Sunday, May 27, 2012


I'm sorry, for all you fans out there, that I have not seen the original Footloose, so this will not be a comparison review. I wasn't all that interested in seeing the new 2011 version either, but a preview I saw hooked my attention and I rented the DVD.

For those of you out of the loop like me, Footloose is about a high school boy, Ren, from Boston who ends up in a little Southern podunk town with his uncle's family after his mother's death. His seemingly rebellious spirit stirs up a town where it's against the law to crank up your music or dance in public gatherings, the law having been made after the death of five seniors coming home from such a dance. But there was trouble in paradise before Ren arrived. The pastor's own daughter, Ariel, is out of control, and Ren's interest in her makes him the perfect scapegoat when the town starts to unravel.

I liked the storyline of this movie. I liked Ren's angry dancing, a combination of gymnastics and parkour. I did NOT like Ariel's sexy dancing. I get that she's the rebellious bad girl, doing exactly what her father doesn't want her to. So, if she dances like she does at first, I understand. But when she continues to dance like she does (the very type of dancing that instigated people to make the law in the first place, what they call lascivious and promiscuous dancing), when the movie is trying to prove that dancing in and of itself is not harmful but fun, there's a contradiction there. Sexy dancing is not just for fun. It has a purpose: to turn guys on. And though turning guys on doesn't automatically equal harmful, it's not just free-spirited fun either. The point would have been better made had Ariel's dancing changed midway through the movie: had her destructive dancing been a side effect of her attitude, and a more creative fun dancing come out as a result of her change of attitude. While Ariel herself does finally put on a girly dress and tone down her dancing for the last scenes, it's too little too late for the movie to carry any consistent message.

It's not that I don't like the dynamics of having Ariel's character in the movie. It could have been a fascinating performance, but instead, it just came off as a little cheap. Ren and his new buddy Willard, however, are fabulous, and I'd kick off my Sunday shoes with them anytime.

One for the Money

I wanted to see One for the Money when I saw the trailer, never mind that I've never been interested in reading the book by Janet Evanovich. The trailer was fun, and I liked the actors (Katherine Heigl and Jason O'Mara). I didn't get to see the movie in the theaters, and it was taking forever to come through Netflix, so I went to the rental store and picked it up. It was okay, but I think the preview might have been better than the movie.

I was disappointed to discover what the story is actually about. Stephanie Plum is just a woman who needs money fast to pay her bills. So, she goes to people she knows to see if she can get a secretarial job, and all that's available is a bounty hunting one...worth $50,000. It doesn't matter that Stephanie knows nothing about bounty hunting and can hardly shoot a gun. I don't know how real bounty hunting works, but it's just ridiculous that someone like Stephanie Plum could be seriously considered for that job. That was my main beef with the movie. I didn't know whether it was taking itself seriously or purposely being ridiculous.

And then there's the fact that the bounty hunting job is for a cop who had sex with Stephanie and then lost interest when they were young, so part of her deal is that she wants revenge. But she's in way over her head because this cop is wanted for murder, and deaths keep mounting up the longer she chases him.

So, I was getting the comedy vibe at first, but after several people died, I was thinking that perhaps this was more of an action/drama flick. Not being able to define the genre really didn't help me like this movie more. Sometimes I like it when I can't pin down a movie because it's so unique. One for the Money wasn't like that. It was unique in a I-can't-believe-that's-really-the-storyline kind of way. At one point, Stephanie is unclothed in the shower. One guy steals into her home and handcuffs her to the curtain rod, and she calls another guy to come free her. In Stephanie's own narration, she wonders if there is something wrong with her that two guys saw her naked and didn't try anything. Yes, Stephanie, there's something wrong with you, but it's less about clothing and more about plot.

The movie is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and partial nudity. The bonus is that's it's only an hour and a half.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Unraveling, by Elizabeth Norris, is almost-end-of-the-world young adult science fiction, new this month. I would have given it four stars except that it uses the F-word far too much. It's one thing to use it in dire circumstances. I still don't like it, but I get it. It's another thing to use it simply for emphasis or to grab attention or to be edgy. I know that appeals to people somehow, but to me, it's cheap and dirty. I prefer classy and original, and I'd prefer to never see the F-word in a book at all. In this book, it actually got to the point where it was used so often it didn't make my eyes bug out every time I saw it, and that's not a good thing. The author even used the phrase "Thank God" with the F-word inserted in the middle. Really? I'm sorry to even put that phrase in your head, but I have to be honest.

On the other hand, without the F-word, this is a really creative and entertaining book. Janelle literally dies at the beginning, and this kid she barely knows brings her back to life, leaving her crazy for answers. But that's not the weirdest thing. Since her dad's in the FBI, Janelle often has access, illegal as it may be, to his cases, and some odd stuff is going on. For instance, the guy in the car that hit and killed her died, too, but he died from the kind you'd have to be standing right next to a bomb or nuclear meltdown to be exposed to, but he was in the middle of a highway. Janelle determinedly goes after the truth and finds more than she ever bargained for, including a countdown to the end of the world.

This book has some great twists and action, but it also deals with hard issues. For instance, Janelle has to be older than her years, taking care of a bipolar mother and her younger brother while her dad loses himself in his work. Then, there's also the night Janelle can't remember, when she was drugged and ended up alone and half-naked in a strange car. People die in this book, people the reader actually cares about. In some ways, it's a very serious book.

There's romance, too, but I have mixed feelings regarding it. It's the kind of romance that you want to succeed but that seems doomed. (SPOILERS) The book leaves it open-ended, and you don't know if the characters will ever even find each other again. There's a lot of tongue-kissing and desperate body grabbing but no actual sex. The characters, at least, have more going for them than the physical. Both are pretty intelligent and share a love of books.

Altogether, I enjoyed the read, though I have to give it only three stars. I could have done without the F-word and the physical romantic stuff. I guess it added to the desperate, end-of-the-world vibe of the book, but I find that sort of thing tasteless.

Unraveling sets itself up for a sequel.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Vow on DVD

[NOTICE: I've changed the review below because, originally, I made a huge mistake and assumed this movie was based on a book by Nicholas Sparks. It has all the trappings of one of his book-adapted movies: same type of story, same actors. But, in fact, it is based on a true story written by the Carpenters. I apologize if you happened to be misled by reading the previous version of this review.]

If you look at my "Movie Reviews" page, you'll see there is a whole category dedicated to Nicholas Sparks book-adapted movies! I'm not sure why I torture myself with those. I loved A Walk to Remember, both the book and the movie. That was my introduction to Nicholas Sparks. Since then, nothing has matched...not even close. Perhaps because of the subject matter and the format of the title and the look of the cover, I thought this movie was based on another of his books. I was made aware that it is not. It's based on a true story by Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, which makes it all the sadder. I sincerely hope their story has a more satisfying ending than this movie.

The Vow (now out on DVD) is actually okay, except for the end. Yeah, it's still a bittersweet, sappy love story. Nothing inherently wrong with that. I like it because the two main characters are actually married, for once, so there isn't that whole extra-marital sex storyline to deal with (though the movie is rated PG-13 and contains partial nudity and minor sexual content). Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams do a beautiful job portraying their characters.

In The Vow, Paige and Leo are deeply in love until a car accident puts Paige in a coma from which she awakes remembering nothing of her life with Leo. In her mind, she's still engaged to another man, still speaks to her parents, has a different set of friends, doesn't live in the city, eats meat, and is still a law student rather than a struggling artist. Her whole life is different than she remembers it, and she does not know, let alone love, the man who's supposed to be her husband. Leo, on the other hand, is so in love that he tries everything to ease her transition back into his life, but the going is extremely rough. Eventually, he realizes that he will have to start from zero again in their relationship, but can Paige fall in love with him again or will her reunion with her former life be too big a chasm to span?

(Minor SPOILERS) Obviously, this is a heartbreakingly sad movie. I'm not saying the end result is sad. I won't completely spoil that for you, if you wish to see it anyway. But the process is difficult to watch. Can you imagine the person you love most in the world suddenly ceasing to know you even exist? There are happy moments, too, redemptive moments, and it was almost enough. But the end just wasn't everything I wanted. Something was missing.

However, The Vow was better than the similar (though fictional) Nicholas Sparks "Romantic Tragedies" I've reviewed on this blog, and ending aside, it was an emotional tearjerker of a romance, which I generally enjoy. Three stars out of five.

The Immortal Rules

I do not typically read vampire stories. I read Twilight, but that hardly qualifies. When I have read "real" vampire stories, I've been turned off because usually, they are really and truly monsters. I've always been a little intrigued by the Underworld movies starring Kate Beckinsale, and I've seen bits and pieces of those. But even Underworld is a little dark for my tastes. I think I picked up Julie Kagawa's young adult novel The Immortal Rules only because I'd read The Iron Queen, by the same author, and liked it so well. And let me tell you, for a vampire story, it's good.

Allison Sekemoto lives in a post-apocalyptic world where vampires reign and use the humans who are left as blood slaves. As an Unregistered, Allie doesn't have to give blood, but the price is high. She's a scavenger, living day to day, sometimes eating the garbage even the rats won't touch. Still, she's free.

Then one day, a plan to scavenge outside the safety of the city's walls goes horribly wrong, and Allie finds herself faced with the worst choice possible. Die to the world forever...or die but keep on living, such a life as it is, as a soulless vampire. She chooses to remain with the world and, in so doing, becomes the monster she hates. Her vampire "father" teaches her what she needs to survive in her new life, his greatest lesson being that she is not human anymore and, in fact, will one day kill one.

Allison hates who she is, and she is determined to retain any humanity she might have left. What's great about this book is that very struggle. If your only choice was to drink human blood, how would you go about it? Allison makes friends along the way, complicating her dilemma.

Allison herself is a pretty sweet katana-wielding, Asian vampire girl. Altogether, it's a kick-butt adventure with emotional depth and a cool antihero. It's definitely darker and more edgy than Twilight, but it's not all blood and gore (though there's a fair amount of it).

One of the things I absolutely love about the book is it's a vampire story where sex isn't an emphasis. Vampires have always been either monsters or sexual fiends, often both. This story downplays both sides while still retaining the dark image of what a vampire is. It's not watered down, just classier. But there's still romance. Hard to have a teen vampire novel without that!

Another thing I found interesting in the book is the use of religion. Vampires aren't supposed to have souls, but Allie keeps questioning exactly what that means. The group she ends up with is very religious, led by a former preacher. Though the preacher himself believes God has abandoned Earth, his protege, Allie's love interest, has more faith. I was thoroughly surprised to see a large passage of the Bible quoted, as this is a secular book...about vampires no less. Allie, as a vampire, even reads the Bible, so as you can see, the book doesn't go as far as some mythology. I thought the vampire mythology of this book was a good mix of traditional (wooden stakes, sunlight, etc. are bad) and newer trends (the cross and the Bible aren't).

The Immortal Rules, out this month, is the first book of a new series called Blood of Eden. I'm looking forward to the sequel. Four stars.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Selection

There are probably several words that would be appropriate to describe The Selection, by Kiera Cass, but let me give you my top two. Immediate ending impression: Annoying. Overall reading impression: Intriguing. This was a book that was easy to read. Once I opened the cover, it went fast. There's something to be said for that. I've read a lot of books that aren't that compelling.

On the other hand, this book fell short in some important ways, not the least of which is the end. First of all, I felt like I was reading someone's cushy, G-rated, mom-approved version of The Hunger Games. There's no killing, but all the other pieces are there! It's a dystopian post-United-States world with some of the same technology we have today. There are castes, Twos living the good life and Eights barely surviving. Girls are selected to compete for the prince's heart, their families receiving compensation in the meantime. The heroine leaves a lover at home and falls in love with someone new during the course of the competition. There are rebels who keep attacking the palace. I think someone said, "What if we took The Hunger Games and made it a little less like ancient Rome and a little more like The Bachelor instead?" That's what this book feels like, unfortunately. Fans of The Hunger Games will see the similarities and scoff.

And to top it all off, someone thought it would be a good idea to make this a series (as all young adult novels are these day), but I think they were badly mistaken. Yes, I'm sure the author will find a way to draw this out into several books, but this could certainly have been a one-book story. Instead, the end is unsatisfying and might even turn readers off.

The main problem is that America (I didn't like the heroine's name, myself), the heroine, can't decide between her almost-fiance from home and the prince she's growing more attached to. Both are great guys, of course. Both are madly in love with her, of course. Oh, to be able to be so choosey! I mean, really, this sends a terrible message to girls: wait as long as you can because one day, you'll have more choices than you can handle and you want to be sure you pick right. Does that sound like reality to you?

(SPOILERS) And most annoying of all, the first guy America loved shows up and begins to ruin America's chances at the prince by helping her break the rules. Eventually, the prince will find out (not in this book!), and it will cause hysteria and confusion and avoidable pain. I absolutely hated that about this book. It's unnecessary conflict. Just let the story end! Happily!

If you love dystopian fiction, don't read this for that; there's not enough of it in here, though elements have potential. If you love beauty pageants, then this might be more up your alley.

I'd seen bad reviews for this book, but I wanted to give it a try anyway. Undoubtedly, my opinions were colored from the start by what I'd read about the book; I kept looking for flaws. Nonetheless, I was growing attached until the end ruined it. I give it three stars for potential and readability.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

We Bought a Zoo

When I first saw the title We Bought a Zoo, I had no interest whatsoever in seeing it. I expected it to be comedy, and though I'm not opposed to comedy, by any means, I felt like Zookeeper was enough in that department. Then I saw a trailer, which only confused me. Obviously not a comedy, then. Now, maybe it was too serious. It wasn't until recently when I saw a different trailer that I was truly interested. And now, having seen it, I'm glad I did.

We Bought a Zoo is a heartstring-pulling drama, based on a true story, about a family who lost their mom and wife and needed a change of scenery. The zoo happened to be attached to the house they wanted to buy, and the dad (played beautifully by Matt Damon), being something of an adventure chaser, decided to go with it.

What ensues is the biggest adventure of them all as the Mee family heals from their grief and makes some new friends, both animal and human. This is a family movie (rated PG) with a serious edge (as opposed to some family dramas that are complete fluff) and a meaningful message of hope. Be prepared to laugh and cry. If you haven't seen this one yet, you definitely should. Available now on DVD.

The Avengers in Theaters Now

Wow. Go see The Avengers in the theater now! Friday was its first day out. If you liked Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, you will love this one even more. If you haven't seen those movies, watch them before you see this to give yourself a little more context on the characters.

This movie, while having some great conflict and action, is also laugh-out-loud funny. And with a cast of seven main actors, it's amazing how well the movie holds together and how fully each character is portrayed. Balancing such a cast can't be easy, but every character is well-represented and matters. It would have been easy to have Black Widow and Hawkeye be only supporting characters, but no, this movie makes them stand out as much as the others we are more familiar with (speaking as someone who knows these characters from movies alone and not from comic books). Even The Hulk is fabulous. Now, I know nothing about The Hulk, but he seems like a pretty boring brute of a superhero. I realize now that what is intriguing about him is his shy Dr. Banner personality, but this movie makes both sides cool.

The basic premise of the movie is this: Thor's adopted brother Loki has come to Earth to use the power of the Tesseract (the blue energy cube last seen in Captain America) to rule humanity. Nick Fury calls in six superheroes to form a team called The Avengers to save the world. As one superhero puts it, where you fail to protect, you avenge. The problem is these guys aren't team players. Each is used to being the top dog in the situations they've faced, so before they get to the big battle, they duke it out like animals vying for supremacy. It's pretty interesting to see who does or doesn't come out on top.

In case you've been living on the moon (or comic books and superheroes just aren't your thing), this is the cast: Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Joss Whedon directs. Some of the secondary characters from previous movies reprise their roles.

The Avengers is wholesome family fun, providing your kids are old enough to watch sci-fi battle action. It's PG-13 and clean.

I can't really say anything more without spoiling. You just need to see this one yourself, and if you can, see it while it's still in the theater, just because...why not? It's worth it. And stay past the initial credits (before the black screen credits) to see footage of a new baddie for a future movie. By the way, if you see The Avengers in Kendallville (maybe other places, too), you get the added bonus of watching the latest trailers for The Dark Knight Rises and Brave.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Downton Abbey: Season One

Downton Abbey was recommended to me before it became so popular, but I confess, I wasn't truly interested in it until all the hype finally got me to bump it up my Netflix list. Even then, I had to wait for weeks for it to become available since it was in high demand.

You've probably heard of it, as I had, but likely, you have already watched it or you know almost nothing about it...nothing in between. It's a hard show to explain fully, and until you watch an episode, you just won't get it. But, as my husband found out when I convinced him to watch just one episode with me, it's strangely addicting.

So, what is it? Picture a slightly more modern Pride and Prejudice era where the societal classes are beginning to fizzle but haven't quite yet, and then, picture getting into the back hallways and kitchens of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth's Pemberley, and you might be getting close. Downton Abbey is the name of the colossal home of the Lord Crawley, his wife, and their three daughters, and the story is not only about them but also about everyone who works for them. Essentially, the show Downton Abbey is about everything that makes Downton Abbey a workplace and home. If you've seen the DVD season cover, it has enough people on it to rival Lost, and indeed, the show gets into every one of their lives, amazingly creating a united whole out of so many stitches.

Season one spans approximately two years with a mere seven episodes on three discs (the British don't feel the need to have a set number of episodes in a season). It starts in 1912 with the off-screen sinking of the Titanic, an event that takes the life of the heir of Downton Abbey and causes the family to have to seek out a distant male cousin to inherit since daughters can't. The season ends with the life-altering news of the start of World War I. It's unfair to call what takes place between a soap opera because it is so much better than that, but the drama resembles that with all the secrets, lies, romance, and fighting that goes on. That's not to say it's all bad drama. There are wonderful characters with hearts of gold, too.

I'm excitedly awaiting Season Two on Netflix, though the first disc's status is "Long wait." Season Three premieres later this year. Four stars for great TV!