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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...