Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Movie Review: The Peanuts Movie

Title: The Peanuts Movie
Author: Twentieth Century Fox, Blue Sky Studios
Release Date: 2015
Genre: animation, comedy, romance, friendship, adventure, animals
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: G (all ages)
Age Group: family movie night!

Charlie Brown is a failure. I mean, seriously, we all know him because he's always messing things up and we can, unfortunately relate to that all too well.
But when a new kid moves into two, Charlie's excited to have the chance to start over. He doesn't have a reputation with this new kid, and he's looking forward to that opportunity. He has high hopes.
Then he discovers that the new kid is a girl, and the stakes rise considerably.
So when Charlie suddenly becomes a hero, what does that do to our good old Charlie Brown?

Word of Warning
 These are going to be extremely nit-picky, because this film was incredibly clean.
  • Comic scenes of violence and failure. No actual injuries are incurred. (think cartoon mishaps used for laughter)
  • Characters gloat and are sometimes rude to one another. Flirting, insults...think Lucy.
  • Charlie desperately wants someone who will just love him for who he is and not judge or give advice. That isn't really a good friendship though, and his best friendship (with Snoopy) involves all sorts of advice and judgement.
  • The age old Peppermint Paddy being called "sir" takes on a new connotation in our day. The movie doesn't give any reason for the viewer to think this, but we bring social connotations to every text we consume.
  • Snoopy has a few battle scenes with the Red Baron.
  • Charlie "stalks" the Little Red Haired Girl. This is supposed to be sweet, but it's really a little weird.
  • Charlie faces the "I'm nothing" and "she's something" conflict and believes it.
  • Words: rats, good grief, stupid, blockhead
  • Someone remarks "it was written in the cards" when names are drawn for a final assignment.
  • In Snoopy's stories, a female dog is kidnapped and held prisoner (this isn't very dramatic).
  • Adults are not visible and barely participate. This is classic Peanuts, but still odd.
  • Snoopy shouts, "Curse you, Red Baron!"

My Thoughts
I had a huge grin on my face the whole movie. Except when I was sad for Charlie Brown. Or when I was laughing.
I had been expecting, with dread, the modern film industry to ruin this classic by making it modern. It didn't. This was Peanuts like it has always been. A little more hopeful, but still Peanuts.
Snoopy made a great best friend, one everyone wants to have. Charlie Brown did the right thing, which lead every one to think poorly of him--twice. Once, out of integrity. Once, for his sister. Charlie Brown, when he is at his lowest point, finds himself by helping another (interesting theological points could be made about that).

There isn't much to say about the movie. It was simple. It was the Peanuts. It was good. It was family friendly.
So go ahead. Borrow or rent it and enjoy a family movie night without worry about bad words or veiled inappropriate references. For the first time in a very long time, you can watch something made by mainstream movie producers after the year 2000 without holding that remote at ready.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Book Review: Sea of Tranquility


Title: Sea of Tranquility
Author: Katja Millay
Release Date: 2013
Genre: romance, coming of age, YA fiction
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: YA fiction
Age Group: 18+

Nastya is dead. Or so she says. She continually refers to herself as the girl who died. We meet her at the beginning of her senior year at a school she has never attended before. She lives with her aunt even though her family is alive and well in a different city. She's that problem student who doesn't care, doesn't socialize, and dresses like a slut. She's not destructive or violent, but still.
And she doesn't talk. No, she actually doesn't talk. Nastya has not spoken to anyone in over two years and it looks like she doesn't intend to start any time soon.
What Nastya does do is run. Every day, she runs until her body can't take it anymore. One night, having puked up the contents of her stomach after a long run, she comes across a curious garage. She approaches to find a boy from her school. He's a woodworker, according to his tools and materials.
But it isn't Josh's woodworking that captures Nastya's attention. It's the fact that everyone in school just leaves him alone. That's what she wants. So, she decides to watch him and figure out how he does it.
But you can't just watch, as Nastya and Josh eventually find out. Sooner or later, someone breaks the awkward silence with an awkward question which turns into an awkward one-sided conversation.
And then one day, that one-sided conversation suddenly becomes two-sided, and horrible secrets come out.

Word of Warning
  •  We have the stock characters of high school. The jerk, the nerds, the angry ex-girlfriend, the player, and so on. This in itself isn't bad, but some of these roles (like player) are.
  • Violence and graphic injuries. A character is beaten near death and details are not spared for the reader.
  • Serious language issues. Teens swear. A lot.
  • Teens refuse to listen to adult guidance, when they really really should.
  • Minors drinking and becoming drunk. Also, use of drugs by minors (though any use of drugs would be bad).
  • Teen sexual intimacy. For the most part, we're merely aware of its existence but are able to avoid any sort of descriptions. However, there is one poetically graphic scene. By "poetically graphic" I mean no specific biological terms are used, but there is no question as to what is going on.
  • Hints of depression. The main character may very well be depressed, as some of the others may be as well. While none of the characters consider suicide, it is mentioned that a character did commit suicide. This character is a minor character who accidentally spurs some of the biggest events in the book, but the suicide happens before this book starts. Basically, the suicidal teen's world is separate from the book's world except for one bridging character. I apologize if this is too cryptic, I am trying to avoid giving away the story but still warn you of the contents.
  • Attempted murder. I will assure you that none of the characters proposed as main characters does this.
  • Death. One character in particular is surrounded by death, with this character's entirely family being dead before this character is a legal adult. This is emotionally very hurtful, as I'm sure you can imagine.
  • Attempted rape. Not successful, but still a disgusting and disturbing and horrible scene.

My Thoughts
And if you're not judging me at this point for giving this book a rating of five stars, I am a little worried. Nevertheless, let me explain.
I came across this book by accident, and the biggest problems (sexual content) did not show up until I was greatly invested in the characters' journeys. Now, that doesn't make reading it ok, but the way the objectionable content was dealt with is honestly beautiful, especially for YA fiction. I think my favorite scene is after two characters have sex. They both realize they've ruined the beautiful relationship they had by doing such a thing before marriage. The "before marriage" part isn't explicitly stated, but is implied. They're heartbroken and have to figure out how to rebuild a relationship with this white elephant in the room.
Now even that isn't enough to read the book. Thankfully, the things that are bad are treated as bad. Still, this book is a beautiful study of humanity. Nastya starts out as barely human and becomes human through her actions. Objectionable content is faced head on by characters and author and hashed out as best they can before coming to the conclusion that there is an answer, but it is out of reach of the characters (perhaps because they have no religious beliefs to stand on?).

And the whole thing is an interesting journey from the uncomfortable gritty aspects of life, progressing to beauty even when surrounded by dirt.

Do I think everyone should read this? Absolutely not. I myself would not normally read something like this. But do I think the book has redeeming qualities? For sure. And way more redeeming qualities than the average YA novel. In fact, it was far too deep of a study on humanity for me to feel comfortable calling it YA fiction. There was just something more to it that I can't explain.

Below is a more extensive description written for an education course of why the book might be acceptable for select audiences in case you are curious to read more.