and kills herself as well. A tragedy, really. A Shakespearean tragedy.

Word of Warning
  • Shakespeare's language is always obscene to some extent. This particular play is loaded with hidden little comments that might make the audience squirm for sheer number of them--if they were all understood. This particular version of his play keeps much of the original language. Since it is not possible to name all the suggestions, just know that they are there and not easily noticed.
  • Juliet is not even 14 (and she looks young as well). Romeo looks to be about 16, but it is unclear as to how old he actually is.
  • Death. Three men are killed during sword fights, Romeo drinks a poison, Juliet drinks a drug which makes her appear dead, Juliet thrusts a dagger into her stomach (there is no gore or drama here). Before actually taking their own lives, Romeo and Juliet both threaten to do so with a dagger (not in the presence of each other) once.
  • Various uses of God's name, Jesus's name, and saints.
  • The first meeting of the lovers involves numerous references to lips (often compared with pilgrims), saints (not always respectful), and Romeo states that his kissing Juliet was a sin, then begs her to allow him to repeat his sin again.
  • Countless passionate kisses between Romeo and Juliet. Romeo also kisses Juliet a few times after he believes she is dead, and she kisses him after she knows he is dead.
  • Romeo and Juliet get their wedding night despite the fact that Romeo is in danger of being killed. They kiss, Romeo's shirt is removed, Juliet is in her underdress, and they end up on her bed, kissing. The last shot we see is of Romeo bent over her, kissing her, and then the shot in the morning has her in his arms, both still dressed the same as they were when the camera cut to another scene. Obviously there are implications of sex, but nothing is shown, and they are married. The scene becomes a bit disturbing when we take into account their ages, and the fact that Juliet looks so young.
  • Children marry without their parents' permission, and behind their backs because they know they can't get that permission. A priest goes along with this.
  • Juliet's father shouts at her, threatens to disown her, and tells her she must get married. He is unaware that she is already married to Romeo. Juliet's nurse advises that the girl marry Paris as her father desires as Romeo has been banished. We get the idea that Juliet is refusing not because she is already married, but because she loves another.
  • Romeo caresses Juliet's face on more than one occasion (before they are married).
  • Romeo's friends are not exactly respectable people (well, money-wise they are). They joke about various things, and much of Shakespeare's hidden sexual comments come into play between them. At one point, a young man refers to his friends as "lusty gentlemen."
  • Juliet's mother makes a comment that implies her husband had a brief affair. He responds by hugging her from behind and asking if she'll still hold that against him. He kisses her, and it's pretty clear he's suggesting something for later that night.
  • At the end of their famous balcony meeting, as Juliet is about to leave, and after they have kissed passionately several times, Romeo asks if she will leave him so unsatisfied. When she asks what he means, he quickly responds that he wants proof of her love and that they should vow it to each other. As a viewer who was paying particular attention to the language, it sounded like his request for vows was a sort of quick cover up, more spur of the moment than actually what he was originally suggesting.
  • Romeo is clearly interested in a physical relationship with Juliet and one might even venture to say that all his sweet words of love are to that end. Juliet is relatively innocent in this respect, but she does give in pretty quickly and apparently believes his love for her.
  • Many other smaller things. Listed above are simply the biggest problems. And, once again, I was unable to keep track of all the kisses or the disguised sexual language.
My Thoughts
I have a confession to make: I hadn't read Romeo and Juliet until now, my sophomore year of college. I mean, sure, I'd glanced at it before, but never really studied what was actually being said. Having read the first two acts, I was a bit shocked as to how far Shakespeare went with his language and sexual suggestions. In all honesty, it was disgusting.

I was lucky to come across such a clean version of the play (clean there is obviously a relative term here). By sticking to most of the original dialogue in the play, and using period costumes, the movie itself was really impressive and I was glad they didn't try to make it modern (because the beauty of the story is that it's timeless. it doesn't need to be modernized). The movie does deserve credit for that, and also for its portrayal of the story. Somehow, we are able to internally laugh at Romeo and Juliet, and yet not. We feel sorry that Juliet has fallen for Romeo's sweet words of love, and that Romeo is so caught up in his desires that he sees nothing else. We also find this overdone and almost comical. And yet, the acting was too well done for it to be seen as a comedy. We have Midsummer Night's Dream for that (same plot, just not a tragedy). Yes, it felt like a tragedy. A well done tragedy.

While I would not advise reading Romeo and Juliet in high school, or watching the movie, if one must watch a rendition of it, this version was incredibly well done. That's why I rated it so highly. Because it took on the challenging task of recreating this famous Shakespearean tragedy, and it completed it in a satisfactory, even impressive, way.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Play Review: Tartuffe

And...we have a new category! Due to the fact that I am an English major, therefore reading a good number of texts, I will often be reviewing the texts I read because: 1) it ensure I have the time to review something, 2) it will give me a better understanding of the text, 3) the texts will often be unknown gems or very well known pieces that perhaps have not been read carefully in the past, 4) other random reasons I can't think of right now.
So, following my modern tradition class, today I present to you a play from the Enlightenment era. I hope you find the review interesting!

Title: Tartuffe
Author: Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Moliere
Genre: Play, romance, enlightenment
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: N/A
Age Group: 16+
Summary: Tartuffe is a sneaky man who poses as a religious figure. Through his skillful acting, he manages to wrap a household around his little finger and make a move to take everything from them. Those who see through his disguise are ignored and seen as jealous or childish. But what happens when the man of the house sees Tartuffe approach his wife in an adulterous way? Will he believe Tartuffe's guilt, or is it too late?

Word of Warning
  • The story line is a good place to start. Tartuffe is a religious figure who lies and basically steals. He also uses his position to attempt to essentially have a sexual relationship with a married woman.
  • A father banishes his son in anger. The father is also blind to Tartuffe's cruelty and will no hear no wrong said of him.
  • When Elmire (the wife) is approached by Tartuffe, she does not respond as we expect her to. While she doesn't encourage the man, she doesn't cut him off either. This, we learn later, is simply part of her plot to prove to her husband how evil Tartuffe is. She does not allow Tartuffe to become physically intimate with her.
  • The wife sets up a situation in which she suggests to Tartuffe that she does love him. Then, she allows him to continue from there, not really encouraging or discouraging his profession of love. Meanwhile, her husband hides under a table, witnessing the whole thing. Several times she coughs, trying to get her husband to come out and accuse Tartuffe of the crime. When he doesn't, she convinces Tartuffe to check to make sure the situation is clear before they become physically intimate. While he is gone, she tells her husband he should come out, but seeing the doubt he has, tells him not to come out until he is absolutely certain he is seeing what he thinks he is. He comes out a moment later and accuses Tartuffe of inappropriately approaching his wife.
  • Tartuffe tricks Orgon (the man of the house) to basically hand over the house, property, and money. This leaves Orgon's family with nothing. (spoiler alert: this is not the end)
My Thoughts
In all honesty, I've never been a huge fan of plays or poetry (except epic poetry). This semester, I've encountered a lot of plays (and we've only just begun!). I found Tartuffe to be one of the more interesting ones. It's short, characters are simple, and yet the whole thing has a complexity to it. It shows the ideas of the Enlightenment era, debates about authority and how it should be used, and is driven by that main Enlightenment idea: emotions should be governed by reason. As classmates joked, if it's not, everyone dies (according to Racine's Phaedra). The lesson of Tartuffe is similar, though not as drastic.
Also, the play actually had a bit of an edge-of-your-seat quality to it. It was a fun piece of literature.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Trojan Horse Book Review: Divergent

Post 100! A celebration is in order, no? Not to worry, Stacy is working on an entire week of Robin Hood media. Does it get any better than that?

A Trojan Horse Review is a review of one of those books/movies/albums/other that comes highly recommended or disguised as something good, and is a nearly deadly attack.
An unfortunate disappointment review is when the media being reviewed could have been good if only ____ hadn't been there. Those poor books/movies/albums/other. They had so much potential. If only the author could have carried it out.

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Teen fiction, science fiction, dystopian fiction
My Rating: *
Official Rating: Teen fiction
Age Group: 18+
Awards: Amelia Bloomer Book List Award

The world was in chaos, so of course the government decided to separate people. This time, they've been separated into what they call factions. Each faction is based off a particular virtue and the people who show a tendency toward that virtue are sent there. It's not a requirement--you can stick around in your hometown or you can change factions as you will after taking the test that helps show you what you tend toward. Once you arrive, you're there forever.
Tris is divergent, which is a big problem. The government finds people who don't fit into a particular faction threatening. She chooses dauntless and tries hard to blend in and not die. But when she discovers something much more dangerous than mere separation into factions. Can she stay alive, and save others, before it's too late?

My Hopes:
They were simple. An interesting and good conclusion to the premise presented, and an appropriate romance written by a contemporary author. Both hopes were dashed against the rocks.

Word of Warning
Due to the nature of the material (book, and Trojan horse) this section is going to be less detailed and more broad. Unfortunately, I am not able to list every problematic detail here but have rated the book 18+ to give an idea as to what is present.
  • Bullying by other factions. Certain factions are looked upon as better than others.
  • Kids are given an injection which them simulates rather terrifying situations (attacking dogs, drowning, shooting, etc) to determine which faction they belong in.
  • Violence in the dauntless faction. Much of this comes from training and includes characters getting knocked out, bruised, knives thrown at them, and various other beatings.
  • Tris comes out of the shower and grabs her towel right before two boys and a girl walk in. One of the boys pulls the towel from her but she holds up her dress so they don't see anything. They see her back as she runs out.
  • Tris is captured by a few of her classmates (most of them young men) and they attempt to rape her before throwing her to her death. She fights back but is relatively unsuccessful. They succeed in "only" touching her breast before she is rescued by another character.
  • After being rescued, Tris spends the night in the bedroom of one of her male leaders (the one who saved her). Nothing happens, but by this point in the book the readers are well aware of an attraction between these two.
  • Tris is uncomfortable with her body shape and remarks more than once that it appears childlike.
  • Tattoos are common for dauntless characters. They also pull crazy stunts (jumping off buildings and trains, climbing to dangerous heights, etc) as their faction is based on showing bravery and getting an adrenalin high.
  • Government officials are corrupt.
  • One character's father used to beat him with a belt and told him that it's for his own good.
  • The abnegation (selfless) faction is seen as weak. They often misunderstand selflessness, always backing down in a fight and letting other characters basically walk all over them. Somehow, they have some serious power when it comes to the government.
  • The concept of separating people into factions based on their strongest qualities. This is an interesting idea, but completely unrealistic, as no one person is only going to be one thing. Tris and a few other characters are great examples of this.
  • During a simulation, we find out that Tris is afraid of intimacy (yes, it's that awkward). A character she's in love with appears (remember, this is all in her mind, but to her it feels real) and starts kissing her and slips her jacket off to reveal a tank top. He pulls her onto a bed and continues to kiss her. Tris realizes that he wants to have sex with her (the word "sex" being used) and resists, telling him she's not going to do that with him in a simulation.
  • The romance is a huge problem. Kisses are far too passionate; Tris sits in her love interest's lap at one point during a kiss, later hands run over shoulders and neck, kisses range from various places on the face (nose, cheek, mouth) to neck and back again, and other problems. At one point the male character is without his shirt and, because Tris is too uncomfortable to make the move herself, takes her hands and places them on his abdomen, then brings them upward. Both characters confess to fear of intimacy and decide that they might do it later. Passionate kissing follows.
  • The romance is the biggest reason this book is a Trojan horse book. It is put forth as something relatively chaste as the characters never have sex, but they are pretty physically involved otherwise (as noted above). A complete misunderstanding of chastity is shown here. If the author was going for abstinence, she misses the point there too as the couple is incredibly physically involved.
  • Mind control.
  • Characters (other than Tris) kiss. Tris finds this uncomfortable because she is unused to public displays of affection.
  • A character commits suicide and is praised for his "brave" act. Luckily, Tris and her friends see right through this as a lie. Still, the leaders of the group consider his move to be one of a true dauntless member.
  • Blood and gore (nothing too detailed). Characters get shot and die. Characters are forced to kill those they care about (sometimes for real, sometimes in simulations).

My Thoughts
I admit I was disappointed. While I disagree with separating people into factions based on their strongest inclinations, the premise was one that I thought would be interesting to entertain. What would happen to our world if it was separated like this?
The author followed the premise through in a way that made sense to me, but also disappointed to me. At some point, it became less about the premise and more about one particular character. Then, it became about the romance. Then, it became all about the where-did-that-come-from ending.

The Trojan horse aspect comes from the failure to follow through with the premise and from the romance. Failure to follow a premise to the end is usually seen as more of a writing flaw, but here it was dangerous. Bringing up a premise like that and then dropping it is not safe. The end did not satisfy "conclusion" requirements. As for the romance, there are more details above, but the basic idea behind it is that the romance is portrayed as safe and appropriate and the characters shown as admirable for not having sex right away. The problem is, they went so far that's almost the only thing they're not doing. And there is something wrong with a romance that excites readers (because the characters are portrayed as excited) and then stops. That's not what romance is meant to be--but it's not meant to go that far until marriage either. This is like the set up, set up, part of a three part story, lacking the pay off. In no way am I suggesting the characters engage in any more physical intimacy. I'm suggesting they do the opposite.

Why was it disappointing? Aside from the premise, the romance started out as interesting. When the author took it as far as she possibly could without frightening away the younger audience and their parents, she disappointed me. Can no one write a good romance without all of that? Granted, that's what it should become eventually--in marriage. But I had honestly hoped she'd be one of the few living authors who could write a great romance without that before marriage. I was wrong.

Do I suggest reading the book? No, I don't. For the simple reason that it's a Trojan horse and an unfortunate disappointment. Did I enjoy parts of it? I would be lying if I said I hadn't. No book can be an unfortunate disappointment without having something good in it. This one just didn't follow through.