The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman Book Review

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Review:

The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman, by Louise Plummer, is one of my favorite YA romance novels. It’s an extremely witty and tongue-in-cheek read, in large part because of the great use of first-person narration. Kate is a very intelligent and charismatic heroine and she narrates as if writing a romance novel based on her own life, complete with frequent consultation of The Romance Writer’s Phrasebook and hilarious commentary on the bodice ripping descriptions she finds there. She is also (speaking as a fellow tall, plain-ish nerd with bad eyes) extremely relatable, so I’m sure there was some wish fulfillment involved in my enjoyment of this book when I first read it as a never-been-kissed teenager. However, I’ve found it equally enjoyable as an adult.

Another thing I liked and found relatable was the portrayal of Kate’s family. As someone who really didn’t have a rebellious teenage phase and whose relationship with my parents ranged from pretty good to great even at the height of my puberty-induced hormonal moodiness, I really enjoyed the depiction of a loving and mutually respectful parent-teen relationship. (There’s also a great depiction of female-female friendship, in keeping with the book’s feminist themes.) The novel is set over Christmas break in Minnesota, and Kate’s (mostly) happy family life and Swedish Christmas traditions add to the cozy, comforting atmosphere, making it an especially good read for the holiday season or the sorts of days when you don’t feel like doing anything but curling up with a blanket, some tea, and a good book.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

3 Idiots Movie Review

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Review:

3 Idiots was recommended to my husband by some Indian and Pakistani coworkers. It was a huge hit in India and is one of the highest grossing Bollywood films ever.

I was a little wary at first because some of the promotional material made it look alarmingly like an Indian Dumb and Dumber, but it’s really not. The story follows two college friends about 10 years after their graduation as they are trying to find a third friend (Ranchoddas Shamaldas Chanchad, aka “Rancho), who has disappeared in the intervening years. The search is interspersed with flashbacks from the exploits of the three friends in engineering school. 3 Idiots is both entertaining story and social commentary about the immense pressure placed on Indian youth by their families and education system, which results in a high rate of suicide. Though Rancho loves engineering passionately, one of his friends really wants to become a wildlife photographer, and the third is under so much pressure from his impoverished family to make something of himself that he nearly flunks out from the stress. The three have an ongoing rivalry with another student who has no talent for engineering but memorizes the textbooks and sucks up to teachers.

3 Idiots is more of a mix of different genres and styles than a typical Hollywood film, which takes a little getting used to. There’s a rather good review on Amazon that covers it better than I could, I think:

Indian film […] is kitchen sink filmmaking, throwing together themes and plots from many diverse genres to create tales of epic scope (this one is nearly three hours long). These sagas whipsaw the viewer back and forth from farcical parody to ghastly tragedy to musical fantasy to weepy melodrama to toilet humor to social protest to romantic comedy. The plots are frequently Byzantine in their complexity and the characters hopelessly unrealistic. As in the Hindu epic Ramayana, they are better thought of as caricatures of love, wisdom, heroism, foolishness, envy, ambition, and other traits.

Though the ride can be dizzying (and the balance between the wacky hijinks of the friends and the serious social commentary embedded in the story results in some nasty cases of mood whiplash at several points), the result is a film that is both funny and moving, and yes, occasionally ridiculous. (The birth scene!!! o_O) The actors seemed like they were having a lot of fun, which always helps with a film like this, and although I was initially kind of side-eyeing the attempt to pass 40-something Aamir Khan (who also starred in my previous foray into Bollywood: Lagaan) off as a college student, I have to admit he’s a really enjoyable actor to watch and he did a great job with the role of Rancho.

Something that struck me watching Khan’s performance was how whole-heartedly he threw himself into the role. It’s possible this is common in Indian film-making (my limited experience with Bollywood films makes it hard to judge) but I have a hard time picturing a Hollywood star of Khan’s caliber allowing himself to appear as ridiculous as Khan does at many points in this film, unless he’s specifically a comedian like Robin Williams or Adam Sandler. Aamir Khan is one of the biggest stars in India, with many “serious” roles under his belt, yet here he is, bugging out his eyes and waggling his tongue like a 4 year old making faces! For example, the supremely silly (and ear-wormy) love song (mild spoilers):

To be honest, I kind of liked it. Some Hollywood stars guard their dignity a little TOO closely and end up just playing the same role over and over because they’re too scared to leave their comfort zone. I prefer a little more versatility.

Based on this film, I’m also guessing that Indian culture doesn’t have nearly as big a taboo against grown men crying as American culture (unfortunately) does – I lost count of how many times Khan and his co-stars teared up with sadness, joy, and everything in between. Again, it was kind of refreshing – men should be able to cry without being branded sissies or wimps.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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Arcadia Review

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Review:

I had a terrible time finding a copy of this play at the library and finally gave in and bought it, a decision I have never regretted. It is one of the funniest and most intelligent plays I have ever read and has now been one of my favorites for many years.

As a non-math person (not completely hopeless, but definitely not gifted either), Arcadia can be a fairly challenging read. Once, I understood it all once, in a flash of blinding light of the sort that probably accompanies religious conversion, but alas, the revelation didn’t choose to stick around. The rest of the time I have to be satisfied with sorta understanding the fractal stuff and being happy that I do get the literary bits.

Along with being intellectually invigorating, the play is also full of wit and heartbreak: it is the play, as one critic wrote, that definitively proved that Stoppard “knows enough about hearts to break them.” My own heart broke several times, especially over Thomasina and Septimus. It’s funny, because their relationship ought to be about as squicky as they come. Not only is she 13 (later almost 17) to his 22 years, he is her tutor, and student/teacher relationships are something I’ve always looked askance at. But somehow in Arcadia, it works, perhaps because of the fundamental innocence and playfulness of their relationship, and it does break your heart to know that it’s ultimately doomed.

I’ve never seen the play on stage (though I’d have given a great deal to see the original London production, with Rufus Sewell in the role of Septimus Hodge) but I hope to some day.

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My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 6 Review

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Review:

In season six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Scoobies struggled with the realities of adulthood and (mostly) failed. After being dragged out of heaven by her unwitting friends, Buffy tried to deaden her feelings by entering into an unhealthy and mutually destructive sexual relationship with Spike. Dawn’s kleptomania got out of hand. Xander freaked out and left Anya at the altar. Willow got addicted to magic, and increasingly used it to arrange not just things but people to her liking. Including Tara. Giles left. Twice.

In short, fun times were had by all (not) and a lot of fans found the unrelenting darkness too depressing. It’s probably the most “love it or hate it” season of Buffy. Personally, I lean more towards love, but some parts were hard to watch.

My favorite episodes include:

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 4 Review

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Review:

In season four, Buffy went to college, and the show floundered a bit trying to regain its footing after the change in setting and the loss of Angel and Cordelia. It is widely considered the weakest season of the show after season one. The pod people, refreshed from their extended vacation in season three, turned up quite a bit. (To be honest, several episodes had such bad reputations that I never even watched them.) Season four was also hurt by a boring Big Bad.

Another reason many people dislike season four is due to Buffy’s relationship with Riley. I actually kind of like Riley myself (possibly I’m biased due to the Iowa connection), but I nevertheless agree with the fandom at large that he’s a distant third on my list of favorite Buffy boyfriends.

Despite its flaws, the fourth season does contain several outstanding episodes. My favorites include:

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The Emperor’s New Groove Movie Review

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Review:

My second favorite of Disney’s (otherwise pretty mediocre) offerings of the early nolls. (Lilo & Stitch is #1.)

Like Lilo & Stitch, The Emperor’s New Groove is not a “typical” Disney film, which I think has led to it being overlooked and underappreciated by many Disney fans, and by Disney itself. There’s no beautiful heroine or charming prince, no significant romance, and no singing. In fact, the titular emperor, Kuzco (voiced by David Spade), who rules over a land that appears loosely based on the Incan empire, is probably Disney’s least likable hero ever. He’s spoiled, selfish, bratty, and vain. He’s so unlikable that it’s hard to care that much about his ultimate redemption, which is probably the biggest flaw of the film.

At least his sharp, sarcastic, and often downright nasty wit is good for plenty of laughs. In fact, the film is probably Disney’s funniest animated feature thanks to its generous blend of witty dialogue, sight gags, and tongue-in-cheek asides (it breaks the fourth wall more than any Disney movie since George of the Jungle.)

It also benefits from a host of great supporting characters, including one of my favorite Disney villains: Kuzco’s advisor Yzma, spectacularly voiced by the late, great Eartha Kitt. Yzma is an even more unpleasant piece of work than her boss, which says a lot, but like Kuzco, she’s also hilarious. Many of her best moments come in interactions with her big, dumb bodyguard/henchman Kronk, the film’s most memorable character thanks to his unexpectedly diverse skillset (he’s a master chef! he speaks squirrel! he studied interpretive dance!) and repeated conversations with the angel and devil that live on his shoulders. I also love the interactions between the kind-hearted peasant, Pacha, and his clever and outspoken wife Chicha – one of Disney’s best married couples.

The plot itself is a somewhat thin and predictable buddy comedy, but the fun characters and mile-a-minute laughs make The Emperor’s New Groove a pretty enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes of your life.

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My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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Maverick Movie Review

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Review:

Based on the popular TV show starring James Garner, the film Maverick stars Mel Gibson as fast-talking gambler Bret Maverick, who’s trying to get together $25,000 to enter a big poker competition, Garner as lawman Zane Cooper (Bret’s dad), and Jodi Foster as fellow gambler and con artist Mrs. Annabelle Bransford. Wacky hijinks and hilarious misadventures ensue.

I don’t think of myself as being a big fan of Westerns in general, but Maverick is one of my all-time favorite films. Funnily enough, another of my all-time favorite films, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, happens to be a Western penned by the same screenwriter, William Goldman. Goldman brings his signature style of witty and memorable dialogue (also on full display in the classic fantasy The Princess Bride) to the Wild West, and the combination is magic.

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The Descent of Woman Book Review

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Review:

I read The Descent of Woman for the first time during my brief but intense trashy novel phase when I was about 13, mainly because it talked so much about sex. 

Needless to say, it’s not a trashy novel, but rather a fascinating study of human evolution. As an adult, I’ve looked more into the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, and from what I’ve found, it seems to be mostly bunk. However, The Descent of Woman is such a well written, entertaining (often laugh-out-loud funny), and thought-provoking book that it’s remained one of my favorites despite its dubious scientific credentials. 

Additionally, I think that even if the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis itself is wrong, there is value in Morgan’s absolute evisceration of the sexism that pervaded popular scientific discussion of human evolution at the time, and which unfortunately still rears its ugly head from time to time today.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

Animals Are Beautiful People Movie Review

Review:

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The original plan was to set my daughter up with a movie and try and get a little work done while she was watching. She loves animals, so we decided to give Animals Are Beautiful People a shot after stumbling across it on Netflix. Well, the original plan didn’t last long. I’d joined her in front of the screen within minutes of starting it.

It turned out to be one of the funniest and most charming documentaries I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t recommend it as a serious documentary about African wildlife, as there is rampant anthropomorphism and several points where the film-makers appear to have set situations up or edited together pieces of unrelated footage to make something appear funnier or more interesting than it was, but as a fun, entertaining, and mostly upbeat snapshot of wilderness life in Southern Africa, it’s a great choice for kids and adults alike. It has a wonderful score as well.

Here’s a favorite clip of a bunch of animals getting totally smashed on overripe Marula fruit:

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 3 Review

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – The Complete Third Season (Slim Set) (DVD)
Actors: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Head, James Marsters
Director: David Greenwalt, David Semel, David Solomon, James A. Contner, Joss Whedon
Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Color, NTSC
Language: English (Dolby Surround)
Subtitles: English
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Running Time: 990 minutes

List Price: $39.98
Price: $39.99
13 offers available from $14.48
4.7 out of 5 stars (686)

Review:

I have a hard time deciding whether season two or season three of Buffy is my favorite. I think I would have to say that I like individual episodes (Innocence, Passion, Becoming 1 and 2, etc.) in season two better than any single episode in season three, but season three was much stronger and more consistent overall. The pod people, for one, seem to have spent the season on vacation, so there are no clunkers on par with “Bad Eggs” or “Go Fish,” thank the muses. The Mayor is also one of my favorite Big Bads.

mayor-become-invincible

Unfortunately, despite the fact that it’s one of my favorite seasons, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen any episodes other than my favorites (Lover’s Walk and Graduation Day 1 & 2), so I’ll have to do a rewatch before doing comments on individual episodes. Oh the pain. 😀

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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