Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Brave" [B+]

Brave is a romping, entertaining blend of a Disney princess movie with an offbeat Pixar movie. The core story is about the preciousness of family and the need to really communicate with each other. Thankfully, that heavy message is delivered in a blaze of farce and drama that can captivate both children and adults.

Brave (IMDb)

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Prometheus" [B+]

It takes a certain amount of discipline for a science fiction story to refrain from attempting to answer every question it raises. Such discipline is found here in the screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelhof and the directing of Ridley Scott. This same discipline is seen the stunning acting exhibited by every cast member and by the effects wizards that bring the alien creatures and planets to life.

Prometheus is creepy and disturbing in many of the same ways as its cousin, Alien. Yet, this is deliberately its own film, a bit brighter and more epic, as well as less claustrophobic. One hopes that the ending points to more entries in the saga.

Prometheus (IMDb)

"Water for Elephants" [B]

I had fairly high hopes for this film. I like the book on which it's based quite a bit. But the film, like the book, has both faults and virtues. In some ways, the two mediums wind up swapping faults and virtues.

One of the faults of the book was its structure. It included a framing story that broke up the main narrative and came across as a extraneous and cheesy. The film alters this part of the storytelling and reduces it to a brief prolog and coda. This works well and allows the script, the overall directing, and the art direction to empasize the circus and the period and the gritty reality of it all. These were also strenghts of the book, once the reader got past the other stuff.

On the other hand, the book was filled with great characters, all wonderfully cast by the reader's imagination. The film made a huge casting mistake for its two leads. They have no real chemistry and neither fits the part they are playing, resulting in some very disappointing scenes. It's also unfortunate that the realities of film reduced many of the interesting supporting characters to mere sketches. The one exception is the role of August, the ringmaster, who is both wonderfully cast and wonderfully played.

On the whole, this is a pleasant film, fun to watch for the period details and circus trivia. Readers of the book will be both delighted and disappointed.

Water for Elephants (IMDb)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"The Avengers" [A]

Absolutely one of the best superhero films, ever. It's even pretty interesting from the whole standpoint of collected fantastic science fiction (alien invaders, super suits, mutants, etc.). I will definitely want to watch this one again to see what I missed the first time, so much was going on.

The Avengers (IMDb)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Tucker and Dale vs Evil" [B-]

There are some good laughs in this film. The writing is a bit on the sparse side. There is essentially one joke, and it has to be stretched and seen from several angles in order to result in a feature-length film. The directing is decently done. The acting is, for the most part, passable for this type of film. Lines are delivered without too much stiffness and scenery is chewed, when necessary. A decent entertainment when humorous horror is needed.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (IMDb)

Monday, June 11, 2012

read: The Conviction (4 stars)

The Conviction: A NovelThe Conviction: A Novel by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another top-notch thriller from Robert Dugoni. Just when you think nothing worse can happen to David Sloane, Dugoni turns up the heat again.

This time, Sloane and his stepson Jake head into the backwoods of Northern California for some father-son time. Sloane hopes he can find a way to connect with Jake, who's spiraling into more and more trouble, before it's too late. They are joining Sloane's old friend, detective Tom Molia (The Jury Master), and his son TJ. But Jake quickly finds a way to get himself and TJ into real trouble with the local law and with Judge Earl Boykin, a modern version of Judge Roy Bean.

When Sloane and Molia discover the boys have been sentenced to the detention camp Fresh Start, without benefit of legal or parental representation, they protest. But their pleas fall on deaf ears and they find themselves in legal hot water as well. Sloane rallies the troops and starts digging into the backgrounds of the judge, the camp, and the bigshot in town, Victor Dillon. Of course, their poking around only turns up the heat on both them and the boys. Pretty soon a legal pickle turns into a fight for their lives.

The action never lets up. The writing is relentlessly clear and precisely paced, with tangible settings. The situations are unbelievably believable and populated with an unpalatable cast of great characters, from the egotistical judge to the sadistic head guard to the quietly helpful locals. This is a book that is hard to put down. Once you pick it up, you have to read it to the end.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

"Men in Black 3" [B]

I'm rating this third entry above average only because I thought it was fun. Like the others, if you think about it too much it makes no sense at all. I'm not sure it even fits in with the continuity of the first film. And time travel as a plot device is an easy out and hard to get right.

Men In Black 3 (IMDb)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

read: The Sandman: World's End (4 stars)

Worlds' End (The Sandman, #8)The Sandman: Worlds' End by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another set of imaginative stories from the mind of Neil Gaiman. These are only loosely connected with the Sandman universe, but bring together several different traditions.

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

read: Wallflower in Bloom (3 stars)

Wallflower in Bloom: A NovelWallflower in Bloom: A Novel by Claire Cook
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Don't look at me like that. Sure, 3 stars means I did like this book, and I'm not even in the target demographic (a bit too male). I'm allowed to read something different once in a while. And enjoy it. So there. Besides, I like Dancing with the Stars.

What worked for me: The deadpan voice of the first-person narrator. Given her messed up personal situation and her hapless reactions, she could have some across as whining. By keeping her reasonably level-headed, the author makes it possible for us to stick with her. And by not making her too empowered or snarky, we don't get put off, either. Beyond that, the prose, dialog, settings, and descriptions are all first-rate. There is nothing to complain about in terms of basic writing skills.
What didn't really work for me, once it occurred to me, is believing that this powerful, effective personal assistant for a popular pop figure is so easily reduced to a hapless, clueless shlub. I was also put off by the completely inane relationship she has with her brother and the rest of her family. Sure, this is the source of conflict for the story. But this is one of those conflicts that could be resolved in about two minutes if just one of the participants would act like a grown up, instead of a thirteen-year-old.
As for all of the rigmarole dealing with Dancing with the Stars and Hollywood: this is reasonably believable and mostly fun. In some ways, I wish it could have been richer. Just as it all seemed to get rolling, everything is resolved. This is perhaps due to the short length of the book. I read it in only a few hours, spread over several days. This will be a fun beach read for those in its target audience. As for the rest of us, you may like it, too (especially if you are a DWTS fan, like me).

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review.

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