Friday, June 22, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Hysteria (Spoiler)

Tanya Wexler


Stephen Dyer (story and screenplay)
Jonah Lisa Dyer (story and screenplay)
Howard Ginsler (original story)


Hugh Dancy ... Mortimer Granville
Maggie Gyllenhaal ... Charlotte Dalrymple
Jonathan Pryce ... Dr. Robert Dalrymple
Felicity Jones ... Emily Dalrymple
Rupert Everett ... Edmund St. John-Smythe
Ashley Jensen ... Fannie
Sheridan Smith ... Molly
Gemma Jones ... Lady St. John-Smythe
Malcolm Rennie ... Lord St. John-Smythe
Kim Criswell ... Mrs. Castellari
Georgie Glen ... Mrs. Parsons
Elisabet Johannesdottir ... Mrs. Pearce
Linda Woodhall ... Nurse Smalley
Kim Selby ... Lady Wheaton
John Overstall ... Mr. Huddleston
Ann Overstall Comfort ... Mrs. Huddleston (as Ann Comfort)
Jonathan Rhodes ... PC Fugate

Despite his education and dedication to his patients, Dr. Mortimer Granville can't keep a job in any respectable London hospital. You see, he believes in invisible creatures---germs and this odd fellow named Lister.

Quite frankly, if he was a woman, he'd be in serious trouble.

However, Dr. Granville presents himself to a private practice, a Woman's Specialist, Dr. Dalrymple, who's quite anxious to hire a young, capable associate with good hands and who might well be able to take over the practice and possibly even wed his youngest, very proper daughter, Emily.

Dr. Granville's somewhat surprised at the treatment--quite possibly the best time any woman's had at the hands of a physician before or since--but as his handsome face gains him more patients, his hands are giving literally giving him fits. Meanwhile, he's torn between the Dalrymple sisters: very proper Emily and Charlotte, who could be described either as an angel of mercy or a madwoman depending on whether you were a poor person of the street or a proper Victorian.

Quite accidentally, Mortimer discovers the cure to his problem via an electric motor and possibly an aid for the women of the practice as well. If you've seen the trailers, you're aware of what that invention is--and what it has become.

The film is honestly hysterically funny. You'll be wiping tears from your eyes. I'm hoping for awards for some of the cast. Hysteria not only will be part of my DVD collection, I may well see the film again with a group of friends.

Hysteria has a basis so bizarre to most people accustomed to modern medicine that if a writer introduced the concept in a story, many readers without a grounding in the topic would dismiss it as fiction. However, it's important to note that the actual diagnosis of hysteria was not abandoned until 1952. See the following articles for more reference:

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, June 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Moonrise Kingdom (Spoiler)

Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppolla


Bruce Willis ... Captain Sharp
Edward Norton ... Scout Master Ward
Bill Murray ... Walt Bishop
Kara Hayward ... Suzy
Frances McDormand ... Laura Bishop
Tilda Swinton ... Social Services
Jason Schwartzman ... Cousin Ben
Jared Gilman ... Sam
Harvey Keitel ... Commander Pierce
Bob Balaban ... Narrator
L.J. Foley ... Izod
Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick ... Roosevelt
Jake Ryan ... Lionel
Charlie Kilgore ... Lazy Eye
Neal Huff ... Jed

It's 1965 on a remote New England island. Sam, a Khaki Scout, falls in love with Suzy, a girl who is "emo" before her time. When they decide to run away, the Scouts, the police, Suzy's parents, and the Social Services all mount efforts to find the pair before a hurricane comes in.

Moonrise Kingdom is a sleeper of a period piece which keeps you enthralled not just with the oncoming meteorological mess, but the plight of the kids and the townspeople. In many ways, the narrative style reminded me very much of a live-action Peanuts cartoon and the parents often as not being literally distorted voices.

Sam was sweet, sincere, and geeky--very much a "Charlie Brown" and Suzy was labeled "emotionally disturbed, but I suspect no less so than her parents. It's hard not to cheer for the two of them, particularly when the human and meteorological storms draw near.

This is a film Tony and I saw based on no recommendations, purely to have a quiet afternoon in the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. Admittedly, the Alamo makes every film better, but this one was well worth the matinee price and I suspect we'll be adding the DVD to our collection as well.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, June 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Hellbent (Cheshire Red Reports, Book 2) -- Cherie Priest

SOURCE: Won in author contest

I've been a fan of Ms. Priest's Clockwork Century stories since their inception, but I have been resistant to read much of anything labeled "urban fantasy" of late because the stories have become formulaic. While Ms. Priest has devised the typical kickbutt heroine, Raylene is nothing like the white-washed vampires of popular literature. She's smart, sharper than a pair of stiletto heels and the biggest sparkle associated with her may well be gems she's stolen.

A self-styled recovery agent, aka "thief," Raylene takes on the big money jobs regaining lost artifacts for their new masters. Her case in this book literally causes quite a "bone of contention" when she's sent by a somewhat skeevy acquaintance to claim some bacula from quite rare species, including lycanthropes. Of course, the multimillion dollar job that'll set Raylene and her newly adopted clan of misfits, including a blind vampire, two homeless kids and an ex Spec-Ops drag queen, up for life.

In the midst of this, Ian (the aforementioned blind vampire) gets word that his father is dead. Since he's the chief candidate for the head of his House in San Francisco, his brother wants him to return home. There's just one thing holding Ian back -- his lack of sight will get him killed and this is the permanent kind of dead.

Naturally, there's more, but I'm not spoiling this story for anything. What I will say is this audiobook was interesting enough to keep both my husband and I diverted during a boring drive through Texas and Arkansas.

I probably should mention at this point that my spouse is not really a fan of fiction. It's a rare piece of fantasy he'll read. He loved the audiobook and the characters as much as I did.

Can you read (or in this case) listen to this book without reading Bloodshot? Absolutely! But I ordered the first book in this series as soon as I got home. The spouse is planning on listening with me.

Hellbent is not the first ebook I have had read to me via Brilliance Audio and it certainly will not be the last. The quality of their recordings and the readers Brilliance selects has consistently impressed both my husband and me. If you're expecting some boring narration, you're in for a big surprise. Natalie Rose is a consummate voice artist. Every character has a distinctly different voice listeners can recognize without any tagging. This is definitely not the old-style ebook that would put you to sleep at the wheel.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, June 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: What Papa Told Me -- Felice Cohen

Listening to your elders is important. The stories they tell you can help you choose your own path in life. And nobody tells history better than someone who's been there.

This book is the life story of Felice Cohen's grandfather, Murray. He grew up in Poland with loving parents and five siblings. When Murray was nineteen, the lot of them were consigned to ghettos or shipped off to German camps.

"What Papa Told Me" is primarily Murray's oral history of his experiences in the camps. It took ingenuity, resourcefulness, and plain luck to survive. Clearly, Murray had all of those and an indefatigable spirit. He worked for the Germans for five years of his life combating pestilence, plague, and unimaginable abuse.

The secondary portion of this book is how Murray made a life for his family in America afterwards. That combination of skills got him from abject poverty to a successful grocery business and a lovely retirement in Boca.

Murray doesn't lecture in his tales. He shines by example and that's the best kind of hero to have.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, June 2012

Saturday, June 9, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Madagascar 3 Europe's Most Wanted

Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Robert Vernon
Writers: Eric Darnell, Noah Baumbach


Ben Stiller ... Alex (voice)
Chris Rock ... Marty (voice)
David Schwimmer ... Melman (voice)
Jada Pinkett Smith ... Gloria (voice)
Sacha Baron Cohen ... Julien (voice)
Cedric the Entertainer ... Maurice (voice)
Andy Richter ... Mort (voice)
Tom McGrath ... Skipper / First Policeman (voice)
Frances McDormand ... Captain Chantel DuBois (voice)
Jessica Chastain ... Gia (voice)
Bryan Cranston ... Vitaly (voice)
Martin Short ... Stefano (voice)
Chris Miller ... Kowalski (voice)
Christopher Knights ... Private (voice)
Conrad Vernon ... Mason / Second Policeman (voice)
Vinnie Jones ... Freddie the Dog (voice)
Steve Jones ... Jonesy the Dog (voice)
Nick Fletcher ... Frankie the Dog (voice)
Paz Vega ... Horses (voice)
Frank Welker ... Sonya (voice)

I'm neither a morning person nor much of a television fan; however, as a kid, I'd willingly get up early to see the Saturday morning cartoons. I loved Bugs, The Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and Bullwinkle, just to name a few.

Yes, I still love cartoons and some Saturday mornings I wish there were better ones available to watch. So, no surprise that I got hooked on Madagascar, particularly the penguins.

The first movie had the crew escaping from their New York Zoo to Africa. In the second film, they'd finally gotten home. This third film has them realizing they had it better in the good old USA than they'd thought, but the last they saw of the Penguins, they were headed for Monte Carlo on their makeshift plane for a gambling spree.

So, they've got to go to Monte Carlo. The penguins were just about ready to come back for them when they arrive causing a scene in the casino.

Unfortunately, their antics attract the attention of Captain Chantal DuBois of the police. This lady's got a trophy of just about every animal on her wall except a lion. And Alex's head is looking good to her.

They manage to escape Monte Carlo by joining a circus train. But can they convince the circus animals to let them stay--and can they make the circus pay well enough for a promoter to bring the show back to America?

Meanwhile, DuBois is still after them...

Madagascar 3 is still a fun romp for the kiddies. It's got all the color and snark of the former films. Plus, we've added some new animal characters to the scene and a little romance for Alex.

This is not my favorite of the three films. There's just not enough penguins for me; however, I still had a good time at the Friday matinee and I'll add the DVD to my collection so I'll have something to watch if I get the yen to wake up early on Saturday morning and there's nothing on.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, June 2012

Friday, June 8, 2012

COMMENTARY: When you just can't get started

Back when I was working on my Masters in Creative Writing, I got some advice from one of my teachers which has helped me deal with the Blank Page=Blank Mind Syndrome writers get some days.

What he said was don't look at the blank page. Start with some catch-phrase which you know you're going to delete:

"In the beginning..."
"It all started when..."

No big surprise when you have a few words on the page, it's easier to start adding to the narrative. And thinking in terms of the beginning or the start even when you are working in scenes helps you focus on the inciting incident.

What's that? The Inciting incident is when everything changes. That's where you should start your story and a lot of your chapters. The lead-in stuff gets boring particularly if you give the reader too much information.

Is this suggestion a cure for writer's block? I can't answer that, because I've never really had that problem--possibly thanks to this suggestion. I think tricks like this help keep you moving forward, because sometimes when you're stuck, you just don't know where to start.

Blank pages are scary places, they gleam and make your eyes hurt if you look at them too long, so fill them up. You can pull out the good stuff once you've gotten something written and yes, usually even in a page or more of crap, there's a gem, you've just got to find it.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, June 2012

Thursday, June 7, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Wet Nurse's Tale -- Erica Eisdorfer

I read the first 5,000 words of this book as an excerpt in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards Contest of 2008. The novel was a finalist and a standout in my mind. Don't ask me why it's taken me this long to read the book, I would strongly suggest that if you are a fan of historicals that you don't wait!

"The Wet Nurse's Tale" is a combination of the story of young Susan Rose, the child of a wet nurse who becomes one herself, and some of the women who have sent their babies to Susan Rose's mother. Susan isn't the most appealing among her many sisters and for that she's thankful. The beautiful one got raped by the Master at the Big House. Her sister Ellen not only lost her virginity but her fiancee as well and ultimately drowned herself. Susan is however the smartest and the spunkiest.

Susan gains her first child, Joey, from the Master's son Freddie who is much kinder than his father. Still, she leaves the Big House. As soon as Susan's father realizes she can make money wet-nursing, he sends her away from her child to serve in other's homes succoring the infants of the wealthy.

Her second child is the son of a Hebrew dentist and is taken from her when the Master's wife believes it is again Freddie's child. The babe is sent to a distant cousin in London. In a daring plan, Susan Rose decides to run away and travel to London to care for her own child.

Despite not knowing how to read, Susan's amazingly clever. Her thoughts become quite real as you read the pages. This story's very much worth reading and one of the most compelling and compassionate historicals I have ever encountered.

As I said, I am sorry I took so long to read this book. I genuinely hope that you will read this review and get to it sooner!

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, June 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Zombies v. Unicorns -- Holly Black, editor

SOURCE: ARC provided by publisher

When I picked up this audiobook, I wasn't familiar with the online quarrel between authors Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier that spawned an anthology from some of science fiction and horror's best. For listener amusement, the authors continue just a portion of their hilarious repartee between stories. Black defends unicorns while Aussie Larbalestier is a fan of zombies. For that alone, the collection would get at least three stars. The dozen stories themselves are fair to excellent and well worth more than one listen. Voicing for the story portions is well done and varied enough to keep me awake--the first audiobooks I listened to did not.

Here's a short synopsis of each of the stories.

The Highest Justice by Garth Nix is a fantasy tale which blends both mythical elements. When the Queen Mom is poisoned by her treacherous husband, the virgin Princess entreats a unicorn for justice.

Love Will Tear Us Apart by Alaya Dawn Johnson -- is the story of a young man infected with the zombie prion and the high school student he falls in love with. Serious complication is when the zombie discovers the object of his affection is the son of an ex-CIA agent who's obsessed with killing him.

Purity test by Naomi Novik -- this one totally debunks the unicorn/virgin connection when a unicorn entreats the help of a young woman to help him save baby unicorns stolen by a wizard who seems immortality.

Bougainvillea by Carrie Ryan -- the author of "Forest of Hands and Teeth" sets this story in the same world, but on a Carribbean island. Ista, the daughter of the self-appointed governor remembers the world before the infection and up to her own coming of age.

A Thousand Flowers by Margo Lanagan -- a very disturbing tale that touches upon both the virginity and seduction myths associated with the unicorn. What does happen when a unicorn and a virgin actually connect? What are the consequences to the girl--particularly when she's a Royal Princess?

The Children of the Revolution by Maureen Johnson -- this is another babysitter from Hell tale with quite a twist.

The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn by Diana Peterfreund -- this one totally sets the unicorn myth on its ear. I'm definitely finding "Rampant" and reading it.

Inoculata by Scott Westerfeld -- What happens to the children who've survived the Apocalypse who are stuck out in the wilderness.

Princess Prettypants by Meg Cabot -- for all the little girls who've dreamt of getting a pony for their birthday. Liz gets one too late--at seventeen. Worse, it's a unicorn, but she finds out quickly that a unicorn might just be what she needs.

Cold Hands by Cassandra Clare -- Love has a second chance in a town where the dead come back to life, if the living lover can cope with one small problem....

The Third Virgin by Kathleen Duey -- Another story that turns the unicorn myth upside down. What happens when a unicorn begins to take life from those it heals--and what can stop this vampiric price?

Prom Night by Libba Bray -- Only teens on their prom night survive a zombie infestation.

This was a different and enjoyable anthology in both the unicorn and zombie portions. Readers got a bit of the expected as well as some legend-tilting surprises. What I enjoy most about reading anthologies is that I get a good overview of a lot of writers' styles and I'm often introduced to some new favorite authors. I'm definitely going to be checking out Rampart by Peterfreund and Carrie Ryan's, Forest of Hands and Teeth.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, June 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Graveyard Book -- Neil Gaiman

On a foggy night, an assassin named Jack does a deed most foul. He's killed both parents and an older sister. Now, he's bound for the nursery to kill an eighteen-month-old boy.

Surprise, the toddler isn't there. The killer searches the city to no avail.

Meanwhile, in a nearby cemetery, the inhabitants adopt a child in danger. A childless couple long dead named Owens adopt the baby. There's hot debate on what to call the child and in the end, he is dubbed "Nobody Owens" or "Bod" for short.

The Graveyard Book is the tale of how Bod survives and indeed thrives under conditions that are hostile at best. When he learns his history, he vows to seek revenge on Jack and endeavors to learn every trick in the ghostly repertoire. He's aided by Silas, the undead caretaker, the Owenses, a young witch named Liza Hempstead, who is buried in the nearby Potter's Field as a witch.

The tale's fascinating with Gaiman's unique turn of phrase. While The Graveyard Book is written for young adults, older readers will also enjoy the dark and brooding imagery and spunk of Gaiman's young hero. As a bonus, the book is illustrated by Dave McKean, who did a splendid job rendering the graveyard and its inhabitants in black and white.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, June 2012

Monday, June 4, 2012

INTERVIEW: Allison Dickson and Ian Healy

Allison Dickson and Ian Healy are a writing duo who I suspect will hit the shelves with a steampunk series that will knock your socks off. Since the two of them write so beautifully together, I decided to ask them a few questions about how they work together. This is a continuation of my commentary below:

COMMENTARY: Should I Write With a Friend?

BEX: How did you two meet?

I: We met completely randomly online. I clicked on a "Next blog" button and there she was. I left a comment and the rest, as they say, is history.

A: I actually stumbled across that blog entry the other night, quite on accident. It was really cool to see that meeting point, because I had no precise memory as to when it happened. To be precise, we met on October 1st, 2006. But it wasn't until the beginning of 2008 that we actually started talking regularly, when I approached him for advice on writing fiction. Because up to that point, I hadn't written anything fictional since I was a teenager, and I was starting to feel a calling for it again. So it took a little time to get the ball rolling, but once we did, it's been a pretty symbiotic relationship ever since.

BEX: What made you decide to write together?

I: We'd talked about it for awhile, but the never project quite came along until I proposed the idea of The Oilman's Daughter. Allie was still kind of unsure, so I wrote the first chapter and sent it to her, and after that we were off and running (with a lengthy break while Allie moved halfway across the country).

A: It actually took a lot of tooth pulling on my part. I had all sorts of concerns about the project running through my head. Was I going to be able to commit without letting him down? Was this going to ruin our friendship in some way? Was I going to be able to take the hit to my ego that this wasn't "my" idea, and I would be expected to take credit for it? Would I even be able to write steampunk, given the fact that I had never, at that point, actually read a steampunk story or even attempted a period piece? Etc etc... Eventually, though, we worked through all that. I'd say once we got halfway through the first act (really, it was around Chapter 8 or so) I felt right into it and didn't look back. And actually, I fell so much in love with this whole anachronistic/alternate history thing that I became inspired to start my diselpunk book, Colt Coltrane and the Lotus Killer.

BEX: Did you set up any kind of rules for collaboration? (who writes what, deadlines, research, etc)

I: We worked without deadlines. Since we both have other projects going on besides our coauthored work, neither of us wanted to really pressure the other to get something done. We both know we will get things done eventually, because neither of us is the type to leave work unfinished. We basically just alternated writing chapters. Allie asked me to write the space battles, because that's kinda my thing. But she did just fine with the action scenes she wrote herself. She's better at them than she thinks she is.

A: Ian is very kind. lol But I never could have written those space battles. I lack completely in the spacey-nautical vocabulary that he brought to the table. The combat scene on the space station was a lot easier for me to write, because it didn't involve operating a ship of some sort. That's definitely in my comfort zone. When we started out, we knew we had two main characters and one of us was going to write from one character's POV. I naturally gravitated toward the anti-hero pirate guy. I needed that, because it was really the only thing I had some basis of knowledge in starting out. We also agreed we'd write in alternating chapters and would edit one another's work before proceeding to the next chapter. In terms of deadlines, Ian is right. We didn't make deadlines. In fact, that would have been a bad idea for both of us, because as similarly as we write in style, we definitely work at different paces. I'm a lot slower overall, and it's hard for me to put full intensity into more than one project at a time. I'm a bit of a project monogamist that way. But toward the end, it was like something lit a fire under my ass. I saw the finish line and I was ready to rally and get it done, and for the first time, I think I was actually head of the curve for once. lol

BEX: Have you had any surprises?

I: Allie brought the need for improved fertilizer, food shortages, and what is currently called the Haber Process into the story, and that added a much-needed human-interest element to the tale that I simply hadn't considered. That was a pleasant surprise to me. It made for a significant improvement in the story.

A: That was a very incidental discovery on my part as well. I was inspired by my reading of the book Omnivore's Dilemmaby Michael Pollan, which discussed how integrated petroleum is in the modern agricultural process. I knew at that point we absolutely had to fit it into the story, because essentially in thinking about all the ways that oil has changed the landscape of our world as well as our culture, it isn't all about weapons and vehicles. If it wasn't for petroleum, we never really would have been able to sustain our growing population.

I: One of the biggest surprises to me was how similar our writing styles and thought processes about storytelling have become over the years of working on revising each other's manuscripts. We've developed our own editorial shorthand that nobody else will understand because of it. The surprise was how seamless our alternate chapters became, and how they read like they were written by the same person.

A: Yeah, that was a great thing we discovered there. Ian is really the only colleague I have where complete honesty is not only accepted between us but expected. We've been blunt with each other from the very beginning, in writing and in life. We say things to each other about our work that would (and have) killed other writer partnerships. lol We might not always agree, but it's always appreciated.

Do you think your work is better as a team?

I: Yes. What you read was essentially a revised first draft and it was as tightly-plotted and well-written a work as either of us has produced after multiple editorial passes.

A: That is true. We each have different strengths as writers. Very ying and yang that way. He's great at fleshing out the set pieces and the action and making sure the plot more or less lines up. I'm more about fleshing out the characters and trying to fill in the emotional/visceral elements. We're both good at maintaining a certain continuity and pacing. It was really a perfect match that way, so being able to work in tandem the way we did wound up giving us a complete story with what felt like half the work.

BEX: I totally agree with their assessment. I had no idea the book I was beta-reading was a first draft.

BEX: Will you continue writing together?

I: Unquestionably. We've already talked about sequels, prequels, and parallel tales from what I affectionately call the ODverse. I would also love to write something set in my superhero Just Cause Universe with Allie as well.

A: I'd definitely like to do it again. If this book pans out (we both have a pretty good feeling about it), then that only adds additional incentive. I like that this project allowed me to work in both of my favorite capacities, both as creator and "consultant." I love reading other people's writing and looking for ways to help open it up more. Even on days that I didn't feel like writing any original content, it was nice to be able to at least read and edit his chapters, and invariably, when I did, it managed to inspire me to write the next chapter.

BEX: Do you agree with Evelyn David's set of rules? Do you have something to add to that?

I: Yeah, they seem like sound ideas, and I don't really have anything to add except that you have to trust your writing partner completely. You have to know in your heart of hearts that your writing partner is going to take excellent care of your baby and return her to you better than when you left.

A: I agree with all that. Trust is absolutely essential. And a complete understanding of your partner's strengths and weaknesses and an ability to accept your own role in the project. There's no room for divas or prima donnas in work like this. The point of collaborating is to take the works of two different people and blend them so you can't distinguish between the two. If you are the kind of person who insists on a spotlight or on having complete control over something, co-authoring is definitely not for you. There was some give and take over this whole process, but ultimately there was nothing that left me feeling stung. If Ian wanted to make a change at any point, even if I wasn't sure at first, we usually came to an agreement after a short discussion. And my suggestions were equally met with an open mind.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Greyhound -- Steffan Piper

Greyhound opens in the darkest hours of the night. Sebastien can't sleep and soon, he'll be leaving. His Mother's getting married for the umpteenth time and he's not even invited to this ceremony. Dick, the groom du jour, doesn't like kids and it's apparent from the hits he's inflicted on Sebastien.

The couple needs some 'alone time.' So, his Mother's packing him up on a Greyhound bus at 3:00 AM to ride from Stockton, CA to Altoona, PA where he will visit his grandparents. His mom gives him $35 and tells him to stay out of trouble. By the time he's boarded, there's not even anyone to wave goodbye to in the bus terminal. Thus, begins a cross-country odyssey for young Sebastien that will keep you turning pages through the night as the highway flies by beneath the bus's tires.

I first read Steffan Piper's extraordinary Greyhound when it was submitted for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards (ABNA) contest in 2008. Every time I've seen a Greyhound bus passing on the highway, I've thought of Sebastien Rane or perhaps a kid like him riding alone...Yes, the story's that extraordinary.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, June 2012

Saturday, June 2, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Snow White and the Huntsman

Director: ... Robert Sanders
Writers: ... Evan Daugherty, and Hossein Amini (screenplay)

Kristen Stewart ... Snow White
Chris Hemsworth ... The Huntsman
Charlize Theron ... Ravenna
Sam Claflin ... William
Sam Spruell ... Finn
Ian McShane ... Beith
Bob Hoskins ... Muir
Ray Winstone ... Gort
Nick Frost ... Nion
Eddie Marsan ... Duir
Toby Jones ... Coll
Johnny Harris ... Quert
Brian Gleeson ... Gus
Vincent Regan ... Duke Hammond
Noah Huntley ... King Magnus

This is the second version of Snow White to be released this year. Both films have a PG-13 rating: however, Snow White and the Huntsman is a much darker, more sinister film which pushes the attendance level closer to the thirteen-year-old age bracket. Of the two films, this is the one I prefer; however it is not entirely perfect, either. Rumor has it there may be a sequel.

The basic Snow White story is there. A daughter is born to the royal couple shortly before the mother dies. The King is caught up in battle with a foreign army. In this case, King Magnus believes he's rescued a prisoner when he pulls the beautiful Ravenna from a coach. She so captures his heart that they are wed the next day.

On her wedding night, Queen Ravenna stabs her new husband in the heart, then lets in the conquering army. There's no comedic element in Charlize Theron's portrayal of the Evil Queen as there was in Mirror Mirror. Her motivation and anger are clear for all to see. Every woman who's been ill-used by men can almost sympathize with her.

Kristen Stewart's Snow White showcases that the girl has a lot more to offer than simply a thrall to vampires. She grows into her role and literally gives every girl a chance to cheer.

The imagery is particularly captivating. Sets are so finely depicted they could come from some of my favorite fantasy artists. Castle scenes are rich and opulent. The forest is brooding and deadly at every step. James Newton Howard (of Toto fame) was in charge of the music and every note added to the pageantry or pain it was intended to depict.

I definitely preferred Snow White and the Huntsman to Mirror Mirror. Suspect before the theatrical run is over, my husband and I will be seeing the film for a second time just to drink in the scenery. I thought I'd want to purchase Mirror Mirror, but this is the DVD I know I'll want to see again. I may well even want the soundtrack because I've been a James Newton Howard fan for years.

RECOMMENDATION: If you have younger children, take them to Mirror Mirror. For the most part, there's very little in that film to scare them and quite a bit of comedic relief. If you want a darker, richer version see this film--but leave all but the most mature under thirteen at home.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, June 2012

Friday, June 1, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Wilde's Fire -- Krystal Wade

ARC: Provided by Curiosity Quills Press, via NetGalley

For me, Wilde's Fire did not start well for a couple of reasons: 

1.  I'm not particularly fond of books that start with dreams. I'd rather see them folded into the story and cut to the chase.And dreaming about a perfect lover is a theme I've read too many times.
2.  It's a common tendency for new novelists to have a modern-day protagonist slip through a portal and be the savior of a world. This plotline has to be done really well to keep my interest.

Kate, little sister Brit, and her best friend Brad follow a dot of light through a forest and fall into another world. (Little sister got kicked back into this world at the last minute) Kate learns her family is actually from this world and they've been hiding in ours to protect her. She's the savior of the world.

Of course, the love of her life is another one of the world's great champions and Kate manifests powers that no one expects. The common term for this type of character is "Mary Sue." They are generally pretty close to perfect and annoying.

What DID keep my interest were the secondary characters. Flanna, the cousin of Kate's love, and Brad, Kate's best friend who's had a crush on her forever. That friendship-relationship kept morphing into new and interesting dimensions as the plot thickened. (Fortunately, no love triangle or I might have thrown my iPad at the wall)

In all honesty, Krystal Wade shows some promise. The latter portion of her novel really started to shape up. The writing got crisper, more cinematic and the story moved along. Ms. Wade did a good job of distinguishing the Encardians from Kate and Brad.  I think another editorial pass of this debut novel would have made it a far better book.

I wouldn't be surprised if the remainder of Ms. Wade's series isn't far better than the first offering, which turned out to be much better than I thought it would be at the beginning. The story's too strong on romance to keep my interest going, but if you enjoy an other-world fantasy with some interesting twists, Wilde's Fire might be for you. Krystal Wade is definitely a writer to be watching.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, June 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Director: ... John Madden

Writers: ... OK Parker (screenplay), Deborah Moggach (novel)

Judi Dench ... Evelyn Greenslade
Tom Wilkinson ... Graham Dashwood
Patrick Pearson ... Graham's colleague
Hugh Dickson ... Judge
Bill Nighy ... Douglas Ainslie
James Rawlings ... Estate Agent
Penelope Wilton ... Jean Ainslie
Maggie Smith ... Muriel Donnelly
Lucy Robinson ... Judith
Ronald Pickup ... Norman Cousins
Celia Imrie ... Madge Hardcastle
Dev Patel ... Sonny
Tena Desae ... Sunaina
An optimistic Indian man decides to open the hotel he inherited from his father as a home for seniors. Why not outsource old age to India? His vision is that the place will be so lovely that seniors will simply refuse to die.

English seniors come for various reasons: Evelyn, who's been recently widowed, was left in debt and does not want to move in with her children. The Ainslies cannot afford much more than the hotel on his civil servant wages. Graham Dashwood comes to find his past. Muriel just needs her hip replaced and she doesn't want to wait six months in pain for that to happen.

Of course, the hotel isn't quite what they expected. It's a work in progress, according to Sonny. Doors are not on rooms, the phones do not work, etc. For some, India is a beautiful place. Others, it's hell.

One thing is certain, you never stop growing, even when you are growing old. Yes, growth is painful, particularly when you have well-established habits and expectations. But as Sonny says: "Everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not the end."

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel definitely plays to an older audience. The average attendee last Saturday was about seventy. If you're a fan of British comedy, particularly Dames Judith and Maggie, you'll still very much enjoy the film. The setting is bright and colorful, not quite Bollywood, but beautiful. And yes, there's poverty and pain as well, which only makes the beauty more poignant.

I've been a fan of Dev Patel ever since Slumdog Millionaire. He's an amazing presence on-screen and can even stand up to powerhouses like Smith and Dench. This show gives you a bit more of his whimsical, comedic side with just a bit of romance thrown in.

The movie was well worth the matinee price and my spouse said he'd even pay full price for it. I doubt this is one we'd add to our collection of DVDs, but I'd watch if it came on television.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, June 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Un Lun Dun -- China Mieville

I love alternate London stories. Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is a favorite as well as Simon R. Green's "Nightside" PI stories. None of these are quite suitable for young adults, however.

China Mieville came in to fill the gap with Un Lun Dun, a story about a contemporary girl, Deeba, who discovers an alternate 'steam punk' era London which is threatened by Smog. If Un Lun Dun can't solve their problems, current day London may also be affected.

Initially, Deeba comes to Un Lun Dun with her friend Zanna, who was supposed to be the hero of the tale. But, Zanna is injured and they must return to present-day London.

Realizing the peril they are in, Deeba (the funny sidekick) returns to Un Lun Dun to try and help. Our heroine shows resourcefulness, compassion, and a lot of guts.

The story's really intended for grades 5-8, but it's also excellent for older readers as well. While it's definitely derivative, it's also good fun.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, June 2012