Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Movie Review: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1988)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: A story that I still absolutely love
Cons: Over acting; poor effects; slow pacing
The Bottom Line:
A Narnia tale
Slow and dated production
Worse than remembered

Slow Paced Journey to a Magical Country

I fell in love with Narnia when I first discovered it in third grade.  I was in junior high when our local PBS station starting airing the BBC production of the novels.  Naturally, they started with the first, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  It was three hours long, and I was enthralled.  I watched it several times twenty plus years ago but hadn’t watched it since until this last weekend.  I’m sorry to find that time has not been kind to it.

As with the book, it is the story of four children – Peter (Richard Dempsey), Susan (Sophie Cook), Edmund (Jonathan R. Scott), and Lucy (Sophie Wilcox).  They are sent out of London during the German bombings at the start of World War II and find themselves in an estate deep in the countryside.  In a spare room, Lucy finds an old wardrobe with the ability to transport you to another world.  At first her siblings don’t believe her, but soon they are all drawn into this world of danger where a White Witch (Barbara Kellerman) has made it always winter but never Christmas.  Are they the key to overthrowing her reign?

Even though I’m sure it’s been twenty years since I watch, I’m surprised at just how quickly parts of this version of the story came back to me.  It was originally shown in three, one hour segments here in the states, and I could tell you where those breaks were as we got closer to them.  I guess they were originally broken into six half hour parts because that’s how we got it on this DVD.

What surprised me was just how slow it felt.  They take plenty of time to show us all the character’s reactions to some things, and there are ridiculous set ups and scenes that don’t really advance anything.  For example, we get a scene of the kids walking to the mansion the first time.  Not a word is spoken, and it really adds nothing to the story at all.

On the other hand, they are very faithful to the book.  Much of the dialogue comes directly from the original novel.  This has always been my favorite in the series, and I got pulled into the story all over again despite the faults of this production of it.  I want to see my favorite scenes unfold again no matter how poorly they turn out here.

Which is a good thing because there are some serious flaws.  The acting is adequate at best.  Most of the kids do okay, although they all could be better.  The White Witch is so over the top, however, that she really detracts from any scene she is in.  Yes, some of her stuff should be over the top, but it is way too much here.

Likewise, the production leaves much to be desired.  The animals are all humans in costume.  It works, and I can’t really fault them for it.  However, they have the wolves (the Witch’s secret police) transform into real wolves for any scene where they are running, a choice that is laughable.  Also laughable are the scenes that include some of the more fanciful creatures, all of whom are animated.  It’s not worked into the rest of the scene very well and looks pretty fake.  The exception to this is Aslan, the lion.  He is a full sized robotic animatronic character, and he is very well done.

And yet, as I said, I couldn’t stop watching.  My love for the story carried me beyond the flaws of the production.  Still, my first choice for this story will always be the far superior recent theatrical version which captures the story perfectly with much better effects and acting.

So if you can find this version cheap (I got a set with all three for $5), it is worth getting this version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe .  However, be prepared for very low budget and dated effects and over the top acting.

This review is part of the 2014 Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge.  (I know, I know.  But I've already reviewed all of the books.  What can I say?)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review: The Sasquatch Mystery by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #25)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Camping with Trixie and her friends
Cons: Uneven plot, Diana not in character
The Bottom Line:
Idaho camp trip
Unexpected visitor
Uneven entry

Meet the Cousins

Even though I grew up on the west coast, I had never heard of a Sasquatch before I read The Sasquatch Mystery, one of the entries in the Trixie Belden mystery series for kids.  Turns out, it is another name for Big Foot.  Now if you think that would make for a great mystery, you’re in for a disappointment.  This book isn’t bad, but it’s not what I had hoped it would be.

This book finds Trixie Belden and her brothers and friends camping in Idaho visiting some Belden cousins.  While we had previous met Hallie, this is our first time meeting her older brothers Knutson “Knut” and Capelton “Cap.”  Talk about some strange names!  The entire gang, although with Miss Trask as the chaperon, are camping deep in the forest.  Frankly, I love to camp, and this is one of only two times the gang comes close to my home state of California, so I wanted to love it just for that.

Anyway, their first night, there is an awful smell and sound, and Trixie’s cousins Knut and Cap are exchanging looks.  Early the next morning, Trixie wakes to find a Sasquatch outside their camp.  Is it really there?  And what about the rest of the strange things happening around camp?

The pace of the book is rather uneven.  The beginning feels a bit slow, then in the second half things pick up and suddenly we are racing toward the climax.  In fact, the second half is much more suspenseful for the series.  Even so, the clues are there, and it is easy to follow how we get to the solution.  One aspect of the wrap up is still very weak, but everything is resolved by the end.

This author does a fairly good job with the characters.  The series regulars could use more personality, but they aren’t the annoying versions that don't seem remotely related to the characters we know that sometimes pop up in the books.  Considering some of the stress they go through late in the book, they actually keep the fighting to a minimum, and I find the few flair ups to be believable and expertly handled.

The exception to this is Diana Lynch, one of Trixie’s friends who is along for the adventure.  She is one the various ghost writers often had a hard time getting right, and she is definitely not right here.  Now, she’s never one of the most adventurous characters in the series, but here she is so afraid of everything that it quickly gets annoying.  She’s got more of a backbone than that, at least when in the hands of a good writer.

So once again, this isn’t the best book for those new to the series to jump in and read.  Instead, I recommend you start at the beginning and work your way up to The Sasquatch Mystery.  By then, you’ll be a full fledged fan and want to read all the books no matter how uneven they are.  It’s sad this is one of the uneven ones.

And if you haven't met Trixie before, be sure to check out the rest of the Trixie Belden Mystery series.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book Review: The 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun story, great characters, fun humor
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Familiar story
But differences from movie
Both worth enjoying

In Search of Puppies

When I first moved to Southern California, I was browsing my local library one day and spotted (pun intended) The 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith.  I knew the Disney movie of the same name came from a book, and I’d always been curious to read it.  Now all these years later, I decided to reread the book, and I enjoyed it just as much as I did before.

It’s a double wedding for Pongo and Missis and their pet Mr. and Mrs. Dearly.  The new couples are settling in to their life in London, and even more exciting, Missis is expecting puppies.

However, the newlyweds are living down the street from Cruella de Vil, an old school mate of Mrs. Dearly.  Cruella loves furs so much she actually married a furrier.  And after seeing Pongo and Missis, she’s decided that a Dalmatian coat would be lovely.  So when the puppies go missing soon after they are born, Pongo suspects he knows who stole them.  But can they find them in time?

Now, if you are familiar with the movie, then you know the broad strokes.  Details are different, and some of the scenes from the book were cut, but the general outline of the story remains the same.  I found it easy to forget the movie and get lost in the fun that is this story.  The biggest change is with Perdita, who plays a very different part in the movie than she does here (a case of combining characters, which also happens to some humans).

And if you haven’t seen the movie, you will still find this book enjoyable.  The plot, while not completely believable, works, and the world that the author has created is so fun you want to believe it could be.  Dogs communicating via barking at certain times?  Charming and fun.  They even work together with cats a couple of times.

Likewise, the characters are charming – both human and animal.  They are infused with so much personality it’s easy to root for the heroes to get their way.  And Cruella?  She’s so over the top she’s so fun to love to hate.   Plus she gets a better comeuppance than she does in the movie.

What surprised me was the comedy.  Yes, the Disney movie is funny, but it is more broad, slapstick comedy.  While the book does have a little of that, overall this is much more subtle, often creating humor from how dogs view the world (we are their pets) or characters names.  We even learn more about the de Vil family, which is quite clever and funny.  I’m honestly not sure how much of this kids will get, but I loved it.

The majority of the book takes place the week before Christmas, and that plays a bit of a part in how the story unfolds.  Yes, the movie mentions this briefly, but the overall effect here is much bigger.

So if you are a fan of the more famous movie, you owe it to yourself to read the book.  And if you are fresh to the concept, dive in here and enjoy.  Either way, you’ll be glad you spent time with The 101 Dalmatians.

This book is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  It was also read as part of the Reading to Know Classics Book Club.

And finally, if you haven't seen the movie, here's my review of Disney animated classic 101 Dalmatians.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

July 26th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Wipeout - Well, we finally got a non-themed episode of the show.  Jill's bits just weren't that funny, but it was still a decent enough episode.  I was rooting for Second Vest, but he lived up to his name, coming in second.

America Ninja Warrior - Kacy is still the only woman to finish the semi-finals.  Still, that was a great run.  I knew the Weatherman would dismount based again from the promos.  Still, it was an impressive moment.  And I was a bit surprised to see some of those who hadn't finished running later in the show.  I thought they ran and showed them in the order they qualified with the weakest at the beginning.

Royal Pains - It's so nice to see Jeremiah is love with someone other than Divya.  So much going on this season, but I am really wondering just where the plot line with the sister is going.  And yes, that last scene with Hank and Evan was so great.  Nice to see them having fun as brothers.

Covert Affairs - Joan and Arthur are going to have a rough patch before the season is over, but just which issue will cause it I can't quite decide yet.  I just hope they resolve things since they have come so far.  Nice to see them getting a good story this season.  Auggie is in trouble with the two women in his life; nobody knows it yet, however.  And Annie?  I hope she is going to step back like Auggie told her she needed to there at the end.

Mystery Girls - I'll admit I have fun with this one.  I guess I'm warming up to the series, although the references to Beverly Hills 90210 were fantastic.  Not to mention the great scene where they caught the bad person.

Suits - There for a few minutes, I thought things were looking up.  Now everyone is hitting rock bottom, and it looks like they'll keep digging next week.  I love this show because you can just never tell how they will resolve things.

Graceland - Speaking of which, I can't see them getting out of the mess here very easily either.  At least they have Paige back, although her scenes were so intense tonight.  I wonder how they will move forward on everything next week.

Girl Meets World - Okay, maybe it was the fact that when I watched it on Saturday morning I was pretty tired, but I had tears in my eyes for much of that episode.  Yes, I laughed at parts of it, but the emotions coming from the actors was so great.  Yes, I knew what Cory was going to do for the Father/Daughter dance (in fact, I saw several of the plot points coming), but it didn't make them any less good.  Seriously, I love this show!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ornament Stand Review: A Year of Disney Magic Stand - Released by Hallmark in 2014

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great looking stand for Disney ornaments
Cons: Wanted just a one ornament stand for the Year of Disney Magic series
The Bottom Line:
Disney magic stand
Great for holding ornaments
Not great for series

The Perfect Stand for Holding Twelve Disney Ornaments

I was not at all surprised when Hallmark announced their plans for a year long series of ornaments with Mickey and friends.  After all, their series with the Peanuts gang was a huge success.  And since that series had a stand, I was expecting Mickey to get a stand of his own.  I was a little surprised at the form the Year Of Disney Magic Stand took.  I love it, but I’m not sure I love it for the series.

What kind of stand do you create for a Disney series?  Mickey ears, of course.  This stand is a big circle with two ovalish circles sticking out on the sides.  The result is a very good Mickey head.  The circle sticks into a stand at the bottom with screws that hold it into place, and the ears are attached to the sides with screws as well.

The stand is big – 17.5 inches tall by 20 inches wide.  And that’s the idea because it is set up to hold 12 ornaments at the same time.  Two ornaments go in each ear and two go in the top row of the main part of the head.  There are two more rows in the head, and they hold three ornaments each.

Now don’t get me wrong, the DisNerd in me loves this stand.  As the box says, you can use it to hold 12 of your favorite Disney ornaments period, and there is a big appeal in that.  The ornaments can’t be too big since, even with the size of the stand, you really only have room for an ornament that is 3 to 3.5 inches tall, maybe 4 inches, depending on where in the stand you put it.  However, there are still plenty of possibilities, and you could even change it out every month if you so desired.  Many of the Disney ornaments aren’t Christmas specific, so you could use this display year round.  All these were reasons why I bought it.

However, the stand was sold as a stand for the Year of Disney Magic series, and that’s where I’m disappointed.  I loved the stand for the Peanuts series, which featured 12 different backgrounds and was obviously designed to display one ornament a month.  That, to me, was part of the fun of the series.  I was hoping for a similar stand for this year’s series, and this just doesn’t quite cut it.  I love it for the reasons I already mentioned, but it’s not what I really wanted.

On the other hand, it looks like the hooks in the stand will hold all the ornaments in the series so they face the room.  Not all the hooks on the Peanuts series worked right with the stand, so that is an improvement over the series from last year.

So am I glad I bought the Year Of Disney Magic Stand?  Yes, and I will have fun putting Disney ornaments in it.  However, I wish they had done something smaller for the year long series so I could just display one a month.  As it is, I will probably display the Disney and the Peanuts series together, but I’m keeping my eyes open for something even better.

Original Price: $49.95 but discounted to $29.95 during Ornament Premier weekend

July 25th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Time again for Book Beginning and Friday 56.  Yep, it's almost the weekend!

Usually, I just go with my current read, but this week, I've finished two books (one humorous mystery and one middle grade book) and am reading a third (another middle grade book).  So I did give it a little thought.  Still, I decided to go with the humorous mystery, The Good, the Bad, and the Emus by Donna Andrews.

This is the latest in the long running Meg Langslow mysteries with feature Meg and her wacky collection of family and friends.  This time, they are going on an emu hunt and learning more about a long lost branch of the family tree.

And it all starts with this:

"Be careful!" I said, looking up from the boxwood hedge I was pruning.  "We don't want another trip to the emergency room.  We've used up our family quota for the week."

Jumping ahead of page 55 (Page 56 only has a couple of lines on it.), we find:

I shut my eyes for a moment.  Apparently, Grandfather was also going to film the emu roundup for another of his popular Animals in Peril documentaries.

Want to learn more?  I finished this one early enough in the week that my review is already posted.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Emus by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #17)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, plenty of fun, final chapter
Cons: The mystery is a little underdone
The Bottom Line:
Emus run amok
With a killer on the loose
Meg must track them both

Hunting Emus…and a Killer

It’s been quite a few books since Meg’s adventures have taken her outside of Caerphilly, the Virginia college town that she and much of her family call home.  That’s changed for The Good, the Bad, and the Emus since we relocate to a town about an hour away for an emu hunt.  Fans will be thrilled even if it isn’t the strongest in the series.

It's been a couple of years now since Meg's long lost Grandfather surprised everyone by finding them and becoming part of the family.  Now, Grandfather, aka Dr. Montgomery Blake, has hired local PI Stanley Denton, to track down his one time love, Cordelia, aka Meg's Grandmother.  However, Stanley finds that Cordelia died six months ago in a town not that far away from Meg's family, and her surviving cousin is a recluse.  This cousin will only share memories of Cordelia if Stanley and Meg can find Cordelia's killer.

Fortunately, Dr. Blake comes up with the perfect cover for the investigation.  The town has a feral emus population thanks to a failed emu farm just outside of town.  With a TV crew and a bunch of volunteers, knows as Blake's Brigade, they hope to track down the emus. Meg and her family join Burke’s Brigade, partially to find the birds and partially to find a killer.  But when a member of the brigade is struck down by poison, is there a new killer in the mix?  What about the murder six months ago?

The books in this series are always a combination of wacky antics from a cast of fun characters and a mystery thrown in.  Sometimes, the mystery takes a back seat to the other goings on, and that was definitely the case here.  Meg never completely forgets about it, but she is often distracted by the emu round up.  There is an exciting climax and a logical resolution, but on the whole the mystery was a tad underdone.

However, we do have the emu round up as a pleasant distraction.  I found a couple of scenes laugh out loud funny, and most of the time it was very amusing.  Between the volunteers and the birds, we have quite a bit of the usual crazy antics that have made this series so popular.

And the cast of characters is strong.  We have a few of the usual characters here, but mostly this book is filled with new comers.   That wasn’t an issue for me since I felt like I knew them all very well by the end and I’m sorry they won’t be back in future books.

Which brings us to the last chapter.  Series fans will absolutely love it.  That’s all I’m going to say, but do know it won’t be as special if you don’t already know the characters.

So if you are a fan, don’t hesitate to pick up The Good, the Bad, and the Emus.  If you are new to Meg, back track and get to know the characters before you tackle this book.  This may be book seventeen, but you’ll be reading it before you know it.

And if you are missing a few of Meg's adventures, here are the Meg Langslow Mysteries in order.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cookie Review: Chips Ahoy! Oreo Creme Filled

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Oreo Crème middle
Cons: Really doesn't work with the rest of the cookie
The Bottom Line:
Sweet center filling
Overwhelms rest of cookie
So better apart

Sweet Flavor, but Doesn’t Really Belong in These Cookies

The cookie aisle is a dangerous place in the grocery store – or at least it is for me.  I was walking down it recently when I spotted Chips Ahoy! had a new flavor out – Oreo Creme Filled.  I was curious, so I had to try it.

These cookies are in the Chewy line of Chips Ahoy! cookies, meaning they are softer cookies.  Since those are the cookies I prefer, that is a point in their favor.

And these cookies are just as you’d picture them.  From the outside, they look like your standard chocolate chip cookie.  However, inside they hide a layer of white cream that is usually at the center of an Oreo cookie.

Now don’t misunderstand what I am about to say.  I love Oreo cookies.  And their creamy middle is wonderful with the chocolate outer cookies.  However, they don’t belong in a chocolate chip cookie.  The Oreo cream overwhelms the rest of the cookie, so it is all you can taste.  The result is just very sweet.  It’s not bad, but it needs more other flavor to balance it out.

This is one combination that shouldn’t have happened.  It’s not bad, but it’s not that great either.  I won’t be tempted to buy Oreo Creme Filled again in the future.  I'll stick with Oreos or regular Chips Ahoy! cookies.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review: My New Friend is So Fun! by Mo Willems

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Laughs and a good message gently taught
Cons: Brian doesn’t look like a bat to me
The Bottom Line:
Playing with new friends
What does that mean for Gerald?
We get laughs and warmth

New Friends – And Old

I have fallen in love with the Elephant and Piggie books.  Whether the books have a lesson to teach or not, they are always just plain fun.  That’s the case once again with My New Friend Is So Fun!

On this particular day, Gerald is talking to Snake.  The two are alone because Piggie, Gerald’s best friend, is spending the day playing with Brian Bat, Snake’s best friend.  At first, both of them think it is nice because their best friends are so much fun.  But then they start to worry.  What if their best friends are having more fun without them?  Will they lose their best friends?

So obviously, this is a book with a lesson in it, and that lesson is just because your best friend is making new friends, it doesn’t mean they like you any less.  And the reason I love this book is because it teaches that lesson with warmth and humor.  In fact, it never once “teaches” us this lesson in words.  The lesson comes solely because of the actions of the characters.

And there’s still plenty of humor.  As Gerald and Snake start to panic about losing their best friends, the reactions get over the top.  Even the climax, while sweet, is also pretty funny.

As usual, the story is told through dialogue and illustration, making it a fast, fun read.  The dialogue is fairly easy to read, making it a good book for beginning readers.  My only complaint in this department is Brian the Bat.  He just doesn’t look like a bat to me at all.  Mo Willem’s illustrations are always stylized, but normally they do look like what they are supposed to look like.  Here, Brian looks more like a Rabbit to me.  But I’m complaining about a very minor thing over all.

Because truly, My New Friend Is So Fun! is so fun.  There’s plenty of humor and a good lesson that will entertain Gerald and Piggie’s many friend, both old and new.

Monday, July 21, 2014

What's on My Nightstand - July 2014

We've hit the fourth Tuesday of the month, which means it is time for What on Your Nightstand.

I can tell you what is coming off my nightstand - The Good, the Bad, and the Emus by Donna Andrews.  As in I just finished it 10 minutes ago.  It's the latest in her Meg Langslow comedic mystery series.  Not the best in the series, but still lots of fun.  My full review will be up later this week once I've had a chance to write it.

Coming up next, I will be reading The 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith.  I'll be reading it for the Classic Book Club hosted by Reading to Know.  I've never been a part of this book club before, but this seemed like a good excuse to reread the book.  I read it close to 20 years ago, so it will be interesting to see what I remember of the book.  I'll be posting that review on Sunday, if all goes according to plan.

After that?  I'll be working away on my goal of eventually reviewing all the books in the Trixie Belden series.  Up next?  #25, The Sasquatch Mystery.  From there it will be a book that a friend from Australia gave me months ago.  I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I haven't read it yet.  Finally, I will be reading the fourth Cheese Shop Mystery by Avery Aames, To Brie or Not to Brie.

That should carry me into August.  From there, I've got some new releases by favorite authors I'll need to get my hands on.  I'm still hoping to get in some Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books.  And I have another couple series I want to reread, not to mention I still have a towering pile of new books screaming my name.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'd better get reading.