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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hercules in literature and on the big screen

The legend of the mighty Hercules has captured the hearts and hero-seeking minds of millions for centuries.  Hollywood is taking another crack at the muscular myth this weekend with Dwayne Johnson's version.  Which movie and TV retelling do you like the best? 

Here's my take on it from my movie review blog:

Movie Title:   Hercules
PG-13, 2 hours

Grade:  B

In a Nutshell:   The Rock. Man, that guy is huge…like a Herculean rock.  Dwayne Johnson proudly proclaimed in a recent interview “I was born to place this role.”  He definitely makes for an impressive and believable demigod.

The movie begins, “You think you know the truth about him?  You know nothing.”  Yeah, except that we JUST finished watching The Legend Of Hercules a few months ago in the theater, although  that version was terrible.  (Read my movie review of that one here.)  

Timed perfectly for ComiCon, this version of the legendary man of strength includes a lot of bloodied, grimy, and determined bad guys full of testosterone, as well as a frequent yelling of the enraged “AAAH!” before battle scenes.  There is enough humor and action to keep you engaged, but it’s not as epic as I had hoped for.  It vacillates between wanting to be a tongue-in-cheek retelling of mythology and an attempt at seriously recreating the legend.

If you love the idea of Dwayne Johnson fighting in a leather skirt, you’ll definitely enjoy this action flick.  If you’re looking for deep insights into the Greek man of myth, you probably won’t find it here.   After all of the versions I’ve seen, I think the old Disney animation of Hercules is still the best!

Uplifting theme: 
  • “You have it within yourself to write your own legacy.”  - Hercules
  • “You don’t need to be a demigod to be a hero.  You only have to believe you’re a hero.”  - Amphiaraus

Things I liked:
  • The trailer features some amazing feats of strength, so I figured they were probably the best the movie had to offer.  The good news is that there is a lot more where that’s coming from.  The bad news is that you don’t get to see any more cool, mythical monsters after the first 10 minutes of the film.
  • It doesn’t take itself too seriously and has a sense of humor.
  • The 3D version enhanced some of the scenes, but not in a gimmicky way.
  • The aerial views during battles were cool and even helpful to see what was going on.
  • There is a classic Mulan montage as the local farmers train to become a fearsome army of skilled soldiers.
  • The lion CGI was amazing and I love the lion “helmet” souvenir Hercules wears throughout the movie.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Lots of bloody bodies and charred corpses.  Realistic, but ICK.
  • It cracked me up when baby Hercules’ pudgy little arm reaches up towards a painting of Zeus in the beginning of the movie.  Pretty cheesy.  It actually made me laugh out loud.
  • I know there was some CGI involved, but I always feel bad for the horses in battle scenes, especially when they fall down or get hurt. 
  • While the actress Ingrid Bolso Berdal is lovely and talented, I would have cast a taller, more buff fighter to play the Amazon woman Atalanta.
  • Hercules utters the one F-bomb in the movie.  Gee, thanks…great role model for our kids.
  • My 14 year old son and his friends liked it, but they thought it ended too soon.  Their complaint was that there were only a couple of really good battle scenes and then it was over.
  • It would have been kind of fun to see the retired professional wrestler actually get down and wrestle a bad guy in the film.

Did you know?
  • It took three hours every day in make-up to transform Dwayne Johnson into the mighty Hercules with long locks and a beard.  His beard was made from Yak’s hairy balls.  Ick.  He couldn’t have just grown his own beard?  They mostly covered up his large shoulder/chest tattoo with make-up and leather.
  • Did you notice the classic Samson & Delilah moment when Hercules knocks down the pillars and walls of the temple?  I’m surprised they haven’t ever done a remake for that old classic movie.  I loved it as a little girl.
  • Norwegian-born Ingrid Bolso Berdal studied jazz singing in college.   You most recently saw her in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters as one of the witches.
  • Hercules was actually born a twin.  His brother Iphicles is never mentioned in the film.

Interesting lines:
  • “The king of this land has offered me gold to dispose of you.  You can leave or die.  I get paid either way.”  - Hercules
  • “How we see ourselves doesn’t matter.  How others see us is what’s important.”  - Amphiaraus    (Maybe I wrote that line wrong?  Shouldn’t that be the other way around?)
  • “Kingdoms are won by armies, but empires are built with alliances.”  - Lord Cotys

Funny lines:
  • “A pair of breasts is more persuasive than gold.”  - Atalanta
“Yeah, but gold doesn’t age.”  - Sitacles

  • “I hope the enemy has a sense of humor.” – Autolycus
  • “If you’re lucky, you’ll go to Hades where all the fun people are.” – Autolycus
  • “Don’t just stand there…kill someone!”  - Autolycus

Tips for parents:  Lots and lots of blood, violence, profanity, sexual innuendo.  Hercules’ gorgeous wife (Russian model Irina Shayk) is not in very many scenes, but when she is, you see a lot of her…if you know what I mean…she strips off a light cloak, revealing her entire back side.  Hercules’ beautiful, young mother wears a practically see-through dress in the beginning of the movie.  No wonder Hera was so jealous of Alcmene.  Shame on Zeus.

Other versions of Hercules you might enjoy are:


Saturday, July 19, 2014

One of the most inspiring libraries in the world

I love libraries.  All that knowledge in one place!  It's so inspiring!

When I was a little girl, my goal was to read every single book in my local library.  I actually thought I could do it.  It's still on my Bucket List.

Let me introduce you to the Admont Abbey in Admont, Austria.  It's the world's largest monastic library in the world, as well as the largest scientific collection.  Talk about inspiring!


The Abbey was founded in 1074, but the library wasn't built until 1776 by the architect Joseph Hueber.


It was built in the famous late Baroque style and fit with sculptures by the sculptor Josef Stammel.  It has over 70,000 books on its walls, but actually has 200,000 books in total.

The artwork is in the Baroque style and includes fresco paintings that illustrate  the stages of human knowledge up to the high point of Divine Revelation.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The books that shaped the movie "America: Imagine a World Without Her"

Happy 4th of July!   I'm including the following from my movie review blog here because of how big of a role books play in this movie, as well as in the cultural thought process of Americans today.  Check out the list of books that were featured in this movie at the bottom of the blog.

PG-13, 1 hour 43 minutes

Grade:  B+

In a Nutshell:   Timed perfectly for the 4th of July weekend, this documentary-style film asks the question: “What would the world look like if America did not exist?”   As the movie begins, you see a blacksmith hammering steel letters to spell out the word “America”.  The movie then goes on to illustrate how America was literally forged out of fire to become the great nation it is today.

Worried about the future where this country is headed, polarizing director and writer Dinesh D’Souza picks up where 2016 Obama's America left off, explaining that “Seeing these predictions come true makes me scared for America.”  D’Souza presents several indictments that are currently being made against America and then offers evidence that disproves the false claims.

Liberals have already declared this movie to be full of idiotic jingoism and D’Souza’s attempt at payback for being indicted in New York on charges that he violated campaign finance laws (he pled not guilty and was released on bail).  Conservatives believe D'Souza was targeted for his attack on Obama and praise both films for their thoughtful presentation of ideas.  Towards the end of the movie, D’Souza is seen in handcuffs, issuing a warning to all Americans to fight for the freedoms and liberty that have made this country great.

If you’re interested in learning more about it, go to

Uplifting theme:  The movie starts out with a quote by famous French statesman, Alexis de Tocqueville who toured colonial America to find out why it was such a success: “America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”  The questions hang in the air: "Are we still good?  Are we still great?"

Things I liked:
  • D’Souza tries to present both sides of each issue fairly, giving equal time for both.
  • There are some powerful images that should leave you in awe of the miracle that America was ever created. A single sniper's shot to George Washington during the Revolutionary War could have ended everything before it even started.  George Washington is one of my biggest heroes ever and is featured in the beginning of the film.  He was willing to put his life on the line for an America that didn’t exist yet. He could have easily been king of this new country and establish his own royal lineage, but instead, he insisted on a new government that would make his descendents as socially equal as anyone.  Where ARE his descendents?  Great question, right? 
  • D’Souza also tries to present the important question “What would the world be like if America recedes in importance?” Is she now? How can we prevent it?
  • It’s not a sequel to 2016 Obama's America where Obama is painted as a villain who hates capitalist America, but a film with a hero, not D’Souza, but America itself.
  • D’Souza tries to show that the principles of 1776 which founded this country still work.

Things I didn’t like:
  • A lot of issues were unaddressed, but then again, the film would have been much longer.
  • Some of the reenactments could have been better.  A few were used over and over again, but from different angles.
  • I thought some of the people D’Souza chose to interview were odd choices, but it was still interesting to hear their view points on various issues.
  • The film could have been much grander and greater, but feels like a TV Special.
Interesting lines:
  • “America is an idea.  It was the first country to claw itself out of darkness and put it on paper.”  - Bono
  • “The Revolutionary War was the struggle for the creation of America.  The Civil War was the struggle for the preservation of America.  WWII was the struggle for the protection of America.”  - D’Souza
  • “Capitalism works through the consent of the people.”  - D’Souza
  • “The wealth of America isn’t stolen; it’s created.” – D’Souza
  • “America isn’t the problem; it’s the answer.”  - D’Souza
  • “I chose this country. This country does something truly unique – it allows you to write the script of your life.”  - D’Souza
  • “Obama didn’t create this movement; it created him.”  D’Souza

Tips for parents:  Young children will be very bored.  It plays like a History Channel documentary.  If you have older children who are interested in some of the material presented, check out the following books and videos which were mentioned in the movie:

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What is Earth to Echo missing in the script?

Most of you who read this blog are either writers yourselves or true book lovers, right?   You know by now that I love to write movie reviews and often compare them to the book that has usually become a best-seller before the story hit the big screen.

I recently saw Earth to Echo and wrote a review on it.  One of my biggest complaints of the movie, besides the terrible acting, was the bad script.

Have any of you ever tried your hand at scriptwriting?  If so, what has been your experience?  I'm sure it's a lot harder than it looks, and I'm the first to admit I wouldn't do a very good job at it either!

Movie Title:  Earth To Echo
PG, 1 hour 29 minutes

Grade:  C

In a Nutshell:  This tween flick feels like an attempt at remaking E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial or even Super 8 with The Goonies (1985) , but not as magical and charming as any of those.  Relativity producers could learn a lesson from Spielberg.  Even the ad imitates the beloved E.T. movie poster.

The film takes some misfit kids on a scavenger hunt to help an extraterrestrial find the pieces he needs to rebuild his spaceship and return home.  While that’s not exactly an original script, it’ll feel fresh to little ones who haven’t yet experienced the better movies I just mentioned.

The movie is shot from the homemade perspective of one of the boys who is using his camcorder, so much of it is shaky and may cause motion sickness.   Remember Cloverfield ?  (That made me so dizzy I thought I was going to throw up.)  Sony HD cams get the spotlight on product placement in this flick.

Uplifting theme:  
  • “Having a friend light years away taught us that distance is just a state of mind.” – Tuck
  • Kids can do anything.  In the beginning of the movie, Tuck shakes his head in dismay and says “you have no power to stop ‘cuz you’re just a kid.” By the end, he and his friends feel empowered to do anything.

Things I liked:
  • They did a good job using technology to address how kids today spend their lives.  They follow a map that appears on their combined smartphones, and then they do Google searches for things like “weird barf shapes on my phone.”  Check out the Google Glasses.
  • Echo is pretty doggone cute. 
  • There are some cool special effects, like when Echo makes an oncoming truck disassemble in air so that the kids aren't hurt.

Things I didn’t like:
  • The acting was really terrible.  I really wanted to fall in love with the kids, but it just felt like they were auditioning for a school play.
  • How convenient that the alien understands English.
  • The kids steal their older brother’s car and take it for a joy ride without a license or training.  Thanks for putting that idea into millions of pre-teens’ heads.
  • Of course, the kids in the movie are smarter than the bumbling, idiot adults. 
  • The kids are unhappy because they’re being forced out of their homes so that a freeway could be built in the area.  They rant and rave as if that’s completely inhumane, but in reality, their parents are being paid for their properties.
  • Tuck states “Our whole lives we’ve been invisible…the good kids.  Not anymore.”  Again, thanks for putting that great idea out there for kids to emulate.
  • The kids cheer wildly in the predictable ending “We did that!”  Um no, Echo did.

Interesting lines:
  • Tuck tells his bros that he kissed a cute girl.  When they find out he really didn’t, he explains “It’s aspirational thinking…you’re thinking one thing and living it the next.”  Hmmm…has he been reading the book The Secret ?

Funny lines:
  • “I need an Advil.”  - Mudge
  • “Did your phone barf?” – Tuck
  • “I think mannequins are hot.”  - Mudge
  • Why don’t you just play with your super rich friends and eat steak or something.”  - Alex
  • The kids go into a bar and one of them says “Look old!”

Tips for parents:   Young kids will probably enjoy this movie, especially if they’ve never seen E.T.  They love to watch other kids become heroes and do things adults think they can’t do….or defy them to do.  The language is clean and the script is mostly harmless.

Now, if you want to introduce your kids to some classics, help them discover the following:

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

How To Train Your Dragon 2 success turns movie-goers into readers

Here's another shout-out to a book that made it big at the box office!

PG, 1 hour 45 minutes

Grade:  A-

In a Nutshell:  Everyone in the family will enjoy this adorable DreamWorks sequel by Dean DeBlois.  It impresses with FANTASTIC textures and surfaces: fur, leather, hair, metal, wrinkles on skin, dragon scales, tears, chin hairs, etc.  It’s simply amazing how far animation has come.  I didn’t even see it in 3D!

The narrator begins “With Vikings on the backs of dragons, the world just got a whole lot bigger.”  And so it is.  A good sequel builds upon the solid foundation of its original movie, adding new layers and fun surprises.  This movie does just that.  The audience has grown up since the 2010 original, and this sequel has too, developing a rich story that provides substance to the silliness.

Uplifting theme:  There is an environmental message about caring for animals against evil human predators.  Just so you know, no dragons were harmed in the making of this film. Family and forgiveness are also addressed, as well as courage and love.

Things I liked:
  • There are several running gags that weave throughout the movie.  One features  Ruffnut, the Viking twin sister of Tuffnut, as she falls in love with Erit, a new Viking with bulging biceps.  She's not the least bit feminine and is always fighting with her twin brother, so to see her swoon is unexpected and delightful. She is voiced by the talented Kristen Wiig.  T.J. Miller voices her twin brother, who also plays the comic relief in the newest installment in the Transformers movie franchise, Transformers: Age of Extinction .    
  • Another running gag features adorable sheep who are used for a dragon version of Harry Potter’s Quidditch.  Hilarious.
  • I love movies that take time to provide random and humorous details.  Icicles on mustaches.  Freckles.  Beards braided with leather bows.
  • I want a pair of Astrid’s cute, fuzzy boots.
  • The many air scenes will seriously make you want to fly.
  • “The Dancing and the Dreaming” song with lyrics by Shane MacGowan and music by Jon Thor Birgisson and John Powell is very sweet and feels like a believable song of Viking ancestry.
  • I adore Cate Blanchett.  Other voice talents in the film are Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Craig Ferguson, and Kit Harington.
  • Sure, the flick is fairly predictable, but it's still a fun ride.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Who names their baby “Hiccup”?  A Viking, I guess.
  • SPOILER ALERT:  As awesome as dragons are, I would never leave my baby boy to go live with dragons instead. 
  • Drago.  Really?  They couldn’t think of a more creative name?

Did you know?
  • Directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois were not the original directors, but were later hired to create a movie that would appeal to the rug rats AND their parents.
  • Did you know these “Dragon” movies were inspired by a 2003 novel?  Astrid (played by America Ferrara) is a character created just for the movie, as she wasn’t even in the original novel.
  • The character voice of “Toothless” was created by mixing sounds from horses, elephants, tigers, and even the voice of the Sound Designer, Randy Thom.
  • A lot of the scenery is based on real places in Iceland and the Pacific Coast.

Interesting lines:
  • “Men who kill without reason cannot be reasoned with.”  - Stoick
  • “You have the heart of a chief and the soul of a dragon.”  - Valka

Funny lines:
  • “Soil my britches!”  - Erit
  • “Me likey!” – Ruffnut when she sees Erit for the first time.
  • Ruffnut says “Erit was the man of my dreams.”  Gobber says “But Baby, I grew facial hair for you!”
  • Astrid:  “That’s your mother?”
Hiccup: “Now you know where I get my dramatic flair!”

Tips for parents:  There is some fighting and a few scary dragons, but otherwise, even young children should enjoy watching this film.
For your family's collection: