Movie Review: Boyhood

I was intrigued by Boyhood when I heard about in theaters, but decided to wait for the DVD–and now I’ve finally watched it, and returned the DVD to the library for the other 400 people waiting for it!  You’ve probably heard the buzz about this movie, especially since it won at the Golden Globes.  I found it interesting…and yet it ultimately didn’t quite work for me.

I realized as I started watching that I didn’t know anything about the plot.  Everything I’d heard about the movie was about the very unusual filming plan.  The director (Richard Linklater) spent 12 years on this movie, coming back to film the same actors each year so that the characters, especially the boy of the title, can age throughout the movie.  After watching, I realized there was very little word about the plot because there’s very little plot.  Mostly it’s about a boy (and his sister) growing up.

The back of the DVD box described this as the “epic journey” of a boy reaching adulthood, which I think gets it completely wrong.  Half the point is that it’s not an epic journey.  It’s an ordinary boy with an ordinary life captured on screen over 12 years.  That’s not to say that there’s no drama in the circumstances: when the movie opens, Mason and his sister Samantha are being raised by their single mom (Patricia Arquette), with an absentee father (Ethan Hawke) who drifts in and out over the years.  Their mother gets married (and divorced) twice more, and Mason goes through his own romantic ups and downs once he hits high school.  But the plot is not epic, and is still secondary to the simple passage of time and the development of the characters.

Which brings me to what was both the best and most problematic part of the movie for me.  I love this concept.  I mean, LOVE it.  And it was interesting to watch, and I absolutely appreciate the movie as an artistic accomplishment.  I think Linklater successfully made the movie he was trying to make, and the aging of all the characters (not just Mason) is fascinating and so different from anything I’ve seen before.

But.  The whole point is that we’re following the characters, and especially Mason, right?  And there we come to what, for me, was the absolutely impossible to overcome flaw of the film.  I didn’t like Mason.  Continue reading

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Book Review: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

I enjoyed Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series when I read it several years ago, and I always meant to go on to his next Greek (and Roman) mythology series…but those books were coming out just as I was desperately trying to get my unfinished series list down, and I had a terror of starting any new series!  But that list has been under control for a while–and mythology is one of the categories for Once Upon a Time–and so it finally seemed like time to pick up the first book in the series, The Lost Hero.

The book opens right in the middle of mysteries, when Jason finds himself sitting on a bus with no memories of his past or who he is.  It could be worse, since at least he’s holding hands with Piper, a pretty girl who thinks they’re dating–and they’re also sitting with Leo, a wise guy who thinks Jason is his best friend.  But it could be better, considering they’re attacked by wind spirits within the hour.  By the time the winds settle, Jason, Piper and Leo are collected by a group of teenagers who take them to Camp Half-Blood–the sanctuary and training ground for demigods, half-mortal children of the Greek gods.  Their leader, Percy Jackson, has gone missing, and the gods have stopped communicating with humans.  A prophecy points to Jason to lead a quest to rescue the queen of the gods and defeat an ancient enemy who is on the rise. Continue reading

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Reading Challenges Update

A little past the quarter-mark of the year, time for a check-in on reading challenges.  I’m being more laid-back this year and trying something different.  Just two challenges this year, the Reread Challenge and the…well, it doesn’t have a name, but there is a scorecard below.

For the Reread Challenge, I’ve been diving into lots of beloved rereads (21, in fact), so I’ll just remark on some of the more notable ones.  I reread (almost) the entire Tillerman Cycle (so good), The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Good Omens, Hatchet and its sequel, Golden and Grey, the first three books of the Little House on the Prairie series, and Jane of Lantern Hill, the very last L. M. Montgomery novel I ever read and which I had previously only read once.  So far, I’m having a lot of fun revisiting old friends, and definitely plan to continue.

As to my unnamed Reading Challenge, here’s the scorecard and the results for the first few months of the year:

Goodwill Librarian Reading Challenge

  • A Book That Became a Movie: The Martian by Andy Weir (at least, they’re making a movie…)
  • A Book Published This YearThe Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente
  • A Book with Nonhuman Characters: Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis (droids instead of dwarfs!)
  • A Funny Book: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
  • A Book by a Female Author: Loads of them, but Phoenix Island by Charlotte Paul was the first of the year.
  • A Mystery: Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie
  • A Book with a One-Word Title: Unbound by Jim C. Hines
  • A Book of Short Stories: Clockwork Fairy Tales, edited by Stephen L. Antczak and James C. Bassett
  • A Non-Fiction Book: The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs
  • A Book from an Author You Love that You Hadn’t Read Yet: Beyond the Farthest Star by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • A Book a Friend Recommended: The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart
  • A Book at the Bottom of Your To-Read List: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
  • A Book You Can Finish in a Day: Fairest by Marissa Meyer
  • A Book From Your Childhood: Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit: Loose Chippings by Thomas Gerald Wheeler (England and Wales)
  • A Book with Magic: Ahem.  We’ll go with A Question of Magic by E. D. Baker, because of the title
  • A Book by an Author You’ve Never Read Before: Again, loads, but the first was Who Is the Doctor? by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith? [sic]

And that is…a lot!  17, in fact, putting me well on track to hit 50 by the end of the year, just mathematically.  But I think I’ve accounted for the easy ones, and it’s going to be harder to do many of the rest…  For now I’ve made it only new reads (except “book from my childhood”) and haven’t put any book in multiple categories.  I’d like to stick to that, but I’ll see how strict I feel as the year goes on.

And…that’s all for now, folks!  :)  Did you have any reading challenges or goals this year?  How are they going for you?

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Book Review: The Fairy’s Return and Other Princess Tales by Gail Carson Levine

I’m a huge fan of Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, and I consider her clever twists on fairy tales to be literary ancestors of my own writing.  Among my favorites of her books are The Princess Tales, six very short novels, which I bought combined into one (400-page) volume, The Fairy’s Return and Other Princess Tales.  I reread these before the Once Upon a Time Challenge began, but it’s still an appropriate time for a review!

Set in the Kingdom of Biddle, each story riffs on at least one fairy tale, but always with Levine’s gift for bringing a practical eye to silly situations.  The stories are loosely connected, but all stand on their own too.  I thought I’d take this story by story…

“The Fairy’s Mistake” – The fairy Levana is just trying to follow tradition when she enchants kind Rosella to produce jewels every time she speaks–and when she enchants Rosella’s nasty sister Myrtle to spew toads and bugs with every word.  But it all goes wrong when Rosella is carried off by a prince who doesn’t care if she exhausts herself speaking as long as he gets the jewels, and Myrtle uses her new powers to blackmail the villagers and get everything she wants! Continue reading

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Book Review: Dearest (Woodcutter Sisters series)

I picked up Dearest by Alethea Kontis very soon after it came out—then kept renewing my library copy, waiting for the Once Upon a Time challenge to begin. This is the third book in the Woodcutter Sisters series, with its seven sisters named for the days of the week.

This book’s heroine is Friday, whose chief talents are sewing and loving others. Friday is staying at her sister-queen’s castle, helping with refugees and tending herds of children in the wake of the magical flood that swept the kingdom near the end of the last book. Friday meets a mute kitchen maid with a strange connection to seven swans—who turn out to be enchanted princes. Friday swiftly falls for one of them, and sets about trying to help the princes and their sister break their curse.

If you know fairy tales, then you know this is a retelling of “The Seven Swans,” with a sister who must weave shirts to free her cursed brothers. Dearest embroiders (ahem) some extra elements on, weaving Friday into the story as a helpful friend and introducing two villainous magicians and their decidedly spooky assassin. Continue reading

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