Monday, March 28, 2011
I am a fan of YA fiction. Good fiction. Stories that are original and cross all ages, and capture the imagination with well written words and well crafted plot. Matched by Ally Condie is one of those books.
The story takes place in the not too distant future in a dystopian world where people live under the watchful eye of The Society, and you are matched with your life partner at the age of 17. Your job is chosen for you. Your meals are prepared for you. Your extracurricular activities are limited. And you listen to the same one hundred songs over and over for fun(The Society chose those), and you never question your role, or that of The Society. Cassia Reyes is matched with her best friend, Xander (a very rare occurrence where a match already knows a match). She is happy with the match, but soon discovers that her true match might be someone else, Ky Markham. The shy, middle of the road boy, who has secrets of his own. Cassia begins to question the Society's rules and the perfect lives it creates for its citizens. As Cassia begins to peel away layers of secrets and lies, she uncovers something much more: Her own free will. A light has been ignited within her that cannot be put out. A quiet rebellion within begins.
I really enjoyed this story. A part one, in what I believe, is a trilogy. I love stories of dystopian, or post apocalyptic worlds. There is something intriguing and mysterious about the future. The unknown. What parts of us will remain? What happens to humanity? You don't have to be a teenage girl to enjoy this story. It is well written, and smart. But also, a breeze to get through because you want to keep reading. You can feel Cassia and Ky falling in love. And it is sweet and pure, and realistic. The danger that they're under is real, but it doesn't burst forth. It's subtle, but constantly threatening to bubble over. The final chapters become a true life and death struggle that leaves me wanting more.
If you liked The Hunger Games then you'll love this book. If you liked Twilight then this book is better.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Limitless is full of go, go, go attitude, and really never stops that pace. It has a frantic editing and directing style, which shows the audience what it's like inside the lead character's head.
Eddie Morra, played by Bradley Cooper, is a down on his luck, drunk, writer with a very bad case of writer's block (the kind that lasts forever, and this opening sequence was my favourite part as I could relate to the writer's block bits, not yet the drinking though, but give it time). He also gets dumped by his long suffering, but successful girlfriend (Abbie Cornish is great in this small, but pivotal role). So what can a guy do whose life is so clearly in the dumps? He can take a drug that can change all that. Eddie is offered one pill by his former brother in law, Vernon, a drug he claims is FDA approved. Eddie tries the drug because what has he got to lose? And what he gains from it is life changing. The drug is said to make your brain open up, you can access parts that can't normally be accessed. In one day, he writes 90 pages of his novel, he cleans his apartment, he just keeps going and going. And in the morning, groggy, he realizes that he needs and wants more. But bad people want the drug too, and the body count begins. Eddie steals a stash of drugs after his drug dealing ex brother-in-law is found murdered.
The drug, NZT48, changes his life. He finishes his novel, gets it to the publishers then suddenly realizes that he doesn't want to be a writer anymore, and gets into finances so he can create a nest egg for himself and eventually his girlfriend, who gets back, then loses again, then gets back again. In the financial world Eddie meets Carl Van Loon, Robert DeNiro not looking Dutch at all, and he does his best to impress the financial tycoon.
I won't go more into plot details, as it gets complicated. But in a good way. It's a fairly fun ride full of action, chase sequences and intrigue. It's a life and death struggle for Eddie and his loved ones. The two things that I didn't like about the film is the voice over narration by Eddie as I found it distracting and repetitive. As a movie goer, I can figure stuff out. I don't need it spelled out for me. Is the average movie goer getting dumber? I also didn't really care for the ending. Let's just say that Eddie's hair is the vocal point, and that's just not a good thing. I do like that the writer, Leslie Dixon, is a woman, and I want more female screenwriters writing action films.
The movie could have been a bit smarter, with more detail focusing on the scientific responses to the drug. It's there, but sometimes gets bogged down by the running and dizzying camera work.
It makes me think if I was offered the drug to improve my concentration and potential that I might actually try it. But I do think Eddie should have lost more so I could empathize with him. The way it stands, the movie's message is that this drug is good!
P.S. If you're a fan of the tv show, pushing daisies then Limitless will be a treat for you as Anna Friel plays a small role as Eddie's ex-wife.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
I went to see an animated film on a cheap Tuesday night during March break. Bad idea? Pretty much. (who brings a baby to the cinema?) Anyway, I digress.
Rango is a fairly well made film. I think it has all the elements of plot and character, with an added theme of existentialist angst. Johnny Depp voices the title character and does a good job with it. You can tell that he's having fun with the role. Rango is a domesticated lizard, who fancies himself a thespian, and ends up in the desert. He finds himself in an old/wild west frontier town that is on the brink of devastation as there is no more water. Rango uses his acting skills to create a new identity and eventually becomes the sheriff. He, along with the townsfolk, investigate the disappearance of the water. Isla Fisher (who I had no idea was in this film) does a great job as Beans, a creature I can't quite figure out. She is the first to voice concern about what's going on.
Even thought the elements are there, and well acted, and well animated. I just couldn't help feeling bored. I do enjoy animated films, so it's not the genre. Perhaps, I am not as fond of westerns as I thought I was? I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe it was the lack of colour as the desert isn't conducive to a large range of hues that brighten up the screen. And although, it is animated well, I couldn't help feeling that all the characters were just so ugly. The film is also light on the jokes so it's not a laugh out loud kind of film.
If you like westerns, and questions about our existence (who am I?), and animated films then Rango is probably for you.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Aliens have landed, heavily armed and ready for a rumble, but not in a jungle. A similar movie came out last year called Skyline. One of the worst that year. This movie is a definite improvement on that one. But it's not a great movie. But it is enjoyable for what it is. Which is a no holds barred action extravaganza. There's a lot of explosions and bangs, and gun fire and some alien guts. Most of the carnage is kept to a PG minimum.
The story is simple, and doesn't venture far from its simplicity. Meteors land, filled with aliens and their aircrafts, and the military is called to fight, and also rescue civilians who are within a blast zone. A squad is sent out to get them and get out. We get to the know the squad a bit, just enough to kind of see some character, but not enough to care too much. Even though I felt a pull at my heart strings during a civilian death, I knew that I was being manipulated by music, and not by good storytelling, but at that point, I didn't much care.
I did find it to be a tad long, as it felt like explosion after explosion. Is there such a thing as too much action in an action film? But I don't think it tries to be more than it is. This is a war movie from a military perspective, except it's on American soil with aliens as the invaders/colonizers. But I can see why so many reviewers have hated it because from a cinematic perspective, it does come across as just a lot of noise that doesn't much add up to anything. The ending is an ending for a Part One to a bigger and longer story. In fact, there really isn't an ending as the squad accomplishes something and then sets out to keep fighting. As the saying goes, they may have won the battle, but there's still the war.
Amy Chua is a mother, and fiercely proud of her role. She's also 'crazy' when it comes to her kids (and later about her dogs) but the thing is, I think, all mothers are crazy to come degree. I am not a mother, but I know that if I was, I would be crazy. Something happens when a woman gives birth that naturally changes a woman (and for argument's sake, let's focus on kind women, not the jerks), a piece of their heart grows legs and walks out into the world. I get that. I honestly do. So unless you're a soulless, selfish vile piece of crap as a human being who should never procreate then it's not really my place to pass judgment on your method (unless of course it involves abuse, which goes into the vile piece of crap category). So take what I say with a grain of salt as it's just my opinion.
Battle Hymn is an interesting read. It's a window into one woman's method of rearing her children; The Chinese Way. Which is very different to most Western ways, but not all different. I too, couldn't have sleepovers with classmates, and I too, was told, after getting an A in school, "why not A+?" It's perhaps, more The Immigrant Way than one specific ethnic group. That being said, The Chinese definitely take it up several notches, with some stellar results. But at what cost? What is the cost to the child's personality? Or heart? Or inner thoughts? Or how they interact with others as they grow? The Chinese Way makes no apologies for what it is because the bottom line is the result. It doesn't care about personal expression, or self-esteem, or hurt feelings because it only wants to produce success, and for the most part, it seems to be an outward success. There are exceptions to every rule though.
The book is an easy and quick read, with an approachable style of writing. It's not heavy handed in its literary style, probably done that way deliberately. Almost as if it's "dumbed down" for the Western Parent. What I find odd, at times, about this book, is the reasoning as to why it was written. At times, it comes across as a boasting, self-aggrandizing, and narcissistic effort with quite a bit of hypocrisy intertwined in the mix. On page 11, Chua says that she doesn't believe in astrology and says those who do, have problems, which is then followed by the next sentence where she goes on to describe her daughters under the Chinese astrology and says it fits them perfectly. So isn't she telling us that she, herself, has problems? Because she does. She also says on Page 148 that she has lucky earlobes, and how that's tied into her longevity. I'm not sure if she's being serious, or ironic.
She also doesn't believe in sleepovers, or bribery. And yet, she lets her daughter go to a sleepover, and bribes her youngest daughter, Lulu, on more than one occasion. The one time being with a dog! Which, of course, she ends up taking for walks, feeding, grooming, trying to train (she fails, realizing that a dog isn't a person she can control). I think Amy Chua, is first to admit that she's a control freak, but at least she's not a lazy freak. For all the hours and work, and tears that her daughters put into their schooling and piano and violin, their mother is there with them every step of the way, despite the fact that she, herself, doesn't play an instrument, but seemingly knows all the best musical notes to give to her kids.
Raising dogs requires patience, love, and some initial training (pg. 161) but Chinese parenting is so much more than that, she goes on in detail to describe it. What, I think it requires is open communication. Otherwise, resentment sets in somewhere within. It may never be voiced, but it's there somewhere. It has to be.
Amy Chua is full of intensity, and panic at all times. She can't relax and there has to be something wrong with someone who can't relax, or cry. She's always in this panic mode as if driven by fear, not just out of failure, but of the chaos in her own mind. What I get from her is that she comes from a place of pure ego. She cares what others think to a fault. She speaks without thinking to her children, but is poised in public. She reveals herself to be a Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character. She exposes herself to the world with this book. And I don't think she sees most of her own faults. We never really see our own, do we? Unless they're pointed out to us, and it then takes a lot to admit them to ourselves, and even more to change or improve.
But I don't think anyone can say that she doesn't love her kids. Because she does. And it takes courage to write a book that makes you look like a monster at times. I've heard some backlash against Chua, and this parenting style, which is understandable. But I don't think Chua is a bad person, nor is she perfect. Perhaps, she needs more humility as a writer, and parent, and human being. Then again, maybe we all do.
Her daughters are still teenagers, so who knows who or what they will grow up into. Chua has already gone through a rough go of it with her youngest daughter Lulu, who definitely rebelled against the Chinese Way, but in a fairly common Western way.
Maybe, her daughters will be free thinking parents who give their kids space, or maybe they will be just as hard on their kids as their mother was on them. Hopefully not, because maybe a balance can be reached here. I think there are valid teachings on both sides of the parenting debate. Children should have boundaries, consequences, and limits. There is an appalling lack of manners amongst our youth today, and even amongst some spinsters as well. So if Chua has raised polite, kind, and considerate women who aid in making society a better place then she's done a good job. Maybe it's just time for her, for all mothers, to take a good look at themselves first.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
I really wanted to love this movie. I went in with fairly good expectations that it wouldn't be bad. And it's not a bad film at all. It's a fairly okay film, with good elements, but overall a flawed film with lost potential. I think, for me, the biggest issue I have with the film is that it doesn't know what it wants to be. Its tone is all over the place. If you're thinking it's a scifi thriller then you're wrong. It's more a scifi romance if anything. Which I guess isn't bad (if you're not as jaded as I am) but I wanted it to be elevated above that. The subject matter deserves more.
Matt Damon plays a young, up and coming politician, David Norris, whose career gets sidetracked for a bit. But fate, or those working for fate, have everything set up in accordance to the plan. David falls for Elyse Sellas played by Emily Blunt hard. In a way, they are meant to be together, or once upon a time they were meant to be together, but not anymore. Which David discovers after he glimpses the men behind the curtain changing fate. David walks in on something that he shouldn't have seen, gets chased down, and is then told that sometimes Case Workers, which they call themselves, (the men in the fedora hats that you've seen in the trailers), adjust things for people to keep them on their path. The plot now gets into the ridiculous because the exposition is all clunky. So clunky that it elicited unintended laughter/chuckles from the audience (a full theatre) several times during serious scenes. That is not a good sign.
In a nutshell, the men upstairs want to keep David away from Elyse because, well the reason behind it, isn't good enough. It's a very weak reason. I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say that it has to do with their careers, and nothing else. Yawn. Boring. Where are the stakes? Where is the life and death struggle? I had to roll my eyes at the so called big reveal because I kept thinking "big deal if they're not together because then they have great careers if they don't?" Damon and Blunt have really good chemistry with one another, so I want them together. I just don't really care if they get together. Which is a problem because it's the crux of the plot.
I was missing a sense of urgency even. David is threatened with a complete reset, more like a lobotomy, if he tells anyone what he saw or knows. But this threat never comes close to being realized, nor is it ever really a factor. I never once felt for his safety. Because the men in the fedora hats, at times, play an antagonist, but they're never really the villain. Their threats are hollow. And are easily replaced. John Slattery(handsome man. swoon) leaves halfway through the film, and is replaced by Terence Stamp (Yay for General Zod!) but it's odd, and even Stamp doesn't bring the menace as, I believe, he was intended to do.
The film tries hard to be better than it is. To pose the big questions about free will and humanity 's fate or destiny, but it doesn't quite get there. The Matrix does a much better job at this.
For me, it also came down to lazy writing. It's a first time director who also wrote the script, George Nolfi, and I think he didn't get enough feedback on his screenplay due to his prior writing credits. His script needed a lot of editing and rewriting, especially the dialogue when dealing with the scifi elements of the film. And a big peeve for me was the use of deus ex machina*. Things were solved too easily. Oh, and let's not forget the "Magical Negro Character+" that is used, and of course, the lack of women in the film. What? Are all case workers only men? Insert eye roll here. I do get the feeling that there were scenes cut from the film, and I am curious to see a director's cut or longer version, just to see if it works better. There was just something missing.
It felt like the romance story and the scifi elements were two different movies hence why it feels clunky. If you're a fan of these kind of films then I think you probably have to see it because its heart is in the right place, and it's not insulting to the audience like so many other films being made.
If I had to give it a grade I would give it a B- because, like I said, its heart is in the right place.
*A plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new character, ability, or object.