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Tuesday, June 30, 2009



As beginnings go, this one was sort of …. blink and you’ll miss it coupled with cheesy voice over and a tall pointy eared youth walking through a forest.


I suppose it is hard to make a new show based on a story that has been done and redone and then redone again (and again) but in today’s climate of “We miss Buffy” and “Harry Potter made a lot of money….” It isn’t really all that surprising.

Ok, fine. Open mind and all that.


Actually the show isn’t half bad. Anthony Stewart Head is Uthur, the roles of who is who in the court are a bit jumbled, but overall it is a fantasy show with enough familiar touches and enough changes to make it interesting.

Like.. Guinevere is the Lady Morgana’s maid… and she is all sweet on Merlin. This can’t end well.

I will note that Merlin has remarkable teeth… in fact most of the pretty people in this show are well, remarkably pretty which is slightly disconcerting… but the fact that there aren’t any blonds I find refreshing.

By the way, Arthur is cute and also a bully with a sense of justice, Merlin is telekinetic and a bit of a prat, and the music is cliché but perfectly fun. There is also a bit of teenage angst, but thankfully it never gets further than “I want to be special… wait, I am, now I am slightly tortured…” and I can live with that.

I would rather not live with the English accent half the cast have or the creepy badly CGI dragon mentor… but lets not be too picky.

So, despite a lackluster beginning, I will tune in again because we all could use a bit more magic and nifty medieval props in our lives.

Or maybe that’s just me.

(One last note: when someone gives you a old highly illegal book of magic and tells you to keep it hidden, it seems in poor judgment to set it on your bedside table and then walk away from it leaving your door ajar…. Again, maybe that’s just me.)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Novel vs Movie: My Sister's Keeper

The movie review is Here

The book review is here.

Many times it is difficult to compare movies to the books they were based on. The readers of the original story feel a fierce sense of obligation to promote the reading, while those who entered the scene at the movie stage feel just as obligated to tout the energy the acting, the special effects…..

I have always felt that in many cases comparing books to movies is like comparing fresh apples to apple pie. They are both apple in taste, but one has gone through remarkable transformation and is something altogether different. And sometimes, despite you love for apple pie… you crave an apple pure. They are different things and should be treated as such.

This is an argument I usually reserve for when the movie holds its own and despite “never” being as good as the book, it is still a good use of your time.

That is not the case here.

Not only does the book do a better job of telling the core story, a better job of creating characters that you care about, a better job of character development, a better job of pacing and telling a whole complete story…. But the movie does all that badly.


The book is written as series of journal type entries from all the major players involved. We get Ana’s side of things (mostly, she is our main protagonist) but we also get the perspective of the father, the mother, the brother, the lawyer… And this works as a novel. Partly because of the change in font/style/point in time, partly because this narrative technique is tailor made to give us piece after piece of a large puzzle that once complete offers us the whole picture. The movie attempted this sort of thing but fell hopelessly flat. The audience constantly wonders, ‘who are they talking to?’ and the diction is off for it being a journal… in the movie, Ana’s voice over says at one point “that’s my sister…” which is not how one write a journal but rather how one explains a photo.

Also, the point of view of Kate (the sick sister) is held off in the book until the end giving it well deserved weight. In the movie her voice is heard early on and seems to be there to do nothing more than make the audience weepy.

Something novels do extremely well is to show the passage of time. This concept is much harder for movies to do well.. and My Sister’s Keeper is a prime example of this. The actors age oddly and the because of the augmented pacing the time line is sometimes difficult to follow.

In essence, the filmmakers miss much of the beauty and poignancy of the story that was found in the novel. Having the audience actually laugh at improper times is a sign failure.

The whole thing is especially disappointing because there was potential for something really good and deep and meaningful… and at times we almost get it. There are a few moments of symbolism that are well done, but for the movie-goer’s eyes they lack context and thus are totally lost.

Perhaps, however, the real crime here is (as always in an adaptation) the issue of the Unforgivable Change. Little changes are expected, big changes are not appreciated, but again usually accepted… but the Unforgivable Change is truly unquestionably horrific. And no, I am not talking about the ending…. That change can be argued for and against all day and the answer will eventually come down to Hollywood, audiences, and marketing. I am talking about the kidney.

Kate is sick… she has been sick forever and her latest bit of sickness needs a kidney. From here sister. That’s the same scenario in both book and movie. Here’s the difference: in the book, the kidney is not a guarantee of wellness, in fact it is highly likely that even with the kidney, Kate will die. In the movie… not so much. The kidney is the saving grace for Kate making Ana’s fight to not be forced to donate it a bit harder to sympathize with. The idea of the kidney being a guarantee verse a last ditch effort to simply add a bit more time… changes the story in a remarkable and unforgivable way. Especially when you add in the “twist’ and the new ending.

Conclusion: Watch the preview then read the book. Despite its length, it is a shockingly fast read and will give you an actual story that not only makes sense but is worth your time.

My Sister's Keeper (the Movie)

Movie Review for My Sisters Keeper

The book review is here.

Anyone who has seen the preview for this movie knows what they are getting themselves into. You know going into it that there is a sick sister and a not sick sister… and that the not sick sister doesn’t want to be an organ 7-11 anymore. Also, you get the sense from the preview that the movie will teach you about life, love and family sacrifice.

All that is true… but it isn’t enough to make a movie compelling. For that, you would need a few things that this movie sadly lacks. Like cohesion and proper pacing.

I talked to a dozen fellow opening night viewers at my local movie theater and the overwhelming response was “good story, but not set up quite right.” Translation: the story is inherently powerful… sick kid…. Family drama… quality of life… how we deal with death… But the execution of this story left something to be desired. (To be fair this view was shared by those movie goers who had both read the book and who didn’t know it was based on a book.)

The movie had a framing device that was weak, a shifting narration that did little more than make the transitions awkward, and a sever lack of character development.

But ignoring the cinematography, the direction, the acting (which was superb), you are left still with a story that is haunting and tear jerking, and thus it is easy to forget all about everything else.

In other words, because the subject matter is inherently provocative, we don’t need a well made movie in order to leave the theater thinking “wow, how sad.”

In short, a disappointing execution of a very powerful story. Making an audience feel sad, is easy. Sadness is one of the easiest emotions to illicit from any audience no matter age, race, or financial strata. Show a child in peril, show a child in tears, show a mother weeping over a grave…. And Boom! Instant compassion on the side of the viewer.

The makers of My Sister’s Keeper knew this… and they seemed to delight in pouring lemon juice onto the open wounds. It is a shortcut to “good” by being “moving.”

And it was unnecessary.

Conclusion: Watch the preview, read a “spoiler”, and save yourself the ten bucks. You won’t be missing anything.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Sister's Keeper (The Novel)

Book Review for My Sister’s Keeper

I saw the preview for the movie and thought “Oh no way would I put myself through what looks like an emotional roller coaster.” Then I saw that it was based on a book and suddenly, I wanted to read it.

Because I’m weird like that.

So, I read the book knowing about as much as you do after watching the preview… there is a family with a sick daughter and another daughter (younger) who doesn’t want to be the organ/blood/tissue/whatever donor for her sister. She gets a lawyer and sues for the right to not have to. Everyone supposedly learns about love and family and sacrifice.

The book, thank goodness is a bit more than that.

Jodi Picoult weaves the story together with multiple narrators, the suing sister Ana is our main character but we also get the perspective of her parents, her lawyer, her brother, and her court appointed liaison. (We don’t get the sick sister’s point of view until the end… a choice that is beautiful executed and almost not noticeable.)

Along the way we learn about not just Ana, but about her whole family… how everyone is affected by the sickness of Kate.

The book is amazingly well written, careful and poetic while being totally believable and charming even as it treads on very shaky emotional ground. This is a story that could lend itself very easily to a caricature of heroes and villains but it manages to make everyone more human than epic.

Such is the case of the mother, Sarah, who is very human… very flawed… and even though you want to understand her, even though Picoult gives you all you need to see why she makes the choices she makes… she is never anywhere as sympathetic as Ana. Her obsession, her coldness, her fear is, again, understandable but we never really warm up to her.

I will say that maybe having Sarah as a character who we can’t wholly get behind helps keep the story focused on Ana… but I would also point out that had Picoult made her more likable, the drama at the end would have been better.

This separation that is there though makes the book fraught with tension and also supremely realistic.

From a reader’s standpoint, it is an easy read as far as words and chapters are concerned but it is a difficult read as you watch a family at the edge of implosion.

And then the ending comes along, knocks you on your rear end, and leaves you torn.

I highly recommend the book…. With a poetic prose that is clear and yet strangely cryptic, this book will hold you in thrall all the way through.

If you are interested: My take on the movie is Here and a discussion on how they compare is here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Movie Review for Departures

I had no idea what to expect when arriving at the theater... I had been invited as part of local indi film group and had the vague notion that it might be a foreign film. Other than that, I went in ignorant.

And left enlightened and moved.

The film (Japanese with English subtitles) is about a young man who learns the true value of life and death while he struggles to hold on to what is dear and let go of the past that haunts him. He has given up his dreams of being a master at the cello and moved back to his village with his wife. Desperate for a job he answers a want ad that says something vague about “Departures” but it isn’t a travel agency job… instead it is preparing the bodies of the dead for cremation.

Along the way, the audience watches as he struggles to tell his wife about his “shameful” job, while dealing with his own feelings of bitterness toward a father who abandoned him as a child. The movie is set is some of Japan’s most beautiful countryside and with haunting cello performances and stirring cinematography, the entire journey flows seamlessly.

It is little wonder that the movie won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. I highly anticipate showing it to friends and family… and owning the soundtrack as soon as I can find it.

It is still playing in limited places and for limited times… I highly recommend that you seek it out and prepare yourself for a wonderful story that weaves together romance, humor, and solemn beauty to tell a story that touches us all.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


This title comes to me courtesy of The 501 Book.

Book Review of Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

Many people will recognize Margaret Atwood as the author of The Handmaid’s Tale. This book is quite different, in fact, except for the author being one and the same, there is nothing else that ties these two together.

Surfacing is the story of a woman’s search of self as she searches for signs of her father on her family’s island home. Is he dead? Has he simply faded away in the untamed wilderness? She must know... but it isn’t just him she is looking for, it is a way to connect to him and to herself. She returns to the remote island she grew up on accompanied by two friends who are strangers and her lover and Atwood does a beautiful job of showcasing the difference between the “city” and the “country”, the ‘civilized’ versus the ‘uncivilized. The distance between the two is closer than you might expect, and when she at last taps into the wild, the reader cannot help but be lost in the woods as well.

This book is not for the faint of heart… this is not a book that can travel to the beach in a summer bag next to the sunscreen and the bottles of water. This is a book that cries out to be read in near silence, preferably near a serene lake. Not to say that you could read it anywhere… just that it begs for the completeness of your attention.

The characters are sometimes difficult to connect to, but the beauty of the description and the stillness of the action cannot be glossed over. Like a deep long dip in silent black water after the harshness of a day spent in direct sunlight, this novel will pull you under its spell and leave you transfixed, hypnotized by the desire of the heroine and craving your own wild pats… an animalistic desire for the uncivilized that lurks under the surface in each and every one of us.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Listener

Dear Kay,

Have you heard or watched the new show “The Listener”? I was wondering what you thought about it.

-Blog Reader Who Prefers Not to Have Her Name Used

Dear Blog Reader Who Prefers Not to Have Her Name Used

I am going to call you BRWPNHHNU, no wait… even that is too long… how about Trixie? Trixie it is.

Dear Trixie,
No, I have never heard of this show, but a quick search turned it up. In order to answer your question about what I think of it, I will have to watch it. Here I go!

Since the Castle treatment was so popular, here is the same sort of thing for The Listener. (blow by blow recap of the first scene, general recap following, and snarky review along the way.)

The Listener

We open on a young man standing on what at first looks like a roof during sunrise. His voice over asks us if we ever wonder what people are thinking… he doesn’t (apparently he tells us… and then our young man (OYM until they give him a name) gets a bit cryptic because that is what every show needs… a long slow buildup to pique your interest and make you salivate for the treat. OYM, by the way, is not saliva worthy in my book. Seems OYM is a telepath who can turn off (or mute) his ability by making a fist… sort of a physical technique to mirror brain activity that hopefully won’t ever be any more symbolic than that. (I don’t want anyone thinking that the way to shut up someone else is with a fist, thank you very much) and who also refers to his gift as God giving him “free cable.” Who wouldn’t want free cable?

His intro is complete with sidewalk swagger set to piano music but with horrible lighting in which he scans the people who walk by; the semi flirty thoughts of a woman and the fashion misgivings of a man. The man, at least, is totally valid in his fashion misgivings and I crack a smile. Then OYM proves that he is a good guy who uses his powers for good by giving an old man in a diner the extra buck he was just realizing he needed. Intro complete its time for the exposition as OYM sits down at a table and strikes up conversation with his friend (Cute Friend) in which we learn that he was with a girl named Olivia last night, he is habitually late to things, he is a first year paramedic, and the lighting crew really want us to notice he has pretty eyes. Also, he might have girl trouble but doesn’t want to talk about it with Cute Friend and they head off because now they are both late and we get more voice over (because voice overs teasing of framing devices that never actually show up are such good ways to shorthand actual storytelling….). He doesn’t want to be a freak he tells us (who? Who cares.) even as he gently touches the old guy from a minute ago and tells him to have a nice day. The old guy has a look like, “Hey… where you going cutie?”

In Cute Friend’s car with adorable mirror hanger doo-dad of course, the boys discuss their mutual lack of plans for the night while OYM texts someone and describes his fights with Olivia as two people with “unique points of view.” Cute Friend is not convinced as his thoughts betray him. And then OYM has a seizure of sorts while getting flashes of a car accident with someone trapped inside. Cute Friend pulls over (there is no traffic in this part of New York [CORRECTION: Toronto] it seems) and does that whole snapping of fingers and such while naming OYM who will now be Toby. Toby assures Oz (Cute Friend) that he is okay, it isn’t a brain amorism or a migraine. (If they are such good friends, how is it that he has never seizured up like this before?) Cute Oz is about to pull away when he notices a block away the same car accident Toby had just Sam Winchester-ed about*.

The boys jump from the car and run over to help. Despite Oz being the first to notice and run over, it is Toby who breaks the window and frees the girl while Oz stands back and says helpful things like “The car’s on fire” and “Be careful Toby.” He gets the girl and carries her heroine style away from the car with Oz saying ‘I thought it was gonna blow” and Toby responding “It’s not a movie, it doesn’t happen that way.” and then of course it does. BOOM! The boys share a look and the blond in Toby’s arms faints and credits roll.

And that ends my play by play portion except to say that the credits are horribly lame with nothing more than bright lights and a very intense scowling Toby staring off into the distance. I am guessing that they spent the budget on exploding cars.

Throughout the rest of the episode we learn that they are both Emergency Medical Service people, and that Toby likes to use his “free cable” for more than the occasional charity buck. He uses it to solve crimes… to set right what once went wrong… to kiss up with the boss, to stroke the ego of Oz, to waylay the aggravations of an ex girlfriend … We also learn that Olivia is a pretty doctor with a stick up her ass, She doesn’t seem to like Cute Oz while I find myself liking him more and more (his background pantomime of the adventure involving the car was perfect) and I wish he had been in more of the episode.

Oh and the lighting never gets better.

The police detective by the way is hot in one of those “I’m a model pretending to be something else” sort of way who doesn’t ever really do any detective work and in the end all but throws up her hands in a “I don’t know what just happened, but there is happy-ending-music playing, so it’s all good.” ort of way and exits stage right.

There is also a scientist professor mentor for Toby, named Ray who knows Toby’s secret. See, Toby’s powers are increasing and that freaks him out a bit.

We get the obligatory “I have to do something, I might be the only one who can help” and the “No one can know about you.” (from Ray.) and Toby is off to be the hero, to rescue the kidnapped son of the car accident mom.

What I didn’t like about the show:

It makes the same classic reading mind mistake most shows do. It implies that people only have one thought at a time and it is super concentrated. Toby looks at a woman for 5 seconds and she only thinks one sentence? Right,. Ok. Also, Toby seems to be able to visualize what the person is thinking… living in their flashback. So, then shouldn’t the show be called something besides “The Listener” since he is doing more than listening? His gift seems to have no real set parameters and thus it makes it hard to buy the whole “my gift is evolving” plot device.

Also, the lightening really sucks.

Another thing, no one ever brings up the idea that reading people’s thoughts is a bit of a huge violation of personal space. (Is this a FOX show?**) Also, the plot devices kind of overworked the plot… when car accident mom ditches the hospital it is Dr. Olivia who confronts Toby saying that the patient is in a bad way, with a concussion. (But this was the day before… and she can’t be the only person who has ever left the hospital AMA with just a concussion right?) If Dr. Olivia is so concerned why doesn’t she go to the patient’s house to check up on her, why give Toby (an EMS worker who wasn’t even on the case) the patient’s address. Why why why? Oh right. Because the script says so. I am so sick of TV’s depiction of doctor’s without morals. Gah!

And then Toby breaks into car accident mom’s apartment!!!!!!! I mean holy crap on a two foot stick! Yeah, he can justify his bump key because he is a EMS, but still!

The time sequence seems a bit rough around the edges, a lot of coincidences and even some huge time lapses.

We never see any actual calls the boys make being all EMS-y… too much time being all detective/hero.

They change narrative devices at 19 minutes, suddenly showing us things in real time that are happening to other characters. Which… seems… like cheating. And also disrupts the flow (such as it was) of the show.

Having the poor adorable little boy with his huge eyes calling his mommy “I miss you mommy” was a bit excessive. And the way in which the bad guy is dealt with was all sorts of lame.

Mostly though, the problem is with the acting of Toby… who… can’t act. Widening your blue eyes under big bushy brows does not you an actor make. And the way he talks, bleh, all low tone and intense feeling that feels overly phoned in.

What I liked: (much shorter list)

The cop who might be too pretty for realness but who kinda didn’t take anything from Mr. Intensity (Toby). Also, she wears totally inappropriate clothes but with the figure she strikes, no one seems to mind. Is that sexist? Nope… It’s true.

Vigilante mom buys a gun and has no idea how to hold it, this was unintentionally funny and totally sad.

The hints at creepy back-story involving a “gifted” mother and repressed memories for Toby.

I give this show a C- and will probably not watch it again.

*Supernatural dig there, ignore me.
**No, it is a Canadian show that has been picked up by NBC. -sigh-

Monday, June 8, 2009

Summer Knight

Book Review for Summer Knight, Book 4 in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher.

I don’t often read fluff books because fluff books tend to be overly simplistic, badly written, and the equivalent to candy for your brain: sweet, sugary, and forgettable.

This book looked like fluff, but I read it anyway because, well it was assigned for the book club and because several people told me that they had enjoyed it. One of these people is a highly intellectual literary snob such as myself, and honestly it was her recommendation that made me consider if perhaps my initial judgment of “fluff” was misplaced.

It wasn’t, the book is indeed a fluff book (at least upon initial inspection)… but fluff in the fun, enjoyable ride, piece of banana cream pie sort of way. This was enjoyable fluff!

The story takes place in Chicago and is basically a detective novel. It’s just in this case the hard boiled detective has been replaced by a snarky wizard. Yes, I did say snarky. Oh, and wizard. We join Dresden as he attempts to solve a murder, keep peace between the warring faerie nations, and avoid getting killed by a group of (pardon the pun) blood thirsty vampires.

It is an adventure story full of intrigue, fights with trolls (in a Wal-Mart no less) and magic staircases that lead up and over Lake Michigan into the Faerie Battleground, and even a faerie godmother. What the book does extremely well is twofold. There is the constant juxtaposition of the Supernatural (wizards, spells, power shields, circles of power) with the natural (needing to pay rent, wishing the magic staircase was an escalator, having to find a robe, dealing with car trouble).

There is also the brilliant writing style that is conversational and pitch perfect. We see the events through the eyes of Dresden who is brilliantly self aware of both the dangers of his life and the bizarre bits that really just have to be laughed at. When he is attacked by a “plant monster” he acknowledges that he feels silly referring to it as a “plant monster” and yet should he call it by its proper name, well why bother? It is, essentially, a Plant Monster that is trying to kill him.

That could be it… a fun to read fluffy adventure with some magic and D&D shout outs and a well written narrative that inspires interest in reading more of the series.

But…. Nope. Butcher also manages to take a tentative step over into deep symbolism, writing at times with a mature sense of literary bravado. The story is about the two warring Faerie nations (Winter and Summer) but through that, the story is about balance. The balance of the seasons, the balance of power, the balance of the Natural and Supernatural, the balance of our past actions with our future hopes all are dealt with by Butcher with subtle sensitivity and an eye for the moral lesson even if it isn’t beat into the head of the reader.

Which, is why this book is not as fluffy as it pretends to be. In Summer Knight, Butcher has done what few others have managed, he has told a complex story about great and epic ideas through the medium of simple lives and simple goals while telling a simple fantasy story through epic characters and scenarios.

The execution of all those ideas is truly worth reading.

Thankfully you can enjoy this book without having read any of the other books in the series (which I found very helpful as I had not read any of the other books in the series. Feel free to start off with this one… and if you are wondering how the Dresden Files in book form compare to the Dresden Files the TV show, all I can tell you is that I haven’t seen the show yet but I was told that the producers took it “in a whole other direction.” Whatever that means.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Movie Review for Waitress (2007)

The story is set in a small town in the south where our heroine Jenna (Keri Russel) is a Pie Genius working as an unhappy waitress in a Pie diner. (Let me interject here to say that I have never been to a pie diner, but I would really really like to go to one.)

Anyway she is married to horrible husband Earl (played by Jeremy Sisto who was formerly psycho Billy Chenowith from Six Feet Under (and more recently a detective on Law & Order).

Horrible husband = abuser jerk. Just so we are clear.

She discovers she is pregnant and despite not wanting the baby she determines to carry and keep it. Of course this is a comedy so her moments of extensential angst are broken up with pie humor, waitress humor, small town humor, very dry witty humor, and of course an affair with her doctor who is the delightfully yummy Nathan Fillion.

Now, I am not a fan of extramarital affairs… but this movie has a few things working for it. Jenna is down to earth and despite being trapped in one very bad situation she manages to escape (with a little help from “Old Joe” who is played with perfection by Andy Griffith).

The ending could have gone a few different ways but (without giving anything away) let me remind you that a) it is a comedy and b)I liked it. So, yeah, there is a happy ending… even if it isn’t the ending that you are probably thinking.

There were several delightful moments and enough romance and quirkiness to keep even a slightly cynical heart like my own satisfied. I highly recommend this as a date movie, a girls-night-in movie, or just a lazy Sunday evening with ice cream movie.

Here is the trailer. Enjoy!