Friday, November 5, 2010

Title:  The Princess and the Frog
Format:  DVD
Category:  Family/Animated/Disney Princess
Rating:  A-

Description (from Disney website):  Walt Disney Animation Studios presents the musical The Princess and the Frog, an animated comedy set in the great city of New Orleans. From the creators of "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin" comes a modern twist on a classic tale, featuring a beautiful girl named Tiana, a frog prince who desperately wants to be human again, and a fateful kiss that leads them both on a hilarious adventure through the mystical bayous of Louisiana.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I'm so happy Disney returned to their classic 2-D, hand-drawn animation for this movie.  It was a refreshing change from the 3-D, CGI obsession that has taken over all animation studios, including Disney.  It was also awesome, because it wasn't the low-quality, straight-to-DVD animation that seems to have become standard for all non-CGI movies and Disney sequels.

This version of The Princess & the Frog is amazing, not only because it captures the essence of the classic Disney princess movie, but also because it provides a fresh twist on the original fairy-tale.  With memorable characters, fun songs, and great dialogue, this movie is great for the whole family.  Unless you have children who scare easily (like my sister) or if you disapprove of seeing the occult in a Disney family film (like my mom).  The villain of the movie is a voodoo practitioner who speaks to evil spirits, and one of the "good guys" also practices voodoo, but she's portrayed in a good light.  Something neither my mom nor I agree with.  But if you can get past the occultism, the movie is a great retelling of a classic fairy-tale.  A-

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Title:  Castle: Season 2
Format:  hulu.com
Category:  TV Crime Drama
Rating:  A

Description (from about.com)Richard Castle is an incredibly famous mystery novelist who finds himself at the center of a police investigation when a serial killer uses scenes from Castle's book to commit his many crimes. Once Castle helps track down the killer with the help of the very beautiful Detective Kate Beckett, the two begin working together (with plenty of romantic tension) to solve homicides.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Love, love, love this series!  I just bought and re-watched this season in preparation for Season 3 (on tonight!), and it just solidified in my mind how awesome this show is.  The dialogue, the humor, the exciting mysteries, the characters, the drama, the twists, the flirtation-- how can anyone resist loving a show with so much to offer?

The characters, their dialogue, and their humor are the main reasons this show surpasses other crime dramas.  Nathan Fillion is hilarious as novelist-turned-detective Richard Castle, and his banter with Detective Kate Beckett is the best part of the series.  Beckett is an awesome female lead; she's a kick-butt detective with a talent for sarcasm.  Her partners, Ryan and Esposito, are always handy with a witty remark or to tease Castle and Beckett, and their arguments over pointless and obscure facts add to the fun.  Castle's relationship with his mother and daughter also brings a lot of entertainment and laughter, and their presence helps keep Castle anchored to the real world.

The show is exciting, humorous, and fun, and its second season is the perfect follow-up to the awesomeness of the first.  A
Title:  Primeval: Season 3
Format:  DVD
Category:  Sci-Fi
Rating:  A

So much action and drama packed into this season.  Even more new characters, the scariest new villain yet, and a catastrophic death that overwhelms and changes the team's dynamic forever.  The third season is the most intense and exciting of the series.

The newest characters in the series are Dr. Sarah Page (an Egyptologist), Captain Becker (head of ARC security), and Danny Quinn (former police officer).  Each add their own unique style and quirks to the team, as well as provide new perspective on the anomalies.  The newest villain, Christine Johnson, is extremely power-hungry and devious, and she's not afraid of putting other people at risk to get what she wants.  Her desire to learn more about the future and its advances and to gain an important artifact from a future anomaly is one of the main overarching plots of the season, and on more than one occasion, she comes close to succeeding.

The worst part about watching this season was to get to the awesome cliffhanger at the end, and then realize that the show had been canceled.  How could they?!  It was such an amazing show, and it ends in the most exciting, nail-biting cliffhanger ever.  They couldn't just leave it there.  Luckily, lots of other fans felt the same way and voiced their opinions loudly.  And they're bringing the show back in December for at least two more seasons!!  I'm so happy!  Now they can finally tell me what happened to the team.  And if my luck holds out, maybe they'll extend it for a sixth season too!  Can't wait for December!  A

Monday, November 1, 2010

Title:  Primeval: Season 2
Format:  Netflix
Category:  Sci-Fi
Rating:  A


I'm not even going to bother putting in a description because imdb's stinks, and every other websites' is two pages long.

The second installment of the Primeval series is even more exciting than the first.  New characters, new creatures, new villains... and an alternate universe!  This season focuses on creatures from the future and the relationships between the characters.  Which are especially strained after the twisted ending to the first season.

Cutter has the hardest time readjusting to all of the changes occurring in his life and world, like their new headquarters, the ARC (Anomaly Research Center).  The biggest change he has to cope with is the departure of Claudia Brown, and the entrance of her look-alike, PR specialist Jennifer Lewis.  James Lester gets a much bigger and more appreciated role, although he will always be snarky.  And Connor and Abby start to take on more responsibilities as well as bigger roles in the series (after all, they are the only two people from the original team to last through all four seasons).  Their "relationship" also goes through a lot of bumps and turns, but it's one of the best parts of the series.

The second season also has a more defined overarching plot, and the subplots are much more connected.  Everything builds up to a spectacular season finale, where one main character dies to save others, and one of the villains escapes to cause more trouble in the next season.  A
Title:  Primeval: Season 1
Format:  Netflix
Category:  Sci-fi
Rating:  A

Crappy Description (from imdb.com):  When strange anomalies in time start to appear all over England, Professor Cutter and his team have to help track down and capture all sorts of dangerous prehistoric creatures from Earth's distant past.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I heart this series!!  I started watching it just because I love Andrew Lee Potts, and ended up falling in love with the whole show.  The dialogue is funny, the cast is amazing, and the plot is engaging and exciting.  Like many British TV-shows, the special effects aren't the best, but they don't detract from the show at all.  And as the series became more popular and made more money, the effects did start to improve.

This season, which only had six episodes, mostly focused on the introduction of the time anomalies, the establishment of the team, and the development of the characters' personalities.  Basically, the anomalies are these rips in time that are allowing creatures from the past, such as dinosaurs, to come through to the present, wreaking havoc all over England.  A team is quickly thrown together, mostly by being in the right place at the right time, to try to control the creature sightings and keep the nation from discovering the anomalies exist.  This early team is made up of Nick Cutter (professor of evolutionary biology and team leader), Claudia Brown (government liaison), Stephen Hart (lab technician & bodyguard), Connor Temple (student-turned-equipment/research/logistics-specialist), and Abby Maitland (herpetologist and assistant zookeeper).  They are overseen by Home Office official James Lester, who butts heads with Cutter all the time.

The stories are extremely interesting, especially since most of the creatures in the series aren't the traditional ones we think of when we think of dinosaurs.  No triceratops or stegosaurus or t-rex here.  Instead, there are giant insects, dodos, parasites, mosasaurs, and a gorgonopsid.  Of course, like Jurassic Park, a great deal of creative license is used when it comes to these creatures, as we don't have a lot of concrete facts about their behaviors and habits.

This is one of those shows that you just can't stop watching; it's so exciting.  And there are overarching plotlines and subplots galore to keep the show from just being about catching dinosaurs.  BBC created an awesome series with Primeval, and I can't wait for the next season to come out on DVD (since they won't be showing it in America).  A
Title:  Going Postal
Author:  Terry Pratchett
Format:  Paperback
Pages:  416
Genre:  Fantasy/Discworld
Date Started:  August 14, 2010
Date Finished:  August 17, 2010

Rating:  A-

Description (from the Publisher):  Arch-swindler Moist Van Lipwig never believed his confidence crimes were hanging offenses—until he found himself with a noose tightly around his neck, dropping through a trapdoor, and falling into...a government job?

By all rights, Moist should have met his maker. Instead, it's Lord Vetinari, supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork, who promptly offers him a job as Postmaster. Since his only other option is a nonliving one, Moist accepts the position—and the hulking golem watchdog who comes along with it, just in case Moist was considering abandoning his responsibilities prematurely.

Getting the moribund Postal Service up and running again, however, may be a near-impossible task, what with literally mountains of decades-old undelivered mail clogging every nook and cranny of the broken-down post office building; and with only a few creaky old postmen and one rather unstable, pin-obsessed youth available to deliver it. Worse still, Moist could swear the mail is talking to him. Worst of all, it means taking on the gargantuan, money-hungry Grand Trunk clacks communication monopoly and its bloodthirsty piratical head, Mr. Reacher Gilt.

But it says on the building neither rain nor snow nor glo m of ni t...Inspiring words (admittedly, some of the bronze letters have been stolen), and for once in his wretched life Moist is going to fight. And if the bold and impossible are what's called for, he'll do it—in order to move the mail, continue breathing, get the girl, and specially deliver that invaluable commodity that every human being (not to mention troll, dwarf, and, yes, even golem) requires: hope.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Watching the miniseries adaptation before reading the book was a big mistake.  My brother had told me that there was more creative license taken with Going Postal than there had been for the other adaptations.  I just didn't realize it was going to be for the better.  Usually the book is a hundred times better than its movie; in this case, it seemed so much... slower and less exciting than its TV adaptation.  The book was still very good, and there were several parts that I wish they'd included in the miniseries because they were so hilarious.  I just felt that the original story had quite a few parts where the action just seemed to stop.

Overall, Going Postal has memorable characters, a unique and exciting storyline, and Pratchett's famous wit and sarcasm.  I personally loved the book, but I wish I'd read it before seeing the miniseries.  A-

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NaNoWriMo-- it's approaching!  In less than a week, it will be extreme writing time.  30 days to write a 50,000 word novel.  Am I excited? Yes!  Am I ready? NO!  Am I still going to go through with this crazy idea?  YES!

This year, I am going to reach the finish line of 50,000 words, even if it's 50,000 words of crap.  (Of course I'd prefer award-winning prose, but who are we kidding here?).  So the next few days will be spent running errands and fulfilling any obligations that might interfere with NaNo-time.  Such as updating this blog.  Just off the top of my head, I can think of at least 32 reviews that need to be done.  Which means I'm going to be very busy the next few days, and you can expect to see quite a few updates here.  The reviews might not be very well-written or very long, but at least they will be done.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Title:  Inception
Format:  Drive-In
Date Seen:  August 7, 2010
Category:  Sci-Fi/Action/Thriller/Mind-bending
Rating:  A

A really good mind-bending movie that leaves you wanting to see it again in order to understand it better.

Description (from fandango.com):  Visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan writes and directs this psychological sci-fi action film about a thief who possesses the power to enter into the dreams of others. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) doesn't steal things, he steals ideas. By projecting himself deep into the subconscious of his targets, he can glean information that even the best computer hackers can't get to. In the world of corporate espionage, Cobb is the ultimate weapon. But even weapons have their weakness, and when Cobb loses everything, he's forced to embark on one final mission in a desperate quest for redemption. This time, Cobb won't be harvesting an idea, but sowing one. Should he and his team of specialists succeed, they will have discovered a new frontier in the art of psychic espionage. They've planned everything to perfection, and they have all the tools to get the job done. Their mission is complicated, however, by the sudden appearance of a malevolent foe that seems to know exactly what they're up to, and precisely how to stop them.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Wow.  This movie definitely challenges your brain.  I watched this movie at the drive-in with my family, and we spent the entire trip home discussing (read: arguing about) the different scenes and sci-fi elements.  Luckily, we all agreed on one thing-- we all liked the movie.  It had a stellar cast, original idea (at least to me), great special effects, and a fast pace that never lagged.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy... the entire cast was amazing.  And the dialogue was great.  Probably the best scene was with Ellen Page as Ariadne and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur.  The two of them are within a dream, and the people within it, the "mental projections," are getting suspicious of them, so Arthur has to think of something to diffuse their suspicion.

Arthur:  Quick, give me a kiss!
Ariadne: (kisses him, then looks around) They're still looking at us.
Arthur:  Yeah, it was worth a shot.

I loved the whole concept of the movie too.  The idea that you can go into someone's dreams to find things someone's hiding, or to plant an idea in their mind, just seems so cool.  A movie that takes place almost entirely within someone's subconscious can go in so many different directions, because there are fewer limits on the dream world.  So the effects, the action, the plot can be extreme without seeming impossible, because after all, none of this is happening in the "real" world.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this movie is the ending, which I won't give away.  But I personally found it frustrating.  Other people might like it.  And of course, I really want to see this movie again to try to understand some parts that confused me.  I'd also see it again because, despite the ending, I loved it.  A
Title:  Persuasion
Format:  DVD
Category: Jane Austen adaptation
Rating:  A

Description (from pbs.org):  Unhappily unmarried at age 27, and dealing with family financial peril, hope is fading from Anne Elliot's life. Circumstances bring Captain Frederick Wentworth, a dashing naval officer she once deeply loved, back into her life eight years after Anne was persuaded by her family to reject his marriage proposal. Having returned from sea with a new fortune, Wentworth is surrounded by swooning women while Anne broods at the periphery, longing to be in Wentworth's favor. Now Anne comes face-to-face with the deep regret of her old decision, and her abiding love for Wentworth, as she wonders if a long ago love can be rekindled.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Persuasion is probably my favorite Austen novel, so I am incredibly critical when watching adaptations.  But both this version and the 1995 movie are amazing!  This movie has excellent character development, a great cast, and an amazing attention to detail.  And they stay completely true to the book, which is extremely important to me.

I think my one issue, practically a non-issue, is that I keep seeing Captain Wentworth as a dark, swarthy man like Ciaran Hinds, instead of the fair Rupert Penry-Jones.  I still love Penry-Jones and his performance; he's a wonderful Captain Wentworth.  Alice Krige was amazing as Lady Russell, but it's very hard for me to separate her from her role as the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact.  I just can't get that image of her out of my head, which is really unfair to her because she's such a great actress.

If you like Austen and/or period films and/or a good romance, you'll love this.  A

Friday, August 20, 2010

Title:  2012
Format:  Netflix
Category:  Disaster/Action Adventure/Thriller/Apocalypse
Rating:  B

Description (from fandango.com):  Disaster movie maven Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow) crafts this apocalyptic sci-fi thriller following the prophecy stated by the ancient Mayan calendar, which says that the world will come to an end on December 21, 2012. When a global cataclysm thrusts the world into chaos, divorced writer and father Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) joins the race to ensure that humankind is not completely wiped out. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, and Oliver Platt round out the cast of this end-of-the-world thriller.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
2012 wasn't meant to be a comedy, yet I couldn't stop laughing.   This over-the-top movie attempts to make you stretch your imagination and believe the impossible.  But it just goes too far.  And I'm sorry to all the Woody Harrelson fans out there, but this movie lost all credibility as soon as I saw him.  Yet, despite its ridiculousness, I found 2012 entertaining.  Not thrilling or edge-of-your-seat exciting, but definitely entertaining.
I think the movie was just too ridiculous to be a great film.  I'm just supposed to believe that John Cusack is such an amazing driver that as California collapses into the Pacific Ocean, he's able to escape in a limo with considerably minimal damage to the vehicle and its passengers when you take into account all the chaos around him.  And then, a plastic surgeon who's had a couple of flying lessons in a single-engine plane can pilot a dual-engine plane and fly a relatively smooth course through falling buildings.  And of course, there's my favorite impossible and ridiculous moment of the whole film.  Crazier than the "Ark" concept and the whole "crust-displacement" theory.  Supposedly you can outrun a super-volcano in a clunky, old motor home!  Despite being a speed-challenged vehicle due to its anti-streamlined design, it can magically find the horsepower to outstrip a super-volcano of epic proportions!  Apparently all I need to survive the end of the world is a limo, a plane, and a motor home.  And let's not forget the compassionate Tibetan monk and/or one billion Euros.  They come in pretty handy too.
Am I having fun picking on this movie?  Absolutely!

Of course, as in all disaster movies, there are lots and lots of character deaths.  Some make you feel sad, some mad, and a couple you're even okay with.  Like the jerky Russian guy.  You're not too upset with his death.  In dying, he kind of redeems himself.  Other characters just get killed because their storyline isn't interesting anymore.  The character I felt the worst for was the plastic surgeon.  He flies them out of California, helps pilot the jet that gets them all to China, and really loves his girlfriend and her kids.  But he got in the way of the romantic subplot, so after surviving California's collapse, a super-volcano, and a trek through snowy China in nothing but his sweats, he dies a stupid, pointless death.  It's like, "You're a great character, but if you live, John Cusack will never get back together with his wife, so... bye-bye!"
Finally, what is it with Roland Emmerich and disaster movies?  I actually feel a little sad for him.  He's covered aliens, global warming, and now the End of the World.  What's left... swine flu?  Everything else has been done, unless he decides to remake his own favorite films (Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno, Earthquake... are we seeing a pattern here?).  And I can't help but wonder if he got his start with Steven Spielberg.  Both of them love to hate the government.  In all three of Emmerich's disaster flicks, it's the little guy (usually a scientist) who's the hero, and the government is the big bad wolf, either trying to cover something up or refusing to listen to reason.  It's the Spielberg formula!
So after reading this review, it would be easy to think that I totally disliked 2012.  But I didn't.  The special effects were well done, the dialogue wasn't horrid, and the kids were really sweet.  I watched from start to finish, never turned it off or fast-forwarded, and actually found plenty to enjoy in this movie.  Probably for different reasons than what the director intended/wanted, but with this movie, you should be happy people watched/liked it at all.  B

Monday, August 16, 2010

Title:  Mansfield Park
Format:  Netflix
Category:  Masterpiece Theater/Jane Austen adaptation
Rating:  A

Description (from imdb.com):  At age 10, Fanny Price is sent by her destitute mother to live with her aunt and uncle, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. As a child she was often made to feel that she was the poor relation, but by the time she reaches 18, and in the absence of her uncle who leaves on a business trip for an extended period, she begins to enjoy herself. When Henry Crawford and his sister Mary become neighbors to the Bertrams, opportunities abound. Edmond Bertram falls in love with Mary but she wants to marry a man with money, not someone destined to life as a clergyman. Meanwhile, Fanny's love for her cousin Edmond prevents her from accepting Mr. Crawford's proposal of marriage.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It seems that no one really likes Austen's heroine Fanny Price.  And I only say this because in every Mansfield Park adaptation I've seen, Fanny is nothing like the way she was written.  She is described in the book as very quiet and timid, a doormat for her aunts and cousins, and very moral.  Some of her critics would call her a prude.  But in every movie/miniseries based on the book, Fanny is only a little quiet, intermittently outspoken towards her aunts and cousins, and sometimes completely forgets her the morals.  In the 1999 movie, she was even a feminist.  In this 2007 adaptation, Fanny is more timid than her previous feminist portrayal, but she's still more outspoken than Austen ever intended her to be.

I'm also always surprised with how Mr. Bertram is portrayed in these adaptations as well.  He's supposed to be stern in the beginning and then soften later, but these adaptations seem to love making him into a very mean, overbearing brute.  He's not quite so mean in this adaptation as he is in the movie, but I feel like he's wrongfully portrayed.  At least they got Mrs. Norris right.  And they gave Mrs. Bertram more depth and intelligence than anyone's ever afforded her before.

One of my favorite aspects of this Mansfield Park is how closely it follows the book.  They don't take too much creative license with it; they just stay true to the story.  And I loved their interpretation of Austen's most frustrating and unsatisfying romantic conclusion-- "I only entreat everybody to believe that exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny as Fanny herself could desire."  Their interpretation was believable, romantic, and much more satisfying than Austen's own ending.  A

Friday, August 13, 2010

Title:  Love's Labour's Lost
Format:  Netflix
Category:  Shakespeare adaptation
Rating:  B-

Description (from imdb.com):  An update of the classic Shakespeare story, director Kenneth Branagh shot this movie like a classic 30s musical. Love's Labour's Lost tells the story of four best friends who swear off love.  The King of Navarre and his three companions swear a very public oath to study together and to renounce women for three years. Their honor is immediately put to the test by the arrival of the Princess of France and her three lovely companions. It's love at first sight for all concerned, followed by the men's highly entertaining but hopeless efforts to disguise their feelings.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I really couldn't take this movie seriously at all, and I'm not sure you're supposed to.  This modern retelling of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost is part comedy, part musical, part ridiculous.  With a star-studded cast, a modern setting, and a classic story, this movie could have been an amazing adaptation.  But then you throw in bizarre musical numbers, with a cast that can't sing or dance, and what you've got is a spoof, whether you intended it to be or not.

Kenneth Branagh is brilliant when it comes to his Shakespeare adaptations, both as an actor and director.  I loved him as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, an A+ movie he also directed.  But I don't really know what he was thinking with L.L.L.  Making it into a musical just made everything so absurd.  Perhaps if he'd had actors who were good at singing and dancing, it might not have seemed quite so bad.  But Alicia Silverstone, Matthew Lillard, and even Branagh himself were never meant to be singers, and I sincerely wish they hadn't tried.  B-
Title:  Emma
Format:  pbs.org
Category:  Miniseries/Book adaptation
Rating:  A+

Another amazing miniseries!

Description (from pbs.org):  A fiercely funny new adaptation of Jane Austen's delightful love story starring Romola Garai as a young woman whose attempts to play cupid go disastrously awry. Jonny Lee Miller stars as Mr. Knightley, and Michael Gambon as Emma's father.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Look out, Gwyneth Paltrow.  This miniseries puts your movie to shame.  Everything about this adaptation is amazing.  A great cast, amusing dialogue, and a classic romantic plot.  And since it's a miniseries, not a movie, there's more room for character development and background.

The cast is probably the best part of the whole miniseries.  Romola Garai is exceptional in every movie/series she's ever made.  She seems to be the popular choice for period piece films.  Emma, Amazing Grace, As You Like It, Nicholas Nickleby, Daniel Deronda, Vanity Fair-- Garai shines in every one of these films, even when she only has a small role.  Her portrayal of Emma is her best performace yet.  And her costar and love interest, Johnny Lee Miller, is also brilliant as Mr. Knightley.  I loved him as Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park, but as Mr. Knightley, Miller excels.  He provides Austen's hero with a lot of warmth, making him seem less stuffy and more human.

The rest of the characters are amazing too.  What makes them so great is that they aren't irritating at all.  In the 1996 Emma movie, Miss Bates, Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax, and Harriet Smith are all extremely annoying, but in this miniseries, I liked every single one of them.  I think it's mostly because, in the movie, they only had enough time to scratch the surface of these characters.  So they seemed superficial and over-exaggerated.  Because this was a miniseries, and there was more time for character development, everyone had more depth and emotion and personality.  They weren't just caricatures of themselves.

I love Austen, and her story of finding love when you're not looking for it is timeless.  This is definitely the best adaptation of Emma I have ever seen.  A+
Title:  The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare Retold
Format:  Netflix
Category:  Shakespeare adaptation
Rating:  A-

Description (from wikipedia):  Katherine Minola is a career politician, who is told her abrasive personality is bad PR and that it might be good for her image to get married. When penniless nobleman Petruchio shows up, interested at first in Katherine's money, sparks fly in more senses than one. The relationship and battle of wills brings surprises for both parties.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I think this installment of the Shakespeare Retold series is my favorite.  It feels the most believable of the adaptations, and the modern elements and unexpected twists add even more excitement to an already amusing story.  The actors and dialogue were amazing.  Rufus Sewell and Shirley Henderson are the perfect choices for Petruchio and Katherine.  Both of them are incredibly talented, and they brought so much to their characters.

My only complaints are about the final scene and the Bianca storyline.  The final scene, where Katherine makes her statements about the role of women, was so forced.  Yes, she had made an amazing transformation in some ways, but she hadn't changed enough to make her "Women should be subservient to men" speech seem believable in any way.  And her sister Bianca's storyline was just annoying and unnecessary.  I've always felt that way about every adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew that I've seen.  If they just cut Bianca out after the beginning scenes, the story would be perfect.  A-

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Title:  Going Postal
Format:  My brother had it on his computer
Category:  Miniseries/Fantasy/Book adaptation
Rating:  A

Description (from imdb.com):  Based on Terry Pratchett's 33rd Discworld novel, this TV adaptation involves a skillful con artist Moist Von Lipwig who finds the tables turned, and it's he himself who's conned into becoming the Ankh-Morpork Postmaster General. A position that has not been filled in years.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When my brother told me they were making another Terry Pratchett book into a miniseries, I was really excited.  I loved the first two movie adaptations they made-- The Hogfather and The Color of Magic.  So it's really no surprise that I loved this one too.  

The story was fun and exciting and definitely original.  Who else would think to have golems and thieves and pin collectors run a post office?  I think what I love the most about the Pratchett adaptations is that they have adventure, comedy, suspense, drama all rolled into one, without ever feeling forced or drawn out.  And Going Postal's even better, because now it's thrown a really cute romance into the mix.

The miniseries' portrayal of the Discworld and its people is really cool too.  I would definitely visit, if it actually existed.  What makes it so cool is that it's very similar to any American or British town during the Industrial Revolution-- the buildings, the clothing, the technology.  But it has fantastical twists added to it that just make it so interesting and different.  Nowhere else would you find the Unseen University or a place called Ankh-Morpork.

The actors were great too.  I could not believe that the villain was played by David Suchet.  I've only ever seen him as Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective.  And he's nothing like Poirot in this.  If my brother hadn't told me ahead of time, it probably would've taken me a long time to recognize him.  My favorite characters were definitely Von Lipwig and Stanley.  Stanley is just endearing, and Von Lipwig won me over a lot faster than his love interest.

If you like Pratchett's books or his book adaptations, or if you just like a really good miniseries or fantasy, I would absolutely recommend this miniseries, as well as The Hogfather and The Color of MagicA
Title:  Alice in Wonderland
Format:  Netflix
Category:  Fantasy/Coming-of-age/Adaptation
Rating:  B

Description (from imdb.com):  Alice, an unpretentious and individual 19-year-old, is betrothed to a dunce of an English nobleman. At her engagement party, she escapes the crowd to consider whether to go through with the marriage and falls down a hole in the garden after spotting an unusual rabbit. Arriving in a strange and surreal place called "Underland," she finds herself in a world that resembles the nightmares she had as a child, filled with talking animals, villainous queens and knights, and frumious bandersnatches. Alice realizes that she is there for a reason--to conquer the horrific Jabberwocky and restore the rightful queen to her throne.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I really wasn't as impressed with this movie as so many other people seem to be.  I've read so many reviews that praise this version of the Alice story, and while I didn't hate the movie, I didn't think it lived up to all the hype around it.

I'm very sorry to all the Johnny Depp fans I am about to offend, but I really found nothing amazing about his performance.  My sister said he acted the same way he did in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, and I have to agree with her.  It was like all they did was change the hair and eyes.  I also don't think Mia Wasikowska is a very good actress.  She was so wooden; her voice and facial expressions never changed.  It just made it impossible to connect with her.  The secondary characters shone over the main ones.  

The portrayal of Wonderland or, as they call it, Underland was very well done.  It looked exactly the way I thought a Tim Burton world should look.  And the music from Danny Elfman was, as always, extremely good, despite the fact that a few spots sounded just like the Charlie soundtrack.  The inclusion of an actual storyline was interesting too.  The real Alice story doesn't have a plot at all; she just wanders and interacts with different characters.  So adding an actual plot was an improvement.  But as a whole, the movie just didn't meet my expectations.  B
Title:  A Midsummer Night's Dream: Shakespeare Retold
Format:  Netflix
Category:  Shakespeare adaptation
Rating:  B-

Description (from wikipedia):  Theo and Polly visit Dream Park inclusive leisure facility to celebrate the engagement of their daughter Hermia to James Demetrius. The engagement party is, much to the irritable Theo's horror, disrupted by Hermia's true love Xander. Despite their own disagreements, the fairy rulers of the woods around Dream Park, Titania and Oberon, have a duty to ensure a happy ending, so Oberon gets Puck to try to sort things out with "love juice" eyedrops, while Oberon and Theo discuss their marriages. Puck's efforts inevitably lead to more confusion.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

There are so many ways this retelling of A Midsummer Night's Dream could have been improved.  Better actors, fewer slow parts, and less focus on Nick Bottom-- just doing one of these things would have made this movie so much better.

The movie had very good actors, but it doesn't matter how talented you are if there's no chemistry.  Titania and Oberon are supposed to be a couple in love who happen to be in the middle of a fight.  You never get that from actors Lennie James and Sharon Small.  There's no electricity, no chemistry, no spark between them.  And there's no passion in their acting.  They don't seem to ever get into their parts.  In one scene, they're supposed to be fighting, but they might as well have been talking about the weather.  It was like they made no effort at all.  Luckily, the other actors make up for them.  Imelda Staunton, Bill Paterson, and Rupert Evans are all superb in their parts.

There were a few parts of this movie where the action seemed to just come to a standstill.  I found myself fast-forwarding through them.  Most of the scenes with Nick Bottom and his friends just bored me to tears.  If they'd just shortened them, or left a few of them out altogether, this movie would have earned a much higher rating.  B-

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Title:  Alice
Format:  Netflix
Category:  Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Miniseries/Book adaptation
Rating:  A+

I think it's amazing that I haven't been disappointed by a miniseries yet.

Description (from Barnes & Noble):  Director Nick Willing puts a new twist on Lewis Carroll's classic tale in this fantasy mini-series depicting Alice as a 21 year old woman who ventures into Wonderland in search of a lost love. Almost immediately after presenting Alice with an ornate family ring, handsome Jack Chase is abducted by a pair of hulking brutes. Approached by a well-dressed man named White Rabbit who claims to know Jack's whereabouts, Alice follows the stranger into a mirror and finds herself in a surreal new world of fantasy and wonder. When the Queen of Hearts discovers her son bestowed a virtual stranger the ring that gives its owner power over the looking glass, it's up to Alice to determine what she should do with it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Once again, RHI Entertainment, Syfy, and director Nick Willing put together an amazing miniseries that challenges our perceptions of a well-known, classic story.  When I saw Tin Man, all I could think was how much I hoped Syfy would make another miniseries, and then I heard about AliceAlice is a new spin on the classic Lewis Carroll stories that is exciting, romantic, funny, and just plain awesome.

The characters were phenomenally well-done.  The thought and development that went into creating these memorable characters is evident, especially Alice, Hatter, and the White Knight.  Caterina Scorsone was very different from every other portrayal of Alice I've ever seen.  Rather than a confused blonde, Scorsone's Alice is a kick-butt (brunette) martial arts expert with a lot of courage and intelligence.  The White Knight was definitely the comic relief.  And I was so surprised to learn that the actor playing him was Matt Frewer, or as I always knew him, Big Russ Thompson from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.  His background story as well as his ridiculousness make him a very lovable, believable character.  The best character in the whole movie has to go to Hatter, played by the adorable Andrew Lee Potts.  You instantly fall in love with him.  He's sweet, sarcastic, heroic, fun, and wonderfully flawed.  (He wouldn't be so great if he was perfect; perfect people are annoying.The supporting characters are fantastic too.  Kathy Bates is perfectly evil as the Queen of Hearts, and Colm Meaney plays her blundering husband very well.

The settings are beautiful and definitely worthy of Wonderland.  I think the Knights' kingdom is done the best.  I would actually want to live there.  The plot is exciting, with lots of twists and no slow moments.  It never feels like you're watching a three hour miniseries.  And the sci-fi elements and twists add so much to an already unique and well-done story.  Another thing I loved about this Syfy production is that, unlike Tin Man, my entire family, including my 8-year-old sister, could watch this.  A+

Friday, August 6, 2010

Title:  Despicable Me
Format:  Movie theater
Date Seen:  July 15, 2010
Category:  Family/Animated
Rating:  A

Description (from imdb.com):  In a happy suburban neighborhood sits a black house with a dead lawn. Hidden beneath this home is a vast secret hideout. Surrounded by a small army of minions, we discover Gru, planning the biggest heist in the history of the world, armed with his arsenal of shrink rays, freeze rays, and battle-ready vehicles for land and air. Until the day he encounters the immense will of three little orphaned girls who look at him and see something that no one else has ever seen: a potential Dad. The world's greatest villain has just met his greatest challenge: three little girls named Margo, Edith and Agnes.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I want a minion!  They are so ridiculously adorable.  This movie probably wouldn't have been anywhere near as good, if they had left out the minions.

The movie was so cute, and the storyline was really good too.  The villain's back story was well-done too.  Usually, in animated family movies, there's never any background on the villain.  You're just supposed to accept the fact that he's bad, and he's always been that way.  This time, they provided a look at what makes Gru tick.  And you actually end up sympathizing with him.  The movie's other villain, the real bad guy of the story, was incredibly funny.  As was the dialogue.  Which was surprising, because a lot of family movies have a hard time balancing their dialogue between kids and their parents.  You either get very childish humor that makes the parents cringe over the sappiness.  Or you get innuendo and crude jokes.  This movie didn't have either.  The dialogue was entertaining for both children and adults without the innuendo or baby-talk.  Here are some examples of the stuff that made me laugh:

Gru:  Do you speak Spanish?
Miss Hattie:  Do I look like someone who speaks Spanish?
Gru:  It's just that your face is so... Como es burro.
Miss Hattie:  Oh!  Why, thank you!

Gru:  Your dog has  been leaving bombs in my yard.
Fred:  Oh, you know dogs... they go where they want!
Gru:  Not if they're dead.

Little Gru:  Someday, I'm going to the moon.
Gru's Mom:  I'm afraid you're too late, Gru.  NASA is no longer sending up the monkeys.

Agnes:  Aw.  My caterpillar never turned into a butterfly.
Edith:  That's a Cheeto.
Agnes:  Oh.  *Eats it*

Edith:  When we got adopted by a bald guy, I thought this'd be more like Annie.

Agnes:  Will you read us a bedtime story?
Gru:  No.
Agnes:  Pretty please?
Gru:  The physical appearance of the please makes no difference.

So funny!  And those are only a few of the quotes I loved from this movie.  I would definitely recommend this to all kids, and to anyone who likes to laugh.  A
Title: Toy Story 3
Format: Movie theather
Date Seen: June 19, 2010
Category: Family/Animated/Disney Pixar
Rating: A+

Description (from imdb.com): Andy is now 17 and ready to head off to college, leaving Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the rest of the toy-box gang to ponder their uncertain futures. When the toys are accidentally donated to the Sunnyside Daycare center they're initially overjoyed to once again be played with, but their enthusiasm quickly gives way to horror as they discover the true nature of the establishment under the rule of the deceptively welcoming "Lotso" Bear. Now, all of the toys must band together in one final, crazy scheme to escape their confines and return home to Andy.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Absolutely fantastic! I will admit that I was a little nervous about this film, because sequels can either be incredibly good or incredibly bad. This one was incredibly awesome! A great story with lots of excitement, plenty of fun for both parents and kids, and a heartfelt conclusion that made me cry.

The new characters introduced in this movie were such great additions. Many of them played big parts and felt like they belonged in the Toy Story family. Some of the other new characters deserved much bigger roles, like Trixie, Buttercup, and Mr. Pricklepants (can't write that name without laughing). But apparently Disney will be giving them a big role in their Toy Story Mania ride, now that one of the original characters is gone.

Best new character- Ken. The Barbie & Ken relationship that was hyped up in all the previews was as good as I thought it would be. Perhaps the best moments of the movie are between the two of them. This classic couple stole every scene. Best Barbie/Ken moment- Ken's fashion show. If you ever had a Barbie or had a sister who played with Barbie, you will appreciate this scene.

What really surprised me was how intense a few of the scenes were. Neither the first or second movie ever had anything in it that would scare a little kid, but this movie did. All I could think as I watched those scenes was "My little sister would be freaking out right now." So if you have easily frightened kids/siblings, keep an eye out for the final, nail-biting moment, where even I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how they were going to make it.

This movie was an extremely satisfying installment in the Toy Story saga (I won't say final movie, because as everyone knows, all the studios are sucking as much money as they can out of their franchises, and Disney is no different). I cannot wait for it to come out on DVD, and to watch this with my entire family. A+
Title:  Shrek Forever After
Format:  Movie Theater, 3-D
Date Seen:  May 21, 2010 (opening night)
Category:  Animated/Fantasy/Family
Rating:  A

Description (from imbd.com):  A bored and domesticated Shrek pacts with deal-maker Rumpelstiltskin to get back to feeling like a real ogre again, but when he's duped and sent to a twisted version of Far Far Away -- where Rumpelstiltskin is king, ogres are hunted, and he and Fiona have never met -- he sets out to restore his world and reclaim his true love.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A great ending for a great series.  Definitely makes up for that travesty Shrek the Third.  It had an awesome story, lots of really funny moments, and a very sweet conclusion.  I also saw it in 3-D, which was pretty cool because they didn't make it gimmicky.  All of those cheesy effects they add specifically for 3-D, the ones that look really stupid when you watch the movie in 2-D, always give me a headache.  Since this movie didn't have those, I could actually enjoy a 3-D film headache-free.

I think my favorite aspects of this film were the introduction of other ogres and witches, Rumpelstiltskin, and the fattened Puss in Boots.  The ogres and witches each added a lot more life to the story, as well as a lot more material for punch lines and story ideas.  Without them, I think the story would have just felt like the first Shrek movie all over again.  Rumpelstiltskin was too perfect.  His hair, his voice, his whole attitude- so devious, but hilarious.  It was also nice to include him so that there could be a different villain.  Having Prince Charming in both the second and third movie was just annoying.  I mean, I love his character, but not that much.  Puss in Boots as the pampered kitty was amazingly funny.

The music, as always, was great.  It's usually the best part of the films, and it didn't disappoint this time.  Overall, I really liked this movie because the story was interesting, the new characters were good, and anything would have seemed a huge improvement from Shrek the ThirdA

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Title:  Avalanche: Nature Unleashed: Buried Alive!
Format:  Netflix
Category:  Action adventure/Disaster
Rating:  D

B-movie!  So bad, on so many levels.

Description (from Barnes & Noble):  The disaster film "Avalanche: Nature Unleashed" concerns a pair of brothers who make their living giving snowmobile rides to tourists in the Ural Mountains. One day a massive avalanche strikes the mountainside, leaving a village at the bottom of the mountain covered in snow. The brothers must stay out of the way of the falling snow, while simultaneously attempting to save as many people as they can.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I watched this last night, and within the first 60 seconds, I knew I was watching a B-movie.
  1. The movie has a three-part title.  Why not just skip two of those very unnecessary titles?  Wouldn't Avalanche or Buried Alive! have been enough?  
  2. The sound quality was horrible.  The background noise, explosions, and music were incredibly loud, and the dialogue was barely audible.  Not that it was good enough to hear.  
  3. And that's my third point- whoever wrote the script for this movie should be fired.  It didn't matter that they had two (and only two) really good actors.  Not even they could save the movie from complete cheesiness.  They tried, but that dialogue was so badly written, they shouldn't even have bothered.  My guess is, they did this movie for the money.
  4. The special effects and scenery are so cheap and fake.  But I can forgive them for this.  They didn't really have a big enough budget for high-end technology.
  5. The entire cast was made up of Brits trying to sound American, and none of them are Hugh Laurie.  So all of their lines sounded so forced because they were trying to not sound British.  And they failed.  Especially when they got emotional or yelled.  And then the accent came back full-force.
  6. With the exception of Adam Croasdell and Andrew Lee Potts, everyone's acting stunk.  They were either completely wooden or ridiculously over-the-top.
  7. The ending is absolutely anti-climactic and ridiculous.  When it ended, I just couldn't believe it.  I thought there had to be something else, because the movie ends so lamely.
This movie was so bad, I couldn't help laughing (while cringing).  And it's only because it made me laugh that I gave it a D, rather than an F.  D

Monday, August 2, 2010

Title:  The Sword and the Flame
Author:  Stephen Lawhead
Format:  Paperback
Pages:  374
Genre:  Epic Fantasy/Christian Fantasy
Series #:  3 of 3
Date Started:  May 30, 2010
Date Finished:  May 31, 2010

Rating:  A-

Description (from Barnes & Noble):  The Dragon King who rules the land of Mensandor is none other than Quentin, whose courage and heroism have slowly transformed him from an orphaned servant into a war hero, respected leader, and a fierce man of faith.

But even the powerful can fall prey to weakness. The world is turned upside-down when the dark sorcerer Nimrood--long thought dead after a battle with the previous Dragon King--returns with a fearsome plan. Shattered by the death of a dear and trusted friend, the abduction of his beloved son, and the loss of his enchanted sword, Quentin finds his faith tested like never before.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The final book of a trilogy should be epic, filled with drama, and finished with a bang.  This book met two of those three requirements.  It was definitely epic, and there was so much drama.  But the ending was a bit of a disappointment.  The first two books in the trilogy had amazing endings, but this one felt so rushed, like the author was on a deadline and needed to wrap it up quickly.  It was also partially anti-climactic.  The best way to describe it is to think of a Brady Bunch episode where everything's fixed in under thirty minutes.  And the fact that two of the characters, that you know are meant to be together, decide to put off their romance even longer-- totally frustrating!

The rest of the book was great.  Lots of tension and drama, very few slow points (so different from the first two books), and good secondary characters.  Another thing that makes this book awesome is that even though it's Christian fantasy, it never feels like typical Christian fiction which tends to be overly sappy and sweet or overly religious and preachy.  The Christian elements are there, but they're not overwhelming the entire story.  It's a great mix of faith and fiction.  A-
Title:  Lady of Quality
Author:  Georgette Heyer
Format:  Paperback
Pages:  304
Genre:  Regency romance/Clean romance
Date Started:  May 25, 2010
Date Finished:  May 26, 2010

Rating:  A

Description (from Barnes & Noble):  When spirited, independent Miss Annis Wynchwood embroils herself in the affairs of a runaway heiress, she is destined to see a good deal of Mr Carleton, Lucilla's uncivil and high-handed guardian. And, chafing at the restrictions of Bath society, Annis has to admit that at least Mr Oliver Carleton is never boring.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I couldn't help but think of Ciaran Hinds for the part of Mr. Carleton.  I just kept seeing him as Captain Wentworth, from the 1995 adaptation of Persuasion.  I think it's because Mr. Carleton is the complete opposite of a typical Heyer hero.  Instead of a dashing young gentleman or an aloof older Lord/Earl, Carleton is an impolite, domineering "rake" with very few scruples, who isn't even described as handsome.  And despite all of this, you find yourself attracted to him.  (Of course, I know Wentworth would never be described as a "rake" of any kind, but the physical description of Carleton pretty much matches Ciaran Hinds' Captain Wentworth.)

The secondary characters of Ninian and Lucilla were great too.  Their storyline was as amusing and fun as the main characters'.  The other secondary characters were good too.  Annis' brother and sister-in-law helped round out the story, because there had to be someone older and responsible somewhere in the book to balance Carleton and Lucilla.  My least favorite character is Miss Farlow.  She is by far the most annoying character of all Georgette Heyer's books.  Just imagine if Miss Bates from Emma and Mr. Collins from Pride & Prejudice had a daughter.  *shudder*  That's Miss Farlow.

I really can't put my finger on exactly why I didn't like this book as much as Heyer's others.  Especially since sarcasm abounds in this book, and I love sarcasm.  I think it's probably Annis.  I just wasn't able to connect with her.  The book is still good, especially with such a drastically atypical male lead, and worth reading again.  A
Title:  Arabella
Author:  Georgette Heyer
Format:  Hardcover
Pages:  284
Genre:  Regency romance/Clean romance
Date Started:  May 22, 2010
Date Finished:  May 24, 2010

Rating:  A+

Description (from Barnes & Noble):  Daughter of a modest country clergyman, Arabella Tallant is on her way to London when her carriage breaks down outside the hunting lodge of the wealthy Mr. Robert Beaumaris. Her pride stung when she overhears a remark of her host's, Arabella pretends to be an heiress, a pretense that deeply amuses the jaded Beau. To counter her white lie, Beaumaris launches her into high society and thereby subjects her to all kinds of fortune hunters and other embarrassments.

When compassionate Arabella rescues such unfortunate creatures as a mistreated chimney sweep and a mixed-breed mongrel, she foists them upon Beaumaris, who finds he rather enjoys the role of rescuer and is soon given the opportunity to prove his worth in the person of Arabella's impetuous young brother...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Absolutely wonderful!  This book has tied with The Convenient Marriage and The Reluctant Widow for my favorite Georgette Heyer novel.  The only part of book that dragged a little was the long description of Arabella's brother's faults and escapades.  Other than that the book is fantastic.

The two main characters were amazing; both of them were so real and thought-out.  The more Beaumaris teases Arabella, the more you fall in love with him.  Arabella is great too.  She's spunky and outspoken and headstrong, but also a bit too proud and naive.  The storyline was so funny; all of the crazy situations Arabella gets herself into and then drags Beau into as well.  And I loved Ulysses!  My sister would love him too.  Not just because he's a dog, but also because he steals every "scene" he's in.  I am definitely putting this on my wish list for my birthday.  I can't wait to own it and reread it!  A+
Title:  A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance
Author:  Marlena de Blasi
Format:  Hardcover
Pages:  270
Genre:  Memoir/Travelogue/Romance
Date Started:  May 20, 2010
Date Finished:  May 21, 2010

Rating:  A-

Description (from Barnes & Noble):  He saw her across the Piazza San Marco and fell in love from afar. When he sees her again in a Venice cafĂ© a year later, he knows it is fate. He knows little English; and she, a divorced American chef, speaks only food-based Italian. Marlena thinks she is incapable of intimacy, that her heart has lost its capacity for romantic love. But within months of their first meeting, she has packed up her house in St. Louis to marry Fernando—“the stranger,” as she calls him—and live in that achingly lovely city in which they met.

Vibrant but vaguely baffled by this bold move, Marlena is overwhelmed by the sheer foreignness of her new home, its rituals and customs. But there are delicious moments when Venice opens up its arms to Marlena. She cooks an American feast of Mississippi caviar, cornbread, and fried onions for the locals . . . and takes the tango she learned in the Poughkeepsie middle school gym to a candlelit trattorĂ­a near the Rialto Bridge. All the while, she and Fernando, two disparate souls, build an extraordinary life of passion and possibility.

Featuring Marlena’s own incredible recipes,
A Thousand Days in Venice is the enchanting true story of a woman who opens her heart—and falls in love with both a man and a city.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When's the next flight to Venice?  After reading this book, I wanted more than anything to find the fastest way to Venice, and make my home there.  Marlena de Blasi's style of writing, her descriptions of Venice, her gift for conveying emotions so well.  All of these worked together to make a great book.

I read de Blasi's Thousand Days books out of order, but each stands on their own, so it didn't matter that I knew already where de Blasi and her husband would end up.  The main reason this book was so different from its sequel is that the focuses of the two books are completely different.  In her second book, de Blasi wrote about the people and food of Tuscany.  She focused on her relationships to those people and to that food.  In this book, de Blasi is more interested in describing her romance and marriage to "the stranger", her move from one culture to another, her struggle to reconcile her old life with her new one.  She was definitely a brave woman to risk everything by selling her home, quitting her job, and moving to Venice to be with a man she barely knew.

This book also incorporated the Italian language like the sequel, but unlike the sequel, translations were rarely included, so I felt like I missed out on something.  Very well-written overall, but I think I actually prefer Tuscany to VeniceA-
Title:  Spindle's End
Author:  Robin McKinley
Format:  Paperback
Pages:  354
Genre:  Fantasy/Fairy-tale adaptation
Date Started:  May 17, 2010
Date Finished:  May 18, 2010

Rating:  A

Description (from Barnes & Noble):  All the creatures of the forest and field and riverbank knew the infant was special. She was the princess, spirited away from the evil fairy Pernicia on her name-day. But the curse was cast: Rosie was fated to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a poisoned sleep-a slumber from which no one would be able to rouse her. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I love the way McKinley retells the classic fairy-tales.  Especially when she decides to take them in a whole new direction.  This book was a completely different look at the Sleeping Beauty story.  In fact, it's so different that it's really easy to forget that it's not an original story.  It could be, if she changed the one consistent part between the original and her retelling-- the spinning wheel.  Remove the spinning wheel element, and you wouldn't even think to compare this story to Sleeping Beauty.

The characters are well-developed and lifelike.  Rosie is wonderful as the atypical princess, and her best friend Peony is the yin to her yang.  I also love the fact that McKinley focuses on more than just Rosie.  The first few chapters are almost entirely focused on her guardian, Katriona, and her own romance is in many ways much sweeter than Rosie's.

McKinley's writing style is great, but she tends to get bogged down in very long, drawn-out descriptions.  The first few times I read this, I skimmed through all the descriptive parts.  Then I reread it fully, and I'm glad I finally did.  McKinley's attention to detail adds so much realism to her stories.  Her skill with dialogue is amazing too.  Rosie's sarcasm is great!  A
Title:  Charity Girl
Author:  Georgette Heyer
Format:  Hardcover
Pages:  254
Genre:  Regency romance/Clean romance
Date Started:  May 16, 2010
Date Finished:  May 16, 2010

Rating:  A

Description (from Barnes & Noble):  A sparkling Regency romance from the queen of the genre--Viscount Desford tries to help a very young lady walking to London alone, and finds himself working hard to prevent his young charge from bringing ruin upon herself--and him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Barnes & Noble really needs better descriptions for their books.  If I was picking a book based on what the summary said, I might never have read this book.

I was completely surprised by the ending!  Heyer's romances tend to follow a formula, and you always know who's going to end up together.  This book completely destroyed that.  I had no idea it was going to end that way, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was happy with the twist.

The characters in this book were amongst Heyer's best.  Four great main characters, an awesome set of secondary characters, and four perfectly awful villains.  Cherry, the title character, reminded me a lot of Fanny Price; very sweet, very soft-spoken, taken advantage of by her relatives, and just a little bit more outspoken than Fanny when she finally gets her freedom.  And if you think Aunt Norris from Mansfield Park is evil, it's because you haven't met Cherry's aunt.  She makes Aunt Norris look nice!

There was a lot less slang in this book so it was very understandable.  The dialogue was great too, as usual.  Some parts of the story were a little slow, but overall the book was great.  A
Title:  The Corinthian
Author:  Georgette Heyer
Format:  Hardcover
Pages:  244
Genre:  Regency romance/Clean romance
Date Started:  May 15, 2010
Date Finished:  May 15, 2010

Rating:  A-

Description (from Barnes & Noble):  Beset by marriage-minded relatives, Sir Richard Wyndham nearly plunged into a dutiful betrothal. But just in time, lovely, impulsive Penelope Creed climbed out a window—and into his arms. Dressed as a boy, Pen was escaping her own demanding relatives, and wanted only to return to her childhood estate. Sir Richard refused to permit a young lady to travel unescorted, no matter what her garb. But upon discovering his charge meant to ride a mail coach, the sophisticated lord nearly changed his mind! Still, before long, marriage wasn 't looking quite the evil it had been—if he had the right bride in his arms...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This is the first time I ever disliked a Heyer heroine.  She was so irritating; I might even compare her to nails on a chalkboard at times.  Her character could have been done so much better.  I liked that she was atypical; she didn't fit with the other Heyer heroines.  But some of her differences were extremely annoying.

The secondary characters left much to be desired too, except Cedric.  He's one of my favorites in this book.  He's humorous, exciting, and surprisingly well-developed for a minor character.  Luckily, people like George, Louisa, Beverly, etc. all had very small parts, so you don't have to put up with their ridiculousness for very long.

It was nice that this book followed a slightly different storyline from Heyer's usual formula.  I say slightly different, because a good deal of the formula is still in there.  The hero, Richard Wyndham (whom I love), starts out as a drunkard, but he very quickly becomes as respectable as the rest of Heyer's male leads.  There's still the May-December romance, the awkward situations, and the great dialogue.  The big difference is that the heroine of the story is pretending to be a boy through most of it, which introduces some very new, very interesting situations.  The very last scene in the book is the best example of this.  Made me laugh so hard.  A-
Title:  The Cotillion
Author:  Georgette Heyer
Format:  Hardcover
Pages:  316
Genre:  Regency romance/Clean romance
Date Started:  May 11, 2010
Date Finished:  May 14, 2010

Rating:  A+

Description (from Barnes & Noble):  The three great-nephews of cantankerous Mr Penicuik know better than to ignore his summons, especially when it concerns the bestowal of his fortune. His freakish plan is that his fortune will be his step-daughter Kitty's dowry.

Eager to put an end to the attentions of all these fortune-hunting men who pursue her, Miss Kitty Charing flees to London with Freddy Standen, a confirmed bachelor. Kitty finds life in the exciting city more wonderful than she ever imagined, but is it the city or the man who brought her newfound happiness?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This is completely irrelevant to my opinion of the book, but why is it that most of the new reprints of Georgette Heyer's books have covers that are completely unrelated to the story?  Yes, the title is The Cotillion, and a cotillion is a dance, but the three girls waiting for dance partners has absolutely nothing to do with the book.

This is one of Heyer's funniest books.  Her characters, their personalities and eccentricities, the trouble they get themselves into.  A faked betrothal, elopements, crazy family members.  All of it is so funny!  A few of the characters can grate on your nerves, but their annoyingness doesn't detract at all from the great dialogue and romance in the book.  One problem I did have was that Heyer included a lot more Regency era slang into the book, so I felt like I needed an interpreter at some points.  But that didn't make the book an less awesome either.  A+

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Everything Austen is here!

Today is the first day of the Everything Austen challenge.  I am definitely ready for this challenge because I have just been in a Jane Austen mood lately.  It's all those Georgette Heyer books I read.  They're all set in that same time period, and now that I've read all the Heyer books that the library has to offer, I want to get back to Jane Austen.  Everything about her books and that era is just so romantic and beautiful and different.  I'm so jealous of all of the Austen heroines, because no guys are really like that anymore.  I wish they were, but they're not.

So I had to decided what six Jane-Austen-related things I was going to accomplish, and since I've read most of the books and seen many of the movie adaptations, it was actually really hard to figure out what I was going to do.  But I've finally come up with a list.  During the next six months, I intend to:
  • Read Northanger Abbey.
  • Read Emma.
  • Watch the 2007 version of Northanger Abbey.
  • Watch the biopic Miss Austen Regrets.
  • Watch the 1996 version of Emma, starring Kate Beckinsale.
  • Watch the 1980 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. 
That's the next challenge, and I'm confident that this is one that will not fail.

Challenge 3 Results

Challenge 3-- Thirty Books in 30 Days-- was not a success.  At all.  Instead of reading thirty books, I read three and started a fourth.  But that was about it.  The main reason for this flop-- catching up on all the TV shows and movies I missed during the Unplugged challenge.  I really should have combined those two challenges, since I had all that free and uninterrupted time.  Next time, I will do better.

The most interesting thing I learned during this challenge was just how easy it is to get sucked right back in by TV and Netflix.  As soon as I could start watching TV and listening to music again, that's all I wanted to do.  So the challenge wasn't a completely waste, because it taught me something about myself.  What I also find interesting is that now that the pressure of the challenge is over, I really want to read.  So weird.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A New Look!

Welcome to my renovated and redecorated blog!

I was starting to get bored with the old look, and decided it was time for a change.  I feel that this background expresses the purpose of my blog, as well as who I am.  Of course, those shelves are much too neat, but I don't think they have a picture of messy, disorganized, overflowing shelves.  I think the new look also makes my blog look more.... I don't really want to say professional.... I guess it looks less bland, more exciting.  It looks like I actually care more about it, instead of just leaving it with that original blah layout.  I'm really a lot happier with this new layout.  Let's see how long it lasts.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Title: A Hat Full of Sky
Author: Terry Pratchett
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 278
Genre: Fantasy/Weird/Discworld
Date Started: May 9, 2010
Date Finished: May 10, 2010

Rating: B

Description (from Barnes & Noble): Tiffany Aching - the boldest heroine ever to swing a frying pan against the forces of evil - is beginning her apprenticeship in magic. She expects to work hard, learn spells, and become a witch. She doesn't expect to find herself doing chores, caring for the careless, and trying to outthink an ill-tempered nanny goat. There must be more to witchcraft than this!
But as Tiffany pursues her calling, an insidious, disembodied creature pursues Tiffany. When it strikes, neither Mistress Weatherwax (the greatest witch in the world) nor the six-inch-high Wee Free Men (the greatest thieves in the world) can save her...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Another really weird book from Pratchett. It might even be weirder than the first. I think that may be my opinion of all his books, if they're anything like this one. Several parts in the plot seemed to just come up out of nowhere, and there were random paragraphs of nonsensical prose just thrown in here and there. I understood the basic plot and even some of the twists, but other parts were either too rushed or too rambling to make any sense.

I did really like the romance that is starting up between Tiffany and Roland. I'm hoping that it continues to develop in the next two books. And the new characters were great too; some were annoying of course, but most of them were good. There were also the awesomely funny and satirical parts that just kept this book from being too... too... just too.

Favorite quotes:

Nevertheless, an entire village of hermit elephants moving across the plains is one of the finest sights on the continent.

The problem wasn't that he smelled of ferrets. Well, that was a problem, but compared to the big problem, it wasn't much of one. He talked to himself. That is, bits of him talked to other bits of him. All the time.

He had mastered the first two rules of writing as he understood them. 1. Steal some paper. 2. Steal a pencil. Unfortunately there was more to it than that.

So obviously the book had some redeeming qualities. B
Title: The Wee Free Men
Author: Terry Pratchett
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 263
Genre: Fantasy/Weird
Date Started: May 6, 2010
Date Finished: May 7, 2010

Rating: B

Description (from Barnes & Noble): Up on the chalk downs known as The Wold, witches are banned — ever since the Baron’s son vanished in the woods. Anyway, as all witches know, chalk is no good for magic.

Nine-year-old Tiffany Aching thinks her Granny Aching — a wise shepherd — might have been a witch, but now Granny Aching is dead and it’s up to Tiffany to work it all out when strange things begin happening. There’s a fairy-tale monster in the stream, a headless horseman and, strangest of all, the tiny blue men in kilts, the Wee Free Men, who have come looking for the new “hag”. These are the Nac Mac Feegles, the pictsies, who like nothing better than thievin’, fightin’ and drinkin’. When Tiffany’s young brother goes missing, Tiffany and the Wee Free Men must join forces to save him from the Queen of the Fairies.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My first impression about this book was "This is a weird story." It was good, just very strange. And it made you think, which is a good thing. But it's still strange. It's supposed to be made into a movie, and I really don't know how they're going to pull that off.

My favorite characters were absolutely the Nac Mac Feegle (the wee free men). They were funny and entertaining, and their matter-of-fact reactions to crazy, magical things helped set them apart from everything else, helped make them more magical (as if being tiny, blue creatures wasn't enough). They are the anti-Smurf. While the Smurfs liked to sing and dance and play games, the Nac Mac Feegle swear and drink and steal. Their dialogue was great too, because Pratchett wrote in brogue for them, rather than merely saying "They had a Scottish brogue."

The main character, Tiffany, annoyed me a little, especially in the beginning. I was having such a hard time connecting with her, but by the end of the book, she had redeemed herself. Speaking of the end of the book, I'm going to have to reread that part, because it still doesn't make sense to me.

Pratchett's writing style helped make this book fun and exciting. It reminded me of the Princess Bride, where the author keeps breaking in to the story to point something out in parentheses. Pratchett did something similar in this book, either through Tiffany or as the narrator. I love it when writers do that. B