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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sleeping Beauty gets a new twist with Disney's Maleficent

Maleficent turns 55 years old from when Disney first introduced her to us in 1959.  With such an iconic villain, Angelina Jolie wanted to get it right, but add her unique touch.  Here's my latest movie review!

Movie Title:  Maleficent

PG, 1 hour 37 minutes

Grade:  A-

In a Nutshell:  This magical Disney retelling of Sleeping Beauty (1959) begins “Let us tell an old story anew and we shall see how well you know it.”  The beautiful textures and fantastic artistry of this untold fairy tale creates such wonder that I knew I wanted to watch the movie again within 5 minutes of the opening.

Sure, there are some flaws in the story, but Angelina’s performance as villain and heroine is commanding (although her accent waivers at times).  There is a delightful touch of humor, as well as enough of a twist in the story to keep you interested.  Both Stefan and Maleficent steal “something far more precious than a jewel” because of different motivations, one learning life’s valuable lessons along the way and the other becoming more and more entranced with power.  Which one is which?
In a sense, Maleficent is to Sleeping Beauty (1959) what Wicked is to The Wizard of Oz (but without all the singing.)  Angelina Jolie describes Maleficent as "deliciously wicked."

Die-hard Sleeping Beauty fans may feel betrayed, but I always like a good spin on a story I "thought" I knew.

 Uplifting theme: 

  • Following on the heels of Frozen’s successful twist of “true love’s kiss”, young girls will be reminded not to wait for a handsome prince to truly live.
  • Forgiveness is far greater than revenge.  We’ve all been wounded or felt betrayed by someone in our lives; the challenge is to not let it change us.
  • Guys, don’t treat a woman’s heart lightly.  Consider the warning in Congreve’s phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Things I liked:

  • I loved seeing “every manner of great and strange creatures” in the moor at the beginning of the movie.  The phantasmic girls who danced above the water were stunning. There is so much to see in the first 10 minutes.
  • Maleficent’s emerald eyes are mesmerizing. And those red lipstick lips...
  • Maleficent is able to freeze people in a dream-like state, floating their bodies around in the air to move them to a new location.  It’s a very cool effect and magic power I wish I had.
  • The three fairy sisters are adorable, both as fairies and (SPOILER ALERT) humans.  I love the little blue butterflies that circle around Flittle in both of her forms.
  • I have a son who designs video games, so I especially notice the small details on weaponry and animated characters now.  I thought the talon-like points on Maleficent’s wings were uber cool.
  • I love being able to see Maleficent’s fierce horns on her head before they’re covered by the silky, black headdress.  Notice her elf-shaped ears underneath the fabric.  
  • Elle Fanning is lovely and fills the character of Aurora with light.  Her kindness and sweetness is so pure and sweet that it unnerves Maleficent and provides a contrast that draws you in.  In an interview with ScreenSlam, Elle reveals that out of all the Disney princesses, she personally relates the most to Sleeping Beauty and would choose those costumes to wear as a little girl.  When asked to select one word to describe the entire film, Elle said “Whimsical.”  Good choice!
  • Angelina Jolie's own daughter, Vivian, is in the movie, playing Maleficent as a toddler.  Jolie admits it was awkward to say to her daughter "I don't like children" while dressed in devil horns.
Things I didn’t like:

*  I didn’t really care for Maleficent’s carved cheekbones.  I’ve never seen Angelina Jolie more beautiful than in The Tourist .  Angelina brings a sexy elegance to the role of Maleficent.

 Interesting lines:

  • “You’re classically handsome” said the young Maleficent to Baltizar, an old, gnarled tree creature.  By the way, you’ll get a kick out of his African-sounding clicking language.
  • A handsome prince wanders through the forest and says to Maleficent “I’m looking for a girl.”  She sneers “Of course you are.”
  • “I was so lost in hatred and revenge.  You stole what was left of my heart.”  - Maleficent
  • “There is an evil in this world: hatred and revenge.” – Maleficent
  • Princess Aurora says to a hidden Maleficent “Don’t be afraid.”  Maleficent states “I am not afraid.”  Aurora invites “Then come out.”  Warns Maleficent “Then you’ll be afraid.”
  • “Oh come on….that was funny.”  - Maleficent
  • “Oh look.  The little beastie is about to fall off the cliff.”  - Maleficent
  • “I need you to be my wings.”  - Maleficent to Diaval
  • “Oh dear.  What an awkward situation.” - Maleficent

Tips for parents:  This family flick provides a villain that isn’t too scary for little ones, but has some violence for its PG rating.  Other things that children will see include a fire-breathing dragon, sword fights, vengeance, anger, sibling fighting, and jealousy.
The vocabulary word for the day for your kids is MALEFICENT: doing evil or harm; harmfully malicious; causing or capable of producing evil or mischief

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Amazing things you can do with paper

Book lovers love books.  (Such an insightful comment, eh?)
Whether it's on paper or on a Kindle reader, readers are inspired by the written word.  So many of us are slowly converting our reading habits to various digital versions, but the most hard-core reader would probably admit that there is something special about PAPER.   That feeling you get while curled up with a good book in hands is hard to compete with.

Even for a book editor and designer, Li Hongbo has an unusual attachment to paper.  “I love it and collect it,” he says.  He also does increasingly audacious experiments with it.  Check out his most recent art show where he turns regular paper into amazing, moving pieces of art!

The installation Paper (2010) began when Li Hongbo bought one of the “honeycomb” paper balls used for festive decorations in China and took it apart to see how it was made.  “I realized it’s really quite simple,” he says.  “Yet the flexibility in terms of shape and properties is amazing.” 

His take on this craft tradition is indeed amazing, and it is made entirely of common paper.  With the help of an assistant, Li Hongbo stuck more than 30,000 sheets together with carefully placed stripes of glue to form what look like two large blocks of balsa wood.  Using an electric saw, he carved these stacks into identical human figures. One he leaves intact, except for a toppled head; the other is stretched out like a vast accordion, its torso and limbs looping around the gallery space like a gigantic Slinky toy. 

 Many visitors find it hard to believe that it ever looked anything like its upright twin. The artist hopes the work will awaken viewers to what captivates his own imagination: “the endless possibilities of paper.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Wizard of Oz sequel features old favorites and introduces new ones

Were your grandparents writers?  If so, have you ever considered writing a sequel to one of their stories?  That's exactly what L. Frank Baum did.  His grandfather was the author of the original Wizard of Oz. 

The sequel of the beloved story has been turned into a movie that is receiving mixed reviews.  Here's mine:

Movie Title:   Legends of Oz

PG, 1 hour 28 minutes

Grade:    C

In a Nutshell:   

The talented Lea Michele from Glee brings to life a Dorothy who has returned to Oz to fight another colorful villain and save the day.  The cast of legendary voices includes Martin Short, Patrick Stewart, Bernadette Peters, Dan Aykroyd, Oliver Platt, Jim Belushi, Kelsey Grammer, and Megan Hilty.  Unfortunately, the story doesn’t measure up to their tremendous talent, but offers a diversion for young children who want to see what’s on the other side of the marketing rainbow.

This sequel has a Cirque du Soleil: The Mystery of Mystere feel to it, introducing new characters and throwing a spin on the old ones.  In a nutshell: harmless, but charmless.

Uplifting theme: 

  • Loyalty, service to others, fighting evil, friendship
  • Dorothy said “There will always be a rainbow when you need one most.”
Things I liked:

  • I liked the visual details of the grass in between the yellow bricks.
  • I got a kick out of the tree with pinecone earrings and the other one with the Reggae dreadlocks.
  • Fireflies ARE magical.
  • Nice design on Tugg’s sail.
  • I LOVE details in animation.  China Princess had the most delicate little lips that quivered with emotion.
  • There were some 3D gags which little ones will enjoy.
Things I didn’t like:

  •  The songs aren’t catchy enough to convince young girls to stop singing the soundtrack from Frozen a million times a day.
  • It doesn’t have the heart of the original The Wizard of Oz .
  • It lacks clever wit and magical charm.
  • The China Princess is not an endearing character that little girls should emulate.  Glenda, on the other hand, will do well in merchandising because she was so cute and sweet.
  • I didn’t understand the airbrush checkered shirt on Wiser the Owl.  Why?
  • Dorothy’s face looked too old, but I loved her cowboy boots!
  • It was a strange mixture of cartoony animation and more sophisticated drawings.
  • The rolling credits at the end included a gigantic list of names the film was dedicated to.  Doesn't that kind of water down the sentiment?
Funny lines:

  • “You can’t make a person do that against his will.  Dancing is very personal.”  - Tin Man
Tips for parents:

  • It’s a fairly harmless story with a villain who is more mean than scary.
  • Keep watching during the credits to see the rest of the story unfold.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The newest Godzilla movie smashes the box office

Movie Title:  Godzilla [HD]

PG-13, 2 hour 3 minutes

Grade:    A-
In a Nutshell:   I love it when a movie trailer doesn’t reveal major plot points in an upcoming movie so that you’re pleasantly surprised.  Godzilla [HD] has all of the intensity, stunning visual effects, impressive sound design and suspense you’ve been wanting from this franchise for years.  Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the monstrous fun.

Uplifting theme: 

  • There are good monsters and bad monsters.  Humans too.  Awww.
  • There are nice examples in the flick of heroism, loyalty, sacrifice, and honor.
Things I liked:

  • Disaster movie lovers will get a kick out of watching Las Vegas and San Francisco get destroyed.  Great special effects.  I loved the TV ticker line “Breaking News: Live Terror in Vegas!”
  • The movie makes it current by including present-day concerns about compromised Japanese nuclear power plants being a danger to nearby communities and beyond.
  • I liked how it tried to wrap the story around the 1954 Godzilla movie’s fear of the atomic age.
  • Bryan Cranston makes everything better.
  • Monsters Director Gareth Edwards is great at creating chaos and pandemonium.
  • I watched it in IMAX 3D, which offers some moments when I really felt inside the movie.  At one point, I thought an audience member was standing in front of me and I almost asked him to move, but then realized it was the 3D effect.
  • Go Army!
  • (SPOILER ALERT)  I loved it when a “certain” monster glowed with fire inside.  Godzilla spews cool blue fire.
  • I loved the scene where the skydivers dropped from the clouds, trailing red flares.
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson conveniently arrives in the right place at the right time to offer the ongoing thread that keeps the human story running alongside the monsters.  He’s likeable enough to get the job done as hero and provides another shout-out to the real everyday heroes in today’s U.S.Army.  My oldest son is an officer in the Army, so can I get a “Hooah!”?
  • It was clever to show old movie clips in the beginning to bring newbies to the Godzilla franchise up to speed.
  • One of the few funny moments of the flick featured some Japanese parents in an airport getting annoyed at their Emo kid.
  • I loved seeing the city and aerial views of Tokyo.
  • One of the best lines in the movie was when a Japanese doctor gets to say “We call him… Godzirra.”
  • There are a few scene transitions that made the audience laugh out loud because they were expecting to see a real monster, but instead, saw a pet chameleon and a toy dinosaur.
Things I didn’t like:

  • Audiences can’t help but compare this film to last summer’s blockbuster Pacific Rim .  They’re both fun, but Pacific Rim had some fresh elements that Godzilla [HD] can’t compete with (uber cool, digital kaiju, gigantic robot soldier fight scenes).  Click here for my review of Pacific Rim.
  • While the 1998 Mathew Broderick version felt more like a cartoon, this one is full of drama.  In fact, it needs a touch of humor to offset the fact that it takes itself so seriously.
  • The back story provided some meat, but was a bit contorted at times.
  • Not nearly enough monster fight scenes.  Not nearly enough Godzilla.  He almost plays a supporting role.
  • Dr. Ishiro Seriwaza does two things well in the movie: utter profound statements about Godzirra, and stare in disbelief with his mouth open.
  • Thanks for the uncomfortable reminder that I live near Yucca Mountain...
Interesting lines:

  • “The arrogance of man is thinking nature is under our control and not the other way around.” – Dr. Ishiro Seriwaza
  • “The king of monsters is the savior of our city.”
  • “Nature has a power to restore its bounds.  I believe he is that nature.”  - Dr. Ishiro Seriwaza
Tips for parents: 

  • Loving married relationships instead of sexual content is refreshing.
  • Very mild profanity that’s hardly noticeable because so many other things are going on.
  • Lots of destruction and monster violence.  That's what you came to see though, right?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Curling up with a good book taken to a new level

                  Here's a book for real book lovers!  Talk about "curling up with a good book"!

                  Summer is coming!   What book are YOU going to read by the pool this summer?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Is Spider-Man true literature or big screen gold?

While some may argue whether comic books are true literature or not, there is no debate over whether or not they'll make it on the big screen.  Superhero movies are what summer blockbusters seem to be made of lately and the newest one to kick off this year's season just opened last night. 

As an author, I love books.  Duh.  I also adore movies and I write reviews on for several web sites.  Be sure to subscribe to my Movie Review Maven blog!

Movie Title:     The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Grade:  B

In a Nutshell:   
This new installment of the Spider-Man franchise successfully makes you feel like you’re reading the panels of a comic book, but also has the effect of a choppy story that is common within that genre.  The flick is full of acrobatic stunts, impressive car crashes, and electrifying villains that young kids will get a kick out of.  I saw a few little ones walk into the theater wearing their Spidey costumes.  Adorable.  Most teens and parents who still have the Toby Maguire DVD sitting in their cabinet at home are asking “Why are they doing a remake so soon?” 

Uplifting theme:   
  • Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen (Emma Stone), gives the Valedictorian speech at her high school graduation that pretty much sums up the theme for the movie: “It’s easy to feel hopeful on a beautiful day like today, but there will be dark days ahead of us too.  There will be days when you feel all alone and that’s when hope is needed most.  No matter how bad it gets or how lost you feel, you must promise me that you will hold on to hope.  Keep it alive.  We have to be greater than what we suffer.  My wish for you is to become hope.  People need that.  And even if we fail, what better way is there to live?”

Things I liked:
  • The beginning of the movie sheds more light on Peter Parker’s parents and their unique mission which caused them to leave their young son.
  • The slow-motion sequences were really great.
  • Where else can we see Jaime Foxx with bad comb-over?
  • The audience I sat with thought it was hilarious when Spider-Man sticks to a vehicle while it drives down the road.  He says to Gwen on the phone “I got a little stuck in traffic.”
  • I pretty much love Emma Stone in anything.  This is a much softer version of her sass.
  • This installment in Spider-Man is stuffed with villains.  Some say too many.  I rather liked the fact that the formula wasn’t “fight bad guy-win-happy ending-the end.
  • (No spoiler alert)  I loved the story line and ending with the brave little boy.

Things I didn’t like:
  • While Garfield and Stone have some chemistry, there’s no magical kiss like the one Maguire/Dunst created in their famous upside-down scene.
  • It’s hard for Spider-Man to be really amazing when we’ve seen so many truly awesome CGI movies lately….with and without Superheroes.
  •  Is it just me or does it seem like all of the villains in movies lately aren’t really bad, but just misunderstood?
  • Before the movie started at the Regal Theater I attended, a bizarre announcement played with Emma Stone and a drugged out looking Andrew Garfield with a fake British accent.  They were encouraging patrons to upgrade to a particular ticket after the movie with access to additional content.
  • Spiderman’s clever banter with bad guys just isn’t very clever at all.
  • Some of Spiderman’s webs magically hook onto thin air.  What the?
  •  The story line turns Peter Parker’s girlfriend into a successful Valedictorian with a loving family, much different from the Kirsten Dunst's wounded character. 
  • I love Paul Giamatti, so I thought he was seriously underutilized in this film.
  • Peter and Aunt May (Sally Field) fight in almost every scene they're in.
  • Why do evil scientists always speak with a German accent and laugh after every sentence?

Inspiring lines:
  • “What makes life valuable is that it doesn’t last forever.  What makes it precious is that it ends.”  - Gwen’s graduation speech
  • “Time is luck, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.   Make yours count for something.  Fight for what matters to you, no matter what. Because even if we fall short, what better way is there to live?” – Gwen’s graduation speech
  • “You’re not a nobody.  You’re somebody.”   - Spiderman  
  • “The world cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”   - Albert Einstein, as quoted by Norman Osborn

Funny lines:
  • Max tells Spider-Man “I will be like a god to them.”  Spiderman quips “A god named Sparkles?”

Things to look for:
  • I love it when Stan Lee makes his cameo performance in Marvel movies.  Look closely in the high school graduation scene.  Stan sees Peter Parker with his Spider-Man mask on and says “Hey, I think I know that guy!”
  • Some of the high school students decorate their graduation caps with little toys or words.  My oldest son just graduated from college last weekend (proud mama!) and I didn’t see any of the students decorate their caps, but I thought it was a cute idea.
  • Peter Parker’s ring tone on his cell phone.
  • Peter Parker’s cute “Thrasher” t-shirt.
  • Aidy Bryant from Saturday Night Live is wearing a Statue of Liberty costume and says to Spider-Man “Nice costume!”
  • Don’t bother looking for a fun sneak peek at anything after the credits roll.  When the movie is over, it’s actually over. 

Tips for parents:   
  • Kids can learn about battery power and electric charges…
  • The profanity is lean with only a few “mild” bad words, but there is, of course, a lot of violence.  Young children with dreams of becoming the next Superhero may need to be counseled “Do not try this at home.”
  • If you missed the first Andrew Garfield Spidey, you can get it here:
Want to see the Toby Maguire version? You can pick it up cheap right here: