Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Vespertine

The Vespertine, by Saundra Mitchell, is another of those books I got as a door prize for the GTOTW tour that stopped at Summer's Stories. I believe it may be my favorite book of the bunch so far, but I have one more author to read of the four on the tour.

It's historical fiction, with a fantastical element, for young adults. It takes place in 1889, in the United States, alternating between the early part of the year in Baltimore, Maryland and the autumn in Maine. Amelia is visiting Baltimore to find a husband since pickings are scarce in Maine. While there, she makes a close friend in the daughter of her chaperones and discovers an amazing gift. In the vespers, when the sun sets, she can catch glimpses of the future. When her predictions begin to come true, her talents are sought by all the ladies of Baltimore. Meanwhile, Amelia enjoys dinner parties and dances, where she meets an artist far below her station and, therefore, unworthy of her attention. But she can't get him off her mind, and when they are together, it's as though nothing else in the world matters, especially when he seems to have secrets of his own.

But not all of Amelia's predictions are happy ones, and when bad things happen, the blame falls to her. Amelia's bright summer is not going to end well because by the time autumn arrives in Maine, she will be entirely ruined.

I wouldn't spoil that last bit for you except for the fact that the book starts in Autumn, and the very first line says what I've just told you. I guess the mystery is how she gets there.

I really liked the style this book was written in. Even though it's for young adults, it always reminds you of its Victorian influences. But unlike some Victorian novels I've read, the young people still seem like the same young people everywhere. They have dreams. They stray from the rules as much as they are able. I have a feeling the author took a few liberties other Victorian novelists would not, but I thought it all worked together very well, this mix of old and modern.

The ending was, in some ways, both better and worse than I feared after reading the first line of the book. "Ruined" in Victorian terms usually means one thing, so I guessed but didn't know exactly what to expect. I'm happy it turned out the way it did, yet it wasn't a particularly happy ending altogether. In addition to that, the fantastical element of this book, though very light, is almost out of place and rather haunting, giving the story a ghost-like, off-kilter feel.

Nonetheless, this is a unique young adult read, and I can recommend it with three and a half stars.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Nope, this is not a personal blog post (although I am expecting again). Babies is a 2010 French documentary, detailing the lives of four children from birth to about one year of age. The babies are Ponijao from Namibia, Hattie from San Francisco, Mari from Tokyo, and Bayar from Mongolia.

I'd been wanting to see this for some time, ever since I saw it advertised in the theater. Never, before I had a child of my own, would I have wanted to see such a documentary, but something about the previews just reminded me of my own son and, therefore, touched my heartstrings. But that was the preview.

The documentary itself did not impress me much. It is rather slow. There's no narration or even subtitles, and when there is English (San Francisco), you couldn't care less what the people are saying (almost wish they weren't saying anything). But that's not to say the filmmakers aren't trying to make a point of some sort. It's not always obvious. I'm not sure they are saying one way of raising children is necessarily better than another, but they are obviously comparing for some reason. Maybe they're just saying there's no one right way.

What bothered me most about the film was actually the parenting, particularly in San Francisco and Mongolia. In San Francisco, the dad takes Mattie to a parent/child class where they chant something bordering on worship to Mother Earth. At another point, when Mattie purposefully slaps her mother across the cheek twice in a row, her mother simply smiles at her with an "Oh, Mattie," like that's going to tell the child she was wrong.

Mongolia was worse, at least for the well-being of the child. Although the parents of these four kids aren't the main show, they are almost nonexistent in the Mongolia parts, which is odd since the family lives in a remote home in the middle of a huge plateau with a bunch of cattle for neighbors. Shots of the Mongolian baby mostly show him either alone or with his abusive toddler brother. In one shot, the brother alternates hitting the baby across the face with a scarf and looking directly at the camera, as if to say, "Are you going to stop me? No? Fine, look what I can get away with." His little baby brother cries as the scarf hits him. In another shot, the toddler pushes his baby brother in the stroller a little ways away from the house to where the cattle are and leaves him out there as he returns to the house. The toddler treats their pet cat even worse, and certain scenes indicate that the younger baby will follow in his brother's footsteps.

The most different culture is Namibia, Africa. The natives live in mud huts surrounded by drought conditions, constantly covered in dirt. The women are naked above the waist. While surprising at first, the nudity is less and less disturbing as the movie progresses. It's a very cultural thing, not in the least sensual. The documentary is rated PG for this cultural and maternal nudity, also in some of the other countries' parts to a much lesser extent. What's most disturbing about the Africa scenes is the dirt and grime and flies. These people seem like they're from an era long past, the way they live completely off the land and seem to be extensions of the land itself. They sit in the dirt. Their babies crawl in the dirt, putting their faces in it and lifting rocks and old, bleached bones to taste, as any baby would with his surroundings. The difference for our culture is that dirt is outside and we can control what our children get into. This scene of the baby putting a dirty bone in its mouth is followed by a scene of one of the San Francisco parents vacuuming cat hair off the carpet and then using a lint roller on the baby. Again, I don't think the movie was commenting that one way was better than another, just comparing. In Namibia, if the baby pooped, the mom wiped its bottom on her knee and then cleaned her knee with an old corn cob. I thought that was quite smart actually. You wouldn't want to wipe the baby's bottom with the rough cob. To clean the baby's face, the Namibian mother licked it and then spit away the dirt.

You'd think that Namibia is the worst of these four places for a baby to be raised, and certainly, in some ways, it is. But the mothers were always there in the picture, sitting and talking near their babies, even if their babies happened to be in the dirt. In Mongolia, perhaps the baby was slightly cleaner, but the mom was nowhere to be seen. I appreciated the community evident in Namibia, and the baby was obviously happy.

I don't have much to say about the Japanese baby and her family. They seemed the most normal and well-adjusted. Both parents seemed to interact in equal amounts with the baby.

My inclination is to say that I did not enjoy this documentary, though parts of it were very interesting, particularly the different ways these cultures took basic care of their children. I give it two and a half out of five stars.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil

Yes, it's clever, full of puns, and funny, and yes, it turns familiar fairytales upside down. But Hoodwinked Too! didn't capture me the same way its predecessor did. Maybe the novelty has worn off, or maybe it was just too chaotic this time around. I just wasn't impressed.

In Hoodwinked Too!, Red hasn't yet finished her training with the Sister Hoods when she is called upon by the Happily Ever After Agency to rescue Hansel, Gretel, and Granny from an evil, kidnapping witch. But the lesson to be learned here is that people aren't always quite what they seem to be. The story takes us from the dark woods to the remote Asian-looking mountains of the Sister Hoods and finally to the city. Characters from the first Hoodwinked reappear while a slew of new characters join the fray. It's too fast-paced for younger children to appreciate, and it's rated PG for some rude humor, language, and action. This is another animation for an older audience.

Hoodwinked Too! is full of famous voices, which are oddly introduced as beginning credits on a dark screen. Seems like the movie was trying too hard to be something. The cast includes Glenn Close, Hayden Panettiere, Patrick Warburton, Joan Cusack, Bill Hader, and Amy Poehler among others. In the first Hoodwinked, Anne Hathaway voices Red, but the difference isn't noticeable. Although Close and Panettiere do a fine job, the show belongs to Hader and Poehler as Hansel and Gretel. I won't spoil the surprise there, but just remember this is not the story you are familiar with.

Three stars for a semi-entertaining but rather mediocre sequel.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Implosion of Aggie Winchester

I really disliked this book when I started reading it. What kept me going was that it was a nice hardcover I'd won for free from the authors of the Girls Taking Over the World tour at Summer's Stories. I thought I'd give it a chance.

Lara Zielin's The Implosion of Aggie Winchester is a young adult novel about a high school principal's daughter, Aggie, who is Goth, angry, afraid, in love with the wrong guy, and pretty much messed up. Within the first few pages, there is bad language, including the F-word, and innuendo. And it doesn't get better. The further I got into the book, the worse Aggie and her Goth friend, Sylvia, were. They were the opposite of everything I like in characters or want to read about.

But I also got a sense from the author that she wasn't condoning their behavior. She was telling the story of a girl who was going to have some dramatic stuff happen to her and, therefore, become a better character. I just wasn't sure if it was worth wading through all the garbage to get there. Still, I kept reading.

What really bugs me in some books (and it happened in Nocturne, too) is when a teenager and her parents completely miscommunicate and just get angrier and angrier with each other, resulting in the parents alienating their child and the child rebelling even further. I'm not saying it isn't realistic. It's too realistic, and I read books, in part, to escape that.

But aside from Aggie's flawed family relationships, Aggie herself drives me nuts. What kind of role model is she for a teenager reading this book? Characters in books can certainly have flaws. In fact, I think it's usually better for the story if they do. But, as my husband pointed out, Anna Karenina is a Russian classic all about an adulteress, and you never actually see her have sex. You never need to. I think some young adult books (adult books, too, for that matter) are more gritty than they need to be. I don't need to see the F-word every few pages to know that, yeah, Aggie's not a great person.

As I suspected, the book turns Aggie around, but not before she goes through a lot of pain. It's rough reading, watching characters' emotions spiral out of control when the answers are right there but no one will listen to each other. There's a scene I particularly like between Aggie and her mom, but it comes after a lot of awful stuff. Aggie also manages her boyfriend problems happily in the end, but I feel like I'm repeating myself here: it comes at a price. She never has sex, but she does practically everything else, almost negating the value of her abstinence.

The end somewhat makes up for all the story puts you through, as the reader, but I'm still not sure I would recommend it unless you know someone just like Aggie who could use a dose of reality to get her life straightened out. For me, however, it didn't cut it. It's just not happy reading. It's like reading about your local high school's gossip and scandal. However fascinating it may be, it's not uplifting or satisfying. It's rather horrifying, like a train wreck you can't stop watching.

But it's a good, solid, positive ending, so I'll dish out two and a half stars.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Fracture, by Megan Miranda, is a young adult novel with an interesting concept. Delaney is a normal girl, a friend of popular people but not quite popular herself, until the day she dies. Under freezing water for eleven minutes, she should have died...and did. But she came back, and she didn't just come back. She awoke from a coma without seeming to sustain any brain damage despite the bright, unnatural spots on her MRI that should have put her in a vegetative state. But Delaney knows she's not right. When people around her are close to death, she feels it. Her body shakes, and there's an irresistible pull toward the dying. What's more, a mysterious guy named Troy shares her ability to sense death, and Delaney is drawn to him, despite not knowing what kind of person he might really be.

I suggest this book be read by older teens. It's somewhat dark. Delaney feels sometimes that she never really came back from the dead, at least emotionally, and it puts a disturbing spin on the story. Mature concepts are discussed, such as whether a person close to death should be allowed to escape their misery early. It's kind of depressing...but still fascinating. I almost couldn't put it down.

On the positive side, there's a little romance (though much of it is frustrating), a decent ending (though still somewhat dark), and in-depth themes to think about. For instance, Delaney's mother escaped an abusive home life, and Delaney struggles with her mother's sometimes overbearing attempt to not be like her own parents. Fracture might make a good book club book for older teens.

There's some language, including the F-word, which I find especially inappropriate for teen books. But it sort of fits the tone of the book. Just use your discretion in recommending it to teen readers.

Three stars. Available in January 2012.

Limitless on DVD

The idea of Limitless is fascinating. Eddie Morra (played by Bradley Cooper from Alias), a straggly-haired bum with a serious case of writer's block, stumbles onto a drug that lets him unlock one hundred percent of his brain at once. The average human uses something like twenty percent. So, he becomes incredibly intelligent, able to remember facts he picked up in passing and never realized were still in his brain, able to assimilate fighting techniques he only ever saw on TV. With such power, he has the ability to get rich quick, to maneuver his way to the top of society, perhaps even to become president if he so wishes. All he has to do is keep taking the drug on a daily basis or he goes back to his old bum self.

But the drug is obviously addictive and, therefore, extremely dangerous. Others have taken it before him, and they are now all dead or dying. Someone keeps hunting him down and trying to kill him. Not to mention the thug who gets ahold of one of his pills and then blackmails him to keep supplying. Eddie has a complicated life, and somewhere along the way, it's going to crack.

I thought this was an intriguing concept and a good, though exaggerated, way to get across the message that drugs are really, really bad. But the end kind of ruined the message, and I have to give SPOILERS here, so if you plan to see the movie, I strongly caution you against reading the section in brackets.

[The drug has severe side-affects if you stop taking it, leading to sickness and often death. But if you take too much and don't watch your health in other ways, the drug makes you lose hours of your life, not knowing what happened or where you were. When Eddie gets to the point of collapse, he realizes he has to dose down slowly, but by then, it's almost too late. His pills are stolen, and he's being chased by another guy who's on them. There's no way he can win. Through a very disturbing scene you will undoubtedly cringe away from, he drinks blood filled with the drug and manages to escape torture and death.

Then the movie skips ahead twelve months to Eddie running for senator. The basic gist of the end is this: Eddie beats the drug and manages to retain an incredible amount of intelligence without being on it. He wins, which is what you want your hero to do, right? But it doesn't feel right. For one, Eddie was never really a hero; he was a druggie. He didn't just get off the drug; he manipulated the recipe so that when he finally did get off, his brain would still function at those high levels. He still used the drug to get higher up in life, and in the end, he became something he wasn't, something no normal human is supposed to be. It's kind of cool, but it's also wrong and sends the opposite message about drugs than I thought the movie was sending: if you're smart enough, you can beat the drug. So not true.]


So, even though this movie is science fiction, I would use caution in letting younger viewers see it. It's rated PG-13, but there is some sexuality, violence (stabbing), disturbing imagery (drinking blood, for one), and language.

Three stars.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Nocturne, by Christine Johnson, is the sequel to Claire de Lune, reviewed here. I finished this book pretty quickly, not so much because I loved it but because it was so emotionally painful I had to see how it would end. If you plan on reading Claire de Lune, don't read this review. It will contain SPOILERS.

In Nocturne, Claire is a full werewolf, but one more ceremony remains to see if she is a complete werewolf. Incomplete werewolves are so rare that the others in her pack even joke about it, believing she will have no problem showing off all her new skills. But they don't know that Claire can't start a fire in the werewolf way, an elementary skill, and if Claire can't get it right by her New Moon Ceremony, she will become an outcast. To complicate matters, her mother avoids any part of her human life, and her boyfriend, a secret-keeper for the all-female pack, doesn't seem to want to have anything to do with her werewolf life. When her best friend, Emily, finds a new friend to hang out with, Claire believes it might be for the best, since if Emily ever found out the truth, the pack would have to kill her. But Claire can't bear to give up her human life and friends entirely. Torn between two paths, Claire becomes alienated from everyone she loves, and if she doesn't start a fire, that will be her life forever.

You see? Emotional pain. That's what this book is about. I have occasionally come across books like it, not that all books don't have a little of it. This type of emotional pain is unique. It involves a teenager who is trying to do the best she can with no one listening to her or helping her. The odds are so stacked against her that all the reader wishes for is that the end will even things out and bring her some vindication. But the process of getting there is painful, especially because the girl keeps all her problems to herself and seems not to even try to fight the alienation. It's rather frustrating for the reader. I felt a little of this reading Claire de Lune, too, but that was resolved mostly satisfactorily.

I didn't feel quite the same about the end of Nocturne. I felt a little cheated, even though there was certainly emotional resolution, enough to bring a tear to my eye even; it just wasn't the resolution I was looking for. Just as in Claire de Lune, in Nocturne there are a lot of mother/daughter issues, but I confess, I understand the daughter far better than the mother. Claire's mother is kind of cold. She's Alpha of the pack, so she has to keep the rules. But I feel like she always treats her daughter as a Beta wolf and never as a daughter, especially since she's not interested in Claire's human life. The Alpha has her reasons, but they don't resonate with me on an emotional level. While Claire and her mother come to an understanding by the end, I feel like Claire just accepts how things are without ever receiving the support that she needs and that the reader desires for her.

It's the same with the boyfriend. He explains himself in the end, but I don't buy it. I take Claire's side on the issue and don't understand how she can put aside her feelings without at least one of the characters saying, "You know, you're right." The other characters do tell her she's right about her decisions in the end, but not about her feelings. It's just unsatisfactory, and Claire's reaction is not quite believable. But maybe she's just a bigger person than I am. I fully admit, Claire makes her own mistakes. In every relationship, there are two sides, and just as her mom and boyfriend don't understand her, she doesn't understand everything they do. Yet, I feel she has a better grip on their lives and shows more concern for them, especially for the boyfriend, than they show for her.

Aside from the plot and story, there are other issues to be aware of in this book. I noticed the cursing in the first book, but I noticed it even more in this second. It might be considered minor cursing, but I'm not a fan. Also, there's more sexual foreplay, for lack of a better term, in this book. The characters never go all the way, which I very much appreciate, and nothing is ever graphically described, which is especially great for young adult fiction, but I still found it was too much. Claire and her boyfriend are always alone together, and they're all over each other. I just didn't think it set a great example for young, even teenage, readers.

I will still give Nocturne three stars for being a fun, semi-unique werewolf story, and I'm curious to see where the author goes from here. Book 1 is about becoming a werewolf. Book 2 is about defining what a werewolf's life entails. I would like to see Claire evolve more in following books. I'd like the stakes to be raised, and I'd like to see a more confident heroine involved in more meaningful, satisfactory relationships. Because, with that, this series could be good.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Claire de Lune

This is not an advance reader's copy, for once. I got this book at a book signing for the Girls Taking Over the World Tour, four female authors with new books out for young adults. My sister-in-law sells them at her bookstore: Summer's Stories in Kendallville.

Claire de Lune, by Christine Johnson, is the first of two novels in a series about an all-female pack of werewolves. Claire never knew about the pack until her sixteenth birthday, when her mother took her to be initiated into the group as the newest werewolf and learn about her true identity. It turns Claire's world upside down because all she wants is to be a normal girl who doesn't have to lie to her best friend and who can date any guy she chooses. Now, as if being a werewolf didn't complicate her life enough, she's fallen in love with the son of a man who hunts werewolves to give them his bogus "cure," and there's a rogue werewolf on the loose, terrorizing and killing people. It's up to Claire's pack to find the rogue werewolf, and it's up to Claire to protect her pack from her new boyfriend's dad.

There are some unique twists to this werewolf story. For one, unlike in Meyer's Twilight, people are aware that werewolves really exist. Two, these werewolves are all female, and in fact, no male werewolves exist in the world. They pass down their lineage through daughters, conceived with normal human men.

The plot is pretty basic but should appeal to teenagers who are fascinated by all things paranormal. It's just a fun story with decent morals and a somewhat surprising ending, though if you're looking for it, it probably won't be a surprise at all. I think what I appreciated most about the story was what it had to say about mothers and daughters. At first, I thought it was going to be one of those stories where the girl rebels against her mother and is right for doing so, but at the risk of spoiling some of the surprise, I'll just say that was turned around quite nicely.

There's some weird religion stuff. Claire always says "God" as an expression (not in prayer), and her mother tells her to say "Goddess," instead, because the werewolves believe in a Goddess who gave them their powers. I could have done without all that, including the cursing. The b-word is also used a bit, which sort of fits since wolves are related to dogs, but if you don't like cursing, I'm just warning you.

Overall, it was an entertaining read, and I will be reading the second book in the series now, Nocturne, which I received as part of a door prize at the book signing. Nocturne is available at Summer's Stories now but doesn't go out to the full public until later this month.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Never Let Me Go on DVD

Lately, I've picked some really depressing movies to watch. Never Let Me Go is definitely that, but it also has a certain tragic beauty to it that appeals to me. The book club I take sporadic participation in read the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and then saw the movie together. (Kazuo Ishiguro was an executive producer on the movie as well.) I did not read the book and, therefore, did not go see the movie with them. But I was interested in it, so after many months, I decided to watch the movie on my own. I have mixed feelings about it.

First of all, I might have enjoyed it better had I read the book, but maybe not. A movie should stand on its own, and I had too many questions watching this one. Let me get into the plot, and then I'll explain (but be prepared for spoilers, which I will try to keep vague and at a minimum).

The story starts in the 1970's, which I found odd, considering that it has a somewhat futuristic, science fiction aspect to it. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow up on a glorified organ donation farm. Together with other children, they attend classes and live as though at any other "normal" boarding school. The exception is that they are being carefully monitored health-wise so that when they are of the appropriate age, they can begin a process that will let them donate up to four vital organs, one at a time, after which they will die. The only way to defer their donations is by becoming Carers. For a few years, Carers care for Donors, and then it's their turn to donate before they get too old. That's the background story, but the main story focuses on these three children as they grow into teenagers (played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley), fall in love, fall apart, and try to live normal lives within the confines of their very abnormal existence.

I just had a hard time buying the story or the characters' reactions, mainly because of one question. How do you grow up knowing you are going to die young and not realize at some point that people can't do that to you? The characters attempt to defer their donations in whatever way is presented for them, but it's like they can't think for themselves. And maybe they can't. Maybe they are so brainwashed that this is the realistic outcome. But they never once try to escape. The whole movie shows them scanning their bracelets every time they leave or enter a building all their lives, and they don't question it once. I felt like they should, but maybe that's where I'm missing what the book has to offer. I wanted to know why these farms existed, why the author felt he had to put something futuristic in the past, why the kids accepted it without question. It didn't sit right with me at all, and I don't believe it was supposed to. But I don't like the unsettled feeling, and I wanted a little more explanation about the logistics.

I'm very curious now to hear what my fellow book club members who actually read the book have to say. I want to know if the book did the story more justice.

Aside from the intriguing but confusing premise, the storyline is somewhat unsatisfactory as well. There's a love triangle, and it's annoying because on top of their crappy lives, these characters can't even enjoy a simple love. I like when they get it right, but that enjoyment is short-lived as the story ends predictably and realistically (for the type of plot). Maybe that's why I can't enjoy this story; it's too realistic. I like happy, or at least hopeful, endings. Stories should be a form of healthy escapism from the realities of life. I can appreciate a more realistic ending, but I get true enjoyment only from something that's bigger and grander than the real world.

And yet another strike against the movie: it's rated R for some nudity and sexuality. It's done much more tastefully than some movies I've seen. The only real frontal nudity is the tops of women in a magazine. There are a couple sex scenes, which are fairly careful not to show parts (you might catch a glimpse if you look closely, but I don't, so I can't tell you for sure). The sex scenes are all about lust, and the one time there is a closer connection between the people, they don't show the sex scene. That's fine by me, but why do that? Did the movie makers think that it was more sacred, or something, because it was true love? News flash: sex is sacred. Period. They understand only the half of it.

My final take. I thought the movie was mostly well-done, emotional, and heart-wrenching. From a cinematography viewpoint, it's beautiful. It has a historical feel, while being weirdly futuristic, an odd and interesting mix, to be sure. But I can't say I enjoyed the movie. It's hard to enjoy something so hopeless.

I'm really quite torn about what star rating to give this movie. I didn't hate it, but I'm not sure whom to recommend it to either. Probably best to start with the book, unlike me, and go from there. Let's just draw the line down the middle at two and a half stars.

ADDENDUM: Above, I stated that my book club read the book and then saw the movie together. I was wrong. They did read the book, but as of this post, they had not seen the movie together yet. I apologize for the error.

Winter's Bone on DVD

Winter's Bone was one of the ten Best Picture Nominees for this year's Academy Awards. I don't normally care about the Oscars because they usually celebrate movies that are sort of obscure or ultra-artsy, but this year had a lot of good nominations, movies I was actually interested in, regardless of their Hollywood popularity. With Winter's Bone, I've now managed to see all but one of the Best Picture Nominees, that one being The Kids Are All Right, which I wouldn't be opposed to seeing, though it's not high on my list.

Winter's Bone is, in my opinion, one of the weaker titles to be nominated. Something about its completely depressing nature and the grayness of the story and cinematography must have appealed to the Hollywood populace, but there's not even that much of a storyline. It's dark, oppressive, sometimes morbid, and will leave you feeling like you've glimpsed Hell. So, no, I don't recommend it.

The basic plot is this: 17-year-old Ree takes care of her two younger siblings and mentally-detached mom. Her dad, extended family, and neighbors are all country bums who cook drugs, abuse their wives, and intimidate the law. When the law comes looking for Ree's dad to meet his court date or lose his land, it's up to Ree to find out what became of him and save her home. But no one's talking, and when Ree pries deeper, she gets into big trouble with her dad's rivals. But Ree is tough, "Bread and Butter" as she calls herself, loyal to her people. She won't go to the law for help they can't give anyway, and she'll find her dad, even if she's beaten bloody along the way. SPOILERS follow. In the end, her dad is dead, she takes the bones of his hands back to the police as proof so that she doesn't lose her land, and she goes on living the way she always has, taking care of her family in a miserable hell of a world.

I think the movie tried to put a positive spin on the end. Throughout, you see these two young kids making the best of their life, playing even. Perhaps the movie was trying to suggest that hope exists in the midst of all this, but I think it was just trying to be depressing.

The movie is rated R for good reason: language, mature themes, drugs, violence (though Ree's beating is skipped over in the film). I wouldn't recommend this movie to anyone. I didn't love The Fighter, another Oscar nomination, but it was, by far, better than Winter's Bone though it carried similar themes. Black Swan was a more put-together movie, but I still give it last place for inappropriate onscreen sexuality. However, I have a hard time saying which I disliked more: Black Swan or Winter's Bone. Skip them both.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Glow, by Amy Kathleen Ryan, claims to be as riveting as The Hunger Games, but although it is interesting enough, it is not the next big thing. The next Hunger Games will be something totally different, my husband points out, just as The Hunger Games was a different sort of story at the time. A lot of books are making this claim lately, but the closest I've seen is Pure, which I just reviewed, and even that, I predict, will not get the fame of The Hunger Games, even though it might deserve it.

Glow is the first in what will be the Sky Chasers series for young adults. Waverly and Kieran are among the oldest teenagers on the Empyrean, one of two spaceships traveling to what will become the New Earth. They are expected to marry and begin the re-population of humankind, and indeed, they have been dating for awhile. But when the Empyrean catches up with its sister ship, which should have been light years ahead, disaster awaits. Waverly and the girls are kidnapped to help the sterile population aboard the New Horizon, and Kieran and the other boys are left to die on a badly mangled Empyrean with no adult supervision. As their lives are turned upside down through suffering, they cling to the hope of seeing each other and possibly their parents again. But, without question, there can be no going back. Their lives and maybe even their love will be forever altered.

I enjoyed the pace of this book. The ship setting was fascinating, and there were a lot of moral dilemmas that kept me thinking even as I enjoyed the action and suspense. It's always intriguing to me to see teenagers reacting to and overcoming the worst adversity. Granted, I'm referring to fictional teenagers; I wouldn't wish these trials on real people. There's a little bit of Lord of the Flies going on here on one side of the story, and on the other is a strange mixture of cults and biotechnology. It's obviously a well-thought-out book, juggling a variety of ideas.

I had only one problem with the story, and unfortunately, it's over a rather crucial point, in my opinion. There are a few minor spoilers following. Elements of the story border on religious, not necessarily Christian but close enough to make me wonder what the author believes about Christianity. Since the series has only just begun, I can't say yet where the author's message will fall, but it's not looking good for any kind of religion. But, interestingly in this story, the division and fighting between the two ships stems from different religious views. The Empyrean is essentially for atheists, and the New Horizon, whose members kidnap the girls, is captained by a woman Pastor. Religion takes on a very bad light aboard the New Horizon, but back on the Empyrean, the boys begin to find comfort in coming together and having religious services. Religion looks good on the Empyrean, to a point, but it gets muddy at the very end. I'm curious to see where the author will go from here, but I don't have high hopes for this aspect of the story. I think the author might come down somewhere in the middle, but even so, her understanding of theology does not appear to be Christian and should be absorbed with caution. The whole religious aspect of the book is kind of key to the plot, and the way it is portrayed with mixed-up theology, even where religion seems to be good, has me cringing a bit. But the story is good and certainly thought-provoking.

Glow is available in September.

Rango and Unknown

I'm cheating a little this time by not writing full reviews on these two movies I've seen recently. Both Rango and Unknown are new DVD releases. I just have a few words on each, but I will say I enjoyed them.

Rango is an animated film, rated PG, starring Johnny Depp as the voice lead. It's about a nameless chameleon who is accidentally tossed out of his owner's car into the desert, where he attempts to become someone greater than himself to save a town of desert animals from a water shortage. It's funny but somewhat crude. If you took your kids to see this in the theater, I apologize for not being able to warn you sooner. This movie should be rated PG-13 and is an animation for older teens and adults, who will appreciate the humor and storyline. I heard a kid raving about Rango recently and had to cringe because I don't believe it's appropriate for younger ages, despite being animation. It's a bit violent and scary with adult themes kids won't get anyway and inappropriate language. There is some minor innuendo, particularly the top half of a naked Barbie doll. But for adults, this is an entertaining three-star movie.

Unknown stars Liam Neeson as a man who goes to Berlin with his wife to attend a Bio Tech conference and ends up getting into an accident and sustaining a head injury that takes him out of commission for four days and erases part of his memory. When he wakes from his coma without any identification on him, no one believes he is Dr. Martin Harris, especially when his own wife is calling another man by his name and seems not to know him. Things go from strange to dangerous when this other man produces passports and family pictures with his own photos instead of Martin's. Some people have gone to a lot of trouble to make sure Martin Harris disappears from the world, and they're willing to kill anyone who gets in their way. This movie is rated PG-13, mostly appropriately, although I would still advise caution for younger teens. There is a love-making scene in a shower, but nothing is exposed on camera. Also, there is a certain amount of violence and murder. Again, for adults this is an entertaining, suspenseful thriller. Three stars.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

I went to see Cowboys & Aliens last night. It was a fabulous Western/Science Fiction mix. It's definitely violent, and the aliens are disturbingly gross, so watch at your own discretion. It's rated PG-13, and I would stick to that. Don't take younger kids to see this.

The list of names involved with this movie is impressive, but I wouldn't normally care. I like a movie to stand on its own, not on names. But I think it's worth mentioning some of them this time. Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, and Harrison Ford star. Noah Ringer, the star of The Last Airbender, plays a part. There are about nine writing credits, one of which is Damon Lindelof of TV's Lost. There's a whole page of producers, including Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, and Damon Lindelof. Altogether, it's quite a crew, but Daniel Craig (known as the new Bond) and Harrison Ford really make this movie.

As for plot, don't go in expecting Inception. The plot is relatively simple, and the story is more about the characters' interactions and defeating seemingly monstrous odds. If the title intrigues you, you will enjoy the movie. If you think the title is ridiculous, you will think the same of the movie. But if you like incongruous pairings, this is an interesting one. TV's Firefly (which carries the same characters as the movie Serenity) paired Westerns and Scifi with fantastic results, despite running only one season. I guess it just goes to show that the pairing isn't for everyone, but those who love it really love it.

So, basic plot: a man (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert and can't remember anything, even his name. But he wears a strange, metal armband that won't come off. He rides into the nearest town, gets some clues about his identity, and then discovers that his armband can blast other, larger metal contraptions out of the sky. He joins a retired, surly Colonel (Harrison Ford), a band of outlaws, and a tribe of Indians to retrieve the people stolen by the gold-hunting aliens. It's pure Western fun with lots of shooting, punching, stabbing, and general fighting.

Good popcorn movie. Good romp. And Daniel Craig is an amazing specimen of masculinity, what can I say. Great casting. Three and a half stars out of five.