Monday, December 31, 2012

Warm Bodies

When R (Nicholas Hoult) meets Julie (Teresa Palmer) he feels something--other than the overwhelming desire to eat people--since he became a zombie. Julie is initially terrified of the zombie who has essentially kidnapped her but as she spends more time with him, she realizes that he's changing--his heart is literally beating again. But can two people truly change the world for the better? And who will believe that zombies can actually cure themselves?

Warm Bodies starts off with the main character R, delivering a sharp and witty internal monologue via voice over because he's a zombie (and zombies can't speak). Nicholas Hoult shows all the signs of an up-and-coming Hollywood superstar. Super-star girlfriend? Check. Role in comic book film series? Check. Leading man in zombie romantic comedy? Definitely check! Hoult brings a level of dedication and nuance that is quite impressive for such a young actor. Unable to use words for most of the film, Hoult effectively compensates in his voice overs and with a very physical performance on screen. Analeigh Tiptopn--most known for her stint on America's Next Top Model and the Steve Carell obsessed babysitter in Crazy, Stupid, Love.--is another welcome surprise. She brings a brightness and comedic timing to the movie that makes you wonder why she isn't R's love interest because--quite frankly--you can't take your eyes off her. Tipton easily outshines the leading lady of the film, Teresa Palmer. Palmer gives a adequate but forgettable performance. Although it wasn't entirely her fault. She wasn't given much to work with in the script.
Conversely, Tipton and Hoult's superior performances were largely aided by their sharp dialogue--thanks to writer, but also director, Jonathon Levine. Levine's dry sense of humor made regular appearances throughout the film but unfortunately it was not enough to support a plot as thin and unsubstantial as this. Much like Summit Entertainment's other paranormal love story (You might be vaguely familiar with it. It's a little movie called Twilight) Warm Bodies made the fatal mistake thinking that a movie can survive solely on the obsessive and slightly creepy teenage love between a human and someone longs to be human. This flaw was  is most obvious in the last five minutes of the film--which seemed unapologetically lazy and quickly slapped together. The ending is over-simplistic and inherently contradictory to the main themes of the film. Talk about disappointing.

In conclusion, Warm Bodies is a funnier and less cheesy version of the first Twilight film. There are no sparkly vampires in this movie but be prepared for a handful of creepy zombies and one oddly adorable zombie. Warm Bodies begins with a bold and quirky concept but quickly transforms into a bland and unoriginal love story. It is a smart film that suffers from too many cliches...but at least it's funny.
Watch the movie in theaters February 1, 2013! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my style blog! Are you excited for this movie? Leave a comment!

FTC: I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Warm Bodies before the movie was released. I have no affiliation with Summit Entertainment.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening & The Struggle

When handsome and elusive Stefan Salvatore arrives in the small town of Fell's Church, everyone takes notice--even blonde Queen Bee Elena Gilbert. Elena can't help but be drawn to the quiet stranger in her European History class. Fortunately for Elena, the attraction is mutual. Unfortunately for Stefan, he isn't the only Salvatore brother fascinated by the beautiful Elena and the town's initial fascination has quickly turned to suspicion after a string of people are attacked soon after his arrival.

A quick warning to the devoted fans of the TV show: the books are VERY different from the show. The first time I attempted to read this book it was hard to get into the story because it was such a departure from the series (ex. Elena is blonde, Bonnie is a redhead, Caroline is a brunette, and that's just the tip of the iceberg!). The second time around I started reading knowing that it would be very different and it was a much more enjoyable experience. The writing is very similar to L.J. Smith's other works--it's quick and fast-paced read. This is a book that someone could easily finish in a day or two. The writing is geared toward a very young audience (perfect for late elementary or early junior high) and for that reason, it can feel a bit patronizing as an adult reading it.

The edition that I read is the one pictured above and it has the first two novels in the Vampire Diaries series conveniently and compactly packaged together into one. Out of the two stories I preferred the first one which is entitled The Awakening. The story chronicles the very beginning of Stefan and Elena's relationship. It also talks about how Stefan and Damon became vampires in the first place (if you think you know all the details, you don't). The second story, The Struggle, was considerably less focused than the first. It lacked enough material to stand as a novel on it's own and in retrospect it became very obvious that its main purpose was to serve as a transition between book one and book three. 

Compared to the show, the book series worked at a much quicker pace. Things that have just happened at the beginning of the fourth season happened at the end of book two. Also, the first two books tend to focus almost entirely on Elena and her feelings for Stefan (and eventually Damon) while the show has more time to look at the stories of supporting characters like Caroline and Bonnie and Tyler. Although the book is almost always better than the film/television adaption, this is not the case in this situation. The television show takes everything great and fascinating about the book series and, with a little help from a fantastic writing team, creates an action-packed hour of entertainment each week with a more developed plot and more fleshed out characters. It also doesn't hurt that there are some very attractive men on the show as well.

In conclusion, the first two books of the Vampire Diaries series are both fun, quick reads. The TV show hasn't stayed entirely faithful to the books from which it is based--and, quite frankly, that's a good thing. Other than Stefan, none of the characters are well developed and the story seems to run out of gas halfway through the second novel. It is a light and easy read but if you want an entertaining story about vampires, witches, and werewolves tune into The Vampires Diaries on the CW.

Read the book! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my style blog! Do you prefer The Vampire Diaries books or the TV show? Leave me a comment!

Monday, December 17, 2012


Alfred Hitchcock's latest film, North by Northwest, was a huge success. But now what? Everyone wants him to make another North by Northwest but Hitchcock (played by Anthony Hopkins) wants to do something different, something bold and shocking. He stumbles upon the idea for his next movie when he reads Robert Bloch's 1959 novel, Psycho. Despite lacking the support of Hollywood executives, Hitchcock is determined to make this movie. His relationship with his wife, Alma (played by Helen Mirren), is tested as movie production begins to spiral out of control.

As a self-proclaimed history buff and film enthusiast, the chances were high that I would enjoy Hitchcock. It was a wonderful movie experience--easily one of the best that I've had in a long time. There is so much to love about this film, it's a little hard to know where to start. Ironically, Hitchcock--a film about the process behind the creation of one of the most iconic horror films ever--is, at its core, a love story. Although seriously lacking in the blood and gore departments, the movie does begin with a bang that even the great Alfred Hitchcock would not see coming. And, of course, I do mean this literally. Director Sacha Gervarsi successfully turns back the clock and creates a compelling and smart story thanks to the contribution of the costume, makeup, set, art departments, and of course the acting. It is not necessary to have seen the film Psycho or be familiar with Hitchcock's work to appreciate the film but I would be lying to say that this background information doesn't help. It was fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes peak at what goes on during the making of a film. The story wanders a bit as Hitchcock has conversations with the serial killer who inspired the novel (played by Miachel Wincott) in his head. It was a curious addition to the film but a little unnecessary.
The acting on the other hand was nothing short of outstanding. It would be a surprise--and a mystery--if both Hopkins and Mirren weren't nominated for Oscars for their respective roles as Hitchcock and Alma. While Hopkins psychical transformation on screen is more startling than Mirren's, both actors immerse themselves so effortlessly and completely into the plot and their roles. It was refreshing to see such a strong female character during a time period with such gender inequality and especially in such a male dominated field like directing and movie production. Mirren perfectly captures Alma's struggles on screen while not compromising her strength or her femininity. Hopkins portrays the legendary director as a complex  human being--both supporting and contradicting the dictatorial and obsessive caricature that is so well-known in pop culture.

The ending is a bit cliche but audiences will no doubt leave the theater with smiles on their faces. Hitchcock is certainly the most unexpected feel-good movie this holiday season and it is definitely worth the time and the money.'s Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren! Do I need to say more?

Go see Hitchcock in theaters now! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my style blog! What is your favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie? Leave a comment below!

FTC: I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Hitchcock before the movie was released. I have no affiliation with Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Don't Look Down

Lucy Armstrong has never directed a feature length movie before but she somehow finds herself on a movie-set with her lying ex-husband, her energetic niece, her lethargic younger sister, two unenthusiastic lead actors, and J.T., an attractive Green Beret. As if things couldn't get worst, Lucy learns that she also has to deal with a hungry alligator and Pre-Columbian green phallic stones [that claim to cure impotence]. Lucy must find a way to finish the shoot and keep everyone alive--while finding time to spend time with J.T.

Don't Look Down is Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer's first attempt at a collaboration. And to be honest, it feels that way. Their writing styles are synced--but it doesn't feel like a melding of two minds but rather like Mayer is mimicking Crusie's distinctive style. Adding a few paragraphs filled with military/tough-guy jargon every couple pages seems to be Mayer's only noticeable contribution to the novel. And even Crusie's up-beat, funny style seems a little dull in comparison to her other works and even when compared to her later collaboration with Mayer, Wild Ride. Crusie and Mayer have their moments of brilliance and humor but their accomplishments are overshadowed by their shortcomings.

To be blunt, the plot is more than a little unoriginal--girl meets tall, dark, and dangerous man; things blow up; all the good guys live happily ever after. But despite its predictability, Don't Look Down is definitely a confusing ride. The plot seems all-over-the-place and there are so many characters to keep track of that it gets overwhelming. But in spite of its faults, Don't Look Down is an entertaining read. Something to take on a long flight or borrow from the library. It is only so disappointing because Crusie and Mayer are dynamic authors in their own right and together they should be a firework show on the 4th of July.

While Crusie and Mayer might not live up to such [arguably] unrealistic expectations, Don't Look Down is fun read filled with action and romance. It foreshadows the amount of excellence that develops from Crusie and Mayer collaborations in the future--once they get the hang of it. Practice makes perfect.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl is a historical interpretation of Anne Boleyn's (Natalie Portman) rise to power to become Henry VII's (Eric Bana) second wife and her fall from grace ending in her death in 1536. The film explores Anne's relationship with her family--most notably her relationship with her sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson) who was the King's mistress before his marriage to Anne.

This movie has received a lot of criticism since it was released--and I will not argue that most of it is not well deserved. Scarlett Johansson is a flat-expressioned, ice queen next to Natalie Portman. Although to be fair, it would be incredibly hard to be compared to Portman's performance...but Johannson brought underwhelming to a whole new level. In this film Portman exhibited the range and commitment that would later go on to win her an Oscar while Johannson's attempts to be coy and innocent are cringe-worthy and best to be forgotten. Although, again to be fair, Portman is given a more complex character to work with when compared to poor Johansson--who portrays the innocent and pure Mary Boleyn. Mary has no depth as a character and combined with many of the factors mentioned above, Anne wins over the audiences despite the fact that she's utterly power-hungry and willing to step on anyone who gets in her way. Portman's ability to create a sense of sympathy for her character makes it all the more heartbreaking when Anne's tragic fate comes to fruition.

The Other Boleyn Girl is a romantic re-imagining of Henry VII's marriage to Anne Boleyn. It is filled with historical omissions and inaccuracies to an extent that is almost down-right irresponsible. But there are not enough good things to be said for the visual aspects of the film. The clothing (especially the headdresses worn by the women) and scenic backdrop are decadent visual fantasies. And despite all the things that were wrong with this film--and there were a lot of things wrong with this film--there is something so compelling about a story of powerless people searching for some shred of power in their lives. There is a bit of the Romeo and Juliet affect in effect--the audience knows that this story will end badly but it is impossible not to root for these two young girls.

 The Other Boleyn Girl is a thinly veiled fictional story masquerading around as history. Portman does her best to keep the film afloat but average or lackluster performances from the rest of the cast and the obviously biased treatment of historical material keep the film from being an award-winning success. But even without critical success, The Other Boleyn Girl is an enjoyable story about a young girl who didn't understand the consequences of her search for power.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Rise of the Guardians

Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) is lost--and he has been for the past three hundred years. Ever since he woke up in a pond and the Man in the Moon told him his name, Jack has been searching for his purpose and hoping that one day someone could see him. Jack finally get his chance when he is picked to help the Guardians--Santa (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (voiced by Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Jackman), and the Sandman--fend off the Boogieman (voiced by Jude Law) as he tries to regain the power he lost after the end of the Dark Ages.

Rise of the Guardians is animated eye candy--the character design, the scenery, everything is visual perfection. No fault can be found in any of the animation. Even going beyond the visual designs, each of the Guardians has a unique twist that sets them apart from other interpretations. Santa is a tough burly Russian with tattoos. The Easter Bunny is boomerang wielding Australian. The Toothy Fairy has feathers and countless mini-fairies to help her with her work. And the Sandman is the short and silent type. Although the comparison has been made it warrants repeating, this movie is animated Avengers for the little kid in everyone who still believes in magic. This rag-tag group of people come together, despite their differences, for the greater good--to save the world's children from a world of fear.

Warning to parents about to take their kids to see this: although this film is only rated PG, there are moments in it that are surprisingly dark for a movie aimed at such a young age group. Also be wary because this film tries and fails to reach a level of Pixar-like magic with a great chunk of the film dedicated to moments that are obviously meant to be tear-jerkers. Based on my experience, many of the younger children [four or younger] lost interest in the film half-way through. But while they may not appreciate it now, they will as they watch every year as they grow up. Because there is no denying that in a few years time Rise of the Guardians will be a Christmas staple--joining the ranks of other holiday themed classics in ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas and other programs like it. There will be no escaping this infectious and funny film. And I see no reason why you would want to. There have been rumors that there are plans to make a sequel--hopefully this is true and hopefully the sequel will be as original and exciting as the first.

Rise of the Guardians will surely be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature but it will certainly lose to Wreck-It Ralph. Not for lack of trying but most certainly because Rise of the Guardians tried so hard to enchant and endear that it its efforts feels forced--even, dare I say it, formulaic. But as last remark I must as why was Chris Pine casted to voice a teenage boy? He does his best but he can't help but sound a bit old coming from the mouth of a boy who doesn't seem to have completed puberty.

Watch the movie! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my style blog! Leave a comment!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Joey (Katharine Houghton) and John (Sidney Poitier) have fallen in love and plan to get married--after knowing each other for less than two weeks. When Joey takes John home to meet her parents (Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy), they are met with shock and hesitation. John only has one day before he has to board a plan to go to Geneva but doesn't want to marry Joey unless they have her parent's complete support.

It will be impossible to walk away from this film without feeling like you've experienced something wonderful. Unlike the more recent remake starring Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner doesn't treat the issue of interracial relationships as a punchline. Made in 1967, Guess was a film that pushed boundaries. To put this all into context, at the time of filming interracial marriage was illegal in 17 states and blacks had only received the right to vote four years earlier. America was strife with racial tension and this film was one of the first to depict interracial marriage in a positive light.

Hepburn would go on to receive an Academy Award for her role in this film and it is well deserved. She lights up the screen with her easy elegance and long-forged chemistry with Spencer Tracy. Tracy's speech at the end of film is easily the most heart-warming moment of the entire one hundred and forty-eight minutes. And as Stacy's last role--he died two weeks after finishing filming--it is one that he and his family can certainly be proud of. He plays the lovable but over-protective father to perfection. Tracy and Hepburn's long history performing with each other plays out wonderfully as they were able to portray a long-timed, happily married couple all that more convincingly.

Hepburn and Tracy were fantastic but this film has received its fair share of criticism. Probably in large part because of the racial tension in America at the time, the script writers made the young couple in the center of the turmoil almost too perfect. Poitier's character is a doctor, who graduated from a prestigious school at the top of his class, helps sick children in Africa, is polite, dresses well, doesn't want to engage in pre-martial a nutshell he's perfect. While Houghton's character is sweet, trusting, young and naive--almost too naive for a young girl growing up in America in the 1960's. Joey doesn't just believe that interracial marriage shouldn't be an issue--it shouldn't--but she doesn't even seem to think that anyone else will either. The audience isn't given a chance to get to know her and she can come off as ditzy and oblivious--she never once acknowledges the trouble she and her future family might encounter.

But despite the criticism, this is a film that should be appreciated not only for it's entertainment value but for it's cultural significance. It was bold movie attempting to break ground in a tumultuous time in America--and I would argue that many of it's messages are still relevant today. But political and social, this story at the heart is about love--now that is something that we can all understand.

Watch the movie! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my second blog! What did you think of this film? Leave a comment below!

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) has spent the last 40 years searching for the murderer of his young niece. She disappeared one day and no one has seen her since but her murderer has continued to send Henrik a gift every year on his birthday. Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has lost his life savings when he is sued for libel after he publishes an article about a wealthy businessman, Wennerstrom. After Mikael's fall from grace, Henrik decides to hire him to solve his niece's murder in exchange for evidence that would clear Mikael's name and send Wennerstrom to jail. Mikael soon finds that he needs assistance and enlists the help of young tech-guru, Lisabeth Salander (Rooney Mara).

This is not a film to watch in order to fill some time on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It is quite the emotional roller coaster--but in the best sense possible. The overall tone of the film is quite dark and somber. Each moment of the film is filled with an omnipresent sense of dread and anticipation. There is something oddly unsettling about knowing that something terrible is about to happen before it happens. The tone is very similar to another film based off Swedish source material--Let Me In. Both are stories driven by very strong female lead characters that are complex and alluring and dangerous. 

A large part of what makes this film so impressive was Rooney Mara's portrayal of Lisabeth Salander. Mara's performance was stunning. She was able to create a character that was as vulnerable as she is strong--it was an absolute pleasure to watch even during the most intense and disturbing moments of the film. Craig and the rest of the cast were fantastic as well but were at least slightly overshadowed by Mara's complete commitment to her role--physically and creatively. There cannot be enough nice things said about the level of acting in this film.

But the acting wasn't the only factors that contributed to the success of this film. The reading frame of the film's plot seemed a misplaced. The beginning and the end seemed like loose ends that are a bit unnecessary but they added to the overall feeling of the film. Both Lisabeth and Mikael are lost in their lives so it only makes sense that the film doesn't begin and end with a neatly tied bow. Everything from the costumes, to the setting, to the script helps make these characters and this story resonate so powerfully with audiences. It feels so real and honest. There are so many moments that are gritty and raw and repulsive and this film makes no apologies.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a bold film that separates itself from other films with its unapologetic approach to violence and storytelling. It isn't a movie for the faint of heart but it is a powerful piece that helps hit home the consequences and realities of rape and violence. The acting is superb under the careful hand of director, David Fincher, who was careful to tread a careful line between gritty and gory. It is a brilliant film--anyone who watches it won't soon forget it.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph has spent the last thirty years being under appreciated. He is the bad guy in his video game but it seems impossible for people to see past his tough exterior after his is done for the day. He tries his best to fit in but his anger finally explodes one day. Ralph sets off into another game, Hero's Duty, in order to prove that he really is in fact a good guy. Along the way he finally makes the friends he's always wanted and single-handedly threatens the lives of every single video game in the arcade.

Wreck-It Ralph is the best time I've had at a movie theater in a long time. I was hesitant walking into the theater--mostly because I am not a terribly huge fan of any of the main voice actors and because I am still trying to recover from my disappointment after seeing Pixar's Brave this summer. Despite my hesitation, I was drawn to the theater because I wanted to see all of my favorite childhood video game characters on the big screen. And let me tell you, this movie is PACKED with references to "retro" video games and oddly enough, food. Although many of the references are aimed at people in their twenties--the first generation who grew up on video games--the film is just as enjoyable without understanding many of them. So adults and younger children don't worry. Some of my favorite cameos included Bowser, Sonic the Hedgehog, PacMan, and milk's favorite cookie, Oreos! Oreos--that's a reference that everyone can get.

The plot of the film was not what I was expecting. From the trailer, Wreck-It Ralph came off as movie geared toward stereotypical boys but after watching it I am convinced that it will appeal to girls just as much--possibly more! This film tackles the material in a very clever way and I will admit that the ending blindsided me. sort of embarrassing considering that this is, after all, a Disney film. But one of the most impressive features of this film is the  amount of time and detail the film makers put into creating three distinct worlds. The settings felt so real that it was almost as if this movie was revealing the secret life of video games--much in the same vein as Toy Story. Each world felt distinct but my only regret is that Ralph didn't do a bit more game-hopping so that I could see the rest of the arcade. Considering that was my only disappointment, I can easily say that this film was a job well done.

While on the surface, Wreck-It Ralph, seems like a vehicle for Disney to prey on our nostalgia in the modern era, it is a film that is equal parts humor and heart. The characters--both old and new--light up the screen and the material is handled in a way that is smart and respectful. I was not expecting much walking into the theater but on my way out I was impressed with what Disney had managed to create. This film proves that they are still the masters of creating new and engaging stories using other people's source material. Main point: if you have time this weekend, GO SEE IT!

Watch the movie! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my style blog! Leave a comment below!

FTC: I attended a free early screening of this film. I have no affiliation with Disney.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

Iris is famous but no one knows her name. She is better known as the ugly stepsister. After the death of her father, Iris moves to Holland with her mother and sister, Ruth. Struggling to survive in a new country, Iris and her family eventually find a place to stay with a wealthy merchant. He has a wife and a daughter that is known for her beauty, Clara--the girl that is better known as Cinderella. The world is familiar with Clara's tale but is there any truth to it? How did a girl from Haarlem become a princess? With the help of a fairy Godmother? Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister tries to set the record straight and tell what really happened that night at the ball.

Gregory Maguire is known for reimagining classic tales and giving them a more adult twist. He is well known for his novel, Wicked--which has had a very successful run through the novel's musical interpretation on Broadway. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister has a brilliant concept but the story only has echos of the Cinderella tale that most of us grew up on. To be honest, it would be difficult to know that Confessions was based on Cinderella without the title and the backcover proclaiming it to be a reimagined fairy-tale. It can more accurately be described as a historical fiction novel about a young girl growing up in 17th century Holland. There is more talk about tulips in this novel than that of princes, balls, glass slippers, and magic combined.

Most of the story takes place long before the famous ball comes into play. Maguire spends most of the novel focusing on the three girls as children--which isn't as interesting as it would seem. Maguire is a talented writer. His writing is easy and engaging but he spends almost too much time focusing on points that don't propell the story forward. It makes the tale feel stagnant and muddy. And although Iris is the observant child and her tale is supposed to add more insight and depth to the fairy-tale we all know and love, I found this novel underwhelming. Maguire brought nothing to the fairy-tale that elevated the story. Clara--the Cinderella of our tale--seemed distant and removed. It would have been more interesting if Iris had gotten to know Clara more. What was Clara thinking when she became the "cindergirl"? How did Clara deal with the loss of her mother? What happened with Prince Charming in that room at the ball?

All these questions lay unanswered but Maguire spent pages upon pages writing about the tulip economic crash in the 17th century. It seemed as if he were more interested in that historical event and the fairy-tale influence was added later to sell more copies. Maguire changed the protaganist of the tale and that was his first mistake. Clara was the more interesting and complex character. Her background was mysterious and her motives were unpredictable. Iris was bland--watching from the sidelines more often than actively particpating in the plot. Even Ruth would have made for a more interesting protaganist!

Maguire attempted to give an old classic new life but instead, he made Cinderella into a tale about four unlikable women and two unlikable men--Caspar gets a pass because he is the true prince charming in this tale. Cinderella is bright and happy but this tale is rather depressing. It isn't a happily-ever-after ending but neither is it very an inspirational or literary. It tries to be everything at once and in the end fails to be anything at all--well, other than bland and long.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Living in a small town, Victor only has one true friend--Sparky, his adorable and faithful dog. When Sparky dies, Victor uses his smarts and unwavering love to bring Sparky back to life. But trouble follows and Victor must find a way to save their town and return life back to normal.

After the Tim Burton disaster that was Dark Shadows, I was a little hesitant walking into the theater for this movie. Many people say that Burton is loosing his touch. Others said that he never had it to begin with. But Frakenweenie reaffirms that Burton has a gift for making wacky and creepy entertainment for families. Frakenweenie is no Nightmare Before Christmas but it is a story that will make even the coldest of hearts melt. Yes, that means even my father shed a few tears watching this movie...but you didn't hear that from me.

The style and design of the characters in this film are very similar to Burton's The Corpse Bride. And like TCB, Burton played with color to tell his story. Frankenweenie is completely in black and white. The lack of color compliments the somber tone of the film and makes the film stronger as a result. Other than the black and white style, there are many homages to old horror films including the plot and character design.

Sparky--the Frakenweenie of this film--is nothing like the monster of yore. Even after he's come back from death, Sparky is lively and thirsty for adventure. Burton chose to make Sparky a very realistic version of a dog making it even easier to fall in love with him. But while I enjoyed Sparky, there were a few of the characters felt like stereotypical representations. Toshiaki in particular felt like a stereotypical Asian-American. He spoke in broken English, was very intelligent, and was ruthless in his pursuit of success. It felt like a poor choice--intentionall or not--that only serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes and poor race relations.

Overall, Frankweenie was one of the sweetest movies released this year. The plot isn't terribly fast paced and some younger kids might lose interest. But, it is a must see for elementary aged children and for people who are just young at heart. Frankenweenie is a dog movie for the supernatural-obsessed generation. And anyone who has ever lost a pet can sympathize with Victor's plight. Although, I'm sure the number of electrified dead pets in the United States will increase in the near future. This is my warning to parent's taking their kids to see this film. Beware!

See the film! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my second blog! Leave a comment below!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hotel Transylvania

Hotel Transylvania is a place for monsters to relax without fear that humans will find them. Count Dracula runs the place single handedly while still finding time to be an extremely overprotected father to his only daughter, Mavis. On the celebration of Marvis's 118th birthday, a human named Johnny finds the hotel and falls in love with Mavis. Count Dracula--and the rest of the monsters--must find a way to get past their hate for humans. And the count must also find a way to let his daughter go.

Hotel Transylvania should have been a Halloween classic. It all the right ingredients--a great cast, a fantastic premise, and an audience willing to be dazzled. But in many areas Hotel feel flat. Adam Sandler's voice is almost unrecognizable as Count Dracula but many of the bits are overused and fall flat. He is the main character of this tale and despite what the trailers wants us to believe, Hotel isn't about his daughter falling in love with a human. No, this movie is about Count Dracula falling in love with a human. This movie feels incredibly long--too much time at the beginning is dedicated to Dracula trying to hide Johnny from Mavis. The young couple is not given a lot of time to interact and allow the audience to fall in love with the idea of them together.

Mavis, played by Selena Gomez, is beautifully designed as a character. It was adorable that the animators gave baby Mavis black lipstick and nail polish like her older self. She looks gothic and girly and modern--all at the same time. I had reservations about Gomez walking into the theater but I left knowing that she was as strong--if not stronger--than any of the characters in the film. One character is easily out shined as Johnny the human played by Andy Samberg. Johnny is the weakest character thanks to the animators, the writers, and Sandberg. Johnny is meant to be carefree and youthful burst of energy in the hotel but he came off as loud and obnoxious. It was hard to like Johnny and everyone I went to see the movie with agreed that the film would have been stronger without him. Unfortunately, Johnny and Dracula commandeered most of the screen time while Gomez and the other monsters were relegating to supporting roles.

Hotel Transylvania is a film that will entertain the kids but it isn't a guaranteed hit with their parents. There are moments that are humorous and sweet but they can't makeup for the languid pace and uninspired plot. There was so much potential but director, Genndy Tartovsky, was unable to translate the success he achieved with animation on the small screen to a successful movie on the big screen.

See the movie! Chat with me on twitter! Check out Selena Gomez's street style! Leave a comment below!

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Mediator #3: Reunion

Suze has been busy since moving to California but it's only about to get busier when Michael, her fellow classmate is being target by a group of four ghosts who recently died in a car accident. Suze believes that it is her duty as mediator to protect Michael. But Suze quickly discovers that the car accident wasn't an accident and the killer is not done yet. And this time the killer's target hits a lot closer to home.

Meg Cabot is a great writer but this one fell a bit flat. She is great at creating this funny, strong female characters that are easy to relate with even if they happen to have supernatural powers like Suze.  I've always thought that her strongest books are the ones she writes for adults but even when compared to her other YA novels, The Mediator series isn't her strongest. The characters aren't incredibly developed and the narration is geared towards a much younger audience. I liked the past two novels in the series--although I never did a review for the second book--but Reunion is easily the lowest point out of the three.

The plot deals with a situation where the lines of morality are very blurry. But instead of taking the chance to explore the complex nature of right and wrong--Cabot took the easy and very boring route of letting the police handle the situation. Anyone who has ever watched the news or seen an episode of Law & Order will know that the law is a flawed system and justice is not always served. It would have made for a much better book if Cabot had taken a different route and allowed the reader to explore the morality of the situation with a bit more depth. Yes, I understand that it is a YA novel but that is no excuse. 

I was disappointed by the murder-mystery part of the novel but I was also frustrated because I have read three books and the relationship between Suze and Jesse [the dead boy who hangs out in Suze's room] hasn't moved forward. She spends a lot of time thinking about him--mostly his incredible abs--but nothing has really happened between the two. I am waiting and waiting but I am growing increasingly impatient. Since the plot was so lackluster it would have been nice to see some development in that area of Suze's life but...nothing. If you are planning to read The Mediator series and want to save some time, skip book three. You aren't missing anything.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Mango-Shaped Space

Mia Winchell has lived her entire life seeing sounds, numbers, and letters in bright colors. It isn't her strong imagination or a sign that she is losing her mind--Mia has synesthesia [although she doesn't know it]. Mia first realized that she was different from everyone else in third grade. Afraid of being labeled a freak, she keeps her gift a secret from everyone including her family and closest friends. Years later, Mia is in middle school and is still struggling to understand why she is different.

I'd never heard of synesthesia until I read this book. It isn't something that I think most people really hear about. But synethesia is a "neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway" (Wikipedia). In A Mango-Shaped Space, Mia can see sounds and each number/letter has a color associated with it--so when she reads, she sees the color associated with the letter not the black ink that it was typed in.

It sounds fascinating, right? And it is. But as interesting as it is to hear about synesthesia, there are parts of the book that feel a bit like reading a pamphlet about the neurological condition rather than a novel about a girl. Mass finds it difficult to avoid throwing in so many facts that it can often get in the way of Mia's story. A Mango-Shaped Space is written for a younger audience--late elementary school to early junior high--and it isn't a book that I think most adults would enjoy reading it on their own. The language and story are almost too simple. I may have enjoyed this book ten years ago but right now I found it slow and contrived.

A Mango-Shaped Space is a book that many young readers will love. I can only imagine how helpful it will be for children and the parent's of children with synesthesia--to help them know they are not alone. And for that reason alone I tried to fall in love with it but I couldn't seem to connect with the story or the characters. If you are interested in synesthesia, this book would be an excellent place to start. But understand that this is a children's book and it may not be able to entertain an adult for long.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Bone to Pick

A Bone to Pick is the sequel to another Charlaine Harris book I've read and reviewed, Real Murders. Since the events of Real Murders, most of the members of the club [a club where members would meet to discuss famous murders in history] have lost touch but when one of the  members, Jane Engle, has left almost everything to Aurora "Roe" Teagarden, Roe begins to wonder if Jane'd had pure intentions when she'd written her will. After finding a human skull hidden in the old woman's house, Roe realizes that Jane wasn't the sweet old lady she had once thought her to be and that it was very likely that she had been murdered.

Although Charlaine Harris is known for her Sookie Stackhouse novels, she got her start in murder mysteries--without the super hot vampires and werewolves.  A Bone to Pick was an incredibly easy read--I already had this connection with Aurora from the first book and it was easy to get settled into that small-town, southern feel again. Her love life is a little all over the place but Aurora is someone that any single girl can sympathize with--in fact I would argue that her personal life is a bit more interesting than the actual murder mystery, which for most of the book seemed unfocused. Aurora didn't do a ton of investigating work--other than casually interview her neighbors and searching the house for clues--and it felt like most of the clues [and even the identity of the murderer] fell into her lap by pure chance. I understand that Aurora isn't supposed to be a trained detective but she was sleeping with a cop for how many months? She must have learned something!

Also, when the big reveal happened at the end it was very anti-climatic. The murderer confessed and the confession wasn't even that compelling. I thought the story was well-written but the murder-mystery part of the plot was all-in-all rather lackluster. With Real Murders I wanted more romance, so Harris gave Aurora more lovey-dovey drama--hopefully in the next book she can get the perfect mix of murder and love.

In comparison to her other work, I find that this novel is somewhere in the middle. Her Sookie Stackhouse novels are such a guilty pleasure and every time I can't wait to get my hands on the new book, while her Lily Bard mysteries are bit too short and shallow for my taste. A Bone to Pick is a good summer read--something to pass the time and nothing too incredibly complicated. It isn't a must-read but if you get the chance, I would say go for it.

Buy the book! If you've read this book, tell me what you thought in the comments! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my other blog!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

This is a story that on the surface everyone knows. As a young girl, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) lost her mother and her father, the King, was devastated. Shortly after her mother's death, the King met a beautiful and alluring damsel in distress. This damsel, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), proved to be more cunning than anyone expected when she murdered the King on their wedding night. Snow is sentenced to a life in the dungeon and Ravenna rules the kingdom with an iron fist. Snow White escapes and the queen sends a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth)  into the dark woods to retrieve the young girl.

From the looks of the trailer, Snow White and the Huntsman was sure to a fantastical, action-packed modern-interpretation of a well loved fairy tale. And as is often the case with these things, the trailer promised a lot more than the movie could deliver. It is titled Snow White and the Huntsman but a more apt title might have been The Evil Queen feat. Snow White. Charlize Theron is deliciously evil in this dark fairy tale. She radiates power in every frame and it doesn't hurt that she looks absolutely stunning at the same time. In the story, she may have had to worry that Snow White was the fairest in the land but everyone watching is wondering why. Theron--even as an old crone--possessed a quality of elegance that Stewart never seems to come close to matching.
The pacing of this movie felt slow and discontented. A lot of time was allotted to development of the evil queen's character--her rise to power and her struggle to kill Snow White--but Snow White and the Huntsman received surprisingly less screen time than one would assume in a movie named after the pair. The second half of the film was rushed--Snow White's revival, an epic battle, and Snow White's coronation in half an hour to make up for the slow pacing earlier in the film. This film also suffered from overcrowding. The Queen was given a brother, the prince a father, there were eight dwarves instead of seven, and a whole slew of other characters were thrown in for good measure. It's confusing and with every character vying for screen time it is hard to create a connection with anyone--much less remember their names. The dwarves were all played by brilliant British actors--it's a shame that none of them got to show off what they could do.

Visually, the film was fantastic. The special effects were breathtaking and impressive. But expensive special effects and Charlize Theron's performance can't overcome a poorly paced, poorly written film with inconsistent actors. Kristen Stewart tries her best--even giving us a British accent that was some what believable--but she doesn't wear damsel in distress very well. She doesn't really wear lovestruck teenager living in Forks, Washington very well but what do I know? I'm not a casting director.

This film takes a few twists from the traditional Snow White story that we all know and love. But other than the expansion of the roles of the Huntsman and the Evil Queen, many of these changes hurt the film rather than help it. I must admit that I watched this for the first time after the Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders cheating scandal erupted. I tried not to let that influence my opinion [to be honest I've never been a big fan of Kristen Stewart's work] but at least I don't feel guilty for enjoying the film that broke up Robsten.

I gave this movie two stars becausein my humble opinion there were only two stars in this film--Ms. Theron and the special effects team. I'll be the first one to admit that it's hard to recreate a classic and make it better. The screenwriters and director were a bit too ambitious--there was too much story to be told in two hours.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


During the summer of 1935, Briony Tallis is standing on the brink of adulthood. She is beginning to notice the world around her but she doesn't quite understand it. She is frustrated by her cousin's unwillingness to listen to her and she is confused by the flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie, the son of a servant. In a moment of naive youth and misunderstanding, Briony accuses Robbie of an act he did not commit. But her lies, malicious or not, have repercussions that no one could have predicted.

The overall plot of Atonement is, in actuality, very simple. But McEwan takes this simple plot and infuses it with heart. Briony, Cecilia, and Robbie start the novel as entirely fleshed out people. They seem so real, their emotions and motivations so clear, that it is almost as if they could walk off the page. As the novel drags on, Cecilia's voice is lost when McEwan decides to no longer narrate from her perspective. That may be one of the reasons that Part One is the most striking section of the book. It is beautifully written--taking the time to really explore the ideas of misunderstanding, intentions, and transformations. McEwan does not take the easy route in this novel, instead he creates an honest and real story. He does not simply paint Briony as this villainous, self-centered monster nor does he portray Robbie and Cecilia as wounded victims.

The second and third parts seem to loose focus--McEwan takes a lot of time and many pages to recount monotonous details about military and nursing life during World War II. The story of Cecilia and Robbie becomes a bit lost. In the end of Part Three and in Part Four, the story refocuses its lens away from war and death to the main trio. The ending speaks to our desire for happy endings in a world filled with tragedy. Briony needs Robbie and Cecilia to be together. She needs their love to be stronger than the pain of war and the consequences of her actions. She needs to atone for her actions. We like to think that we abandon the need for fairy-tale endings when we grow up.

Atonement is a difficult read. I tried it once before. I even remember reading it while I waited in line to get my driver's license. It's only been three years but I read the book completely differently. It's probably because I matured a bit--because I know for a fact that it's pretty much stayed the same. It is a hard book to tackle but in the end it is so rewarding. It challenges readers to think about the things we take for granted--like the moment when our unconscious thought becomes action--and to think complexly about the world around us.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Choice

Gabby moves to a new town to be closer with her boyfriend of four years, Kevin. Just her luck she happens to move in next door to a very attractive, very single, very charismatic man. But she isn't interested in him. No. She has a boyfriend. Then why did she find herself spending so much time with him? And thinking about him...a lot? As she gets to know Travis, she begins to realize that she has to make a choice. But that is nothing compared to the one Travis is forced to make. A choice that can't be undone and will change their lives forever. 

Normally, I find Nicholas Sparks novels slightly pretentious and forced. It is one of the reasons I haven't finished one in years. It is the same routine over and over again. Two people fall in love. Someone dies. Whether it's the dog, or the friend, or the woman, or the man. To be fair Sparks tries to push himself by adding different woeful tricks to his novel--a cancer patient here, an autistic son there--but a lot of the time, it can seem like just that--a trick. Sparks is searching for another tragic twist that will leave his readers bawling but by now he is grasping at straws. This can cause his writing to appear mechanical, stiff, and coerced. On the surface, The Choice wasn't significantly different than the other NS novels I've started and then quickly abandoned in the past. But this time it works--well, sort of. Probably because the true "tragedy" of the novel didn't become evident until I had already become invested in the story. 

The story of Gabby and Travis is cute. It seems like something that could happen to a friend or a sister. It is a sweet story about a boy and girl who fall in love. It is predictable and sappy. But when you pick up a Sparks novel, you are in the mood for sappy. But a little sap goes a long way. That is something Sparks seems to forget. The Choice cute summer read. It tries a little too hard in places but we can forgive--and try to forget--because the central couple is so adorable. And as a reader, I couldn't help but root for them. Don't we all wish we could find a good boy who likes to travel the world, scuba dives, likes children and wants a family, owns a lot of land, has an amazing body, and brings in a vet salary? Oh, Nicholas Sparks. You really know how to get a woman's heart pattering. 

The Choice is an enjoyable book to pass the time. It isn't life-altering and it is quite forgettable but there is no denying that it is cute. It isn't quite the tear-jerker that Sparks is known for but it is sweet and easy to read. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Never Let Me Go

Kathy H. is a student at Hailsham. She is a clone who, at the right age, will donate her organs to save the lives of the humans she was created to save. Kathy and her fellow students never question this. It is the way it is supposed to be. The guardians at Hailsham are quick to remind the students how special they are but as Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy get older they begin to hope for a different future.  
Since the real plot of the story is only hinted at for the first half of the novel, this novel is very character driven. Thankfully, they are, in most cases, extremely well-fleshed-out motivated by commonplace desires and fears. Ruth is a horrid character but her desire to be included and her fear of loneliness makes it clear that she is not a the bad guy to Kathy's good guy. They are both imperfect creatures but it is easy to side with Kathy because as readers we are inside her mind. Kathy seems so human in her narrative, it is often easy to forget that she is in fact a clone. Her tangents are a large part of that--even if the overall effect is to make the book more dull. It is like when your friend is telling a funny story about their cat and they feel the need to describe the color of shirt they were wearing when it happened. Ishiguro also does a brilliant job of inserting little moments that are so innately human that they are easy to overlook.
In the strictest sense Never Let Me Go is a science-fiction novel that presents an reimagined image of our past where clones were created to serve as organ donors. But it is so removed from any science-fiction that I've ever read that it is hard to lump this book into that category. It is not an easy read. It is a book that very much requires the correct mindset. It is not a happy book, to say the least. But it is a powerful one. The scene that sticks out especially in my mind was the one with Kathy dancing with the pillow when she was a young girl. I can see it so vividly in my mind, from Madame's point of view and from Kathy's. It is such a simple scene but a truly beautiful one.
Never Let Me Go is not an obviously good book. It doesn't fascinate and ensnare readers at first glance. In actuality, it is a terribly hard and boring book to read at times. The prose can feel long, overly descriptive, and a bit monotonous in parts. It is not until moments after the last page has been read and the book lays closed on your bedside table that the beautiful haunting spirit of the novel finally hits. The story of Kathy and Tommy and Ruth. The tragedy and the pain of letting go to our dreams and the people we love. The experience is heighten even more with the movie adaptation's soundtrack playing in the back of your mind--particularly this little gem, Reprise.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Got to Meet Julie Andrews

It's so surreal that I'm writing this post. I mean, it's Julie Andrews. This past weekend [I wrote this right after it happened but never got around to publishing it. This happened sometime in early June.] at the Univeristy Bookstore held a signing event celebrating the release of The Very Fairy Princess: Here Comes the Bride written by Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton and illustrated by Christine Davenier. My roommate actually heard about this event first but I knew that I had to go as soon as I heard about it. I was thrilled. I called up my parents to see if they wanted to come as well and it evolved into a family event.
We got there a couple hours early and spent most of the time rotating--a couple people would stand in line while the others would browse. Other than the book mentioned above [buying the book was compulsory to get a ticket to the signing] I only picked up one another thing. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan.
The one thing that was rather disappointing about the book signing was the strict no photo/video policy. When I went to the local John Green booksigning, they had a policy of no posed photos [time constraints] but I could take as many photos as possible. But we were told that Julie Andrews has been in the spotlight so long that she really, really didn't want to be photographed. I understand but I was a little disappointed. They even hid her signing table behind a large sheet contraption. Very top secret. I honestly didn't get to see her until five minutes before she signed our books.
In our group of five, I was the first person. Books were signed in groups and so at first all five of us were just standing there starring at her [probably quite creepily] in awe. But she was so gracious and open and kind. She thanked us for coming the event and for purchasing her books. She asked us if we were doing anything after the event. She recommended a warm cup of tea--very British of her. But we had a lovely--if short--conversation about going dress shopping for my little sister's prom. It was so surreal.
But the highlight of the day was when my dad asked if he could shake Julie Andrew's hand. The woman who was helping her sign looked as if she was about to have a heart attack. How dare this commoner ask to shake her hand. That's Julie Andrews. You could tell by the look in her eye that she was horrified that my dad would ask. She was going to say no but Julie Andrews, being the gracious woman that she was, said that it was okay and reached out her hand. I had already moved to leave and I didn't get to sign her hand because I felt that it would have been awkward to go back. But my mom got to shake her hand too. That's okay. I'll shake her hand next time.
It was a fantastic day! I would do it again in a heart beat. Also, just in case you were wondering, we DID find a dress for my sister. It is a lovely cobalt-blue dress. While I don't have a picture with Julie Andrews to prove that I actually met her--you will just have to take my word for it. I wouldn't lie to you, would I? Just kidding. Or am I? But I do have a picture of her signature. Does that count?
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