Saturday, March 31, 2012
Where have I been these last 11 years? I've been missing out on Jessica Darling this whole time? I am truly clueless, and disappointed that it's taken me this long to read this book. But a good thing about waiting this long is that I can read the other books in the series right after one another and not wait years in between. So perhaps my procrastination/laziness is a stroke of genius on my part!
Jessica Darling is 16 and can't stand her classmates, her town of Pineville, and her family. Her best friend has moved away and she feels alone, isolated and depressed. Even her athletic nature as a runner is something she secretly hates doing. Jessica is me. Jessica is most of you. She's universal, and yet unique at the same time. Her circle of friends are boy crazy, and nuts about clothes, and gossip. Jessica hangs out with them simply because it's a routine and doesn't particularly want to eat lunch alone. Even though she'd probably be better off eating alone. I love that her food of choice is Cap 'N Crunch morning, noon and night. Not healthy at all, but a great character trait.
The plot is simple. Actually, the book really doesn't have a plot. Jessica has crushes on a couple of boys, and boys have crushes on her (she knows it, but doesn't act on it). She works at a crappy summer job. Her friends turn on her. She falls for the reformed bad boy (but does he return the sentiment? Hmmmm) and she goes through the ups and downs of teenage life with wit and sarcasm. It's definitely a character driven book. My favourite kind of story. It's how I write as well. I've been working on my own teen novel where the protagonist Lucy shares a lot in common with Jessica. It's kind of odd how Lucy (whose story I have yet to complete) is so much like Jessica, and I haven't read this book until now. Hence why she's universal. Stories about teenage girls who have it all don't interest me. Teenage girls who feel like a fish out of water is genuine and realistic, and much more compelling.
I've fallen in love with Jessica and I can't wait to read more about her senior year, her college years and post college life. I'm off to the library right now to see if I can snag a copy of Second Helpings.
Friday, March 30, 2012
A scene in the rain is now a cliché. I mean, in real life I don't have a conversation in the rain about love as the rain would likely cause my contact lenses to swim out of my eye socket. That being said I can't help but love a good rainy scene.
There's the classic one in Singin' In The Rain, which I think everyone would love to do once in their life. I do enjoy splashing around in my rain boots so I am on my way to becoming Gene Kelly.
When I watch Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany's in the rain looking for her cat it makes me almost want to get a cat. Almost, but then I remember I hate cats. When George Peppard kisses her it makes me melt, and I want to get struck by lightning.
One of the hottest romantic scenes in the rain is in The Notebook. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams getting hot and bothered under a torrential downpour is porn for ladies. It's spontaneous, passionate and forbidden with a hint of skin under the wet clothes. But the clothes stay on and that's what makes it work!
But what about those pesky rain scene in the romantic comedy? Even a great film like 4 Weddings and a Funeral can't pull off a rain scene. In large part this scene doesn't work because Andie McDowell is the worst thing in an otherwise great film. But also the dialogue comes across as fake and forced. When McDowell says, "It's raining? I hadn't noticed." I cringe every time. How could you NOT notice? Am I supposed to believe that you're so caught up in the moment of love that you can't be bothered by the weather? I think that's what the filmmakers wanted, but instead it makes the audience laugh out loud at its absurdity. It doesn't work because the majority of the film is witty and sarcastic and this moment feels out of place.
A great rain scene (probably my favorite) comes to us in the film Sliding Doors. A gem of a film. It shows us two paths taken and what can happen. We have all had moments of what if? in our lives and this film captures that question and answer beautifully. Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah have a moment of miscommunication that leads them to a scene on a bridge where the London rain pours down on them. The feelings are heartfelt and the dialogue is genuine. It is one of the best love scenes in the rain ever.
So if you're thinking about writing a scene in the rain think long and hard. Watch scenes that work and ones that don't. Go over your dialogue with a fine tooth comb. Make it realistic. How would people react in the rain? Would they try to run from it? Would they play with it? Would it make them miserable or happy? Would they care about their shoes getting ruined? Once you know what the characters would feel and do in that situation then you're ready for the downpour!
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Poppy Wyatt has lost her engagement ring followed by a stolen cellphone, so why wouldn't she grab a dumped cell in the trash bin and use it to stay connected? The premise is a bit more than that. Poppy is getting married (to a man she barely knows) and she is desperate to find the ring so his very academic family doesn't realize what an idiot she is. She borrows a cell and through a series of events she and the man (Sam Roxton) who technically lays claim to the phone begin a textual relationship, strictly platonic (of course that might change since this is a romantic comedy) until the ring has been located. But once the ring is found, Poppy can't seem to part with the phone and she then finds herself not only planning a wedding, but helping Sam stop a scandal that can ruin his company, and the reputation of an honorable man. Phew! That sure is a lot of background story. What one should take away from the premise is that girl meets phone, then meets boy while getting married to another boy then girl loses phone.
Sophie Kinsella is the queen of the Chick Lit genre. She's the queen because she writes well. She knows her genre. She hits the beats. She has a knack for witty and fast paced dialogue. I enjoy this genre as it's quick and easy, and mostly painless. But I am finding that the older I get the more annoyed I become with her female leads (I'm particularly fed up with her Shopaholic series as Becky Bloomwood has gone from quirky and unique to downright insane).
Poppy Wyatt, although I liked her in the beginning, started to really piss me off. She's a complete idiot, clueless and just downright dumb. She's charming and sweet, and has a heart of gold (like all Kinsella's leads) but it's getting old and repetitive. Poppy, using a company phone (a company she doesn't work for) takes it upon herself to answer emails and texts for Sam in a way that he never would. He's a professional and doesn't need to add smiley faces and xxxxxxx at the end of his name. No normal and sane man would do that. And Poppy not realizing how unprofessional that is causes a lot of problems. Now I know the plot needs conflict and obstacles, but when it comes from the likes of a lead who is so clueless as to the mess she could be creating it just feels forced. I mean, who is this Poppy? What world does she live in? On what planet is it okay for her to pretend she's a male boss and send an email ending with kisses to a female underling? Does she not know that technically speaking, that's harassment?
I was just frustrated by Poppy's actions, especially the wedding at the end. I won't give it away, but let's just say that her actions made me feel really sorry for her in a way that made me think she was pathetic. And it's never good for the lead character to be viewed as pathetic.
I wish Kinsella would think more outside the Chick Lit box. Give her characters some edge because the whole stupid, but sweet shtick is starting to grate.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
"I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!"
And let the 74th Hunger Games begin.
Katniss Everdeen takes her younger sister's place when she is chosen to battle it out in an arena with 23 other tributes. A battle to the death where only one survivor will be crowned victor. The Hunger Games comes to the life on the big screen after great success on the page. I loved the books and I have been waiting patiently for the film version. And as I waited I wondered if the film would do the book justice. As we all know so many adaptations fail to translate. I didn't want to be disappointed with this one. And I wasn't.
(Spoilers ahead so be warned)
District 12 looks dry and rough just as I had imagined. The Capital is loud, colorful and obnoxious just as I had pictured. I don't know the citizens of the Capital, but just by their neon clothes, strange makeup and outlandish footwear I know I hate them. I hate them for their arrogance and narcissism, but most of all I hate them for their ignorance. I will say that I don't hate Caesar Flickerman (the host of The Hunger Games) only because he is played by Stanley Tucci and Tucci delivers a great performace, blue hair and all!
If you haven't heard about The Hunger Games then you are either living under a rock, or you're my 86-year-old grandmother who doesn't speak a word of English. Otherwise, most people have heard something about this dystopian story set in what once was North America where 12 districts are under the dictatorship of the Capital and its leader President Snow. Every year 2 tributes (one boy, one girl between the ages of 12-18) are chosen by random to battle it out in a game to the death. It was enacted 74 years prior as a way to control the people, but it's done in the guise of penance and remembrance so they do not try to revolt again. The ultimate terror tactic. And it works. It works on the reader, and now it works on the viewer.
Even though I know this story and I know what happens to the characters, I was nervous watching everything unfold. I had tension in my stomach. I had goosebumps up and down my arms, and I had great concern for these characters on screen. (I know it's just a movie and just so you know I am okay now. All tension gone!)
I want fans of the book to rest easy because Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss. I think the entire cast lives up to the expectations. I know there are concerns about Peeta, and I was one of those people who were irked by the casting choice. Josh Hutcherson looks nothing like what I thought Peeta should look like, but over the year he kind of grew on me and when I finally saw him on the screen I believed him. Peeta isn't meant to be gorgeous. (I think Gale is meant to be rugged handsome and Liam Hemsworth fits the bill there) Peeta's meant to be a doughy boy who works in his parents' bakery. He blends in. That's who he is. He's an everyman. And for me, his portrayal and his chemistry (whether romantic or platonic) with Katniss works. He's a boy who will go through even more hardships in the next two installments and he has nowhere to go but up. Remember when we first met Luke Skywalker? He was a whiney kid from a desert planet and he ended up becoming a Jedi who kicked some serious butt! And I think Peeta is the kind of character who will develop and grow on us (He won't kick butt, but he'll definitely change). I will say this, could someone else have played Peeta? Yes. Could someone else have played Katniss? No. But it works.
For fans of the book, we all know that the story is told from Katniss's Point of View, so we never get to see what happens outside of that perspective. It works for the page, but that had to be slightly tweaked for the film version. And it works. I am happy that they've done this. It also helps the viewers who haven't read the books to get a better idea of this world and what these Hunger Games are really about. For example, we get scenes of President Snow plotting in his rose garden, and we see just how much power this man wields. And we get a glimpse into how Haymitch (played by the every wonderful, yes I said wonderful!Woody Harrelson) works the Capital citizens in getting them to sponsor Katniss by sending her aid during the games.
The pacing of the film is tight and full of tension and conflict. The buildup to the battle is slow, but in a methodical way. It's meant to be a slower build so when the battle begins we are thrust into it and all the hell that is breaking loose. When Katniss is sent up the tube to be released into the game and she says good-bye to Cinna (her stylist played by the oh, so HOT Lenny Kravitz) I wanted to cry. Without saying a word, Lawrence says it all. With one look we finally see her fear and vulnerability, and although we know she has to win, we can't help but think, she's dead meat. And really, Katniss survives in this battle due to luck and the kindness of others. She makes tactical errors from the get-go, and nearly pays the price with her life from the start. And only through the help of 12-year old Rue does Katniss even stand a chance. And this is where the heart of the story truly takes place.
Amandla Stenberg plays Rue. The tribute from District 11. The district closest to 12 and also one of the poorest ones. Rue reminds Katniss of her sister, Prim. Young and sweet and innocent. Rue had no one who volunteered to take her place so she was thrust into a battle with people twice her size and strength. But Rue has mad hiding skills. She's small so she can disappear fast. Rue comes to Katniss's aid and then nurses her back to health when Katniss becomes injured. They form a bond and help one another survive. In this battle where violence or the threat of violence is at every turn, they are able to find their humanity because ultimately those who lost their humanity are the ones watching this televised blood bath in their fancy apartments in the Capital taking bets ,and who have made carnage a form of entertainment (hence why I hate them so).
Rue and Katniss' bond is devastating to watch because we know something horrible is going to happen (again, this review contains spoilers), and when Rue is killed it's more than just horrible. It's outrageous and puts the entire battle into perspective. It's the turning point, not only for this film, but for the entire series of books. It's the catalyst of change that is going to occur. During this battle, we don't know what happens back home in the districts, we find out later in the subsequent books that Katniss' tenderness towards Rue begins a rebellion. And when the film cuts to District 11 and the music swells, I lost it. I admit it. I cried. The thing is I knew I was going to cry, but what made me really cry was watching the reaction of those characters we don't know, and how one act of kindness that followed such cruelty impacted them. The unfairness and injustice of the world they live in bounces off the screen. It's a very powerful and moving scene. My favourite of the film.
The film, of course, is set up for its sequels and I can't wait! But one question I do have is, does this film work for people who haven't read the book? It's hard for me to judge that because I have read the books and I loved them. I love this story and I love the characters. Is a televised battle to the death that original? No. (Battle Royale and Running Man). But this story not only has that violent factor, it has love. And that's what makes it stronger. At the heart of The Hunger Games is the love a young women has for her little sister. She is her protector, and she will sacrifice her own life in order to keep those she loves safe. Now that is a universal theme that everyone can relate to (book lovers or not)!
The film is directed by Gary Ross and the script is written by Ross, author Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray
EDIT: In the original review I didn't mention the violence. I will say that I thought the movie could have been more violent. The violence is integral to the story, and was very disturbing in the book (as it should be) but I do understand why it was toned down as the core audience are teenagers (specifically teenage girls).
9.5 out of 10
Monday, March 12, 2012
Sunday, March 11, 2012
to keep you safe
for my sister
for our sake
to the death
with these arrows
with this mark
to be tribute
kill or be killed
I will return
to take your place
for love's sake
I have returned to my sci-fi YA fiction addiction with book two in the across the universe trilogy, A Million Suns.
Amy has been unfrozen for three months on the spaceship godspeed that's been travelling hundreds of years from sol-earth through space to reach the new earth that just so happens to be across the universe (see what I did there?). Elder has become leader after the death of Eldest, and he struggles to keep things in check now that the residents of the ship are no longer being secretly drugged (in order to be controlled). And they want a revolution, which Elder doesn't have time for as the engine isn't working at all. They are stuck literally in space. All energy is being diverted to keep godspeed working internally. But there are more secrets to be revealed. Orion (now frozen) has sent Amy on a quest to find the clues that will change the course of godspeed's journey.
I enjoyed this sequel and the chapter structure that continues to go back and forth between Amy and Elder's perspectives. The walls of the ship continue to imprison Amy as she longs for open space and some kind of earth, any earth. She misses her parents who are still frozen and visits them everyday. Her sense of longing and loneliness pops off the page. I am not claustrophobic, but I would be if I were on godspeed. The story is a bit on the long side as I found the clues that Orion left behind to be tedious and repetitive. Why didn't he just tell Amy and Elder what he knew? I understand why the author has chosen to write it the way she has, but it kind of feels like filler and not a mystery that needs to be unraveled.
I am looking forward to the final book that comes out next year and it looks as though a change of scenery for some of the characters is coming. And I am curious as to how the frozens will react once they are unthawed, if that ever happens.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Yay! A book for Tweens that doesn't involve the paranormal. What a relief. And what a delightful and enjoyable read. Susin Nielsen has captured the voice of a 12-year-old the way Judy Blume did so many years ago. Reading Dear George... transported me back to a time when things were simpler. The story isn't simple (Violet is coming to terms with her parents' divorce), but it is funny and sweet. What I liked most about the book was Nielsen's style of writing. She writes in a way that makes her characters pop off the page, and no matter the age of the reader, the characters are relatable, even when, at times, they are unlikable.
Violet gets the idea in her head that her mom should marry George Clooney (who cares that he's the consummate bachelor) so her mom can stop dating losers, especially her latest find Dudley Weiner. And Violet really thinks Clooney can be a possibility because her mother met George once on a film set when she did his makeup (or was it hair? I do know that Clooney doesn't wear makeup when filming. He refuses to). The plot may sound lighthearted, and it is, but Violet is a young girl who is in a lot of pain. Her father left the family for a younger actress and moved to LA to start a new family with her, leaving Violet and her younger sister behind. Violet is hurt by this abandonment, and like most tweens she refuses to really acknowledge it and allow herself the chance to heal. Instead, she feeds cat turds to her half-siblings and only talks to her dad with the help of a magic 8 Ball. But like any coming of age story, Violet will make strides in her growth. Things won't be tied up with a pretty pink bow, but the load she's carried on her shoulders since her dad left has definitely been lightened by the end.
If you have 10-13-year old girls in your life, and you want to protect them from the Twilight garbage that's out there then give them this book. Tell them about the Judy Blume books you read as a kid, and that you hope this one becomes one of their favourites.
I have friends with kids, but I am not the friends with kids. And all the friends in Friends with Kids have kids. Confused?
Friends with Kids is written by, directed by, and starring Jennifer Westfeldt. It's her directorial debut and she's done a great job. Westfeldt plays a woman in her late 30's who wants to have a kid and time is not on her side, so her best friend and womanizer (played by the adorable Adam Scott) offers up his services, but in such a way that it feels fresh. Their other friends who are married with children aren't so keen on two friends having a baby, and raising it together, but living separate lives (dating). They choose to do it this way because they witness what's happened to their married friends who've had kids, and they don't want to be miserable like they are.
The premise has been done before, but there's something delightful and new about this offering. The characters are all fleshed out, and each actor has their moment to shine. The dialogue is genuine and the funny moments stem from truth. There are moments that the language veers toward the vulgar. But the language fits well with the characters because, let's face it, well-rounded, employed, confident adults can use foul language if they want to, and they should.
When Scott and Westfeldt's characters copulate it's hysterical in its awkwardness, and in its tender moments as well. I could relate to a few characters at different times during their journey. These group of friends feel like our collective group of friends. Everyone knows someone or is someone in this film. It's a great night out whether or not you have kids.
8 out of 10