Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Movie Review: Brooklyn

Title: Brooklyn
Author: BBC Films, Parallel Film Production
Release Date: 2015
Genre: Historical fiction, romance, drama
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: PG-13 (for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language)
Age Group: 18+

Eilis (A-lish) is stuck in Ireland with no prospects. Her mother stays at home, her sister works, and Eilis works too--at the general store down the street run by a crabby middle-aged lady. Rose, Eilis' sister, writes to Fr. Flood in America and soon enough Eilis finds herself on a boat to Brooklyn with no indication of coming back.
Brooklyn's nice enough, and full of Irish people, but Eilis misses home. And life in America isn't as easy as everyone says.
We hope Eilis can make it America, but making it isn't everything. Hopefully she can thrive.

Word of Warning
  • Eilis is very non-combative. This is fine, except it leads to many misunderstandings because instead of explaining or defending herself, she just remains silent and deals with the issues herself.
  • We see a sea sick young woman sit on a bucket since the bathroom has been locked. Later, she pukes in the same bucket.
  • Language: f*ck. There were others that were less problematic, but unfortunately I don't have a list of them.
  • A dead cold body is shown, found by the mother of the dead character. It can be very hard to see because it's so heartbreaking.
  • Eilis struggles with being homesick and lonely.
  • Eilis neglects to tell her mother about a significant development in her life. This causes all sorts of complications later on.
  • A young woman accidentally leads a young man on, then eventually this becomes less of an accident but something she just doesn't bother to clear up.
  • Two characters make love the day before they're to be married in a civil ceremony. While we don't see much as far as skin, the scene is very awkward and there is no question about what is going on. It isn't a long scene and easily skipped.

My Thoughts
It was a simple movie that you need to be in the right mood for, and honestly I don't think any of my brothers will ever sit through more than five minutes of it. But my sister and I enjoyed it. The movie moves slowly, simply, and feels honest and quiet. It feels like Eilis.
Somehow, they capture in film how she's feeling even though it involves no voice overs or camera tricks. This is just the story of an Irish immigrant in the 1950s. There is little to say about it, to be completely honest. It's just good and well done. It's not one of those films that exposes some tragedy or terrible thing that happened.
It just looks at the truth in an honest and simple way, and ends honestly and simply, and worth watching.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Book Review: Legion

Title: Legion
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Release Date: 2012
Genre: Adventure, drama, sci-fi
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: adult fiction
Age Group: 12+

"My name is Stephen Leeds, and I am perfectly sane. My hallucinations, however, are all quite mad."
Thus begins a mind-bending adventure in which we meet Stephen Leeds' hallucinations, or aspects, as he calls them. He's a brilliant man and essentially what happens is he has different characters in his head. One's a SEAL, one a therapist, another a history expert, then there's the one who speaks Hebrew...and so on until he has nearly all 47 rooms in his mansion filled.
Of course, no one can see or hear these aspects except Leeds, but he still gives them actual space, and thankfully so does his faithful butler Wilson.
Leeds is a recluse, hiding away from the scientists who want to figure out his "condition" but when a woman presents to him an interesting mystery, he agrees to go to Israel to try to solve it.
Afterall, why not try to find a camera that can take pictures of the past?
Well, one reason could be the terrorist group that wants to use it to destroy all major world religions. Or that could be a motivator. Either way, Leeds is off to Israel!

Word of Warning
Very few problems with this book. I think it's not put in children's or YA fiction just because it's not structured or targeted as one, but I think it really hits the three major areas (children, YA, adult) rather well.
  • Language: damn, "oh my God", and bastard. Each time these are used (as rarely as it is), one of the aspects kindly warns "Language!"
  • Terrorists. They attack, blow a car up, capture major characters, and torture/beat a man almost to death before shooting him. They also cut off his hand (but that's done before we meet him).
  • Speaking of shooting, there is an aspect, J.C. (the SEAL) who is practicing his aim by shooting at a picture of bin Laden. He tends to request "Can I shoot him?" quite often, but I'm not entirely sure he's serious. He does come in handy when the terrorists are in the heat of a battle.
  • Essentially, Leeds murders about five people in self-defense, but it's complicated by by the fact that he attributes this to J.C.
  • The goal of the terrorist group is to prove all major world religions wrong. This is nicely contrasted by another character who is trying to use the camera to prove Christianity (more specifically Catholicism) true. And it's not that this character doubts it, it's that he wants to prove it to doubters.
    • One of the aspects is very impressed by the man's persistence in remaining a serious scientist and a faithful Christian (probably Catholic). While this is really great, the aspect spends a few moments making it sound like these two things actually don't go together and should in a normal world compete. Eventually the aspect tries to conclude that they can work together, but the conclusion is a little weak when put up against his speech before it.
My Thoughts
It's a fast read, really only about 84 pages, mostly dialogue since Leeds spends a good amount of time talking to his aspects. It's fun, watching a character talk to compartmentalized information in his head that is manifested as characters. Plus the adventure is a fun, fast-paced story that isn't too complicated to follow but just enough to make you think, and just when you thought you had it, turns out you didn't.
And Leeds knows his aspects aren't real. He also thinks he can't live without them. But there's a mysterious woman who was teaching him how to control them, and himself, to get his life back into order. And he's torn between how much he loves life with his aspects, and knowing that he really needs something more from life, and something needs to change.
With something this easy and enjoyable to read, I can say two things: I'm off to find the rest of the series, and I'm interested to see where Leeds goes next.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Movie Review: Earth to Echo

Title: Earth to Echo
Author: Disney
Release Date: 2014
Genre: adventure, sci-fi, family, friendship
My Rating ****
Official Rating: PG for action, peril, and mild language
Age Group: 8+ (my only concern for this age group is the bar scene, mentioned below)

Tuck, Alex, and Munch. They're best friends, and suddenly, per a government ruling that a freeway will be built right through their neighborhood, they're forced to part. The boys are devastated and are pretty sure this is going to be the end of their friendship. But when their phones "barf" the day before they're all scheduled to move, the boys decide to have one last adventure together. They're going to figure out what is going on with the phones, no matter what it takes.
Tuck will, of course, film the whole thing. Always gotta have a good home video!

Word of Warning
  • The boys all lie to their parents about where they'll be so they can run off to the desert, alone. Later, they're joined by a girl, who also lies. Another issue with this is how easily the boys get away with this, and for how long. It's clear that while their parents probably do love them, they're not paid nearly enough close attention.
  • The group soon learns that in order to complete their mission, they need to break into various places where havoc results--not by their direct doing, but they do enable it.
  • One of the places the group ends up at is a bar. People are partying and drinking, and an older woman at the bar buys some of the boys drinks (they bravely resist, and are luckily able to escape before they're forced to drink).
  • One character goes on and on about how her father is a drunk (or an was hard to hear) and how she just wants to get away from him and her poor mother....All as a lie to distract someone whom she doesn't want asking questions. The whole story is completely made up and mumbled through fake tears.
  • Someone gets left behind and caught by a security guard. He's rescued, and nothing bad happens aside from a mildly-harsh scolding from the guard, but this experience is traumatizing for the kid who is an orphan and living with foster parents. He has a fear of being left behind, and this experience does NOT help matters.
  • The kids are eventually "captured" by government agents. They're questioned and while the most fearful of them breaks down and sobs out every answer asked for, the others don't seem nearly as scared. The agents themselves behave as children would imagine them to, not telling their parents and forcing them to do things against their wills.
  • One of the boys tells a story about how he and a girl at school kissed in the bathroom. He rates the kiss as ok, saying that "he's kissed girls in better places" but this comment seems much more related to the bathroom setting than it does to other possibilities.
  • One of the boys remarks that he'll be sleeping over, "In your mother's bed. Not playing video games", a comment meant to be inappropriate but honestly just really funny to an older audience because of how innocent and ridiculous it sounds.
  • The kids end up at a teen party where there is clearly under-age drinking, passionate kissing, and one guy is passed out in the bathtub (fully clothed, alone, no implications made).
  • Under-age driving.
  • The boys, having met an alien, decide to do whatever they can to rescue it. Sometimes this means just following a map, but eventually it means breaking into places, trespassing, and breaking various other laws. At the climax, they decide to trust the alien, at the risk of hundreds of human families, and give it what it wants. It's not clear whether they expect the alien to harm the hundreds, but they do know it's a very real possibility. While this might seem honorable in terms of friendship, it's childishly short-sighted.
My Thoughts
There are a few texts that I am honestly impressed with their make up or structure. Finding Neverland captures J. M. Barrie so well and has such a beautiful supportive structure that, as a whole, it's a wonderful work of art. Sea of Tranquility uses alternating narration to navigate difficult issues in a way that is very human but also honest and open. Chasing Shadows blends narration with comic strips to give a sense of urgency and intense emotions. Salt to the Sea uses multiple narrators, finally circling each other in a fascinating way, to tell a story so horrible and yet so full of goodness you cry at the end, even if you're not a crier for anything else. And The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society uses letters to tell a great story, adding an edge that the story could never have in classic narration form. While there are others, they are sadly few and far between.

But this movie joins those ranks. Tuck is proposed as the "author" of the story, narrating, filming, and apparently later compiling the videos to create the final product. We're given his camera, the other boys' cameras, and the alien's camera. We're convinced that these are just boys adventuring, and honestly, it's so genuine I don't even know how someone wrote this. It makes me wonder if they handed the boys cameras and said, "You find an alien and it needs help" and let them go from there.
I know that's not what happened, but that's how well-done this movie is. It fits well as a whole. The dialogue, the characters, the structure, the camera, the music, everything--it comes together as an incredible whole that is worth seeing.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Movie Review: Pan

Title: Pan
Author: Warner Brothers
Release Date: 2015
Genre: fantasy, family, adventure, Peter Pan, British literature, children
My Rating: ***
Official Rating PG for fantasy action violence, language, and some thematic material
Age Group: 10+

Poor Peter and his friends. They're orphans in a very miserable orphanage, as apparently all orphanages always are. He wants his mother, and he's positive that she'll come back for him. But with WWII raging on outdoors, doesn't he have bigger things to think about?
Unlike all literary orphanages, this one has a crabby old nun (wait for it, I promise this is different)...who sells the boys to pirates who fly ships across the sky.
Wait, what?
Peter and some of the boys are kidnapped by Blackbeard where they are forced to mine fairy dust and fight for their survival. But Peter still wants his mother, and his new buddy James Hook wants to go home, so why not work together?
Just when they're ready to take off though, Tiger Lily shows up spewing nonsense about a chosen one, a savior, someone called the Pan. And she's pretty sure Peter is it.
So is Blackbeard, and he'll stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Word of Warning
  • As mentioned above, Peter and the other boys live in a sad orphanage with a cruel nun character who is fat and ugly and basically a tyrant. She also sells the boys to pirates. She's just an all-around nasty character.
  • As with any orphanage, there are abandoned children.
  • The characters are not all together good, even though we're to believe they're on the good side. They break into places, steal, and do general mischief.
  • The PG rating comes from fantasy action violence and thematic material. We see scenes where characters fall to their deaths, bombs are dropped (on England and on pirate ships), characters are nearly crushed by a falling metal car, there is an animated war scene (shown as historical of Neverland), an animated battle scene shows a woman made of bubbles being stabbed and dying, a man looks possessed when attacked by fairies (and quite honestly, attacking fairies are rather fierce), and so on.
  • The mermaids apparently do not even wear shells. Their hair covers what is absolutely necessary. Tiger Lily wears a bandeau style shirt for significantly long parts of the movie. 
  • There is a light, somewhat playful, romance that never amounts to anything physical (not even a hug).
  • Blackbeard is using fairy dust to stay young forever. This can be (and should be) disturbing.
  • An old man is shot and killed. Other characters die as well, though some of these deaths are meant to be comical.
  • Brief mention of suicide, not as an action to take, but rather as a caution.
  • The animals of Neverland are creepy and dangerous.

My Thoughts
If you're looking for something accurate to the original Peter Pan stories by J. M. Barrie, this isn't it. It's much closer to the original feel than, say, Hook starring Robin Williams and a grown up Peter Pan (wait, isn't that a contradiction?). However, there is much focus on family, knowing where one comes from, and heroism for the sake of doing the right thing. This is very much not the vibe of the original book.

But if you're looking for a well done movie with little known actors who are incredibly skilled, a fun fantasy adventure romp, this is a great option. I enjoyed it in theaters, and I enjoyed it again while watching it for research. It proposes some interesting questions, and I'd like to see how it is connected, eventually, to the original Peter Pan. By the end of the movie, you get the feeling this is the first half of a prequel to Peter Pan. I'd like to see where it goes from here.
And even if it goes nowhere, it's still a good, well done movie worth watching and enjoying.