Category Archives: recap/review

recaps, reviews, and thoughts on various movies, TV shows, books, and other review-able things of interest

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (viewed in theaters 16 April 2014)
A pretty decent superhero film, definitely better than the first one, though I understand the need for the latter for the former to make sense. There weren’t really any surprises in this film, though Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) managed to get through a third entire full length feature film without unnecessarily becoming some other character’s love interest. (Ugh; can you imagine? Uuuuugh.) I like that Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is portrayed as chaotic good, more or less. Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson’s) car chase scene seemed unnecessary, but it was nonetheless fun. (Though I admit it would’ve been less fun if he hadn’t survived it.) The Winter Soldier doesn’t break out of the superhero/villain mold, but it doesn’t try to, and that’s okay.

Mulan (viewed 06 April 2014 at home)
Mom’s choice for family night after she discovered that Dad had never seen it. (The rest of us were also properly offended, of course.) Good movie, though I had forgotten how violent and creepy the Huns actually were. Watching the film makes me want to learn more about the legend of the woman who inspired it, though I’d prefer reading a book for children at first since my knowledge of Chinese history is at a very primary school level at this point. Watched the deleted scenes for the first time and realized that some things are deleted for a reason. Also, I was perturbed that the main directors and artists, etc., were all white men. It irritates me that they took a Chinese legend and basically appropriated it into Western culture. Ugh.

The Littlest Rebel (watched 30 March 2014 at home)
Grandma’s family night choice, “in memory of Shirley Temple” (who died in February). Now, I realize that it was produced in 1935, but honestly, the racism apparent in this film is atrocious. The use of black face, the slaves afraid of being freed by the Union, and the slaves as part of the family is just… too romantic for me to swallow. The only half-decent thing about it was that it made me think about my education in regards to the Civil War, which was strongly biased toward the Union and against the Confederacy… and for good reason, you’d think. In this film, the Confederates are the good guys (or, at least, the title character’s father, who is a Confederate officer, is a good guy) and the Union soldiers don’t do anything for their cause by ransacking and then burning down the family home. Oh, and also, the mother dies, and nobody ever ever looks that good on their deathbed.

Gravity in 3D: see One Paragraph 18
Though I’d have liked to watch this through again, I already saw Gravity in October, and since it started at 10:15 PM after having watched three movies that day already and I had work the next morning at 7 AM, I decided to cut and run while I was still feeling not terrible.

American Hustle (viewed 01 March 2014 in theaters as part of AMC Best Picture Showcase 2014)
Best disclaimer a movie’s ever had: “Some of this actually happened.” Seriously. The costumes were amazing; the story was ridiculous. Don’t know how I feel about Christian Bale with a combover, but he certainly acted the skeevy-car-salesman type well. Reminded me of a lower class version of the guy Leonardo DiCaprio played in The Wolf of Wall Street. By this point, I had also noticed that seven of the nine Oscar nominees for Best Picture were based on true stories, and the remaining two (Nebraska and Gravity) were films that could’ve easily been based on true stories; they were all basically realistic/historical fiction.

Her (viewed 01 March 2014 in theaters as part of AMC Best Picture Showcase 2014)
You know what? This film was actually pretty good. Weird, but good. I really like the actress Scarlett Johansson (who voiced the intelligent AI Samantha), though I didn’t realize she was in the film until afterward. I seriously identified with the relationship talk that Theodore and Samantha had about loving someone and loving other people at the same time. That was difficult for him to take and it showed, but I truly, deeply believe what Samantha said is true: “The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less. It actually makes me love even more.” See also the discussion at Feministing.

Captain Phillips: see One Paragraph 17
I skipped this film because I didn’t want to get seasick all over again, especially when it was only the second of five films on the second day of AMC’s Best Picture Showcase this year. Ugh.

Indulgence

Indulgence coverIndulgence
By Caitlyn Black
DellArte Press
30 August 2012

Indulgence is, at least, appropriately named. More erotic novella than novel, Caitlyn Black weaves a fast-paced love story, complete with longing, misunderstandings, and explicit sex. This book is not for children. Now, when I say “fast-paced” I mean it: virtually a whirlwind, the plot’s time frame spans from the afternoon of August 16, 2012, to late evening/night on the 31st of that same month.

Katie Jade, the young woman who narrates the story, has set her sights on her new boss Lance Hardy. He tries to keep her at a distance, but she manages to break down the barriers he’s built around himself only to discover that they’re more alike than either realize: they each hide pain and loneliness deep inside. They fall into bed, and after some dramatic moments and melodramatic arguments, they fall in love.

On the upside, the characters are relatable; who hasn’t experienced pain and loneliness and just wished that someone would take the time to care? On the downside, while the falling into bed part is realistic, the falling in love part is most definitely not. (For the record, Romeo and Juliet isn’t romantically realistic either, but at least the title characters in that story can blame their rush on their teenage hormones or whatever. Katie and Lance are supposed to be adults!) It doesn’t have to be realistic in real life, so to speak, but it at least has to be internally realistic, and it’s not that, either.

On the upside, Katie doesn’t mind taking what she wants—in life, and in bed. She’s assertive and unashamed. On the downside, the story reeks of heteronormativity and gender essentialism. No, thanks; I’ll pass. At best, Indulgence is beach reading.

DISCLAIMER: I received Indulgence free from Smith Publicity for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

In the Land of Magnanthia

In the Land of Magnanthia coverPortals, Passages & Pathways:
In the Land of Magnanthia

By B.R. Maul
publisher unknown/self-published
11 December 2013

When I was first introduced to this young adult novel, it was as In the Land of Magnanthia, but I have since seen it referred to as Portals, Passages, & Pathways, so for the purposes of this review the names are interchangeable. (Technically speaking, In the Land of Magnanthia is the first book in a new series called Portals, Passages, & Pathways.)

The novel’s hero, Simon, gets sucked into another world and is given the Ring of Affinity, told that it chose him and no one knows why. Of course a magical ring just happens to choose a teenage boy from another world to act as Magnanthia’s new guardian. Kinda makes me feel bad for all the noble guardian-potentials who already live in Magnanthia, you know? Anyway, I digress. As Simon learns the tricks of his new trade, he discovers that the king of Magnanthia, Elderten, has ordered the guardians’ deaths because he (the king) believes that they’re responsible for the death of his wife, the queen.

Meanwhile, another boy, Jak, is also pulled into the new world through a portal and given a choice: do or die. As he acclimates to his surroundings, the overlord under whom Jak must serve decides to use the young man (along with all of the overlord’s undead army) to overthrow the great King Elderten and rule Magnanthia for himself.

I both liked and disliked In the Land of Magnanthia. Simon and Jak are interesting characters, and the story is told alternating between their respective perspectives. Giving the villain as much “screen time” (so to speak) as the hero is downright extravagant these days, and I like it. In fact, I may like Jak’s story more than Simon’s because it seemed like he (Jak) had to make more difficult decisions with less help. Literally, his first choice is do or die. Honestly, what would you choose? (I sure as hell know what I’d choose.)

However, the novel had a couple weak spots, too: one fixable and one glaring. First, the secondary characters aren’t well fleshed out; I wanted to learn more about Sonica, Thianna, and others, and none of that character-building ever really happens. (I do realize, though, that this flaw can be rectified in future books in the series, but I wanted to point it out because I think that well-thought-out characters are just as important as good setting and plot.) Second, and more important to me: it felt like everyone was an annoying white guy. I mean, the cover has a girl on it, but the two main characters and their counterparts (the king and the overlord) are all guys. You know, doing guy things. Just like every other story ever written by a person of European descent. Including the novels to which this novel has been compared: the Harry Potter series, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia. Ugh. The story is a good one, I think, but it lacks bravery.

DISCLAIMER: I received In the Land of Magnanthia free from JKS Communications for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

New work elsewhere!

I’ve been a busy writer these days. I’ve got a review up at Hippocampus of Butterfly Tears: Stories of Entrapment to Empowerment.

I was also hired last month to write articles of interest for the 2Shopper blog, and my first two posts have already gone live! Check out First Week in April is Read a Roadmap Week (published April 4) and Do we really need another excuse NOT to do housework? (published today). I’ll be posting more at the 2Shopper blog this month and next (possibly longer), so keep a sharp eye for some great new articles.

Hope your week goes well. Good hunting.

“Found” review

Found coverFound:
A Story of Questions,
Grace & Everyday Prayer

By Micha Boyett
Worthy Publishing
01 April 2014

Found is split into eight basic parts, plus a forward by Ann Voskamp, a preface, and an afterward. The eight parts are separated into different prayers. For example: Part 1 Vigils, Midnight; Part 4 Terce, Midmorning prayer; Part 7 Vespers Evening prayers; etc. Micha (pronounced “MY-cah”) Boyett’s inspiration is Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk, and it shows in her writing. Boyett begins her story—written in present tense, which is something I always advise against—in “Late November, Friday before Advent” in San Francisco and ends it two or three years later in late June in Austin, Texas.

I started this book and wanted to like this author, and I think that if we knew each other in real life, we might be friends or at least friendly. At its most basic, Found is about a woman who, after having a child, loses the contemplative prayer time she set aside for herself. I am interested in how people incorporate prayer into their daily lives (or how they don’t), but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of sheer “my life now revolves around my kid”-ness. I don’t like kids; I certainly don’t want any; and I didn’t realize how parent/child-focused this book would be when I first picked it up. Now, after rereading the book’s back cover and the book description, I don’t know why I didn’t expect said parent/child focus, but for some reason I didn’t. With that in mind, I’m mentioning it here so that people who want/like kids can find something useful or inspiring in this book, and so that people who don’t want/like kids can successfully avoid it.

Something I did like about Boyett’s journey was that she tried every day to bring the god of Abraham into her life, with varying degrees of success. She grappled with her faith, consciously choosing to believe. That’s the kind of faith I can support. Good on her. As Esther de Waal said, “There must be time to work, time to study, and time to pray.”

DISCLAIMER: I received Found free from Worthy Publishing for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Rogue

Rogue coverRogue
By P.A. Minyard
CreateSpace/self-published
24 December 2013

The premise is intriguing: Civil War in the between the Union and the Confederacy, and a spiritual war between angels and demons, both happening at the same time in the same place. The characters have potential: Daniel fights for the Union, but he’s “recruited” to help the angels stop the demons from winning their spiritual war; after he succumbs to the evil he’s trying to vanquish, his little brother Jonathan is his only hope at redemption. At the same time, Daniel’s best friend Duff begins courting Daniel’s sister Beth, who is weak in body but is (as Duff says) “a woman capable of putting me in my place.”

I really wish this had been as good a book as I was hoping for; the idea is a great one. However, it seems to me like a really good first draft: the characters and plot need more fleshing out, and Daniel seemed to go from “good eldest son” to needing Jonathan to save him more quickly than was really plausible. The thing about evil is that it’s not always obvious. If it is obvious, we resist it. But if if lures us, breaks us down slowly, then we might end up helping to pave the road to Hell with good intentions. With Daniel, he was good… and then he wasn’t; there was no slow burn there that made his succumbing to his own weakness seem internally realistic.

My favorite parts by far were the ones that focused on Duff and Beth—Beth’s character is the kind of woman I like—but that’s a little bit of a problem because they are not the main characters. I don’t know, it just feels like this book is missing something, but I can’t place what. Maybe more thorough description? There’s a previous novel about the Beloved (the group into which Daniel is recruited), but that wasn’t made clear when I started this book, so I don’t know if reading that book would’ve helped my understanding of this one or not.

In any case, I look forward to following this author’s growth and progress in her writing. She has a great story in Rogue; I only wish it was a little more complete.

DISCLAIMER: I received Rogue free from Smith Publicity for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Concrete Killing Fields

The Concrete Killing Fields coverThe Concrete Killing Fields
By Pat Morgan
Mile High Press
20 February 2014

The Concrete Killing Fields is a thick book, but it’s a fast read. It’s almost 400 pages, but because the chapters are so short, it feels like a quick read. (There are, however, almost 50 chapters, so your virtual milage may very.) Written in a conversational style, Pat Morgan draws the reader into the harsh world of mental illness and homelessness from the perspective of a person who’s had it rough (her father was shot and killed while she was still a teenager, for example) but who has never been homeless herself.

Intertwining her own story with that of the many homeless people (mostly men, but some women, too, she says) who crossed her path in her journey from volunteer at a church’s street ministry in Memphis, Tennessee… all the way to Washington, DC, where then-President Clinton appointed her to the US Interagency Council for the Homeless… to writing her story and providing strong inspiration for readers to get involved in eradicating homelessness in our own neighborhoods and cities.

Though Ms. Morgan makes it clear (at least clear to me) that she’s writing from her own point of view and has no qualms about pointing out her human weaknesses as she sees them, I’m concerned that she’s telling the stories of other people—using them as examples of mental illness in “the system” or warnings about alcoholism—without their permission. That’s not to say that she necessarily needs permission, I wager, because there are many nonfiction authors who never ask permission in writing about their subjects, especially if they write memoir. In this case, though, I hesitate to condone it because the homeless people about whom she writes are already slipping through the cracks in “the system” and this just seems like one more thing they didn’t get to choose for themselves. No doubt, Ms. Morgan is passionate and committed, but she is telling her story, not one of mental illness and homelessness per se.

I’ll be giving this book to my sister, who was involved in outreach to the homeless people in her area during college, in order to get the perspective of someone who’s actually worked with people on the street. This book is and easy read in terms of reading it (not as much in terms of subject matter), but it just strikes me that it’s another story about someone helping the homeless—speaking for them, instead of enabling them to speak for themselves. As an advocate for self determination and giving a platform to the underheard, I would prefer to read the latter.

DISCLAIMER: I received The Concrete Killing Fields free from JKS Communications for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.