Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel

Title: The Scarlet Pimpernel
Author: Baroness Emmuska Orczy
Published: between 1903-05 (that's a bit unclear)
Genre: action, adventure, romance, historical fiction, war, politics
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: Historical fiction (adult fiction)
Age Group: 14+ (for reading difficulty. It's probably appropriate, though not much appreciated, for 10+)

Horrible things are happening in France. All those who once had power are being tracked down and killed at the guillotine.
There is, however, a man in England who will not stand for this. He is known only as the Scarlet Pimpernel, and he will do whatever it takes to rescue French aristocrats before they lose their lives.
But Chauvlin, one of France's best, is going to track down that man, and he is going to bring him back to France, and that man will pay dearly.

"They seek him here,
They seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
That demmed elusive Pimpernel!"

Word of Warning
  •  The biggest challenge I see with this book is that it's considered a classic, and is written as such. This means as far as reading goes, it can get a bit long, it can get a bit confusing. It also has French words in it that are not translated.
  • One of the nobles tends to favor the word "demmed"
  • Blackmail.
  • Kidnapping.
  • Two men are hit on the head, knocking them unconscious. There is little to no drama in this scene and everyone is fine.
  • A young man was beaten for sending a love note (know this is before the French Revolution, so the note was probably appropriate for any eyes) to an aristocratic young woman. This all happens in the past, before the book begins.
  • Parents are reported as dead (in the past). One man's mother apparently went insane.
  • People are in danger of being killed quite often, but this is more of a theme and less of a dramatic reality (such as one would get if there a knife or gun in play).
  • A main character is beaten brutally by soldiers. This scene is narrated by a woman who can only hear the man's cries but cannot see the beating.

My Thoughts
The Scarlet Pimpernel and the Virginian--my two biggest literary crushes.
Both married.
But once upon a time, Stacy and I found the English language particularly constricting and redefined/clarified "crush" as an attraction to the God-given beauty and goodness in another human being, and a desire to partake in it (of course, that lead us to creating a whole bunch of "crush" subsets, but that's irrelevant).
Yes, I know neither of those characters is a real human, but they were created in the image of humanity and given beauty and goodness by an author who (whether knowing or not) was influenced by God.
My point? My point is that this is a fantastic book about fantastic adventures undertaken by a truly awesome character.

On a more literary note, it's interesting that the author chooses to tell the story from the perspective of a character who is not the Scarlet Pimpernel. It makes it especially tricky to really figure out who is and also pin down the personality of that character. But it's very well done and, honestly, a brilliant choice.

Fun Facts
This being a book my British Literature students read, I did more research on this book than I usually do. Might I add that this (and Prisoner of Zenda) were very popular among both the boys and the girls?
Interesting things about the author:
  • Hungarian immigrant to Britain.
  • Wrote short stories of a woman working for the Scotland Yard, similar to Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, these stories never took off.
  • Novelist, playwright, and artist
  • Her crime stories were based on real-life instances
  • Happily married woman with one known kid. This son (John Montague Oczy-Barstow) wrote  a book titled The Life and Exploits of the Scarlet Pimpernel (also known as "The Gay Adventurer") which is meant to be the biography and family history of the man who is the Scarlet Pimpernel. He published this under the name John Blakeney, and his mother wrote the forward.
Interesting things about the book:
  • Often seen as the inspiration for today's espionage heroes (think James Bond, Jack Ryan, etc), as well as our dual-identity superheroes (Arrow/Oliver Queen, Flash/Barry Allen, Batman/Bruce Wayne, Superman/Clark Kent--hopefully I didn't ruin any of these for you).
  • Originally written as a play. The Baroness's husband helped with the writing.
  • Sequels were not as popular.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Movie Review: Tomorrow, When the War Began

Title: Tomorrow, When the War Began
Author: Caitlin Stasey (Lady Kenna in Reign series), Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lincoln Lewis, etc. Basically people I recognized by face, but not name. All with awesome Australian accents.
Release Date: 2010
Genre: war, drama, romance, coming of age, action, adventure, survival
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: R (according to IMDb, but that seems a little high, which is odd given MPAA ratings tend to be too low in my opinion); proposed rating: PG-13
Age Group: 16+ (could be 14+ if not for mention of teens having sex)

Seven unlikely friends go camping in the beautiful wilderness of their native Australia. Two best friends from childhood, a boyfriend, the rich (but sweet) girl, the town trouble-maker, the boy whose family owns a restaurant, and a church girl (because the parents wanted 8 to go, but they decided 7 would be fine as long as one was a church girl--keep them all in line and whatnot).
They're having a great time on their last big hurray before graduation and moving on to bigger responsibilities. Sure, there are deadly snakes and they have to hunt rabbits, but really, small price to pay for such a great adventure.
Then they go home. And no one is there. The kids eventually learn Australia has been invaded and everyone has been rounded up into camps. Trying to avoid being killed themselves, the kids flee back to their campsite, bringing along yet another unlikely member (a sweet guy who smokes pot).
Guilt eats at them. Finally, they decide to wage guerrilla warfare on the enemy until help comes.

Word of Warning

As noted above, I find the MPAA rating a little high. Granted, I advised the movie not be watched by anyone younger than 16 (mainly because of my first bullet point below), but I am used to MPAA ratings being a bit young. What I see in this movie is horrible, yes, because it is war, but not what I've seen in the very few R rated movies I've seen.
  •  Two girls at the beginning of the movie talk about sex. There is nothing graphic. One girl says she and her boyfriend did it, and the other girl responds. Both seem excited, and nothing negative is said.
  • Clothing. Low cut shirts, short shorts, and a girl wearing a bikini (a guy ogles her unashamedly).
  • Kissing. The couple mentioned above is seen kissing a few times. One girl says she kissed a member of the group and claims he is "a really good kisser." Another kiss is shown that starts to get passionate (and, quite honestly, is grossly loud with headphones on).
  • Injuries. One kid gets shot in the leg (we don't see it, only blood, and the healing is fast). A girl cuts her leg pretty badly. One kid is shot in the abdomen and is rushed to a hospital (that is the last we see of this character). A person is shot through the head, scene is a far-off shot but still very disturbing.
  • This is war. There are guns, people get shot at (and hit sometimes), buildings are bombed, and things blow up. The kids barely escape more than once.
  • In a heartbreaking scene the most innocent of the group mows down three enemy soldiers with a semi-automatic to save other members of the group.
  • One character lights a stick on fire and causes an explosion that lights several enemy soldiers on fire. We see one soldier in a close-up, her face melted, and she presumably dies. The character who caused the explosion rightfully has a very hard time getting over this.
  • A dead dog is shown, eye clouded, flies buzzing about. I realize in the grand scheme of this movie, this really isn't a big deal. But the scene is disturbing and startling based on where it is put in the movie.
  • A car chase involving a garbage truck and two to three little zippy cars (no clue what to call them). Cars blow up and flip and the chase is rather harrowing. It's also a good point, because really, a garbage truck and speedy car chase?
  • One character smokes pot. In one scene he talks about being stoned, but he's clearly still high.
  • Kids lie to their parents, particularly a religious figure.
  • Language. I didn't write down the words or the numbers. I hadn't even intended to review the movie originally. Basically, if you deem the other stuff in this list appropriate, the language content should be fine too.

My Thoughts
The movie took a little while to get anywhere, which frustrated me. Then again, they were dealing with seven (then eight) characters, so I can understand why it took a little while to establish any character development. When it does come, I appreciated the raw look at killing and how it changes the soul. The poor teens propose different views of this but ultimately cannot come to a conclusion: only that it seems to be necessary given the circumstances, and that it's awful. Who gets to decide who dies? Why is one person's life more valuable than another? Good moral questions, and the movie does not shy away from them.
My biggest objection (aside from the completely unnecessary mention of sexual intimacy at the beginning, and the apparent glorification of it) is the ending.
Which simply isn't.
I realize this is a movie based on a book series by John Marsden, and this is probably how the first book ended. But still. If you watch it, you'll see what I mean. However, don't avoid the movie just because of the dissatisfying ending.

Fun Quote:
"That a good book?"
"Yes. Better than the movie."
"Books always are."

Friday, December 11, 2015


Hello all,
Having fiddled with the Archives page again (I can't seem to just leave it be), I discovered something rather shocking. We have almost no Marvel or DC reviews.
Now that's only shocking because superhero movies and TV shows tend to be a guilty pleasure of mine. Yes, the secret I have been unintentionally keeping from the blog has at last come out.
And I'm sorry. Stacy and I will work harder to review these, since we do tend to watch quite a few of them. I suspect the reason there are so few reviews is because we see these in theaters, and people give you the "what are you doing?" look when you bring a notebook (actually, it's just hard to take notes in a theater. too many distractions, no pause button, etc).
But that is no excuse. I'm going to get right on this, probably over break.
Thank you again for all the visits! And as always, we're happy to take suggestions.
God bless!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book Review: The Prisoner of Zenda

This book, like Peter Pan, is one of the books I have included in the British Literature course I am teaching. I hope that, even if I do not have much time to review books I have read in my free time, I can always turn to the literature courses I am teaching for material.

Title: The Prisoner of Zenda
Author: Anthony Hope Hawkins (commonly just "Anthony Hope")
Release Date: 1894
Genre: action, adventure, drama, fiction, Ruritanian Romance (like The Princess Bride!), politics, romance
My Rating: *****
Students'* Rating: Unanimous "Awesome!"
Official Rating: fiction
Age Group: 12+

Rudolf Rassendyll has never done anything productive with his life, and his sister-in-law can't take it anymore. Go see the crowning of the king of Ruritania, she says. Go rub elbows with the big shots. Have fun.
Fine. To keep his sister-in-law happy, Rudolf wisely heads off to Ruritania. However, on the way, he finds himself caught up in a political war and impersonating someone, the threat of death always upon him.
Best (worst?) of all? He falls in love with the woman he is courting--while impersonating her real betrothed.
Will Rudolf be caught in his impersonation? And how to rescue the man he is impersonating?
And what is he to do about Princess Flavia?

Word of Warning
  • Characters get drunk. We don't see them acting drunk, they just are drunk.
  • A character is drugged and kidnapped.
  • People get hurt, but nothing graphic and usually not serious.
  • A few chaste kisses.
  • Sword fights. Guns. Excitement!
  • A character impersonates another.
  • Someone dies.

My Thoughts
This is possibly one of my favorite books of all time, so you can imagine how thrilled I was when my students liked it too. Maybe I wasn't biased after all!
No, in all seriousness, this is a fantastic tale. It's so good that it established the Ruritanian Romance genre (courtly romance in a fantasy setting). There is danger, impersonation, sword fighting, break-ins, and very interesting moral musings about what is right and what is not.
It's not the easy-going style of more contemporary writing, but it is intriguing enough and not too complex, making it readable, just a bit of work for younger readers less experienced in the classics.
The main character is fun, witty, and a great adventurer. And while he might start of careless and fun, he develops into a self-sacrificing man who ultimately does the right thing, no matter how heartbreaking that ends up being.

Fun Fact(s)
In addition to establishing a whole new literary genre, Hope/Hawkins earned the praise of Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island.
Anthony Hope Hawkins is much better known as simply Anthony Hope, it is fun to note that he has the same last name as Stevenson's protagonist Jim Hawkins.
Though he wrote 32 works of fiction in addition to plays, Hope/Hawkins is best known for The Prisoner of Zenda and its sequel Rupert of Hentzau.

*Students in this particular case range from grades 8-12, class contains nearly even number of boys and girls.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Album Review: Under the Arches

Hello all!
To usher in the beginning of a new church season, and because my ears are so very happy at the moment, I thought I'd do an interesting review of some music. Interesting because I am reviewing a cover album, so in a sense I am double-reviewing (reviewing the lyrics of the original as well as the covering artist). This will change the format a bit, of course, but hopefully it is still relatively familiar. Here I go!

Title: Under the Arches
Author: Summit Singers
Release Date: 2015
Genre: pop, country, classic, A Capella
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: N/A
Age Group: 6+

Summary: Summit Singers is an all male A Capella group based out of the University of St. Thomas. While they have been performing for a few years now, this is their first album. Below are the songs they covered and a review of the lyrics, as well as their renditions.
Their Website
Music Video of I Lived 
Updated to add: O Holy Night

My Thoughts
My one critique is that the balance between the main singer (the person with the lyrics) and the backup (the people with the music) needs some work. Far too often, the main singer is drowned out by the others. And along the lines of the main singer, they do not always pick their best singers to play that part. Which sometimes is actually a good choice given the song (lyrics, meaning, feel, etc), but sometimes can be a big frustrating.
Other than that, these guys are fantastic. Listening to their music, well, honestly I shouldn't be trying to use words to describe something like this, no matter how much we English majors value them. Words fail here. There is little to say except these young men are very very skilled and I hope you have the chance to enjoy these great songs not only in their original form, but in this A Capella rendition.
And one other thing: as fantastic as this CD is, it does not do this group justice. Someone else who has heard them live said the same thing. This is fantastic, and I love having it in my car so I don't have to wait for the biannual concerts, but as amazing as the CD sounds, they sound even better in concert.

As with all my music reviews, I've added a break here because the post is so long. I encourage you to click and read on!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Movie Review: Schindler's List


Disclaimer: I watched this movie for a theology class titled "Christian Faith in the Management Professions." Basically, it's a class about theology in the business world (and a fantastic class at that!). Because of this, I was paying close attention to the business aspects of the story. I realize there is more to the story than that, and I have tried to highlight it in my review, but if I miss anything, or say something hurtful or offensive, I apologize. The Holocaust was a horrible event in history, so horrible movies and books cannot begin to address it, but we need to start somewhere.
With that said, I humbly present my review of this stunning movie.

Title: Schindler's List
Author: Steven Spielberg, Liam Neeson
Release Date: 1993
Genre: Drama, true story, historical, WW II
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: R
Age Group: 18+

World War II opens up a whole new world of business for eager entrepreneur Oskar Schindler. Finding that he can hire Jews much more cheaply than any other workers, the man makes a serious profit off Jewish labor while the Jews are kept in a Ghetto. His accountant/manager Itzhak Stern (also a Jew) takes the opportunity to make "essential workers" of people otherwise considered by the Nazis as useless. A one-armed man. Older people. A teacher. A little boy. The list goes on.
Slowly, Schindler starts to see the horrors that are happening around him and his little business. During the scene titled "Liquidation of the Ghetto" he finally sees reality and has no idea what to do.
Eventually, Schindler creates a good business that keeps Jews safe. When the camps begin to kill the Jewish people living in them, Schindler makes a list of all his workers. They are essential, he says, and he doesn't have time to train new ones. The little girls' fingers help clean out the shells of bullets, he argues, and they must come too. He pays the camp officials for his list of Jews and brings them to his home town where they work in a factory.
None of this, however, happens without struggle.

Word of Warning
 I'm going very general here. Let me say this: the movie is rated R and it has every reason to be. Personally, I regret seeing some of the scenes of this movie. It was very intense.
  • Death. People die all the time. Most are shot in the head. A head blows to pieces, blood spurts from wounds, etc. Most of the violence is non-graphic and almost calm in an utterly disturbing way.
    • Most memorable and painful death moments: a young child is killed and more young deaths are implied; the man's head being blown off; a whole "cabin" of men is lined up and every other man is shot; about five men are lined up and shot with one bullet, those remaining standing are shot individually; a man is hanged; a hospital shooting where everyone there is shot (the nurses killed the patients beforehand secretly); little boy shot while being held up by soldiers; the random killings by Goeth which are shown from affair but sudden an unexpected
  • Nudity. Both Schindler and Amon Goeth (camp official) have mistresses. Goeth's mistress is seen completely topless more than once, but as far as I can remember not in a purposefully sexual way. It's usually just morning and she is lounging in bed. Jews are told to remove all clothes and forced to run about the camp for a physical evaluation--men and women are shown completely nude. This is non-sexual and usually brief. Women are shown completely nude going into a giant shower house. Again, non-sexual.
  • Schindler is a player. He has a wife but is not at all faithful to her, and she spends most of the movie living elsewhere. He has a regular mistress in addition to flirting with other women and, in one scene, kissing a whole bunch of different women.
  • An official mocks a young women who is barely dressed, beats her, and leaves her for dead.
  • Drinking. One character is shown drunk.
  • Burning of dead bodies.
  • Language is an issue, but not to the point where it detracts from the movie. Considering how, when, and who uses it, I think it makes sense. It's just not appropriate language for younger children, but they should not be watching this movie.
  • This movie is considered a relatively accurate representation of the Holocaust.

My Thoughts
This is a horrific masterpiece. I'm not sure how to describe it. The music, the acting, the black and white film, the dullness and simplicity, everything. It all adds up to show a beautiful story in the midst of something utterly horrific.
In the midst of it all, Schindler is oblivious at first, just as the girl in the red coat. But as he watches the girl, he comes to a realization: he can't be clueless anymore. She remains so, and dies. Schindler decides to live purposefully--and not just for money.
Money isn't the greatest good anymore--people are.
My heart broke more than once as I watched this movie. I don't regret watching it, but it was very very painful--as it should be.
Wonderfully done. Beautiful horrible story.
Praise God for giving us people like this in our times of need, to rescue the few they can.
And praise God for giving us film makers like this who can share the story and touch hearts all over again.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

New Archives Page

Hello all,

We have a new Archives Page! Read on to find out more!
Or, instead of reading all the details, stop by and check it out!

Movie Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Title: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Author: Starring Chris Pine and Keira Knightley
Release Date: 2014
Genre: action, drama, romance, war, thriller
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: PG-13
Age Group: 14+

After a horrific accident in a helicopter, Jack Ryan works for the CIA undercover. He has possibly one of the most boring jobs out there: watching numbers on a screen. But one day those numbers show something frightening, and Ryan reports to his boss. Who promptly tells him to go to Moscow and fix the problem.
Now, Ryan's not supposed to be an agent in the field, but he's the only one who really knows what the data says or what he's looking for. Plus, this mission should really just involve looking at a few accounts and coming home.
Yeah, no. That never happens in these kinds of movies. And while we're at it, let's throw in a girlfriend who thinks Ryan is cheating on her because he's suddenly keeping things from her, and a surprise trip by this girlfriend to join Ryan in Moscow.
Things can't get much worse, can they?
Oh yes, they can.

Word of Warning
  • The helicopter is hit by what looks to be an RPG. This seriously injures Ryan and those inside, and we see Ryan on a stretcher, skin singed, two broken vertebra and in serious pain.
  • An unmarried couple living together and presumably having sex. A few kisses, more desperate (since people are almost dying) than passionate.
  • A man pretends to be drunk and insults his fiance. This might not merit being mentioned, but it was just really sad and horrible to see how he treated her verbally.
  • People die. A lot. A man drowns, others are shot, and Ryan barely escapes with his life more than once. There is mention of torture (waterboarding and others), specifically that of inserting a lightbulb into a young woman's mouth with the intention of breaking said bulb while it is in her mouth. One man likes to kill people with a metal sheers (like the one you use to sheer sheep). While silent and not very gory, there's something very disturbing about this.
  • Guns. Jumping off crazy heights. Car chases. Car crashes. A bomb. Basically, all that you would expect from this genre.
  • Language? I don't remember it being a big deal, but I know there was some in the movie.
  • The end of the movie is the death of a main character. It is silent, with classical music playing in the background, and not dramatic, but heartbreaking.

My Thoughts
Well, that was good. I love a good action movie, far more than I like other genres, and on a Sunday afternoon this one did not disappoint. I don't think I'd watch it again, but action movies in general are not very enjoyable to re-watch. I also don't regret watching it. It was relatively clean and not very gory, intelligent in its premise, but with enough action to do what every good action movie does: make you think the movie is over a good hour before it is. Because you're so sure that's the climax, and then it's not, so that must be it, but that's not it either and so on.
Basically, it was good. I appreciated that the language wasn't a big issue and that, compared to other movies in this genre, the content wasn't too bad.
I'm rambling, and I know that. That's because I liked the movie, but it doesn't stand out enough for me to say, "This is the most amazing movie I've watched!" nor does to say "I really regret wasting my time on this."
So there you have it. It was good. It wasn't the best, or the worst. It just fell in a nice place somewhere in the midle.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Book Review: Johnny Tremain

Title: Johnny Tremain
Author: Ester Forbes
Release Date: 1943
Genre: adventure, war, revolutionary war, romance, coming of age, historical fiction
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: children's fiction
Age Group: 10+
Awards: Newbery Award

Young Johnny Tremain has it all. He's the star silversmith apprentice at a successful shop in the New World. He's set to inherit the practice, and marry the silversmith's pretty daughter, in a few years' time. And the thing is, he's good at what he does and he loves it. Sure, he's an orphan and still has no idea who his father was, but he did love his mother very dearly before she passed on. And while he still misses her, he's made a great life for himself.
Until he slips. Literally, he slips. Working on a Sunday to get a very important job done, Johnny slips and burns his hand in molten silver. When the bandage comes off, it is discovered that his thumb has grown attached to his palm. He's not useful as a silversmith anymore.
Kicked out on the streets while tensions rise between the colonists and the British, Johnny must find a way to survive.

Word of Warning
  • Violence and death. This being a young man's experience with the Revolutionary War, there is violence even though the book is considered children's fiction. None if is particularly graphic, but people do get hurt and die.
  • Crime is sometimes glorified. For those who know the history of the Revolutionary War, the rebels who are so often praised acted very much like common criminals at times, stealing, destroying property, and hurting people. Granted, this particular book only hints at these deeds, but it should be noted that our "heroes" do commit criminal acts.
  • Guns. A war is fought with guns, and characters get guns and they use them and people die.
  • A character who could be considered disabled is shamed and treated poorly. However wrong this is, it was the reality of the time and this is historical fiction.
  • Along those lines, this story is also told from a very one-sided point of view: a young white male colonist. This could potentially constrain the story to missing other important things. But on the other hand, a point of view does need to be taken or the author won't be able to get anything done.
  • Our good old Johnny Tremain can be a bit of a bully, particularly in the beginning of the book. This should not be taken lightly. The hero is a bully. Once he is on the other side of things, he does change some of his ways.
My Thoughts
Honestly, this is one of my childhood favorites. It's one of those books you read once every two years or so just to remember how great it was. It's the book you buy whenever you see it on sale because you know some young person in your life could use this great adventure (or am I the only one who rescues books from the sales shelf and rehomes them?).
And all the objections up there? This might sound awful, but they don't really matter. I mean yes, they are bad things, and yes, we need to consider the youth we are handing this book to because not everyone should read this. But this is historical fiction, and these problems are treated as such. They are a representation of what life was like, not what it ought to be like. Because that's what fiction in general does: it represents a truth the writers sees in the world, not necessarily the way the world should be. That's the reader's job to figure out based on a well-formed conscience, faith, and the reality the writer is pointing out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book Review: Peter Pan

Title: Peter Pan (also known as The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up or Peter and Wendy)
Author: Sir James Matthew Barrie (Scottish novelist and playwright)
Release Date: 1911
Genre: adventure, fantasy, family, pirates, children, friendship, motherhood, coming of age, magic
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: children's book
Age Group: 10+

Peter Pan sneaks into bedroom windows, kidnaps children, and brings them to Neverland--boys though, always boys. Then one fateful night he loses his shadow, and it's a girl (Wendy Darling) who figures out how to reattach it by sewing it back on. Peter is delighted, and decides his Lost Boys need a mother. He, of course, has no need for a mother. But the Lost Boys do, and Wendy's little brothers John and Michael can join them.
So off they fly to Neverland where they have great adventures, don't grow up, start to lose their memory, and quite honestly don't learn anything that will advance their moral development. When an attempt to return home is thwarted by Peter's greatest enemy, Captain Hook (feared even by Long John Silver, who is the only man Flint feared), Peter must save the day. Can he? What happens if he does?

Word of Warning
  • Everything is a game to Peter, and games are very real. Sometimes, he imagines that all the boys have eaten, and so no one is allowed a real meal because of this.
  • Peter is all about adventure. Killing is just an adventure. Death? "The greatest adventure of them all."
  • Peter apparently cut off Hook's hand and fed it to a crocadile.
  • Hook kills people ruthlessly.
  • The natives of the island are called redskins.
  • Everything on the island is very childish. There's nothing wrong with children and childishness, but Barrie shows a world where childishness goes unguided and causes great horrors.
  • Tinker Bell has quite the mouth on her! She says the word a** several times, and other times is said to have sworn but we are not given her exact words.
  • All sorts of vices. Pride, jealousy, disobedience because it is fun, and so on. Remember, these are children who have no guidance.
  • Peter's a bit of a jerk. Ok, a lot of a jerk, but a charming jerk so people tend to forgive him.
  • The Lost Boys cannot see women for anything other than their potential to be mothers. While seeing the potential to be a mother is a beautiful thing, it's also short sighted to not look beyond fulfilling the need the boys have for a mother by using whatever woman happens by as such.
  • There is a common misconception, probably due to Disney's movie, that Peter is a hero and Hook is a horrible person. In the book, this isn't nearly as clear. In fact, there is an argument to be made that it could be the other way around. Basically, the warning here is not to improperly idolize Peter.

My Thoughts
It's a fun, easy to read book. I don't think it was written as a theological study on the right way of living, facing reality (acceptance), growing up, motherhood, and children. It's too free and disconnected for that.
But it's there anyway. This is a fascinating fun little story that goes much farther than the adventures Disney shows us. It digs deep into the heart of the human being and what is needed in order to live a full life.
But, you know, if you just want some fun reading and not too much thinking, this is still a great book. Because on the surface, that's what it is. Plus, it has a fantastic writing style that's carefree and gives the tone of childish to Neverland. And it's a blast to find all the references to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, which, yes, were intentional.
 Below that though, there is something very interesting going on in the story that merits deeper study if one is up to the challenge.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Blog Update

Hello all,

First, a very heartfelt thank you to those of you who stop by. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to make your visits to our site the best they can be. We write for you!

Secondly, I'm very sorry for our lack of posts. School has started again and in addition to working a part time job and being a full time student, I am very blessed to have the opportunity to teach a British Literature class to a great group of local homeschoolers. I love teaching and tend to devote a lot of time and energy to it whenever possible. Which means I'm pretty busy--and very happy!
I had originally intended to post about the works we are reading (most being rather gripping novels), but I've injured my left wrist playing soccer and typing with one hand isn't nearly as fast as one might think. So, until I can take off the brace and move my hand again, I'm afraid posts on here will be a bit rare for the time being.

On the bright side, I'm right handed, and it should only be a couple of weeks, and then I should have lots to write about with all the books my class is reading, the music on the radio, Netflix (yay newly aquired Netflix account!), the great TV shows starting up again soon, and the new movies coming out (personally I can't wait for Star Wars in December).

I'm working on a review on some random pop songs, but can't promise a publication date at the moment. I'll get it up as soon as I can!

So thank you for your patience. I'll get posts up as soon as I'm able to. In the meantime, Plugged In (link on the sidebar) is a great resource. It's not Catholic, but it is Christian, and they do cover a lot of the more recent activity in the world of entertainment/media.

God bless!
~Maria Gianna

Typed with one hand, please excuse any typos or other mistakes

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

TV Show Review: Flashpoint

(Please note that while I will not be reviewing specific episodes, I will be commenting on the specific trends that most of the episodes followed.)

Title: Flashpoint
Author: ION Television, CTV Television Network, CBS (a Canadian police drama)
Release Date: 2008-2012 (5 seasons)
Genre: crime, violence, drama, family, friendship, action, thriller, romance
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: N/A
Age Group: 16+

IMDb describes it simply as "The missions and trials of a Toronto police tactical unit."
I guess so.
But this is the story of the Team 1 of the SRU (Strategic Response Unit). People who face death every day and are forced to kill become really close, so this isn't your typical idea of the word "team." People come and people go, both on the team and in team member's lives, but the story goes on. A threat is called in, and off the SRU goes to face whatever it is and save the lives of anyone put at risk. Anyone. Even the drug dealers and murderers and people they don't like. And they do it at the risk to their own lives. Every time.
But this isn't something you can do and then go home and forget about it. Because you can't forget about when you shot a man threatening to blow up a building, nor a girl threatening to shoot her father. You can't forget watching the girl you love get shot by a sniper buildings away. A man stealing a baby. A teammate's death. Bombs blowing up. Stuff. Life--to those on the team.

Word of Warning
  •  Crime. There is a whole awful lot of crime going around. This might surprise you, it being a cop show and all, but there's a lot of it. Theft, murder, attempted murder, blowing things up, kidnapping, rape, gangs, drugs, the list goes on forever.
  • Death. People die. Sometimes they are shot by SRU officers, sometimes they are not saved in time. Sometimes they try to kill themselves. There are a few major deaths that keep popping up during the series, so I will mention those. 1) a man is shot in the first episode by an SRU officer, right in front of the man's teenage son. 2) a girl who is threatening her father with a gun is shot by an SRU officer. There is a slow-mo shot of her falling, but no blood is shown. 3) one of the officers shot his friend by accident while in the military. 4) one member of the SRU dies in an explosion (off screen).
  • Injuries. People get hurt a lot too. Gunshot wounds, getting punched and shoved around, stab wounds, etc. Rarely is there any gore shown. Blood, yes, but that's not the focus of the show so it is not dwelt upon. Even when there is blood just enough is used to make the point. Three instances stand out to me where there was a lot of blood: when a woman is hit in the arm with a piece of shrapnel, when a woman is shot by a sniper on a rooftop, a man is shot in the abdomen.
  • Romance. It's not necessarily a problem, unless it is. I'm not spoiling anything by telling you this, since it establishes itself pretty early on, but two of the SRU team members quickly form a romantic relationship even though it is against regulations. They sleep together often. Aside from the SRU couple, some of the violence revolves around couples (abuse, rape, divorce, cheating on spouses, etc). There is more than one out of wedlock pregnancy.
  • Stress. Sure, this is a big deal for the minor characters committing the crimes, but the focus is on the SRU. There's a lot of mental stress that goes with the job, and that's not ignored. Flashbacks, freezing up, PTSD, all that good stuff. The mental stress is there and it's acknowledged.
  • Drinking and drugs. People go and get drinks all the time and rarely get drunk. Sometimes minor characters get drunk and that's involved in the SRU call. One officer had a history of being drunk, resulting in his wife taking their young son and moving to a different state. Drugs are not a problem on the SRU team, but are involved in a few different calls.
My Thoughts
It's good. It's also really hard to stop watching. While I really did find the action part of it interesting, I appreciated that attention was given to the mental state of the SRU officers. I think that was my favorite part, aside from the on-again-off-again romance on the team (which drove me crazy sometimes). My only objection is that there seems to be a disconnect at times between episodes. After doing some research on the web, it appears the disconnect (storylines not being carried over to the next episode when they should have been, etc) is because this is a Canadian show so the US only has most of the episodes. I haven't found anything to confirm this, but it would make sense. The whole thing is so well-written I have a hard time believing they just decided to forget about key storylines when writing the next episode.
I like that the focus is on the lives of the SRU officers, not the calls themselves. And I really like the bond of the team, how it flexes to work with new situations or nearly breaks when it cannot get over the old.
Overall, there's really not much to say about this show. It's just good. And if you have some free time, you might want to watch all of it. Because once you watch one episode, you'll be watching all of them.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Movie Review: Inside Out

Title: Inside out
Author: Pixar
Release Date: 2015
Genre: family, drama, friendship, fantasy, psychology, animation, adventure, comedy
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Age Group: 6+

Summary: Riley has a great live in Minnesota. She's on an awesome hockey team, has a great best friend, and has parents who love her.
But when Riley's dad moves the family to San Francisco along with his job, this get a little challenging. Then, something goes very wrong. Riley doesn't understand, but her emotions are all out of whack and the poor confused little girl has no idea what to do.
Joy does. Because Joy is an emotion and she lives in Riley's head (along with Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger) and she has always made sure Riley's life is the happiest it can be. That's why Riley has so many happy memories.
But Sadness is feeling left out and suddenly Joy and Sadness find themselves running through Riley's mind trying to get back to the control tower in time to save Riley from making a terrible mistake. Along the way, Joy learns something about Sadness--and about life.

Word of Warning
  • A cartoon dog is cut in half. It's funny, but kind of freaky too. And it's meant to wake Riley as a bad dream, so no matter how comical the scene is its intent is to be scary and that's not easy to miss.
  • A clown is shown as being scary and causes Riley to have a nightmare.
  • Riley runs away.
  • Riley's life is monopolized by Joy. Which sounds really nice, but it's not. It turns out that's not a healthy way to live.
  • Riley feels as though her parents do not love her as much as they used to (they do, they're just really busy).
  • Riley steals a credit card.
  • An imaginary Canadian boyfriend says "I would die for Riley," apparently being her ideal. The girl is 11. He (and many copies of him) do die for her--but it's all in her mind and she's not even aware of it happening. So they're not actually dead. But they kind of are. It's complicated.
  • Riley's mother is frustrated with her husband, so her emotions settle on a memory of a Brazilian pilot who asked the mother to run away with him instead of marrying Riley's father.
  • One character falls into a place in Riley's mind where things are forgotten. We watch this character sacrifice himself to get Joy back to Riley and then he slowly fades into nonexistence (it's really sad and beautiful).
  • A dead mouse is seen on the floor. Later, it appears in Riley's dream.
  • In abstract thought, Sadness, Joy, and Bing Bong (Riley's imaginary friend) get twisted into strange shapes.
  • Anger mentions a few times that he really wants to use the curse word they all know. When he's about to, someone pushes a button that makes a "beep" sound, cleverly hinting at the word being beeped out (even though it was never said)
My Thoughts
At the end, Stacy and I concluded that someone took an academic paper and turned it into a children's movie. Because that's basically what this is. And while that may make the movie sound very unappealing, that's so far from the truth I don't even know where to start.

I mean, where does one start on such a brilliant movie? The insights into how the mind works, how people interact, what emotions do....the list goes on forever. I was blown away. I watch a lot of children's movies, and this is by far in the top ten. Probably in the top five. Because it's a great story with some really great humor for the young 'ins. And for the older crass humor is hidden there for us to laugh at. No, that's not what keeps us hooked. What keeps us hooked is the beauty of the story and the insights into psychology and the great little jokes.

Why don't we get more movies like this?

I'd watch this one again in an instant. The biggest reason I haven't seen it again since Sunday is because
I have two jobs.

Obviously, I can't seem to speak highly enough of it. And obviously it is not without its faults. But it was good enough that I would recommend it in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Movie Review: The Prince

Title: The Prince
Release Date: 2014
Genre: action, thriller
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: R for violence, drug content, and language
Age Group: 18+
Paul is just a simple mechanic who loves his daughter very dearly. When Beth goes missing from college, instead of calling the police (since they will claim she is just a runaway teen), he sets off to find her himself. The road leads him back to his past where he must face the horrible reality of what he had done. Old enemies raise their heads and threaten to kill Paul's daughter, and Paul is only human.
Or is he?
The Romans tried to conquer Scotland but discovered a people so crazed they built a wall and let the Scottish live their lives unhindered. The people of a city down south saw Paul as a Scot, a wild one it would be a bad idea to fight, and called him the Prince.
Or so they say.

Word of Warning
I did not keep a list for this one since I did not plan on doing a review. Since this is an R rated movie, the list would have been too extensive anyway and I would have summerized, so I suppose this was a good movie to forget to take notes on. Interestingly enough, the official rating hits on the problems of this movie, just not with much detail.
  • Violence. There is a lot of violence, though hardly any of it is graphic. A scene in which a woman and her daughter are in a car which blows up is shown multiple times. People are shot and die, some more dramatically than others. There are one or two car crashes. A lot of people die senselessly. A man is shot (not seriously) and stitches up his own wound while the camera watches closely. A man retells a story in which he had a gun to his head and nearly died, but did not. He later finds out the only thing that saved him in this theater shooting was the assassin running out of amo.
  • Drugs. The whole movie centers around a girl who gets into drugs and a father who goes to save her. We see the girl rarely, but drugs are mentioned often and are never glorified by the good characters (and, interestingly enough, even the bad). The climax involves a man going into a house full of people who are taking drugs. Many of them are high. Beth is also shown on drugs and looks very sick and hardly aware of what is happening around her.
  • Language. The f-word is used so frequently I would have lost track even if I had been counting. I do not remember vividly any other words, but I would not be surprised if they are in there.
  • Sexuality. Women are shown pole dancing in a club in a very sensual scene. A man is shown shirtless. A younger woman approaches a man who could be her father in a sexual way, high on drugs, but he pushes her away, disgusted but gentle. Low cut shirts, short shorts and skirts, etc. It is implied that Beth's friend was planning to go home for the night with a man at the bar. Lots of sensual flirting.
  • Drinking. Beth's friend gets drunk often and when she is first shown she openly admits that she is drunk. Men drink all the time. Multiple bars are shown where people are drinking and are often drunk.

My Thoughts
What to say? I just made this movie sound very unattractive, but in truth I do not regret spending my time watching it. I might regret it during the school year, but not on 4th of July weekend.
And now I step back and wonder why I did not regret watching a movie with so many problems in it.
It was because of the father. The father has horrible secrets from a horrible past life, but he comes off as a normal concerned father who loves his daughter very deeply. He does not look intimidating, does not have a deep scary voice, nothing implies that he should be associated with gangs and drugs and guns.
Flashbacks do. But his character does not. His actions sometimes do, but there is a strange disconnect between the actions he must take to save his daughter and who he really is. It's like he is still capable of that but he no longer is that.
I think I liked it for the disconnect, and the fatherly love. Because nothing quite gets me like a story where a father is shown being a real father (not a Disney father who was allowed to live)--especially for a teen son or daughter.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Movie Review: Napoleon Dynamite

Title: Napoleon Dynamite

Release Date: 2004
Genre: high school, comedy
My Rating: *
Official Rating: PG for thematic elements and language (note the language is the biggest problem)
Age Group: 14+

Napoleon lives a boring life. Well, not actually, but he certainly seems to think so. Feeding the llama in the backyard every day doesn't strike him as out of the ordinary, but that seems to be the only interesting thing that ever happens to him.
Then his grandma crashes her dirt bike and his uncle comes to town. The uncle brings scams and a desire to travel back in time, Napoleon's brother's online girlfriend stops in, a girl tries to sell key chains to pay for college, Pedro shows up at school one day, and things just start to explode.
I think. It was hard to tell what was going on.

Word of Warning
  •  Cartoony sketch of a woman in a bikini in the intro credits
  • Bullying
  • Language here was the biggest thing. Napoleon is probably the biggest offender of this. A few of the words we hear: frickin', idiot (this one a lot), dang, flippin'
  • Mention of a "buttload of gangs"
  • Guy hits his crotch on a bike, doubles over
  • Mention of chatting online with "babes"
  • A man is shown holding a woman in a chokehold and this is referred to as the "wisdom of man"
  • A farmer shoots a cow off screen. The scene is set so that you expect to see this happen, but then a bus of kids pulls in front and the movie watchers don't see it, but the kids do and their faces show their horror.
  • Napoleon claims his former girlfriend was a model. Someone asks if she was hot.
  • Someone says "You guys are retarded."
  • The uncle claims Napoleon still wets the bed to gain sympathy from one of his clients.
  • Someone mentions hooking up with chicks.
  • There is a sensual slow mo scene of a girl and a guy sharing ice cream and flirting (the entire scene is silent), then playing footsie
  • A pinata shaped like a mean girl at school is busted to pieces
  • A man sells a herb that apparently enhances bust size. He tries to sell this to high school girls.
  • A man shows the possible size of a woman's breasts using sauce pans and putting them right in front of her own. The husband (rightfully) beats this guy up off screen.
  • Slightly provocative dancing by an awkward teenager (hip thrusting, etc)
  • A kiss (awkward, short barely touching)

My Thoughts
I was told this was funny. After watching ten minutes of it, I was pretty sure I'd figured it out: everyone who watches the movie tells everyone else it's good and super funny, even though it's really awful. I was sure it was an elaborate scam.
Then I talked to some of the people who liked this movie and found out they genuinely liked it.
I had a hard time understanding what was so funny about it. I didn't laugh out loud (and yes, I do that often for movies). I might have smirked at the cow scene (is that wrong?) and whenever they fed the llama, but that was about it. That summary up there was really hard to write.
I'm not saying it was a bad movie. I'm just saying it didn't make much sense to me, and it still doesn't. It's quite possible my sense of humor is very underdeveloped. I know people like this movie, and I am not judging them. I just don't understand what they see in it.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

TV Show Review: Terra Nova

(Please note that while I will not be reviewing specific episodes, I will be commenting on the specific trends that most of the episodes followed.)

Title: Terra Nova
Release Date: 2011
Genre: family, survival, dystopia, romance, TV series
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: N/A
Age Group: 12+

The Shannon family lives in a horrible dystopian Chicago in which there is a 2 child policy and air so thick masks are worn to keep from suffocating. But as the Shannons tell their youngest, they love each other and their children so much they wanted another. So they broke the law, and their third child Zoe lived happily with them for a few years before they were found out. Then, the father was thrown in prison, separated from his beloved family.
Then Mrs (Dr) Shannon receives an offer for a new life. She and her family can travel into the past through a time machine where an outpost (Terra Nova) has been set up to give people a second chance. She takes it. Only problem is that Mr. Shannon can't come. But the family always beats the odds, and Mr. Shannon escapes from prison and sneaks his youngest through the portal.
That's when the real excitement comes. The Shannons must learn to deal with family problems, giant dinosaurs, school, friends left behind, strange diseases, rebels attacking the outpost, mysterious deaths, and of course boys (and girls) from outside the family.
Can they make it? Will they remain a closely knit family? Will they all live?

Word of Warning
  •  There is one episode early in the season in which the parents try over and over to get some time alone in their bedroom. While it's pretty clear to an older audience that they want to have sex (they're married and have been apart for years), it isn't ever stated and they only kiss and embrace. They finally do get their moment, but all we see their shadows as they kiss, then the scene cuts. It's actually a rather sweet and cute storyline, but could be seen as a problem.
  • Dinosaurs kill people. In terrible ways. There is a good amount of gore in this show.
  • People steal and sneak out when they're not supposed to and teens drink concoctions that are equivalent to being alcoholic.
  • There are traitors and crazy people and a storyline eventually surfaces that shows how a father alienated his son.
  • Blackmail.
  • Kissing between married and unmarried couples.
  • Death happens all the time. People's close family members die, members of Terra Nova die, people just die. Sometimes main characters cause this. Sometimes it isn't right, sometimes it's the only option.
My Thoughts

Part of me feels that I have forgotten something. But then I remember that all things considered it was a relatively clean TV show, which really impressed me. Aside from the gore, it wasn't so bad. The story was interesting, and as with all TV shows just when you're ready to stop watching because you realized the plot is the same for every episode, it gets more interesting and a twist is added.
And then, after working out that twist, another twist was thrown in, and the show as canceled. So there's that.
The reason I watched it though was not for the twists or the story. Honestly, I am very tired of dystopian anything. I watched it because it was mostly clean and it was about a family. It was sweet, watching the father bond again with his teen son as they learned how to understand each other again. Watching the father protect his family and decide what to do about his oldest daughter's love interest. Watching the mother interact with her children and her husband. Watching all of them interact with each other. There was self-sacrifice, love, fighting, forgiveness, suffering, fear...everything a normal family encounters.
In a dystopian universe where the characters travel back in time. And yes, I am still battling with whether or not traveling back in time counters the point of the dystopian genre.

My only problem (aside from the gore) is that this was not continued. I really fell in love with the family. Not one character and not the plot line. It was the family.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Movie Review: Prom

Title: Prom
Author: Disney
Release Date: 2011
Genre: teen, high school, friendship, romance, drama
My Rating: *
Official Rating: PG for mild language and a brief fight
Age Group: 12+

Nova, and everyone else at her high school, has been waiting for this night, preparing for it, and everything has to be perfect. Prom is going to bring them all together. Knock down boundaries. Help them find love. Everything will be perfect for one night.
Until Nova's sort-of date cancels on her. And Jordan's boyfriend cheats on her. And Floyd can't even get a girl to go with him. And, and, and. Things fall apart. The decorations burn to the ground. Nova is devastated. This was supposed to be perfect.
So Nova does what she always does. She tries to pull things back together. She gets some unlikely help, and prom ends up happening after all. It's just not what everyone expected.

Word of Warning
  • Prom is glorified as being the best thing every, something everyone needs to go to, something that will change lives. This outlook on prom is promoted through the entire movie to the point where it becomes really annoying because everyone watching knows that's not true.
  • A student jokingly flirts with his teacher, suggesting they run away together.
  • Backhanded reference to girlfriend as a "hot girl"
  • Kisses. One from the back that's not visible. At least four others that are visible. One passionate and rather disgusting kiss involving lots of head tilting.
  • Guys with no shirts on (letters painted on their chests)
  • Girl tends to wear low shirts that reveal a bit of cleavage and short skirts (these aren't as much of a problem since the camera spends most of its time too high to see her legs)
  • Mention of serial killers in relation to letters being cut out to create a message. This is meant as a joke.
  • Someone mutters, "Oh God"
  • A guy is randomly, and with no explanation, in the girls' bathroom. He acts like it's completely normal.
  • One kid remarks to his friend that he had better check his breath to make sure he doesn't have "butt mouth" before talking to a girl
  • One of the teens has a girlfriend/date who is out clubbing late at night (we do not actually meet her until the end of the movie). This same girl wears a dress which has a slit right down the center. Someone says of her dress that she would have to be a Victoria Secret model to pull it off.
  • Guy cheats on his girlfriend and lies about it. He then lies to the other girl he likes. Basically, he lies a lot and manipulates girls.
  • Girl tries on a lot of prom dresses (most tight, strapless, low, one with a high slit in the skirt, etc). The guy with her tries to get her to try on a little (very little) black one. She refuses.
  • Father listens in on his daughter's conversation with her friends. He then threatens/guilt-trips the guy who likes the daughter into not asking her to prom.
  • Brief fist fight. One kid gets beaten and has a bloody mouth. He seems fine otherwise, and the others do as well.
  • Parents are awful parents. They are more friends than anything, and when they are parents, they are stressing the child go to a certain college and not mess up any of her plans.

My Thoughts
Um. What to say? It was funny. The best parts were Floyd trying to get a date, the funny things Jesse said, and Lucas and his best buddy Cory (the sophomores).
The writers tried to balance out the sparkly and glorious view of prom with a more negative one, proposed by Jesse, who says prom isn't all that great after all. But even he caves under Nova's dreams for a perfect night.
It's break. I have lots of time, but I do regret spending it watching this movie. Luckily it wasn't very long. It felt pointless. It had its funny moments, yes, but it felt like I was being indoctrinated. Prom is wonderful. Prom is perfect. Everyone loves prom. Everyone goes.
But, content-wise, it wasn't so bad. And as a junior in college, I am clearly not the target audience. And I never went to prom, so who am I to say this movie is wrong?
Maybe it's not. But it is empty. The plot is broken. The character development is nearly nonexistent.
There's nothing to it. It's one of those movies you watch when you're sick because you can't process anything.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Movie Review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Title: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Release Date: 2014
Genre: family, comedy
Author: Disney
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: PG for rude humor including reckless behavior and language
Age Group: 12+ (I would like to say 8+ because that seems to be the target audience, but the content doesn't fit in that category)

Poor Alex has a tough life. Things just never go his way. The girl he likes thinks he's crazy, someone schedules a birthday party the same day of his, and he sets the school lab on fire. That's only the beginning, but multiply it by ten and you might get the idea.
Alex has a great family. They all love each other. But they just don't understand what it's like to have an awful day. In fact, their lives and days work out so well that Alex feels left out.
So in the middle of the night, celebrating by himself with a cupcake and the school Guinea pig, Alex makes a wish: that everyone would know what it's like to be him and have an awful day.
Oops. When he wakes up, Alex's seems to have come true. Alex feels bad and tries hard to help his family avert disaster, but one thing leads to another, and the day spirals into a black hole of awful.
What's a family to do when nothing goes right?

Word of Warning
 Note: I was pretty disappointed with some of the content. For the most part, they were funny and almost innocent jokes. But then there were the other ones that made me wish my younger siblings weren't sitting there. Made me wonder how much they were picking up on. It wasn't comfortable.

  • Alex starts the movie by saying his parents are wrong
  • A girl pukes three different times during the movie
  • Slow motion of a 12 year old girl
  • Term "sexist" is used out of context
  • Character has a shirt that is too low in the front
  • We see briefly pictures of models in bikinis and other tight short clothing
  • 12 year old boys use the word "boobs"
  • The term "Faummy" which means "father-mommy" which sounds sweet at first. But then it makes you wonder: why isn't father enough? Why must a father, who is someone who looks after his children, be seen as playing the mommy's role when he changes the baby's diaper or drives the kids to school?
  • We see a little kid on a potty (no detail)
  • Kid starts a fire in the science classroom (no one is hurt)
  • A man sticks his hand in the garbage disposal to pull something out. Nothing happens, but this is a very bad idea in real life
  • The kids are rude to their parents and, for the most part, the parents do not scold them
  • "Hot" in reference to a girl
  • Alex complains that another kid sent "butt thong" pictures to the whole school (these were Photoshopped, but the point here is the term)
  • Parents kiss briefly twice
  • Naked baby bottom more than once. also, the baby pees on the kitchen floor and later in the sink.
  • Mother stubs her toe on the door and mutters "motherhood" in a tone that suggests she wanted to say something very different. My objection here is choosing to say such a beautiful word in such a tone.
  • Mother walks in on teenage son in the shower (he is, presumably, completely undressed)
  • Mother says, "I have seen every penis in this car" when she is in the car with her three sons and their father
  • When talking about a classmate having chicken pox, a kid says that the spots are everywhere, even "in his butt crack."
  • Near disaster/car crashes avoided, more comical than scary
  • Anthony has apparently been waiting all year to "make out" with his girlfriend in the car. "Make out" isn't defined, but the parents respond by saying they didn't want to know that and leave it at that
  • A girl guzzles cough syrup and it makes her high (more or less)
  • Father's sleeves catch on fire (he's fine)
  • Alligator in the house
  • Male strippers were accidentally hired for a kid's birthday party. Luckily, disaster is averted and the men are told to keep it PG. The parents find this mistake amusing and are glad they caught it in time. The kids don't even know.

My Thoughts

It was funny--kind of. This may sound like an odd critique, but the laughs were short lived. They weren't those deep from-your-belly laughs that leave you sore and exhausted and feeling good after a movie. Not the kind that, if someone were to quite that line from the movie, would cause you to laugh when you remembered how funny it was. They were in-the-moment funny. Which is fine, but not satisfying, and not what I expect from a comedy.

Also, the parents weren't parents. As in, even though they ran the house and worked jobs and all of that, they tended to interact with their kids more on a buddy-buddy level. This was evident when Alex reveals Anthony has been waiting all year to make out with his girlfriend. Instead of speaking to Anthony about this, the parents just shrug it off and say with a little shudder, "I didn't need to know that." What? That's not what a parent is supposed to do, is it?

The movie did have some good points, however. The family dynamics were not the classic bickering family you see in shows like this. (Indeed, "show" is what it felt like. An episode from a TV show, not a well-thought out movie.) The family members really did support each other, and the teen characters were not your typical selfish creeps. Anthony does what he can to keep his girlfriend happy but eventually *SPOILER* breaks up with her to be with his family. They all ban together to create a really awesome birthday party for Alex. They don't want to tear each others' throats out, they want to help each other out. In addition to family dynamics, or maybe in elaboration of, the father sees his role as to protect everyone from harm and bad days. Which is, I think, a revelation of a great truth movies like this often neglect to point out.

I don't regret watching it. But I watched it on break with a week ahead of me. I wouldn't watch it again. I did laugh. Some parts made me squirm. Some parts made me smile.
Three stars seems about right.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Movie Review: Sister Act

Title: Sister Act
Release Date: 1992
Genre: comedy, music, religious (kind of)
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: PG for mild violence and language (though why this is not PG-13 is beyond me)
Age Group: 16+

Delores Van Carter is a singer at a lounge who wants to take her carrier farther. She is also the lover of the lounge's married owner--and a big time crime boss (which she doesn't know). Frustrated with Vince and his treatment of her, Delores finally breaks and decides to leave. When she marches up to his quarters to tell him this, she witnesses a murder ordered by Vince and committed by two of his men.
Terrified, Delores goes to the police. Turns out they've had their suspicions for a long time but needed evidence--or a witness. Since they can't get a court date right away, Delores must go into hiding.
They put her the last place anyone would look for her: in a convent. That leads to mixed results.

Word of Warning
  •  A nun warns a young girl that the path she is on will lead straight to the devil.
  • Revealing dresses (low necks and short skirts)
  • A man is shown without a shirt as he is dressing. This is used to imply he had his lover have just spent the night together.
  • A man kisses a woman's neck/shoulder. Later there are at least two (possibly three) kisses.
  • Vince is a married man having an affair. We barely see his wife and he seems to have no concern for her, giving away her coat to his lover.
  • Words: d*** (at least twice), a** (at least twice), black a**, h*** (a few times)
  • A man is shot in the head off screen.
  •  Vince is a leader of some major criminals. Drugs are mentioned. People are killed to keep his secret (probably not the first time this has happened).
  • Someone says of the nuns, "these people don't even have sex."
  • Someone says, "I just saw a guy get his face blown off!"
  • A bra is thrown over a curtain.
  • Mention of holster hips.
  • Delores almost leaves when she is told she must live by the nuns' vow of chastity while she stays with them.
  • The Mass becomes focused on the performance of the nuns singing songs.
  • Someone says that "singing is better than sex."
  • Punches are thrown, people are shoved about. Gunshots. One man is shot in the arm (no detail shown).
  • A girl is thrust from a moving car.
  • Nuns say a prayer out loud near someone to guilt trip him into giving them what they want.
  • Vince remarks, "I know this woman in the Biblical sense."
  • A woman punches two men between the legs. They double over, reaching for that area in pain.
  • A nun lies to protect another woman.
  • The priest character is more concerned with getting more people into the church and raising more money for his church and less concerned with what is being taught to his congregation and why they are there.
  • Delores has a hard time living with the nuns after her old life. Eventually she learns a lesson, but she is still rather worldly.
  • There is a misunderstanding about nuns in general. The convent is Carmelite but the nuns there all seem to have different ideas as to what they were signing up for. This is an easy mistake to make when making a movie, but the confusion of not knowing that there are different convents/orders that do different things just added a rather strange element of tension.

My Thoughts
I wouldn't rewatch it. But I don't regret the time I spent watching it. Goodness, that seems to be the theme of the movies I have been watching lately.

Still, the movie was funny. One element I really liked was that even though the Mother Superior seemed to be more old-fashioned, and even though Delores (pretending to be a sister) brought in a slightly more secular/worldly approach, the old-fashioned ways were never pointed at as being bad and old-fashioned and needing to be replaced. They were simply seen as something that was good but which could be improved upon.

As for the secular/worldly approach, this was blown out of proportion. By this I mean it was sold as being secular/worldly, but it really wasn't a big deal. It was a big change from what the nuns were used to, but it was more about working with the people and having fun. Which is what many nuns do.

So my biggest complaint? The confusion as to how convents work. Yes, reform sometimes happens in orders and convents. But it doesn't really work like this, as far as I know. The reform shown in this movie felt like the convent was changing its entire focus/ministry and become a different convent/order. It was confusing, and frustrating, for a Catholic.

But overall, it was a funny movie, handled well, and all things considered they didn't do a horrible representation of the Catholic Church. It may have had its flaws, but I have seen much, much worse.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Movie Review: Call of the Wild: A Race for Buck

Title: Call of the Wild: A Race for Buck
Genre: family, adventure, animals
My Rating: **
Official Rating: PG for some violence, language, thematic material, and brief smoking
Age Group: 8+

Summary: Nine-year-old Ryann is visiting her grandfather in Montana since her parents are off enjoying Europe. Ryann does not want to be in Montana. At all. How is she supposed to keep up her appearance and act like the popular girls at school if she's in Montana where there is no TV and no mall?
When an injured dog-wolf wanders into her grandfather's barn, Ryann is introduced to a whole new world: dog sledding. In a desperate attempt to keep the dog (named Buck by Ryann) from a cruel dog sledder, Ryann and the teenage neighbor boy train Buck to be a lead dog. If they can win a dog sled race, they can keep Buck. If they can't, well, Buck goes to the man who is cruel to his son and his dogs.
Can they win the race? Can Buck overcome his wolf side?

Word of Warning
  •  Ryann is rude to her grandfather.
  • A man yells at his son for losing a race and says that the son embarrassed him in front of the whole town. Later, he tells his son he is stupid and tells him to cheat in a dog race. The father makes the son ride in the back of his pickup. He says to the boy, "If you don't win, you don't bother coming home."
  • Someone makes one of my favorite innocent movie insults: shouldn't you be at home having a heart attack?
  • Mention of ghosts.
  • A man beats a dog with a club in a veiled scene that implies it happens but we never see the stick hit the dog.
  • The word "cuss."
  • A myth is told of a man who is apparently an escaped convict, catches rabbits with his hands and eats them raw, and eats rocks. These are just rumors and the grandfather assures Ryann that he has never hurt anyone.
  • Someone threatens to have a dog put down.
  • Jack sprains his ankle (minor) in a minor sled crash. This sled crash causes the kids to be stranded for about five minutes.
  • A man apparently dies from a beating. This does not happen in the movie, but in a book the grandfather is reading to Ryann. There is a scene shown of a man sprawled in the snow but nothing else.
  • A quick kiss on the cheek.
  • A dog attacks a man (the man is uninjured).

My Thoughts
All things considered, that list is pretty short. So why the low rating? For a few reasons, one of which is that I simply did not find the story line very interesting (isn't this the same story line we get for every animal movie involving a semi-wild pet?). The other is the quality. I don't mind a low budget movie--as long as the acting is decent. I don't even mean good. I just mean decent, and preferably with an original story line (only the films that have lots of funding can get away with a stupid story line that's been done a million times).
Ok. So I don't mean to make it sound awful. My younger siblings enjoy it, and quite honestly, it is aimed at their age group and not mine. Usually I enjoy their movies. This one was tolerable. But aside from the fact that I didn't enjoy it very much, the content itself was pretty clean.
So in short: it was fine. Not something I would rewatch, and not something I would have watched if I were not on break. But not painful and something I regret either.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Trojan Horse Book Review: Story of a Girl

Before I do the review, I think I should briefly re-explain what a Trojan Horse Review is since it has been so long since our last one (thank goodness for that!). The Greeks left the Trojans a gift, a great wooden horse. Inside, Greek soldiers waited to spring a deadly trap upon the Trojans and completely destroy their city. A Trojan Horse Review is a review of one of those books/movies/albums/other that comes highly recommended, disguised as something good, and is nearly deadly. Due to the deadly nature of these materials, the author of the post may, on moral grounds, not be as detailed in the review as usual. While the main and major problems will be listed, smaller ones may not be mentioned or noticed by the post author due to a skimming of the material.


Title: Story of a Girl
Author: Sara Zarr
Genre: Romance,
My Rating: -**** (yes, that is a negative rating)
Official Rating: Teen Fiction
Age Group: 18+ (or, more appropriately, not at all)
The Horse: National Book Award Finalist, insinuation that a problem will be addressed/resolved when it is not dealt with
Deanna's father caught her with Tommy when she was thirteen. Tommy was a senior in highschool. In such a small town, everyone knows the story, and Deanna just wants to escape it. On top of that, her own family has rejected her. Her father has not spoken to her since the day he found the two and her mother isn't all that motherly. Her brother and his girlfriend seem to be the only ones who still love Deanna, but they've got a baby to deal with. As if that's not enough, Deanna has fallen for her best friend--who is dating someone else.
What's a girl to do?

Word of Warning
Where to start? There's far too much in this book to all be mentioned in a post like this, particularly because with such a big moral problem as the center of the book (which is not dealt with by the end), I did not read for the little details.
  • Deanna and Tommy did drugs and smoked who-knows-what. We're well aware that their relationship was sexual and only that, even getting a few descriptions (nothing very graphic, but still way too much). As for what happened, suffice it to say that they went "too far" and after a doctor checked Deanna, her mother rushed her to the store and bought her a box of condoms.
  • Deanna's brother and his girlfriend have a baby.
  • All sorts of sexual jokes are made. People mention "boobs" and one guy grabs Deanna's bottom while she is out in public.
  • Deanna doesn't seem to really regret her relationship with Tommy for any good reasons. Her reputation in her town is completely destroyed and people do not respect her anymore. She doesn't regret losing her virginity or the drugs or the smoking or anything else. She knows Tommy used her and is angry with him, but also willing to forgive him. She even lets him drive her home from work.
  • Tommy doesn't regret it either. In fact, he's happy to try again. He almost succeeds, but Deanna stops him and yells at him.
  • Deanna and her childhood friend hang out at his house in his bedroom with no supervision. Nothing happens, but the situation is not a safe one. He even offers to let her spend the night, but she doesn't because her dad would be angry.
  • Deanna's boss is gay.
  • Deanna's dad suggests that she's in a sexual relationship with her boss. Angry at him for always expecting the worst of her, she yells at him and says he's right. Then she assures him that he's wrong.
  • Deanna and her childhood friend discuss kissing and he tells her that guys wonder what it would be like to kiss all girls, even teachers (but only the hot ones).
  • On a day designated as having to do with sexual abstinence, a girl and her boyfriend are caught taking it too far. They're proud of being caught on that particular day and boast about it. The whole school seems to think of it as a funny joke.
  • Deanna kisses her childhood friend even though she is well aware that he is dating another girl (Deanna's friend).
  • The writing style is awful.
  • Deanna may have depression.
  • Many many other problems.
If the main problem (Deanna's loss of virginity at age thirteen and the consequences of that) had been dealt with, the book might be appropriate for older ages. Maybe. But it's left hanging. Are we really supposed to be satisfied with the fact that Deanna hasn't had sex again simply because she's afraid it'll ruin her reputation? The book is haunted by the unresolved problem, making the reader feel disappointed, lost, confused, and with a negative outlook on life.
For all the bad, there simply was not enough goodness to conquer. In fact, there was almost no goodness at all.

My Thoughts
I picked up the book thinking I'd try something a little on the dangerous side to review for an older audience. I also figured it would be interesting to see this problem resolved. I knew it wouldn't be done satisfactorily, but I expected more than I got.
Because I got nothing. The book dug the hole deeper and deeper, and I was barely into it before I found myself skimming along--and caught by a deadly hook. I have found very few books that I can put down once I start reading, and this book came close to being one of them.
As I reached to pick it up and skim some more, I noticed something. The seal of the National Book Award Finalist on the front cover, next to the face of a girl who looks haunted, sly, and blank all at the same time.
And honestly, I was disgusted. Who judges these things? Even if it came down to the writing style, the book was bad. I wondered, was it a finalist because of the issue it addressed?
Well the issue was never resolved. And that's one of the most dangerous things a book can do.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Movie Review: October Sky

Title: October Sky
Author: N/A
Genre: historical, true story, science, biography, family, drama
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: PG for language, brief teen sensuality and alcohol use, and for some thematic elements
Age Group: 12+

Homer saw Sputnik fly through the night sky in the small town of Coalwood. He knew then that he wanted to do something big like that. That it wasn't about accomplishing such a feat before another country could. That it was something so much bigger.
So the boy who refuses to work for his father's coal mining business and is a failure at football sets off on a rather strange quest: to build a rocket. He and his friends have the encouragement of their kind teacher. Slowly, as their determination becomes clear, they gain the support of the entire town.
When success seems to be right around the corner, things fall apart. There is a mining accident. There is a terrible sickness. When one thing after another adds up against the boys, they start to lose hope.
Still, Homer ends up working for NASA. This is the story of how he first got started.

Word of Warning
Honestly, I think this movie walked the line between PG and PG-13.
  • Joking mention of sucide
  • Kid is brutally tackled a few times during football tryouts
  • Words: a** d*** it, son of a b****, h***
  • Cave in at the mine. one man has a bandage on his head but he is fine. Later, another cave in and fire results in the death of one man and the near-death of the father figure in the movie
  • Kid demonstrates how to put your arm around a girl's shoulder to his friend (also a boy)
  • Rockets explode more than once. One explosion knocks viewers off their feet. A few more almost skewer those watching. No one is actually ever hurt.
  • The father yells at his son in front of a bunch of men. The father in the story is, in general, rather mean to his son. He does not support anything the boy does except mining. Even in the end, it's not entirely clear he is siding with his son.
  • Kids shoot at an old car for fun. One kid grabs the gun and throws it aside. It's not the gun that's the problem here, it's the reckless use of it with no consequences.
  • One of the boys has a stepfather who is a drunk. In fact, this allows them to buy pure alcohol (to power their rockets).
  • Boys fight (punching, kicking, etc)
  • Boys steal wood and tools from local businesses. They steal steel from the railroad for money. They also do things one boy's parents have implied they do not want done.
  • An accidental explosion of flames in a science lab (no one is injured)
  • The boys run directly at a train.
  • There is a scene where teens are seen in a bar of sorts with music and apparently drinking (that part is unclear).
  • The joking mention of losing one's virginity
  • Stepfather beating a boy. The boy has a cut on his lip and bruises on his face.
  • "Screw you and your d*** union!"
  • Older brother steals/dates his younger brother's crush
  • Teacher is sick and dying.
  • A man shoots at the father figure (no one is injured)
  • A woman threatens to leave her husband.

My Thoughts
It was a good movie. There wasn't much wrong with it aside from the language and the father figure. Honestly, the father figure aspect was painful to watch. It was truly heartbreaking to watch the son seek his father's approval over and over, finally giving up everything he wants to save the family and only then gaining approval--for doing something he had always wanted to avoid. Then, even when he succeeds in his dream, even on his birthday, even when the rest of the two is proud, the son is scoffed at by the father.
Other than that it was a good movie. It was fun to watch the boys try to figure out how to build a rocket. There wasn't a whole lot of excitement or romance, but it was a good adventure-type story that followed the friendship of four teen boys who built a rocket.
And really, what beats that?