Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Book Review: Homeless Bird

Title: Homeless Bird
Author: Gloria Whelan
Release Date: 2000
Genre: children's fiction, India, cultural fiction
My Rating: *
Official Rating: children's fiction
Age Group:14+

Summary: Koly's family is poor, and as soon as she's of marriageable age, her wedding is arranged with a young man she's never met. Koly is thirteen and hungry for knowledge.
But her wedding doesn't go as she'd hoped, and Koly finds herself nearly alone in the world, a young woman now seen as unfit for marriage but without any support and no way of getting back home to her family. When Koly finds herself out on the streets in a huge world full of both good and bad people, how will she survive?

Word of Warning
  • Child-marriages, so to speak. These are arranged, as tradition requires
  • As for marriage itself, it seems to be understood more as a social contract and less of a union of man and wife. What I mean by this is that Koly, until she is much older, never even sees the intimate and sexual side of marriage, nor does it even get mentioned. Even later, when she is older, it's not mentioned explicitly, but simply assumed with a sense of innocence.
  • Young women are essentially sold into marriages.
  • Widows are abandoned, no longer useful since they have no husbands, and really just a hindrance to whomever they are living with.
  • Characters drink and do drugs (but not in those words).
  • Koly is essentially abused by her stepmother. She's yelled at and barely cared for.
  • A man tries to trick Koly into coming home with him. It's implied, though never stated outright, that he intends to take advantage of her sexually.
  • Lying, cheating, stealing, abandonment, anger, cruelty, tough situations, etc. We see it all.

My Thoughts
The book was interesting, but it felt too simplistic to really take on such a big topic. I understand that it's Children's Fiction, and the author is trying to convey something very serious and big to a young audience. The problem is, can that audience truly understand the topic at hand? And I don't mean do they understand what it means to "sell" a young woman into marriage. They might be able to understand that factually. But can they really know what it means, what it entails, down to the depths of a soul.
No, I'd argue, they can't.
Does it mean we shouldn't try to explain it anyway? I'm not sure. I think it depends on the topic and the person.
But that's the source of my gripe with this book. It took something too big, too deep, and it tried to cut it down for a young audience. In the act of cutting it down, it destroyed the very mission it was seeking to accomplish: spreading understanding of the lives of young women in India.

It was a fine book. The writing was fine, the story-line was a bit on the wandering side, and the characters were okay, but not great. Honestly, there wasn't a whole lot wrong with the book itself, aside from it not being great.

But adding that to the issue with the content and topic, and, well, you get something that sort of fell flat.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Movie Review: The Prestige

Title: The Prestige
Author: Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Michael Cane
Release Date: 2006
Genre: drama, mystery, sci-fi
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: PG-13 for violence and disturbing images
Age Group: 14+

Every magic act has three parts: the pledge (where something apparently ordinary is shown), the turn (when something extraordinary happens), and the prestige (when the ordinary thing is brought back). Or so Cutter claims.
Two young magicians, Robert Angier (the showman) and Alfred Borden (the gifted illusionist) are friends and partners on stage, working under the main magician. One night, something goes horribly wrong, and the two men are forever set against each other.
One rises to success and fame, then the other. They are constantly fighting to find out each other's secrets. Sometimes, it seems as though they will go to any ends to find out the methods of those three parts.
But what happens when you find out that they've both been living their acts? That the story itself has a pledge, a turn, and a prestige?

Word of Warning

Allow me to begin by explaining that while many of these things are present in the movie and the story, they are not present. It's incredibly hard to explain, but some of the more difficult things are not what they appear (this is a movie about magic shows, after all). This does not detract from the bad things that do happen, but it does make some things that seemed horrible much less serious. Little more can be said without risking majorly spoiling the movie, and that's something I absolutely do not want to do with this one.
  •  People drink. There are a few scenes where characters are drunk, all portrayed in a negative light.
  • Multiple people drown during magic tricks, apparently gone wrong.
  • A young girl's future is threatened.
  • A husband kisses his wife's calf during a trick, discretely but noticeably.
  • Husband and wife kiss passionately, fall onto bed, scene cuts.
  • A bird is killed during a magic trick, its crushed body is shown.
  • A man tries to drown himself, does not carry through. A woman hangs herself, we see her limp body hanging by a rope around her neck.
  • Someone mutters "Oh my God" but it sounds more like a prayer and less like a disrespectful use of His name.
  • Man is shot in the hand, screams in pain, fingers are missing in a later view. Another man is shot in the arm, while quite a few are shot in the abdomen later on (and die).
  • Women in magic shows wear provocative clothing complete with short skirts, tight waists, and very low necklines (think circus performer).
  • A man falls, breaking his leg (we hear the crunch)
  • Implication that a man is cheating on his wife. This is later confirmed, sort of. We get a scene of a couple in bed together fully clothed, nothing happens and the scene is quick, only meant to share information and nothing more.
  • Man is captured, nailed into a coffin, and buried alive but given the opportunity of escape via blackmailing his partner.
  • Various things (objects, animals, people) are "electrocuted".
  • A man is sentenced to death and hung. We see the floor fall out, his body drops, no movement, his neck apparently broken.
  • Man chops off fingers with a chisel.
My Thoughts
At the end of the movie, I stared at the screen for a good ten minutes, shocked. Calculating what I had just seen. Processing, going over the story again, seeing the pledge, the turn, and the prestige. Heartbroken. Impressed. In awe.
It's a movie that is incredible the first time, and I suspect absolutely brilliant the second time. It's the kind of movie that can, and should be watched at least twice.
It was well done. How could it not be, with such a director working with that cast?
But it was more than well done. This is one of the few movies out there today, created in the last ten years, that is genuinely a work of art.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Book Review: Hatchet

Title: Hatchet
Author: Gary Paulsen
Release Date: 1987
Genre: young adult/children's fiction, survival
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: Young Adult Fiction
Age Group: 12+
Awards: Newbery Medal, Dorthy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award

Brian is on the way to visit his dad via plane. He's working up in Canada in some remote location, and a small charter plane is going to take Brian there for the summer. Because Brian's parents aren't together anymore. Because of the Secret. Because of what Brian knows.
Brian knows about his mother cheating with that man. He saw them kissing in the car across the street from where Brian and his friend were playing. Brian didn't tell his father, and neither did his mother. But that didn't stop the divorce from happening.
At age thirteen, that's a tough thing to handle. Honestly, at any age that's a tough thing to handle.
But when the pilot has a heart attack over an unidentifiable wilderness, and Brian does what he can to fly the plane himself, things get a whole lot worse.
Especially when Brian crashes the plane.

Word of Warning
  • Brian's parents are divorced. His mother cheated on his father (all the detail we have is that they were kissing) while they were still married.
  • A very well-known survival story, filled with the elements of survival: struggles for shelter, food, and against the elements.
  • Brian has to kill animals for food.
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, sickness in general.
  • Injuries, an attack by a moose (nothing too deadly or graphic)
  • At a very low point, Brain tries to slit his wrists. His attempt fails, and in the morning he wakes up more determined than ever to live.
  • Fighting against the elements, including a dramatic experience with a tornado.
My Thoughts
It was decent. I think my all time favorite survival book will always be Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain, but this is also a pretty good book. It gets a bit long, and the writing style isn't something I'm a big fan of (particularly the sentence structure), but there's nothing necessarily wrong with it.
My biggest objection is that it just gets too long. I realize Brian was stuck in the wilderness for a long time, but I just started to lose interest after a while, especially since, knowing the genre, I had no doubt that Brian would somehow survive.
It's a rough adventure for Brian. He goes through a lot. But he makes it, and he's smart. In our ever-changing society which is becoming more and more paved, it's nice to still have a good wilderness adventure book standing strong and still being eagerly read by a variety of readers.