Movie Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

I missed this movie when it first came out (in 2012!) and just picked it up recently at my library.  Another semi-comedy about the end of the world, I found it thought-provoking…in ways good and bad!

The premise centers around the end of the world by asteroid–everyone knows the asteroid is coming in three weeks, all of life will be wiped out, and nothing can be done to prevent it.  Society is mostly holding together but starting to fragment (planes are no longer flying, phone service is down–which is plot convenient).  Dodge (Steve Carrell) has no particular plans for his final weeks, as he seems to be the movie trope of a hero who wasn’t really living his life to begin with.  But then he meets Penny (Kiera Knightley), his quirky, passionate neighbor.  She wants to get to England to reunite with her family; he decides to seek out his long-lost first love.  She has a car and he knows a guy with a plane, so they set out together.

The concept of the world ending, but with a few weeks notice, was really interesting.  Maybe it helped that it was an asteroid strike–whatever the actual odds, it feels out there and unreal enough that I could think of it abstractly.  Nuclear war and cancer diagnosis stories more likely make me anxious or depressed.  But this was pretty good as a thought experiment, about what becomes really important under that kind of time pressure.  How do you live your life when you have only a small amount of time left?  Some people rioted, some partied, others went on as though nothing was changed, one woman decided to wear all the beautiful things she bought but had been saving.

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TV Review: Good Omens

I’ve read Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens more than once (review here) and Pratchett is one of my very favorite authors–so I was excited to see what Amazon did with their Good Omens miniseries.  And not only because David Tennant had a starring role!  I finished the final episode yesterday and I liked it a lot–with reservations.  Which frequently makes for the most interesting (I think!) review.

Good Omens, book and TV series, is a comedy about Armageddon.  It centers on Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and Crowley (David Tennant), an angel and a demon, respectively.  Both have been living on Earth for the past 6,000 years, forming an unlikely and unadmitted friendship, and when Armageddon approaches, they realize they don’t want the Earth to be destroyed.  But the Antichrist has been born–and, unbeknownst to anyone in Heaven or Hell, misplaced.  He’s now a perfectly charming eleven year old boy in rural England, with no idea he’s about to come into a lot of power.  The only one who knows where he is (more or less) is Anathema Device, descendant of Agnes Nutter who wrote the only completely accurate book of prophecy.  So Anathema, Aziraphale and Crowley are all searching for the Antichrist while Heaven and Hell prepare for war and the Four Horsemen begin to ride–on motorcycles, of course.

There is so much that is done so, so well in this series.  (In fact, right up to most of the way through Episode 5 I would have given this top marks.  More on that later.)  Neil Gaiman was heavily involved (as writer and executive producer) and it shows.  It’s been some time since I read the book, but it feels like an accurate representation, particularly in style.  I’ll usually forgive changed details if the feel is right, and this definitely was.

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Book Review: Sideways Stories from Wayside School

Something brought Wayside School up in conversation recently–I’ve forgotten what–and reminded me how much I enjoyed these very silly books when I was a kid.  So I put all three – Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Wayside School Is Falling Down, and Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger on reserve from the library.  The first two arrived quickly and I read them even more quickly–and they’re still very silly and fun.

Written by Louis Sachar (probably better known for Holes), the Wayside School books are about a school that was built sideways.  Instead of 30 classrooms one story high, the school is 30 stories high with one classroom per floor.  Also, there’s no 19th story.  The class on the 19th story is taught by Miss Zarves, and there’s no Miss Zarves either.  The books focus on the class at the top of the school, with each student getting their own chapter (more or less).

You can’t overthink the logic here.  Actually, you can’t apply logic at all, because it would just spoil the whole thing.  Mostly real world (ish), the books have occasional fantasy elements, including a teacher who turns students into apples.  Possibly my favorite story (in the second book), is when a student finds herself on the 19th story, trapped in Miss Zarves’ class. Continue reading “Book Review: Sideways Stories from Wayside School”

Book and Movie Review: Crazy Rich Asians

There was a lot of buzz recently when the movie Crazy Rich Asians came out.  It was exciting to see a major Hollywood movie with a completely Asian cast.  I saw the movie once it reached DVD and enjoyed it.  Some time later I found out it was based on a book (so many are!) so I decided to read that too.

The storyline in both mediums focused on the very, very wealthy of Singapore.  Nick, who has been living in New York, brings his American-born Chinese girlfriend Rachel to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding…without warning her that his family is, well, crazy rich.  They’re also intensely snobbish, and Rachel is definitely not what they had in mind for their favored son.  Meanwhile, Nick’s favorite cousin Astrid, who married outside her social class, is finding her marriage rocked.  And meanwhile, the conspicuous consumption is rampant.

I think this pretty well encompasses the movie plot–the book plot had a lot more threads going on.  In many ways the movie simplified and focused in–and I think told its particular stories better (though I might feel differently if I’d read the book first).  The book really had a different focus.  The movie is about Nick and Rachel, with Astrid as a supporting character/cautionary tale.  The book is about the entire social class, with a bigger cast of characters who have their own issues and upheavals over the course of the book.  Nick, Rachel and Astrid are probably still most prominent, but definitely part of an ensemble cast.

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Book Review: Every Day

A friend recently recommended a book to me with an intriguing premise: Every Day by David Levithan.  And it was every bit as intriguing as I hoped–and then some!

Our narrator, A, wakes up in a different body every day.  And it’s not that their body is changing–they’re entering a different person’s body every day, though always someone their own age, sixteen.  They’re still themselves, but they have control, can access their host’s memories, and generally try to live that person’s life for that day.  A has always been this way, and never known anything different.  There are drawbacks, but they do okay–until they fall in love, and want to have their own life.

Weird, right?  But SO interesting!  I listened to this on audiobook, and pretty much played it every spare minute I could until I got to the end.  I was just totally hooked to find out how A/the author would navigate the next complication to arise, and to see what life A would be visiting the next day.

This was also a very nicely done love story.  I am usually not a fan of instalove romances (they’re a pet peeve, in fact) but this was one of the rare ones that really made it work.  When A meets Rhiannon (while occupying the body of her boyfriend Justin), A is pretty immediately smitten.  But it was such a nice blend of physical attraction, really seeing who she is as a person, and sharing a very meaningful, magical afternoon together, that it worked for me.

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Book Review: London

My book consumption, in terms of quantity, slowed down significantly in March, because I spent weeks reading just one book: London by Edward Rutherford.  1,200 pages of fairly small print, this is pretty much the definition of an epic tour de force.  It was a big undertaking (and I didn’t realize it would be so long until it arrived on the library’s hold shelf!) but it was definitely worth it.

London is historical fiction, with a little more emphasis on the “historical” than I usually like.  It begins, technically, four hundred million years ago with the formation of the Thames river valley.  It begins properly (on page 4) in 54 BC, in the Celtic village of Londinos on the Thames, where word has come of an approaching conqueror: Julius Caesar.  Starting with one family and gradually adding on more, Rutherford traces the history of London and several interlocking family trees down through the centuries.  The last chapter, an epilogue, is set in 1997, the year of the book’s writing, although the last proper story is during the Blitz.  I loved this way of telling a story, of a city and of its people.

It may have helped that I love London–I’ve never lived there, but I’ve visited five times and I miss it when I’m away.  I also enjoy British history, so most of the major developments I had some initial familiarity with.  There was still plenty in here I didn’t know and, more importantly, Rutherford brought it all to life with a beautiful balance of individual lives set against sweeping developments.

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Book Review: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Agatha Christie is one of my go-to authors for audiobooks–I’m not sure how that happened, but there it is.  The only downside to audio is that I can’t really flip back and see just what Dame Agatha said early on after a twist emerged, to decide if she lied to me or not.  Reading (listening to) The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was particularly interesting because I happened to know the twist of the ending–it turned out to be fascinating to see how she built it all up.  And she definitely withheld information, but she didn’t actually lie!

This is the third Hercule Poirot mystery, the fussy Belgian detective best known (I think) for The Murder on the Orient Express.  In classic Christie fashion, wealthy Roger Ackroyd is found murdered in his study, rendering everyone else in the house a suspect.  Poirot sifts through the web of motives, alibis and deceptions with the help of Dr. Sheppard, our first person narrator for the story.  Everyone has something to hide, and the final twist truly is magnificent.

This was my favorite kind of mystery–an intricate puzzle with piece after piece gradually fitting together until the entire picture makes sense.  There are many layers of narrative here, as most characters have something going on unrelated (but we don’t always know that) to the central murder.

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