Monthly Archives: September 2013

Young Adult Book Thoughts: The Selection, Hereafter

Training for a half-marathon, I find that sometimes it’s nice to take a break from playlists of familiar songs and use the time on long runs to catch up on my reading via audio books.

Sometimes for this task, I pick the audio readings of classic Doctor Who stories.  At others, I choose books that will be entertaining but won’t necessarily require as much attention to detail as others so I can pay attention to other things going on around me.  For example, young adult fiction.  I’ve admitted before that I have a weak spot for angsty teen books and when they’re done right, they can be a not-so-guilty pleasure.

But if you’d been driving by or passed me out on one of my long runs the past couple of weeks, you might have noticed me wincing a lot or rolling my eyes.  And it’s not due to any physical discomfort but instead some discomfort put in place by some of my recent audio book choices.

I recently endured young adult Twilight clone novels that had me wanting to throw my iPod off in disgust not only with them but also myself for being so weak in a)choosing them to begin with and b)not strong enough to walk away and not want to at least know how terrible things could get before the novel reached its final pages (or in this case bytes).

The novel in question were The Selection and Hereafter.

Of the two, The Selection was the novel I enjoyed more, but that’s just because there were moments in the novel I didn’t want to reach and slap every single character in the story.  That’s not the case with Hereafter.

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Movie Reviews: Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2

cloudy-with-a-chance-of-meatballs-2The original Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs was an unexpected pleasure – a bright, quirky animated movie that was a lot of fun and never overstayed its welcome.

The follow-up installment tries to recapture the zany spirit of the original but unfortunately it falls a bit short.

Picking up moments after the original ended, Cloudy 2 finds Flint accepting his dream job from childhood hero, Chester V.  Chester V had his own TV show that inspired the young Flint and now runs the scientific research corporation The Live Corp Company.

Turns out that Chester is less interested in any of Flint’s new ideas and more interested in gaining control of the Flint’s device from the first film, which is malfunctioning on their island home and creating sentient food.  Flint and his gang of friends from the first movie head to the island to try and shut it down.

Filled with lots of puns, Cloudy 2 doesn’t quite have the same spark the original film did.   Part of that stems from the fact that the movie doesn’t hide the fact that Chester V is a bad guy from the first time he appears on screen making it feel like we’re just marking time until Flint puts all the pieces together and quits alienating his friends and family.

As the movie developed, I found myself wishing the film would concentrate more on the rift the developed between Flint and his father, leading to his father taking a group of sentient pickles out fishing. (Turns out they both share a love of sardines).  This storyline leads to some nice moments in the end of the movie, but you may find that you want more from this and less silly puns of the names of food animals.

Large chunks of this film feel more like reheated leftovers than a fully satisfying new meal.

And while young viewers will probably eat the movie up (it’s visually spectacular), older audiences may find themselves checking their watches.

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 isn’t terrible and it was certainly a greater pleasure to watch than last year’s Sony Animation release of Hotel Transylvania.   But it didn’t quite live up to the fun of the original in the series.

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TV Round-Up: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — Pilot

marvels-agents-of-shieldAs the new tv season dawned, there was one show that loomed above all others on my radar — Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

A show set in the Marvel movie universe on our tv screens plus the return of Joss Whedon to television pretty much ensures this getting a season pass on the DVR and the top priority for recording.

But after watching the first episode, I wonder if my expectations were just a bit too high.  Or if maybe the show needed another hour to have a bit of room to breath a bit more.

I’m not necessarily disappointed by the first episode of the series, but it’s not quite the home run I was hoping for.

As I said before, I think it needed a two hour running time (either as a two-hour premiere or a two-part story) to fully establish the characters.  There were parts of the pilot that felt a bit rushed, almost as if Whedon and company were trying to check off a variety of things on a checklist for the series.   Not only do we have to bring back Coulson but we have to introduce his team as well.  Whedon is very good at shows that assemble a team of characters to confront an issue or a problem.   And I’m hopeful as the series progresses we get more than development of all these characters than just the one or two personality traits we saw here.

For example, I wanted to know why Agent May is reluctant to head into the field.  And I wanted to know more about Coulson’s death and the details that are apparently being covered up about it.  I was less curious about why S.H.I.E.L.D. took so long to bring Sky into the fold or try to intimidate her and just what the backstory on Agent Ward is.  But  I’m holding out hope that in the coming weeks, we will get some more clues to allow my interest in them to grow.

Of course, the pilot wasn’t helped in that it has also has to establish the template for the show going forward.   I’m going to assume that a lot of what we will see going forward is S.H.I.E.L.D. pursuing and intercepting various people with powers (better known as the monster of the week story).   This could be interesting or it could be the weakest part of the show.  Again, we’ll have to see just how things develop from here.   I kept hoping that maybe J. August Richard’s character of Mike might be a long-term story or would stick around a bit more, but I am thinking he will be one-off, which is kind of a shame.  Again, it felt like the pilot couldn’t decide where it wanted the focus to be and kept jumping around so much that I never got as invested in any of the characters as much as I would have preferred.

It’s not to say this is a bad pilot and I won’t watch again.   Again, it’s Whedon so I’m pretty much going to give it a much longer leash than I would other show.  But as I keep pondering this one, I find myself thinking it reminds me more of Dollhouse — that show started out with a lot of network oversight and some fairly lackluster first few episodes.  Eventually Fox backed off and let Whedon do what Whedon does and the show improved a great deal.  I wonder if that could or would happen here.  ABC has a lot invested in this show and I can imagine that Whedon will have less of a free reign than he did on Buffy or Angel. 

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TV Round-Up: Sleepy Hollow — Pilot

SLEEPY-HOLLOW-TV-Series-600x425Late in Sleepy Hollow’s pilot episode, Ichabod Crane mentions there are enough mysterious cases to keep he and his newly found partner Abbie Mills busy for the next seven years.

You can’t help but admire the audacity of the production team in making the bold prediction that the series will not only catch on with viewers but that it will have a full life span of seven years.

I don’t know if the show will last seven year – or seven episodes.  All I do know is that, so far, I was extremely entertained by the pilot episode of this new series and am curious enough to stick around an episode or three to see how things unfold.   Certainly the writing staff and producers have put a lot of plates into the air – and it will be interesting to see if and how they can or will keep them all spinning.

It’s interesting that Sleepy Hollow should debut close to twenty years after another little show debuted on FOX.  That one was The X-Files and I can bet a lot of people were asking the same questions of that show that I was asking after viewing Sleepy Hollow.  Namely that while there is a fascinating premise here, how exactly it can or will sustain itself week to week remains to seen.

I’m not as familiar with the original story of the Headless Horseman (well, beyond the Disney cartoon, mind you) so how much or how little of the backstory is true to the Washington Irving original is something I can’t really comment on just yet.*  Back during the days of the Revolutionary War, Crane was tasked by George Washington to take out a certain redcoat with a unique tattoo on his hand.  Crane succeeded but also got himself killed.

*It does, however, make me want to head out to the local library and pick up a copy of the original.

Turns out that the redcoat in question is the headless horseman and because the two died taking each other out, they are now linked.  Fast forward two hundred and twenty five years and Crane is rising from his grave because so is the Headless Horseman.

Turns out said Horseman is one of the four horseman of the apocalypse and there are far more sinister forces at work both then and now.   And Crane’s beloved wife may be part of it was well since she was a part of a group of witches working both then and now.  There are even huge hints dropped that he beloved may still be alive somewhere.

Mills is somehow connected to the supernatural elements unfolding by an incident from her childhood in which she and her sister saw four white trees in the forest.   Mills is ready to take the next step in her career and leave Sleepy Hollow for the FBI, but as you can guess those plans are put on hold by the end of the pilot.

The pilot is so intent on throwing out as much exposition as possible that is barely gives you time to blink.  Crane takes waking up in modern times fairly well and even makes a few cracks about the sheer numbers of Starbucks out there today.    He also makes some comments other less politically correct comments about Abbie, but those seem more as a let’s get this moment out of the way rather than being a source of tension for the duo as the series progresses.

The speed of exposition doesn’t give you much time to let things sink in that much or to ask too many questions.  That includes why Abbie’s captain is willing to let Crane become part of the team investigating these occurrences ** and how easily Abbie gets Crane out of the mental institution to which he’s assigned in the episode.

**We do get hints that he knows more than he’s telling, though.

Of course, when you’ve got to get the image of the Headless Horsemen firing a machine gun, you don’t have time for silly things like logic or full delving into the repercussions of certain actions.

But for all of that, Sleepy Hollow still entertained me and I’m still intrigued enough by the Mulder/Scully vibe of Crane and Abbie and the mysteries surrounding the Horseman to keep tuning into the show for at least a few more episodes.

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Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)

Several times while reading The Cuckoo’s Calling,I kept wondering if and when the novel might have come up on my radar had it not been for the coverage that the Robert Galbraith is a pen name for best-selling author J.K. Rowling.

I probably wouldn’t have sampled it as quickly, but I do think I’d have tried the novel eventually. I also think I would have enjoyed it just as much as I did here. A good mystery is a good mystery, no matter who’s telling the story.

And for my money, The Cuckoo’s Calling is a good mystery.

Down on his luck private investigator Cormoran Strike is having a good run of bad luck. He’s down to a single client, he can’t pay his bills and his girlfriend has kicked him out of their apartment, possibly for good this time. Enter into his life a new temporary secretary in Robyn, who Strike doesn’t have the money to pay, much less the business to justify employing her in a regular position. But Strike’s ship may have come in when the well-to-do client John Bristow enters the office and convinces Strike to take the case of the apparent suicide of his model sister, Lula Landry. Strike is won over by Bristow’s conviction and the sheer amount of money that Bristow can pay to look further into the case.

If you’re a fan of British mysteries like those written by Elizabeth George, you’re probably going to enjoy The Cuckoo’s Calling. The story brings in a variety of suspects, red herrings and interesting investigative avenues before the culprit is finally revealed. In addition, the novel also delves a bit into the characters of Strike and Robyn, who is attracted to the private eye lifestyle that Strike inhabits. The novel is clearly setting these two up as an intriguing team of detectives with Strike as the old-school detective and Robyn’s mastery of all things Google and the ability to put together pieces that Strike has overlooked or heading down avenues that Strike has not thought of yet.

It’s interesting to see Rowling try new things as a writer. This one is clearly not intended for readers who grew up on Harry Potter. And while a series of novels set in this universe probably won’t fly off shelves like the adventures of the boy wizard did, I can’t help but think a few more entries in this series couldn’t or wouldn’t be as satisfying and entertaining to read. I certainly know I’d be interested in reading more of the exploits of Strike and Robyn.

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