Saturday, January 29, 2011

Despicable Me, Nicholas Sparks, & Memento

The Last Song
I've seen a run of movies lately, some of which don't deserve their own post. Thus far, the only Nicholas Sparks book-turned-into-movie I have liked is A Walk to Remember. I recently watched The Last Song and Dear John. Both were tear-jerkers, and while that would usually endear me to a movie, I really didn't like either movie. I would have liked The Last Song better without Miley Cyrus. Her character didn't feel genuine to me. I haven't even watched Miley Cyrus act or perform before, and I couldn't stand her. I like her deep voice, and that's about all. I don't know why, exactly. She just comes off as fake to me.

Dear John
As for Dear John, what a horrible movie! In that case, I like the actors but couldn't stand the movie. It was all about two people who fall in love over two weeks, and then he goes off to war and they begin to drift apart. Duh. Finally, she leaves him for a man who has cancer and his autistic son. Was this supposed to endear me to her? Actually, she came off as selfish and weak to me. I totally understood and liked the soldier. Neither of them die, oddly enough for Nicholas Sparks, but all they do is hug at the end. Lame. The book is probably better.

Memento was crazy. It's a Christopher Nolan film (Inception was awesome!), and it's told backwards. The story is about a guy who can't form any short term memories although all his memories up to a certain point are intact. The last thing he remembers is his wife...dying. He's trying to discover her killer and solve her case on his own, since he doesn't know whom to trust. In order to be able to keep working on a case without short-term memory, he tattoos his body with important information and keeps photographs in his pocket. He does whatever his own writing tells him to do. He has to trust every piece of information he writes down in his own hand. It's fascinating, especially as we begin to put the picture together from the backward fragments of the character's life. The ending totally disappoints, but the movie is worth watching for cinematic value. It's rated R for language, and sections are really bad.

Despicable Me

Despicable Me was a surprise. I wasn't all that interested in seeing it, but a friend recommended it, mainly because she knew the production designer, Yarrow Cheney. You've never heard of him, but if you watch Despicable Me, he gets his very own credit screen at the end of the movie.

The movie is really funny and quirky. Villainous Gru is being upstaged by a young pyramid-snatching villain, so he gets a plan in motion to shrink and steal the moon. Meanwhile, three orphan sisters come into his life, and while trying to use them to further his evil plans, he begins to get attached. Steve Carell voices Gru and does an amazing job with an accent that reminded me slightly of my German grandfather. Gru is all dead-pan serious, but some of the things he says come off hilarious. He struck me as different than other characters Steve Carell has played. The three girls are down-to-earth smart and adorable too. I don't know where the music came from, if it was created just for this movie or not, but the title song is perfect. I thoroughly enjoyed Despicable Me. And it's a family movie. Of the four here, that's the one to see. Leave Memento for the movie connoisseurs.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Easy A on DVD

You're probably already wondering why a morality-conscious viewer like me would watch a movie about a girl who pretends to sleep with the entire school to boost everyone's reputation and create one of her own. To protect all the innocent and guilty involved in this possibly questionable decision of mine, let's just skip the how's and get into what the movie was all about.

Emma Stone plays the opinionated-and-not-afraid-to-voice-it Olive as she gives, in her own words, "the rumor-filled totally FALSE account of how I RUINED my flawless reputation." One lie to a friend has the whole gossipy school believing Olive isn't a virgin anymore. When another friend asks her to pretend to sleep with him so that people stop picking on him for being gay, she agrees to help out, and he sends her a gift afterward. Thus begins her descent as all the dorks, nerds, and losers in the school begin paying her to let them pretend to sleep with her. All Olive has to do is act the part, and since her best friend has joined the protesters, including the not-so-Jesus-loving Jesus Freaks out to take Olive down, Olive retaliates by sewing big red A's over the breast of her newly-acquired-for-the-purpose wardrobe of lacy corsets, which she wears with jeans to school.

Obviously, The Scarlet Letter is an influence in this movie.

Emma Stone is hilarious in the role, and her parents, played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, are the embodiment of cool, fun-loving, caring but not smothering parents as they let Olive figure out this phase of her life and offer encouragement without freaking out on her. This only works, of course, with parents who are confident in the daughter they have raised, and it serves to accentuate their daughter's morality in a movie about being a slut.

There's true romance to be found in the whole mess of Olive's life though, and the boy is a real keeper, not put off by Olive's big show, knowing the girl she really is. Altogether there are great characters played by great actors, and the movie would be, well, great...but it's pushed a little too far.

This movie compares to the book I just reviewed, Nightshade, in that the concept was intriguing and had redeeming value, but the execution contained just a little too much of all the wrong parts. After all, the lead role wears corsets throughout the movie. There's minor nudity near the beginning of the film. The language is sometimes crude with the B-word and S-word liberally sprinkled throughout. The humor is sometimes crass, for instance when Olive and her gay friend are moaning and grunting together to make people outside the door think they are doing it. A teacher has sex and lets Olive take the rap for it when Olive offers to, but later the teacher won't help Olive clear her name. If the movie was all about these things, I would steer you far, far clear. Even so, I don't recommend it to just anyone. I have a hard time recommending it at all, even with its redeeming value, but the themes are worth talking about and the end message is almost worth it all. Olive ends up in tears, when everyone hates her and she begins to hate herself, understandably. I appreciated what the movie had to say about gossip and self-sacrifice and even about morality.

It's still a secular movie, so it's not going to say that Olive stayed a virgin until her marriage, although even Olive suggests that possibility. I can forgive the movie its bad raps on the Church, and I think that should send a message to Christians (but, of course, no Christian will admit to watching this movie as it might damage reputation). I don't think we should act like sluttiness is okay, but we should leave the judging to God and accept the person, warts and all. Okay, done preaching.

So, how should I end this post? Easy, simple advice: don't watch the movie. Addendum: if you want to have some interesting discussion with a mature group, preview this movie and then share at your discretion. Two stars for crass content. Four stars out of five for themes and execution.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Where do I even start on this book? Guilty pleasure? Emphasis on the "guilty."

Nightshade is supposedly for young adults. It's right in line with everything else currently being published for this age group. Werewolves, ancient magic, sexy males, butt-kicking females. Right in line doesn't make it right.

Quick synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Calla is Alpha female of her pack, but that will soon be changing when she is joined in the sacred, mysterious union ceremony to her future mate Ren, Alpha male of his pack. Then Calla does the forbidden and not only rescues and reveals her shape-shifting abilities to a human but also begins to fall for his charms. Calla knows her Masters must never find out what she has done, but she is losing control of her own feelings and making mistakes which could lead to punishment by the feared wraiths or, worse, death.

To give credit where credit is due, Andrea Cremer had me hooked. I liked her characters, and I have a thing for shape-shifters. It's just cool. I wrote a novella about a girl who could change into a wolf and was captured by a hot prince, and that was before Jacob and Edward ever came on the scene. I get it.

But Andrea goes further than I ever would have dared with scenes that can only be described as lustful; she goes too far. She pulls her punches, which is a good thing in this case, and doesn't give you an eyeful, keeping her characters pure in the literal sense of didn't-have-sex. And I'm not doubting that teenagers do everything in this book and more, sadly. But I made it through high school and college without any of that, so I can personally testify that it's not necessary. And I wouldn't want a daughter of mine to read some of this stuff.

Readers should also beware of witchcraft, creatures from hell or pretty close to it, and homosexuality. Why is our society so consumed with sex? It's like we identify people by it, as though a person's sex life is who he is: "He's homosexual. She's a virgin."

Male chauvinism and slavery are interesting themes this book deals with, and at least in this case, the book shows them for what they are.

So, there's good and bad in this novel, the bad unfortunately weighing against my ability to recommend it. I wasn't surprised but I was disappointed that the novel didn't end...again. It's a rule: young adult novels have to be able to have sequels. I learned that in my writing classes in college. But these days, you're lucky to find a young adult novel that can even stand alone on its own two feet without needing a second or third to actually bring closure to the story. I hate that. I mean, it keeps me reading, but now I have to decide whether it's worth it to wade through all the crap again just to get the end of the better part of the story. I have to leave that decision for another day, anyway, because Nightshade was only recently released in October 2010.

If you do read this book, don't recommend it to teenagers unless you have read it first and know they are mature enough for the themes and content. Above all, keep a guarded mind and don't be swept away by mere sensationalism.

Knight and Day on DVD

Just watched Knight and Day on DVD this evening. What a quirky, funny, original movie! It's an odd pairing: Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. I don't particularly love either actor, although Cruise has some neat action flicks. Knight and Day is a cross between Mission Impossible and The Holiday, a serious agents-and-gunfire setting in a romantic comedy, neither one outweighing the other but each outstanding enough to have you laughing one moment and saying, "Hey, that's cool!" the next.

Plot: Roy is an agent on a rogue mission, and June is just an innocent bystander Roy uses to get where he needs to be, but when June is placed in harm's way by Roy's actions, he proves willing to do absolutely anything to keep her safe while continuing to execute his own plans.

Sure, the movie has its cliches, clever cliches, I would dare to suggest, especially the parallelism at the end of this chick flick guys will dig. But the minute twists and turns make the end result charming rather than cringe-worthy. This is a great date movie. Check it out!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stargate Universe: Season One on TV

Just want to say that I love this show! I have watched bits and pieces of other Stargate shows, and they were entertaining enough, but not like this new Stargate with a completely new cast. I just wish I had stuck with Stargate Universe while it was on TV and not waited to finish the second part of season one on Netflix because I just finished season one on Netflix and I am dying here! The first half of season two has been aired, and I won't be able to watch it when it comes back on TV because it isn't on Netflix yet and I have to catch up! Ah!

In Stargate Universe, our characters jumped through the gate onto an ancient ship traveling farther from Earth than anyone has ever been, and here's the catch: they can't jump back, at least not in their own bodies (intrigued yet?). So, they are trying to find some sort of life aboard Destiny (their ship's name) as it travels the stars and leads them past dangerous new planets.

Stargate Universe is darker, in some ways, than the other Stargate shows, but the characters are brilliant and the stakes are high and always rising. It's deeper than other Stargate shows that I've seen, too, delving into human emotion and desperation. It's amazing storytelling, and I just hope I don't forget the many plot points spiraling completely out of control without resolution in sight by the time I get to watch more of this show. Don't you love it when a story does that to you? Great writing, even if you hate the writers for leaving you hanging!

Tron: Legacy (in theaters now)

I really wanted to see Tron: Legacy when it came out in theaters, but a few people I know saw it before I could and were disappointed, putting a damper on my excitement. All I knew about Tron, novice geek that I am, I had learned from playing the video game Kingdom Hearts, the only video game I have ever really played, which I am also proud and sort of embarrassed to say that I finished (let's not talk about the hours of my life invested). Anyway...I didn't know much, but the previews led me to believe it would be a visual feast.

Short but relevant is my wedding anniversary: seven years. We had a lovely weekend of celebrating, some of it with our one-year-old son and today by ourselves, haunting our old college hangouts. We returned to our favorite strip mall with its overly-priced Rave theater and almost flipped a coin (another old tradition that had a play in bringing us together, actually) over Tron: Legacy and Gulliver's Travels. But Tron was earlier, and that decided it. We did not see it in 3D, though Tron, being about a digital world, screams to be a 3D movie. We had been advised to save the money, so we lowered our expectations all-around for this movie and still forked out a nice chunk of cash for a 2D matinee.

Perhaps it was because of these lowered expectations, or perhaps the 3D effects were underwhelming, provoking the bad reviews...whatever the case, we enjoyed the movie. I won't say we loved it, but it was a good popcorn movie, a fun action flick.

Premise: Kevin Flynn has created a digital game world where he can go in actual physical form. He disappears when his son Sam Flynn is 12, leaving his legacy to his son. Sam discovers a way into the world when he is 27, but the world he finds isn't the happy world his father told him about. Clu and Tron, two "Programs" (as opposed to "Users" like the Flynns) Kevin was building the world with, have rebelled against him. The senior Flynn has been stuck in the digital world all this time, and Sam will soon be, too, unless he can get back to the portal before it closes and before Clu's evil plans can be realized.

This was a visual treat, as expected, despite the lack of 3D. The characters were interesting, and the acting was decent.

The complaints about the movie center around plot points, or the lack of them, really. Essentially, Sam gets into the world and then spends the rest of the movie trying to get out. Not a lot of depth there. The relationship between father and son is vaguely intriguing but doesn't make or break the movie.

There's a subtle jab at the way humans treat the earth that isn't long enough to be preachy, so I can overlook it. The possible political message of the movie annoyed others but wasn't blatant enough to bother me.

A few things don't make much sense or, being inessential to the movie, may detract from an otherwise shallow but straightforward plot. One is the miraculous life-forms that suddenly appear in the digital world, something almost human, looking human, a perfect being, of which only one remains for the plot. The idea is that she could be the key to curing mankind of its diseases (perhaps a political message really was trying to dig to the surface, but hazy plot development kept it mostly buried). The miraculous life-forms could have been left completely out of the plot and not changed the story's direction.

The second thing that is a bit out-of-nowhere and inessential is Tron himself. Weird, isn't it, when the movie is called Tron? He is a background character who does a few minor tricks in the finale of this story, but any Program could have taken his place and been as important. I guess they needed some reference to the original game, but why not name a more central character Tron or get him a more developed role? Who knows?

There are other minor pieces of the story that just need cleaned up to make this a tighter, neater film, plot devices that aren't used to their full potential or that don't serve any purpose at all, making them superfluous.

But it was an enjoyable two hours, nonetheless. Kudos for appearances by Bruce Boxleitner, best known for his leading role in the old sci-fi TV show Babylon 5, and Jeff Bridges, both stars of the 1982 version of Tron and reprising their roles as Alan Bradley/Tron and Kevin Flynn/Clu respectively.

It just now occurs to me that some of these superfluous plot points, like Tron himself, are supposed to be throwbacks to the original Tron movie and that Tron: Legacy is a sequel to the 1982 film. This may have been obvious to Tron lovers out there, but like I said, I'm just a novice geek, trying to catch up. As a sequel, I'm sure the movie was outstanding, by comparison to its forerunner, and had some nice insider references, but for those of us who were born in the year the first Tron was released, it didn't do a good enough job of catching us up on the past to feel like a clear-cut stand-alone movie.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Water Wars

I had high hopes for Cameron Stracher's The Water Wars, but I was so disappointed. Books, especially advance reader's copies like this one, love to advertise ridiculous quotes from other authors or editors to get you to read them. They'll say things like, "Brilliant!" "Best book since such-and-such!" "A work of genius!" "Book of the decade! (or at least of the hour; ask me what I think when I've read the next hottest book on the market)." I'll admit, when I see a quote from a favorite author of mine or when a particular book I loved is referenced in the quote, I'm intrigued. But most of the sensationalism over a book is just that. Perhaps 20 people sent in reviews, and they picked the most outlandish hyperbolic sentiment to bait readers like me. (By the way, look at the back of any movie case, and you'll see the same: "Epic and amazing!")

So, now you're wondering what The Water Wars' cover said that got my hopes up so high. I'm not supposed to quote the book itself without checking a final copy, but I don't think that applies to quotes from other people about the book. Justin Cronin, author of The Passage (never heard of either of those two), said The Water Wars was "A rousing adventure story in the tradition of The Hunger Games." My husband says a lot of fantasy novels compare themselves to Lord of the Rings in some way. Wow. Really? You can genuinely say that Lord of the Rings is "epic and amazing." No one will question that. But unless a book is, say, book 3 of Harry Potter and the evidence of popularity is overwhelming, don't claim such things on an advance reader's copy that maybe 50 people have read!

I loved The Hunger Games. The Water Wars is dystopian, and that's where the similarity ends completely. The writing is not as good. The stakes are not as high. The target audience shouldn't even be the same. The Water Wars felt like middle school reading to me. The characters didn't seem as old as they were supposed to be.

Here's a quick rundown of the plot: the world is suffering from a lack of water, we destroyed our environment, the ice has all melted, much of the fresh water has been poisoned, groups control all that's left of the drinkable water, even stealing it from the clouds. (Are you getting the picture? This is heavy environmentalism, and while I'm in favor of taking care of the environment, I don't believe *gasp* that evidence supports global warming.) Vera and her brother Will set out to rescue a newfound friend named Kai, who knows where to find all the water he needs. They run into pirates, environmentalists who don't actually care about environment, slavers, and ultimately, the Big Boys who control the majority of the drinkable water. The climax is unbelievable, literally, and pretty boring. The book is way too preachy, like a cautionary tale rather than the fun make-believe that fiction is supposed to be.

The book is fairly short, fortunately. I was never sucked into it. I kept reading, hoping it was going to pick up. It was always almost there, interesting enough to try again but not intriguing enough to keep me reading long.

So, save yourself a little time and don't bother with The Water Wars. If you haven't read The Hunger Games, try that instead. The hype is well-earned on that one.