Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Water For Elephants

The Story: Water For Elephants

The Author: Sara Gruen

The Dealio: A man in a nursing home- might be 92, might be 93- reflects back on his life: the sole child of parents who died just as he was taking his veterinary science finals at Cornell. They left him nothing but debts-which they incurred to pay for his schooling- a love for animals, and a taste for exotic adventure. To say he ran off and joined the circus would be both oversimplifying and selling his life story short. Along his way to 92...or, okay, maybe 93, Jake experiences more life, more characters, more seat-of-the-pants style living than any 5 people, no! 10, surrounding him at the assisted living facility where he has been deposited to doze through his last few years. Problem is, Jake ain't much of a doze-er.
And then the circus comes to town, and...well, what's a senior delinquent supposed to do when everyone around him slips a cog, beginning to spin tall tales about their past interactions with circuses and finally, dinner table conversation becomes simply unendurable? Well? Read the story and find out before it becomes a movie. Especially if you have ever had to just sit there and listen to someone assume a mantle of (fake) glory for accomplishments you know are absolute...horse feathers.

The Grading Session: 4.979 pengies out of 5. This is a novel with something for everybody: the family hearts strings, the tough choices we make along the way to senior hood. The infinite varieties of loves that populate our world-if we take the time to acknowledge them, rather than walking right by them. The rough and tumble of circus life, and the bonds that are forged between man(and woman) and animals who have crept into their hearts and souls. And, yes, the notion that life can begin-again- at 90-something. But only if you are game for the next big adventure streaking your way. Grab hold of it, hang on tight, and enjoy the ride. These things don't come along every day...nor do books like this one.

Lessons Learned: Several: Animals are people, too. There is a difference between looking back on the past and learning from it, and living in the past. The first is cool, the second is simply lazy and the sure road to regret and wasted opportunity. Finally- and very important, this one: Old is not dead. I expect old age-if I am so blessed- to surprise me and delight me. Know I'll get the first; hope the second comes along for the ride.

Monday, March 29, 2010

How To Train Your Dragon

The Flick: How To Train Your Dragon (in 3D)

The Voices: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristin Wiig, etc.,

The Dealeo: Hapless, scrawny, afraid-of-his-shadow, teen Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), son of Stoick-(Butler, bristling, as usual, with the stiffest of Scottish burrs, whilst proclaiming, at short intervals, 'We AHR Vikings...this is what we du!'), doughty dragonhunter- comes into his own, owing to one of his inventions, a dragonsnarer, actually working. 'Cept that, once it does, Hiccup realises that dragons are not what most people think. He befriends the Night Fury he has downed, dubs him 'Toothless', then proceeds to mend the injured creature, through another of his inventions. A Viking MacGiver, this kid! Along the way to the ending we all know will happen, we discover some inevitable truths and scope out some choice scenery and FX. (Please see the 'Lessons Learned' segment below). Niiiiiice.

The Grading Session: 4.89 pengies out of 5. Soundtrack was negligible. Color-use and graphics were awe-inspiring, as 3D continues to move along at a smartish clip into the next stage and then scroching into the next. Several scenettes captured such progress beautifully: in a scene where a huge fire breaks out, we not only get to see the fire- hardly groundbreaking 3 D domain- but, then the smoke and ash comes drifting towards the audience, then, into the audience. As someone who has experienced this phenomenon first hand, in real life, I have to say, they got it absolutely, frighteningly, right.
The voice characterisations were good and a good fit- even forgave Gerard his inevitable geographically disjointed blustering, once he got to the more gentled, 'father-son interplay' portion of the story. Kristin Wiig was so very good- what a surprise...not! - as was America Ferrera, Jonas Hill-doing his best Jack Black- and Craig Ferguson. The dragons remain largely dialogue-free, if not silent. And that's okay with me.

Lessons Learned: I have adored dragons since I was a wee scoffer. I wrote a paper in undergrad school: 'The Structure and Function of the Common Dragon'. I have seen nearly every movie with the word 'dragon' in the title (and read quite a few books with the same). My favorite school scenes in Harry Potter involve...well, you know. It was with great joy that I expanded my HP-generated knowledge of the rank and order of the various types of dragons and their specialties. So what? Is there anything here for someone who is not dragon-obsessed? Yup. Wanna hear it? Here goes: women can be as capable as men in battle; Gerard Butler, however, is totally INcapable of submerging his Scots' accent, whether he is playing a Greek, a New Yorker, or a medieval Viking; not everything is as it first seems: not teens, not girls, not fathers or sons, and certainly not dragons, either; it is okay to be unique, even though it may take some time to get that word out to your family and friends- who, most assuredly, have other plans for you; and, finally, Night Furies, apparently, are the predecessors to black Labs. Seriously; you didn't notice the resemblance?!
That's a lot.
One final lesson, BTW, and this one I was less than thrilled to learn: movie theatres, having realised, over the past few months, the muscle, draw and power of the 3D movie has far outstripped what we held to be state-of-the-art pre-Avitar, and left those nerdy but iconic specs from Back To The Future in the distant past- has begun to pump up the fees for this technology. See, I knew Cameron would wind up making us pay for the thrill-ride!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Water For Elephants

News flash! If you loved the book (and I have not yet any who haven't), now we're talkin' movie: sched for a summer start, WFE features Reese (hmmm, seems a bit old for this role, but does play young), Robert Pattenson and his hair as Jake, Sean Penn as August and Peter O'Toole as the older Jake.
With so many of the books I have recently loved coming into the big, dark room, redolent of oily popcorn, nearest you, my hopes are very high for the coming year. So many good books-to-pictures on the horizon! I am beyond thrilled and excited at the prospect.
My advice to the creators/translators: y'all do good, now.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Report on the Kindle2

The Dealio: I am a bonafide book lover: I love the way books feel, love their heft and promise. Even love their smell. However, for Christmas, the next generation got me a Kindle2. Oh, they were very stealth about it, pretending to do research about getting one for Prendie and all, but, to my surprise, there, under the tree on the big day: a Kindle2.
Now, as fate would have it, one of my coworkers and I had been doing some studying about the newest version of Kindle. Books are way cheaper on Kindle, and take less than 30 seconds to wing their way to your personal mechanical read. There are some great new features, now, too : smaller, lighter, and- get this! just perfect for those long hours commuting back and forth to sites to teach where radio reception is hit and miss- text to voice enablement, in male and female voices which really do not sound at all like Stephen Hawking's rig. One more nudge in that direction came from Stephen King (or 'Uncle Stevie' as he prefers to be called in his column in EW mag). He was given a 'fully loaded' Kindle2 by the manufacturers and asked to critique it. I am sure Uncle Stevie went through the whole peregrination about 'You do know that I am a writer? Of books?' and so on. In the end, he came down on the side of the Kindle2 not really replacing your standard, garden-variety book/mag/newspaper- but of being really, really useful in certain situations where space and convenience are an issue. I agree. However, there was the issue of that price tag: still a bit too steep to justify spending on myself. I figured, as BoSox fans everywhere are wont to say, 'Maybe next year.'
However, as a gift....different story entirely.
Since getting this gift, I have ordered and read many books, sometimes using the text-to-voice feature, sometimes, just reading in the trad sense, in a non-trad format. I had jury duty last week and this was so bonus for that sitch. As it was, I had to go through the metal detector 3 times, take off my belt, shoes and miraculous medals, suffer people pawing through my purse and looking askance at my lip gloss/blush combo. But nary a peep about my Kindle2.

The Grading Session: 4.99 pengies out of 5. The little deduction actually is for the owner: I recently discovered Kindle-enabled blogs on everything from book recommendations to celebrity gossip (I confess...it's a weakness of mine but so refreshing. No apologies). But, other than that, I have really not taken advantage of all the features, including audio downloads and so on. To me, it's sort of like a really entertaining cell phone (I use my cell for one thing only: calling in at the end of the night's class to let Prendie know I am heading home, and from whence. I never have it on. I never text-don't know how. I have no photo capacity. I can't even program a new numbers into it. And I state these things with the pride of true accomplishments. For I have seen the dark side of cell phone/blackberry addiction. I have see it in my classes and it is a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad thing). I am not allowing the thaang to bust free and realise its true potential.
But,as Bob Wiley might say, 'Baby steps, baby steps.' There is hope for me to expand and really unleash the full power of the Kindle2 at my fingertips.
Until then, I must say, to those who were inspired to give this to me: Thanks! Great job! I love my Kindle2 and am moving forward into the techno age.
Just not very quickly.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Help

Here's what I just learned: Steven Spielberg will be producing The Help as a movie within the next year or so. I am beyond excited, as this has got to be one of the finest books I have read in recent memory. Am holding my breath until the cast is announced, but, listen, this could be a wondrous thing. All together now: hands on the top of the buffet, positive messages beaming to the Powers That Be: 'Do A Great Job'.

Alice in Wonderland

The Flick: Disney Presents Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

The Talent: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Ann Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Tim Piggott-Smith and the voices of Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Michael Sheen, Stephen Fry and many more

The Dealio: In this iteration of the Alice saga, there is a spark of feminism: poor Alice, who eschews corsets and stockings, is being forced to marry a dullard with (as his mom so delicately puts it) 'digestive problems'. Not to mention really, really nasty teeth. Rat teeth. Howsomever, everyone but Alice seems to feel that she needs must make this match and barter away any chance of being an independent, adventurous thinker-outside-the-box. Which is clearly her nature as well as her birthright: her father was exactly the same.
Long story short- and no need for spoiler alerts, I think- down a rabbit hole she tumbles and meets up with a resplendent cast of characters- oddly, they already seem to know her...and yet...she has no recollection of ever meeting them. More than one character says (here, I am paraphrasing, of course) 'Not again!'
Along the way through this story, we see the development, not only of character, but of strength and certainty and resolution in the person of yon Alice.

The Grading Session: 4.9888 pengies out of 5. (a tish off for the soundtrack which was...fine. But only just fine. Film people, I tell you and tell you, and yet, you persist in relegating the soundtrack to a secondary consideration. Why? OMG! Why!?).
This is a beaut of a film. I did see it in 3D which added a delightful dimension (pardon moi). But I do believe that, viewed in standard 2 D, this fillum would have been every bit as fun, as involving and as entertaining.
I am a total fool for the details, and I was won over immediately by the minutiae of this offering; I was especially enthralled by a throwaway scene: as Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter walked towards the window of the Red Queen's castle, he had a slight bit of lace extending from his left sleeve: and you could see how beautiful everything looked through that lace...when-really-what was going to happen was not beautiful at all. I also was mad for the sumptuous Caterpillar, who, wreathed in smoke, voiced by Alan Rickman, was delightfully nebulous and intriguing. Ditto the Cheshire Cat- the manner in which his appearances and disapperations were done was nothing short of wizard. Applause all around.
Let me make a confession here (please do not tell Tim Burton. So embarrassing!): I love love love his art direction so much, that I had to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas 3 times before I was actually able to absorb the storyline: I was so swept away by his artistry, that I kept going to the theatre to catch more and more of it. Only then was I able to say, 'Hey! Nice story, Tim'. Weird. OK. You can say it. I know.

Lessons Learned: Two: 2) Dogs. Will. Believe. ANYthing. And firstly: expect to see massive adaptations to the Alice rides at the various Disney theme parks over the next few months. Simply can not wait.