Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Dark Knight

I know . . . I am probably the last person in the world to watch The Dark Knight. This was the third time that the movie had arrived for me from the library. I gave up all hope of watching it with Ben and watched it in 1/2 hour increments whenever I had a moment without kids. This is probably not the best way to watch it, but it kept me in suspense as I had to wait until the next day to see what would happen next.

The Dark Knight is the sequel to Christopher Nolan's 2005 film Batman Begins. Truthfully I liked Batman Begins, but didn't think it was that fantastic (Ben liked it much better than me). I realize it was needed to set things up and allow The Dark Knight to be the excellent film that it was. I love Christopher Nolan's work, especially Memento. Memento ranks as one of my favorite movies. I also really enjoyed The Prestige. I can't wait to see what Nolan comes up with next.

The story of The Dark Knight follows closely after Batman Begins. Batman has worked with Lt. James Gordon to rid Gotham of different mob factions. Gordon and Batman decide to include DA Harvey Dent (now the boyfriend of Batman's love Rachel Dawes) in their crime fighting club. A new criminal (The Joker) is in town and his love of chaos is unlike anything they've ever seen. Batman considers Dent the "white knight" that can save Gotham and take his place, but the Joker has other plans for him. Everyone seemed to talk about how this was the Joker's film, but I thought it was really the story of Harvey Dent.

I thought The Dark Knight was an excellent film. The eery score and cinematography were excellent. The action sequences were top notch and had were not overly CGI as too many films seem to do these days. The acting was also excellent, especially Heath Ledger as The Joker and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. I loved the story and was kept in suspense thoughout with several "I can't believe they just did that!" moments.

My only negative was Christian Bale's raspy Batman voice. It was just irritating.

My only question is - why was this film not nominated for an Academy Award. While Slumdog Millionaire was a good movie, this movie was excellent and a much better movie. I am getting a bit tired of Academy snobbery where comic book films, sci-fi, comedy, etc are never considered. Sigh.

I could rave on forever about this film, but I'd like to get this posted so I'll stop now.

Slumdog Millionaire

I finally watched the 2008 Oscar Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire last week. Let me get one thing straight . . .I heard so much through the media that this was a "light-hearted," "feel-good," and "happy" movie and how great it was winning against bleaker fair. So I was looking forward to an upbeat tale . . . only to watch Jamil Malik get tortured in the first five minutes of the film and then further violence and abuse throughout the rest of the movie. Light-hearted indeed!! This is not my idea of a feel-good movie.

Despite not quite meeting my expectations, Slumdog Millionaire was an excellent film. Jamil Malik is one question away from winning the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The police are sure that Jamil is cheating and torture him to learn how he knows the answers. Jamil tells the story of his life and how each question related to an important episode in his life. Jamil grew up in the slums of Mumbai with his brother Salim. He meets and befriends a young girl named Latika, who becomes his life long love.

It was a great story of survival and will he get the girl? In fact, this entire movie seemed like a modern, Indian Charles Dickens novel. Sort of a Great Expectations crossed with Oliver Twist. The Cinematography was fantastic as was the music. I loved the music and dance scene over the credits. The story was disturbing to me that so much violence and poverty exists in our world.

This is an excellent film . . . as long as you realize that it is not a light-hearted happy film!!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Patillo

As readers of this blog know, I am obsessed with all things Jane Austen. Although I know that nothing can beat the original novels, I love to watch the movies, read historical background on Jane and her times, and also read spin-off fiction based on Jane and her literary creations.

Jane Austen Ruined My Life is the story of Emma Grant, a university professor that specializes in Jane Austen. One day Emma returns home to find her husband in a compromising position with her graduate assistant. And to make matters worse, the two ruin her credibility as an Austen scholar. Realing from these personal and professional disasters, Emma journeys to England to visit a woman, Mrs. Parrot, who claims to have long lost letters, never published letters of Jane Austen. Emma is determined to prove that Jane Austen was wrong on love and she (rather unjustly I thought) blames Austen for giving her too idealistic of a version of love. The search for the letters turns into a mini "Da Vinci Code" journey where Emma uses her knowledge of Jane to discover new truthes about her favorite author and herself.

I liked this book - it was a quick, fun read. It was better than a lot of Austen spin-off books. The journey through Austen's England, the bits about Austen, and the romance were all fun. I didn't like Emma's entire basis of her journey - to prove Austen a fraud that gives women too idealistic a vision of love. That didn't seem right for an Austen scholar and lover. Especially as all lovers of Austen know about there are cads in life such as Willoughby and Wickham. Some plot points seemed too trite. Overall though, it was an entertaining book.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

The Piano Teacher is an excellent novel that I found myself unable to put down. This novel is set during two different time periods in Hong Kong. One is 1941 where Englishman Will Truesdale arrives in Hong Kong and falls in love with Eurasian beauty Trudy Liang. The other is 1952 when Claire Pendleton arrives in Hong Kong with her husband Martin and becomes a piano teacher to a young Chinese girl, Locket Chen. Will is the Chen's chaffeur and soon begins an affair with Claire.

The real overall story is not of the "piano teacher," but of Trudy and Will. Trudy is a unique personality: beautiful, willful, strong. She is the type of persion that you may like like if you met her, but she would definitely capture your attention.

WWII and the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong changes their life and love forever. Will is interred in a camp for foreigners and Trudy is left on the outside trying to survive in horrific conditions. The novel explores the theme of what one would do to suvive and protect the ones you love. I have been thinking for this novel and theme for days. Throughout the novel, different characters showed different methods of suvival, some noble, some decidedly less so, and many in the gray zone in the middle.

The novel is full of suspense and romance as the novel unvolds, but is also explores the racial tensions in Hong Kong at the time.

The weakness of the novel to me was Claire's storyline. I didn't like Claire that much. She was a pale, weak character compared to Trudy and I never really was as interested in her as I was with Trudy. The only highlight for me was that the poor cuckholded husband, Martin, is an engineer working on water infrastrucutre in China. Toot - toot Janice Y.K. Lee - that is exactly what I do! Great job bringing more engineering into literature. You are not boring to me Martin!

Overall, this was a thought provoking great novel. I would LOVE to see it as a movie.

Bette by Lyn Cote

I made a trip to Milwaukee last week for work . . . or was it really to listen to Bette? I had been listening to it as I worked in the kitchen, but I really like listening to audiobooks during longer car trips. It makes the trip go faster, and when it is a story as engaging as Bette, it allows me to listen to much more of the story then my kitchen chores allow.

Bette is the second in "The Women of Ivy Manor" series by Lyn Cote. I wasn't sure if book number two could live up to how much I enjoyed Chloe, the first in the series, but I thought Bette was even better!

Chloe's daughter, Bette, is a beautiful young woman who has grown up at Ivy Manor during the depression. She has not had a life of privilage and faces prejudice as school because her family's sheltering of a young German-Jewish girl, Gretel. She falls in love with a popular new boy, Curtis, and they have a romance that lasts through college. Through working with the war department, Bette becomes an undercover agent to help uncover Nazi plots to find out American war time secrets. WWII changes everything . . .and I won't go further and ruin the plot!

I loved Bette's story as an undercover spy. It was riveting . . . especially with all of the true stories of Nazi's getting tours of our facilities before the war. Bette and Ted's flirtation was great. It reminded me of the 1930's movies that I love like "My Girl Friday." I also loved the story of the hardships of Jews prior to, during, and after the war. I was disturbed by the ships of Jews being turned away from America's ports and even more so when I discovered it was true. Drake and Elsa's love story was one of my favorite parts of the book - they could have easily been a book of their own.

Also - thank-you Lyn Cote for once again having an engineer in your story! Secondary character Jamie McCaslen (not sure if the spelling is correct - that is what happens when you listen to an audiobook) was an engineering major at Columbia University. It's nice to see the engineering profession out there. You always hear about doctors, lawyers, and cops - but not too much about engineers!

The only thing I didn't like was Curt, the main love interest, and his inability of accepting a working wife. But as this was true to the time period, it was just me not liking him. I also am still wondering about Kitty from book 1 and Jamie from this book. I am hoping their story continues in book 3, Leigh.

Overall, it was a great story, especially with the intriguing history that it incorporates. I love historical fiction.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

I just finished reading The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs for my Lakeshore Mom's Book Club . . . just on time since my book club meeting is tomorrow night!!
Georgia Walker is an independent woman who owns her own knit store "Walker and Daughter" and struggles with trying to raise her 12-year old daughter Dakota. A core group of Walker and Daughter patrons organize the Friday Night Knitting Club where a little bit of knitting gets done, but also a lot of bonding. The book tells the story of the main group of Club characters, but focuses usually on Georgia, Dakota, and Georgia's mentor, Anita. When Dakota's father James reenters Georgia's life, things are brought to a turmoil.

I thought this book was a great story of female friendship. I also thought it was a good story that was true to life . . . as in life doesn't always go according to plan, but we make the most of it. One thing that can keep us all together is our bonds with others. These bonds are most important during times of crisis. I won't say more than that you need a box of kleenex with this book!

My only complaint is that I felt that some of the secondary characters were not developed enough. I loved some of them. . . Gran reminded me of my Great-Grandma Kile and Anita was a terrific friend. Others had good starts of stories (Cat-Georgia's "frenemy" from the past, Darwin-doctoral student with woes, Lucie-a woman starting out as a single mother), but they weren't well rounded or fleshed out behind 2-D characterization. A lot of questions were not solved by the end .. . hopefully they will be more developed in the sequel, Knit Two.

Overall I thought this was a great book and I really enjoyed reading it. I read online that this may become a movie starring Julia Roberts - one can only hope!

Monday, April 13, 2009


I have been waiting to see Australia since I watched the fantastic previews last fall. I loved Baz Luhman's Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet, and Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman are among my favorite modern actors.

Australia is the story of Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman). She has journeyed from England to Australia to try to get her husband to sell their ranch, Faraway Downs, and return to England. Lord Ashley has sent his trusted man, known as Drover (Hugh Jackman), to pick her up in Darwin and take her to Faraway Downs. When they return they discover that Lord Ashley has been murdered and that there is a plot to shut the ranch down by stealing the prime cattle. Lady Ashley, Drover, and others lead a thrilling cattle drive into Darwin to sell the cattle for the war effort. Lady Ashley learns to love a young boy, Nullah, as a mother. Nullah has an aboriginal mother and unknown white father. After the cattle drive there is much mayhem due to the Japanese attack on Darwin two years later and there is a thrilling rescue of Nullah.

Sadly, the movie did not live up to my expectations. It was a good, but not great movie. While I liked parts of it and loved Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman's performances, it was not as good as I thought it would be from the previews. I loved Baz Luhman's unique direction for Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet, but it felt jarring on this big picture epic. Also not helping matters was the cliched storyline and the fact that the movie had the big climatic ending 1 hr and 20 minutes in . . . the halfway point!!!! As it moved on after that I thought . . . wasn't this movie already over? I did like the snippets of action and narrative to give the overall advancement of time and the plot and I loved Nullah and the aboriginal storyline.

The movie had moments of grandeur like the tying in of Wizard of Oz and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and the wonderful shots of Austrialian Outback. I also loved the music, especially when Nullah would "sing you to me." Digital scenes were used too often and were too obviously digital. Costumes were wonderful. Overall I think the movie disfunctioned as it didn't have a clear storyline (seemed like 2 or 3 movies in one).

Although I wasn't in love with the movie, I must say that Hugh Jackman was quite hot in it. When he poured water over himself - wow!!!! Jackman and Kidman's chemistry worked well in this movie.

I thought it was worth seeing once, but not a movie that I love and will watch multiple times.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

High Noon by Nora Roberts

I really enjoyed this novel and dare I say, I think it was the best Nora Roberts book that I've ever read. I still have a long ways to go though to be the ultimate fan like my friend Jenn who has read every single novel. I am a mere dabbler in Ms. Robert's books by comparison.

Phoebe McNamara is a hostage negotiator that meets Duncan Smith while talking down a suicidal man from a roof. Phoebe is a single mother that lives with her family and finds it hard to trust and love again. But Duncan wears her down and she finds love for the first time in her life. Meanwhile a mysterious man who whistles "high noon" has begun to stalk Phoebe and danger keeps getting closer with each turn of the page. It was a nail-bitter until the end.

This book was an excellent suspense. Nora Roberts had excellent character development and also excellent supporting characters. I wanted to live in Phoebe and Duncan's world .. . minus the pschyopathic stalker. The Savannah setting is also great. I love how Roberts sets her novels in such distinct settings . . . I hope that someday she'll set one in the beauty of Door County Wisconsin, or maybe the upper peninsula of Michigan:-)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Marley & Me

I read the book Marley & Me a couple of years ago and loved it. As the owner of two dogs and two cats, I can relate to the trials and tribulations of being a dog lover and owner.

Marley & Me the book and the movie are both about the naughty yellow lab Marley, and about John and Jenny Grogan, owners of "the world's worst dog." The life of Marley extends over the period of their life when they are first married and having children. Life doesn't always work out as planned, but they learn to be happy with what they have. I thought the movie gave a very realistic portrayel of how tough it is to juggle career, marriage, kids, and pets. They are trials and it is not always easy, but it is life and you are better for it in the end.

Overall I thought it was a cute movie, but not a movie for young children to watch despite the PG rating (implied sexuality and SPOILER ALERT death of Marley at the end). The book is still the best, but Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston were great at John and Jenny Grogan. I also liked how they started off in Kalamazoo, MI (my birth place!). Good movie, highly recommended - especially to those who currently have or have had in the past a much beloved pet.

Monday, April 6, 2009


I watched the Twilight movie last week and loved it. I want to watch it again, but since my movie viewing is limited to about half an hour at night after the kids are asleep and I have two library movies to watch, it may be a couple of weeks!

Although this movie did not live up to the original novel (but could any movie?), it was a good movie in it's own right. It had a killer soundtrack, great teen angst, and good action sequences.

I didn't like how some of the dialogue seemed stilted, some beloved characters and scenes were abbrievated and chopped, and although Robert Pattison is good . . . I don't think anyone could live up to the Edward in the original novel!

For those of you who have been hiding under a rock, Twilight is the story of Bella, a 17-year old girl who has moved from sunny Arizona to a very rainy Forks, Washington to live with her father. Besides the inevitable feeling of not fitting in, Bella meets a mysterious teenage boy named Edward who takes a seemingly instant dislike to her. Bella tries to figure out the mystery of Edward and finds out more than she bargained for. The movie is a tale of teen angst, great love, and adventure.

I highly recommend the novel, and the movie is good too. I can't wait for the movie of New Moon!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

I picked up The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester because Stephenie Meyer recommended it on her blog. And as I have loved all of Ms. Meyer's novels so far, I thought a book recommended by her would probably suit my reading tastes. I was not disappointed. Especially as she described it as a young adult novel of Little House on the Prairie crossed with X-Men.

Piper McCloud lives an idyllic life on the farm of her parents in a rural community where things tend to stay the same and conformity is the key. Piper has a secret though . . . she can fly. Once the town gossip finds out, the entire world finds out and Piper soon finds herself wisked away to a top secret school for the gifted. Things at the school turn out to not be as it at first seems. . . to say more would ruin the plot!

This book reminded me of 1984 and a reverse on the short story "Harrison Bergeron" (Kurt Vonnegut), but for young adults. The last half of the book really made you think about conformity and the lengths society will go to to stamp out people who are "different." It was a good book for teens as well as adults.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

I was long overdue on reading my first graphic novel, so upon the recommendation of a couple of friends who know these things, I finally picked up Watchmen and read it. I found that it was an excellent read and I really liked the graphic novel format. The graphics really add an element to it that words cannot totally express.

Watchmen is the story of superheroes, or really costumed vigilantes, that are investigating the murder of one of their own in an alternate 1985. In this 1985, Richard Nixon is still president and the only thing that keeps the USA from war with the Soviet Union is the existence of Dr. Manhattan, the only true superhero. Each chapter shows how each character was formed. Each hero has a flaw or quirk of their own and they move closer to a resolution of the mystery. I don't want to say more and ruin it for anyone else, but the ending was very cool and thought provoking. I love "who will watch the watchmen?" It was the kind of book that kept me thinking for days afterwards. Who will watch the watchmen indeed.

I also really liked the comic within the story, "The Black Freighter." While I figured out how that would end, it took me awhile to see the parallels between the stories. I highly recommend this to anyone looking to read a graphic novel for the first time, or anyone who is looking for a great read. I am really looking forward to watching the movie when it comes out on DVD.

Now that I have read the Watchmen, does anyone else have other graphic novel suggestions? I heard Outlander and Pride and Prejudice will soon be in graphic novel format. I'll have to check them out!

In the Motherhood

I think I am the target demographic for the new ABC series "In the Motherhood," but I really don't like it. I was looking forward to a hip new show about the trials, tribulations, but ultimately fulfulling role of being a mother. Instead I got a show that was not very funny and seemed to portray a very unrealistic view of motherhood.

The mothers on the show seemed to be rich pampered ladies who's trials include having their "Manny" off for the week. I thought about it for awhile and realized I have never known anyone in my entire life who actually employed a nanny or a manny. Daycare and babysitters are the norm. Maybe I am downtrodden, but I am an engineer and the lady with the manny is an architect. . . I know architects make more money than I do - but not that much more. With the giant houses, manny's, and get-aways to Hawaii - the show seemed not at all like my real life experiences. I watched the first episode and hoped it would get better, but I didn't even make it through the second episode. I love the idea, but the execution of it is terrible.

I would love a show about real life mothers, not rich pampered ladies. In these times, the show seems especially inappropriate.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Chloe by Lyn Cote

I had a trip to make to Milwaukee last weekend for work, so I picked up Chloe, the first of the four part Women of Ivy Manor saga at the library on audiobook. I really enjoyed listening to this book and actually picked up the second in the series today.

I love historical fiction and Chloe was set during a riveting part of our nation's history. Chloe was a pampered girl that grew up in the family's Ivy Manor in Maryland. She meets Theran Black, a young man who has just graduated with a civil engineering degree and has a passion for infrastructure (as a environmental/civil engineer I especially liked this part). They run off to NYC to be married and Black ships off for WWI only two days later. Chloe starts an exciting modeling career in NYC with her friend Minnie. To say more would ruin the plot, but the book ultimately takes us through WWI and it's after effects, the roaring 20's, and the beginnings of the Great Depression. The Great Depression sequences seemed particularly relevant in these times. It was an exciting look at history and I also liked the racial themes.
The only parts I didn't like were Chloe herself had troubles taking action at times, which annoyed me, but were ultimately part of the plot. I also didn't like how some storylines were left hanging - whatever happened to the Black family? Overall though it was a good book and I can't wait to "listen" to the second novel.

Get Smart

Get Smart was one of Ben's favorite televison shows as a youth, but I have never seen the show. It must not have been on reruns on my local stations as a youth and I didn't have cable. My review therefore is on the merits of the movie alone and not how it relates to the original TV series.

Maxwell Smart (Steve Carrell) is an analyst who has finally passed the tests to become a CONTROL agent. He idiolizes the sauve Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) and hopes to become a great agent like him. After an attack on the CONTROL center and subsequent attacks on all CONTROL agents in the database, Smart and Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) head to Russia to take on CHAOS, an enemy organization that has nuclear weapons and plans to use them.

Overall, the movie was cute with funny parts. I thought it was funny, but Ben thought it was laugh out loud funny at parts. I particularly liked the dance scene. It is not sophisticated humor, but is an entertaining movie. I like Carrell and also liked all of the supporting cast.