Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Mortal Instruments - City of Bones (the film)

In case you haven't guessed by now, I love paranormal stories and films.  That's my go to entertainment for reading and watching. Oh sure, I read other things and watch many other films, but I've had a lifelong fascination with the paranormal.

Let's put it this way, when other kids my age were watching Disney cartoons, I was watching old black and white Universal Studios horror classics - Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, etc.  I knew who Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff were before I was six.  Of course I didn't know Karloff's real name was William Henry Pratt and he was an English gentleman by birth who loved to garden.

Oh sure, I saw the Disney cartoons, too, but except for Fantasia, they didn't really hold my interest...Remember the Night on Bald Mountain segment in Fantasia?  There's the answer...

As an adult I like to read paranormal stories - I've reviewed several such books on this blog and will be reviewing two more in the near future.  I like paranormal films, too, though I draw the line at gratuitous violence/slasher movies.  Those I skip.  I want more of a story than just "weird kid turns serial killer and slashes a bunch of nubile teenagers."

Anyway, last year, my manicurist Jesse (what a font of info she is!) recommended The Mortal Instrument series by NY Times Bestselling author Cassandra Clare.  I liked the books and anxiously awaited the first film's arrival on cable.  At last it's on the schedule.

The series is the story of the paranormal set in New York City.  A seventeen year old girl, Clary, sees a murder in a club that no one else there appears to see.  The killer makes eye contact with her and she runs.  When she gets home, she finds her mother is gone and their flat is damaged.  Eventually, Jace, the killer she saw, catches up to her.  He tells her he is a shadow hunter and the only reason she can see him is that she was born one as well.  Needless to say, Clary's life will never be the same.

Thus starts an adventure that leads Clary and her human best friend, Simon, into a world that they never suspected was all around them.  They are pulled into an adventure of learning and witnessing miracles on a daily basis.

This is a dark story which although reminiscent of the later Harry Potter films, is grittier, more real.
Clary isn't sure who the villains are for half of the film, though she finds out.  Also, Clary turns out to be very powerful once her abilities are revealed.  She is special to the extent that she amazes the other shadow hunters.  With her lineage, she should be...

A shadow hunter is a being descended from angels and humans.  They guard the mundane population (think muggles) and keep the world safe from dark forces.

The film is atmospheric, shot with a film noir quality, that is refreshing.  The cast is impressive.

Lily Collins plays Clary.  She is a beautiful young woman who will remind you of the young Elizabeth Taylor.  Yes, she is that pretty.

Jamie Campbell Bower plays Jace, the original shadow hunter Clary met.  Theirs is a love relationship with a tragic twist.

Robert Sheehan plays Simon, Clary's best friend who wants to be her lover.  He is the resident nerd of the piece, but doesn't really resemble the typical nerd as portrayed in films and television.

Kevin Zegars plays Alec, another shadow hunter who does not want Clary in their group.

Jemima West plays Isabelle, Alec's sister, who isn't too thrilled with Clary at first, but accepts her in the end.

Lena Headey plays Jocelyn, Clary's mother.  If she looks familiar to you, it's because she plays Cercei Lannister, mother of Joffrey, on Game of Thrones.  Jocelyn is NOTHING like Cercei, except that she is also protective of her child.

Aidan Turner plays Luke, Jocelyn's friend and Clary's father substitute.  Did I mention he's also a werewolf?  That's one of the surprises Clary gets when she sees the world as it truly is.

Godfrey Gao plays Magnus Bane, the most powerful warlock in the story.  The character is difficult to define in the book and also in the movie.  It isn't clear in the beginning where his loyalties lie.

Veteran character actress CCH Pounder plays Madame Dorothea, Jocelyn and Clary's landlady, who is not at all what she seems.

The film is exciting, filled with memorable images of magic and metaphysical mayhem.  For the fans of the books, it is a true rendition of the story.

The Institute where much of the action occurs is like a 1930s monster movie version of Hogwarts, with fewer fun things to see but more danger lurking.

If you're a fan of the paranormal, catch this film on TV or video.  It's highly entertaining.

The second film in the series, The Mortal Instruments - City of Ashes, is currently in production.

I recommend the books as well.  It is an interesting premise with lots of twists and turns.

Until next time, take care.  Enjoy the spring weather (if you have it.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Hunger Games - Books, Movies, The Whole Magilla

Months ago, at the insistence of my manicurist, I downloaded The Hunger Games trilogy from Amazon.  I started reading the first book on my Kindle, but the premise truly bothered me, so I didn't get beyond the first chapter.  I just did not like the idea of children being forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of their voyeuristic countrymen who followed every moment on live television.
It goes against every rebellious bone in my body...Almost ALL of my bones are rebellious, well except for my right pinkie, but that's another story.

So I forgot about the books and went on reading other things and writing.  But at my last nail appointment, I rhapsodized (yep, it's really a word) to my manicurist about the Divergent Trilogy.  After I finished gushing and she promised to read it, she asked me if I had read the Hunger Games.  So I told her I tried, but couldn't get into it.  She told me she thought I would really like the story once I got into it. While I stared thoughtfully at my dark blue fingernails, I promised her I would read the Hunger Games.

She was right.  Once I got into the story, it grabbed my attention.  I read it nightly, finishing The Hunger Games, and going right into Catching Fire, and then into Mockingjay.

After I finished the first book, I watched The Hunger Games movie.  Then when I finished Catching Fire, I watched that movie.  If the Mockingjay movie was out, I'd watch that, too.

I finished Mockingjay last night.  The trilogy is an incredible adventure.  Like the Divergent Trilogy, it is a realistic story at its base with logical outcomes to the events.  Oh sure, the world in which they live is only somewhat familiar to us in its appearance and the outer trappings of its society.  But at the core of the story, those people are clearly recognizable.  In other words, we can relate to them.  We understand their feelings.

Like Divergent, this one has relevance for our world, our time, our place.  You only have to watch or read to find it.  The message is clear.

Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games Trilogy, has done a masterful job showing us vivid characters reacting in a world gone mad, whirling them away from all that is familiar, into nightmare scenarios.

Not all of the characters make it through all three books, some die unexpectedly, others fade away to lesser status.  But the characters are memorable, providing vivid looks into the eerie world in which they live.

As to the movies, Hollywood has done justice to the colorful story with a perfect cast and settings.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman played an important role in Catching Fire.  The character continues in Mockingjay.  I don't know if the film has already been shot or not.  If they have to recast it will be difficult to find someone to take over the role of Plutarch.

Jennifer Lawrence shines as Katniss Everdeen, the star of the story.  The rest of the cast is excellent, in both films.  Woody Harrelson is particularly good in the role of Haymitch the mentor for Katniss and Peeta, her partner from District 12.  Harrelson's Haymitch is not too likeable, but then he shouldn't be.  Josh Hutcherson plays Peeta.  There are real sparks between Peeta and Katniss.  Also notable in the fine cast is Amandla Stenberg, a beautiful young actress who plays the pivotal character of Rue.  She previously played the young Cataleya in the film Columbiana. And in the role of Gale, Katniss' childhood friend/love interest (sorta) is Ian Hemsworth, younger brother of Chris (aka Thor.)  That's a handsome family...

For the characters in The Capitol, Donald Sutherland plays President Snow, a seemingly benign true monster, who shows his true self to anyone who crosses him - like Katniss.  Elizabeth Banks plays Effie, the District 12 chaperon for the tributes.  Ms. Banks plays a woman typical of the Capitol, painted like an eighteenth century lady of the French court, filled with banal chatter, and true confusion that the tributes don't see the honor of fighting to the death.  "Let them eat cake..."

Lenny Kravitz does a wonderful job as Cinne, Katniss' stylist, perhaps the most "real" character of all the people we meet in The Capitol. Oh, interesting bit of trivia - his daughter plays Christina, Tris' friend in the movie version of Divergent.  (I didn't know he had a grown daughter! Time does get away from us...)

Whether you read the book(s) or just see the film(s), the Hunger Games is truly entertainment with a message.

In a recent review I read of the film Divergent, the reviewer (a man) said he liked Divergent much more than the Hunger Games because Shailene Woodley is so much more attractive than Jennifer Lawrence who is "tall" and "rangy."  (What does that latter word even mean?)  He also went on to decry the fact that so many of the popular films today are geared toward teens and young adults with fantasy worlds and stories that are not real. He said they aren't making these films for adults.

My words to him are as follows:  Listen, Bubba, I'm a senior citizen, not a teen-ager.  I like the Hunger Games and Divergent because I am not so set in my ways that I cannot remember the passions of youth.  Some of which I never lost.  You show me a book or movie in which people fight for their freedom, the betterment of their fellow men, and/or against injustice - you will always get my vote.

The Hunger Games Trilogy made me weep in places, both the books and the movies. It is a fine, colorful saga that tells of the ultimate inhumanity as well as the ultimate inequality.  Unfortunately, both of those sins are perpetrated in our world on a daily basis. 

If you, like the film critic I mentioned, only look on the surface of this great story, you won't get it.  If you look deeper and see the parallels of both historic worlds and our current one, you'll like it.

Far from being an epic of self-centered teen-age angst like some popular series, this one, like Divergent, is thought-provoking allegory.

If that interests you, check it out.  You won't be disappointed...Now just the thought of the Mockingjay makes me reach for a tissue...

Until next time, take care.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been mesmerized by the Divergent trilogy, reading all three of the books in order - finishing one and going right to the next one.

I finished Allegiant last night.  The book has a surprise ending, which shocked and somewhat enraged me at first.  (I was sitting in bed, screaming NOOOOOOOO!!!) But even though I hated to have the incident happen, I understood it.  To me, it was completely in character for the person to behave in that manner.

I read an online review of Allegiant this afternoon by a well-known blogger.  The woman referred to the end as "clunky" and something that had Ms. Roth not been "so pressed by her publisher to finish the book, she may well have reconsidered."

Ahem.  That enraged me more than the ending of the book.  Ms. Roth continued on past the incident in question for a few more chapters, showing the outcome of the action.  Moreover, she had an epilogue that took place two years later.  It showed people still dealing with what happened and coming to terms with it.  They were all changed by it.  Ms. Roth skillfully wrote the characters in a realistic way. In my opinion, it was an excellent way to end the trilogy, especially for young adult readers.

There is a potent message at the end of Allegiant, one which many young adult readers have not yet learned from life.  Things happen over which we have no control. We have to deal with shock, disappointment, grief, and loss.  It's very much a part of life, and it comes to each of us in time. We either learn to deal with it and go on, or fall by the wayside.

I admire the adept way Ms. Roth showed the aftermath of the story's climax.  We all have our coping mechanisms, as illustrated in the epilogue of Allegiant. Also, I like her writing style. Like I said, it's real.

This is an excellent series of books.  I strongly recommend them for fans of futuristic sci-fi.  I also recommend them to anyone who likes human drama and action.

Check out this wonderful trilogy.  It has relevance to many things in our contemporary world.

Remember, the movie, Divergent, based on the first book, opens March 21st, with an impressive cast.

Take care and enjoy our pop culture.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Thor - The Dark World

You know, I do enjoy the draaaaahhhhmaaa (that's drama pronounced as a Brit would) of the prestigious films nominated during Award season - but truly when I'm looking for entertainment, I like big budget sci-fi/adventure/comic book heroes.  Though purely fluff on the dramatic scale, as escapist fun, these movies RULE!!! 

I don't know about you, but in my life, these days especially, I need a good escape from reality now and then for my own sanity (or lack thereof).

So I have been indulging in a 72 hour ppv rental of Thor - The Dark World.  I've watched it daily since Friday and enjoyed every minute of it!

Comcast generously has 48 - 72 hour rentals on ppv films.  That's a good thing they do.  The thing they don't do so well is spring forward for daylight savings time.  I doubted my own sanity this morning when I woke to find the cable box time on Eastern Standard Time.  You don't want to know what it's like to try to explain the problem to a somewhat confused elderly person who relies on his cable boxes to know the right time.  But that's another story...

Thor - The Dark World is a rip-snorter of an adventure - fast paced and colorful.  The talented cast brings it to vivid life - the special effects are great.

The cast includes all the originals from the franchise.

Chris Hemsworth makes a gorgeous, hunky Thor with his trademark silver hammer.  Wait, I thought that was Maxwell's Silver Hammer--like the Beatles' song?  You want me to sing it for you? No? Sheesh everybody's a critic!  Anyway, Hemsworth is every maiden's dream of a big strong hero, in spite of the fact that he's wearing more mascara than I do.  He's gorgeous even without the eye make-up.

Natalie Portman returns as Dr. Jane Foster - She's beautiful, intelligent, and spunky - quite a combination and the typical comic book action heroine.  She and Hemsworth portray some fireworks together on screen, although I was shocked to learn that the final kiss the characters share was done by Hemsworth's wife, as Ms. Portman had scheduling conflicts.

Kat Dennings returns as Jane's intern.  She brings comedy to the film with expletive laced commentary and a tendency to butt in at inopportune moments.

Anthony Hopkins once again portrays Odin, Thor's father.  He brings his considerable talents to the role of the King of Asgard.

Rene Russo returns as Frigga, his queen and Thor's mother.  I'm partial to her, always have been.  She reminds me of a good friend of mine in Austin.

Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki - Thor's adopted brother and tormentor.  Loki looks like he's reformed in this one, but he's got something up his sleeve besides his arm...don't trust him...

Idris Elba (sigh) returns as Heimdall, the guardian of Asgard - He is one of my favorite actors in recent memory.  A versatile actor,  he is also known for playing the late Nelson Mandela in a film from 2013, (for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar) as well as the damaged detective, Luther, on the BBC series of the same name to name only a couple of his notable roles.

Christopher Eccleston is unrecognizable as Malekith - the villain of the film.  A good villain who chews the scenery with the best of them (that's theater parlance for REALLY emotes), he is scary and single-minded.  Brrrrrrrrr!

Stellan Skarsgard returns as Dr. Erik Selvig - the astrophysicist from the previous films (the first Thor film and The Avengers.)  In this one he is truly whacko, but there's a reason for his madness.  I've been wondering about something with him for a long time so I looked him up on Wikipedia.  Yep, his eldest son is Alexander Skarsgard - Eric, the viking vampire on True Blood.  Nice looking family!

This film is mind candy on jet skis.  It moves along with a fast pace creating waves of excitement.

Please stay through the credits or fast-forward them.  There are two key scenes, one embedded in the middle of the credits and one at the end.  These foreshadow the next film.  One of them is a hoot.  I laughed like an idiot the first time I saw it.  Come to think of it, I frequently laugh like an idiot.

If you like mind candy, beautiful guys and/or girls, adventure on a grand scale, and mythological heroes, this one's for you. Escape to their world!

It's great fun!

Now for something completely different ... I've been seeing the commercials on TV for the upcoming release of the film Divergent, based on a young adult novel by Veronica Roth.  So, last week I was browsing through Amazon's suggestions for me and saw the book.  I bought it, downloaded it to my Kindle and absolutely devoured it.  The book and concept are fascinating.  It is a sci-fi based in a dystopian society.  It takes place in a future Chicago.  Lake Michigan is nothing but a marsh and the city is walled off from the outside world by a fence that is perpetually guarded.  Since my parents spent the last fifteen years of my dad's working life in Chicago, I know the area.  That may play into my fascination with the book, but I don't think so.

I am now reading Insurgent, the second in the series, devouring it like I did the first one.  Yesterday I downloaded Allegiant, the third in the series.  I highly recommend these books.  Naturally, I can't recommend the movie because I don't know how they've brought the book to the screen.  But I'll be anxious to see it sometime.

Okay - that's it.

My last question for you is "does anybody really know what time it is?"

Take care until next time.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


First, I have to say I'm very glad I didn't watch this one in a big theater in 3-D.  It was scary enough on my flat screen HD.

Gravity, for those of you who don't know, is the story of astronauts marooned in space after a bad accident.  It's also the story of a courageous man and an insecure woman who finds her inner warrior in the face of devastating adversity.

George Clooney plays the mission commander/pilot.  Sandra Bullock plays the science officer - with little training on how to fly.  She mentions a couple of times that when she had to be in the simulator at NASA, she invariably crashed in the simulation.  Uh oh...Right?

Though there is another actor in one scene, the rest of the characters we see are already dead, some spectacularly so.

Ed Harris is a voice-only actor in this one as the voice of NASA Mission Control.  Otherwise, it's just Clooney and Bullock...well, later on it's all Bullock, alone with the radio.

You see, the Chinese have apparently blown up one of their own satellites without warning for reasons known only to them.  The imprudent action creates a "cloud" of space debris that grows as it hurtles through space, crashing into other nations' satellites and vessels.

Though warned to scrub their space walk to repair a problem, Bullock, Clooney, and crew are caught outside when the debris field comes their way. It destroys their shuttle and kills one of the crew.  Bullock and Clooney are ultimately left tethered together and floating aimlessly in space.

The debris field is an equal opportunity destroyer, taking out communication satellites as well as all others in its path.  Mission Control warns Bullock and Clooney that their communication might stop at any time.  And they are correct.  So that leaves Bullock and Clooney tethered together and floating in space with only each other for company.

I don't know if any of you remember the old space film "Marooned", but this film has it beat.  I mean these folks are truly alone in space for a while.

Clooney's character, after learning the lack of training that his compatriot has, gives her a lecture on what she should do.  They're running out of oxygen.  So after he makes certain that Ryan (Bullock's character) has a "crash course" (sorry about the pun, I couldn't help it!) in survival 101, he heroically unhooks the tether and floats away.

Ryan panics big time at that point, but her survival instinct does kick into gear.  She maneuvers to a Russian ship and manages to get inside the capsule.  The atmosphere is compromised and the oxygen appears to be leaching out.  It is terribly cold inside the damaged capsule.

Fortunately, the radio works, but the only person who responds to her is a Japanese man about to put his child to bed.  (reality check - why's he on the radio?) As he sings a lullaby to his little one, Ryan reclines in the seat, takes off her helmet and prepares to "go to sleep" - basically give up and die.  Ryan says there's no one to mourn her, no one to say a prayer over her.

But, at the last minute, she is saved in a most unorthodox way.  No, I won't spoil the story for you.

Anyhow, she gets the Russian capsule moving and travels the 100 miles or so to the abandoned Chinese space station.  Dodging the flying debris yet again, she manages to make her way to the capsule for a trip back to Earth.

Of course when she gets in there, all of the controls are labelled in Chinese...Imagine that?!  But she figures them out with illustrations from their technical manuals and after several attempts.  Ryan gets underway and is headed for Earth.

She keeps trying the radio and finally hears the voice of NASA Mission Control.  They are trying to plot her location to pick her up after splash down. (aka landing)

Ryan has a harrowing re-entry and splash down (get real, the whole movie is harrowing.)  That sequence alone makes me know I was not meant for the current mode of space travel.  I've been known to have unfortunate gastric results from a bumpy plane flight.  Now if they had a transporter and could just beam me where I need to be, that would be different.  There's not enough Dramamine in the world for me to do it otherwise.

This film mostly belongs to Sandra Bullock.  It was shot in zero G (simulated, I think, but who knows?)  Ms. Bullock does an excellent job in the role.  Her character grows from an insecure scientist (think geek) to a formidable survivor.  The part calls for a full range of emotions which Ms. Bullock amply supplies.

Plus, she deserves huge kudos for performing while free floating in space, in the capsule, in the space station, etc.

Although bits of the story push the outer envelope of believability, Ms. Bullock's performance does not. Though I have not seen the other nominees for Best Actress in their films, I can safely say Ms. Bullock's performance is the most commanding of them all.  It is her movie and it rides almost solely on her performance.

Brava Ms. Bullock for an excellent and heart-felt performance.

And bravo to talented director Alfonso Cuaron for the motion picture.

Check out this great film.  But if you have a big screen TV, have plenty of ginger ale and saltines on hand.

Take care and keep warm and safe if you're in the 2/3 of our country still suffering from winter.

Dallas Buyer's Club

Okay, here goes my annual pre and post Oscar blitz.  Last night I watched two of the nominated films, back to back.  The first one was Dallas Buyer's Club.  Knowing a bit about the story, I approached it with some trepidation.

I was working and living in Dallas during the time portrayed in the film.  My work included meeting and helping some people with AIDS.  On the personal side, I lost three friends to that disease during the time portrayed in the film.  One of them, a friend with whom I worked and laughed in the theater, was close. 

In those days, AIDS was truly a death sentence.  Patients were often treated coldly even by hospital staff who were supposed to take care of them.  I remember being at a symposium during that time at one of the major hospitals in the Dallas area.  A man on the panel was a victim of AIDS.  He spoke of the treatment he received in that very hospital - the dietician left his food trays outside his door for him to get out of bed and retrieve when he was too weak to walk - the nurses frequently wouldn't answer his calls - nobody wanted to touch him.  I am proud to say, although some people avoided him after the panel discussion, several there went up and hugged him for his courage.

I knew what I should see in Dallas Buyer's Club and I was right.  It was all there in the film, the truth of the era and the anathema a diagnosis of AIDS made many people.  Although I had read rave reviews of Matthew McConaughey's performance, I was unprepared for his brilliance in the role.

Yep, I'm a believer.  This is by far his best creation in a series of good ones.  I don't know how much weight he lost in preparation for the role, but he appears skeletal in the film.  That's not done by CGI, either.  His character is an aging bull rider and electrician who is adamantly into women and viciously opposed to homosexuals.  The diagnosis, therefore, stuns him and throws him into a world both unfamiliar and frightening.  He is given a prognosis of thirty days in the beginning.

The film is the story of the journey of the man on whom the story is based.  It is a story of growth and change by someone who will NOT go quietly into that good night.  He studies all available info, learns AZT, the drug then being tested for FDA approval, could be toxic in the doses given.  He seeks out alternatives and finds them, adding years to his life.

He comes up with an idea of providing the natural supplements and herbs in a buyer's club concept, in which the people pay a set fee and get all they need.  It isn't cheap, but it's much better than the cost of AZT.  Most of the people involved could not be insured in those days.  Either their coverage was dropped with the onset of the diagnosis or they could not get coverage for that pre-existing condition.

He became wealthy on the proceeds in the beginning, but toward the end, he began giving people the supplements if they couldn't pay.

Some of the film is visually wrenching and ugly.  There are a couple of scenes that are beautiful.  My favorite was when McConaughey's character returns to the clinic in Mexico where he gets his supplements.  They tell him they are experimenting with a new extract taken from a certain caterpillar that boosts the immune system in humans.  While there, he stumbles into a hatchery where the caterpillars are kept until their metamorphosis is completed.  In the small chamber, he is surrounded by hundreds of beautiful butterflies.  He stares in wonder as they light on him, touching him as few humans would.  It is a poetic scene as he realizes he has changed like the caterpillars.

Besides McConaughey's stunning performance, Jared Leto portrays Rayon, a transgender fellow sufferer of AIDS.  Leto is also nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  Rayon is a fictional character in the otherwise true story.  Leto gives a mesmerizing performance as the self-destructive Rayon.

Jennifer Garner, aka Mrs. Ben Affleck, gives a deeply felt performance as a doctor treating people with AIDS. 

One of my favorite character actors, Denis O'Hare (of True Blood and several memorable episodes of Law & Order to name a few of his credits), plays Garner's superior, who is against the work McConaughey's character does.  The doctor is in league with the FDA in stopping the use of the supplements and herbal remedies.

My only objection to the film comes from being a longtime Dallas area resident.  I knew from the beginning that it was not shot in Dallas.  It turned out to be shot in New Orleans.  They did have a couple of contemporary shots of the Dallas skyline, which is considerably different from the skyline in the 1980s.  Oh well, nobody else would notice that, I guess.  It's just that it reminded me of the original series Dallas when they had longshots with mountains in the background and also had an episode when a hurricane hit the city.  Yeah, right...

This film is not light, frothy entertainment. It is gritty and as stated, ugly in places, both visually and emotionally.  But it is a memorable story of one man's fight to extend his life and those of others.  He was a man of courage who changed remarkably and achieved his goals.

I always liked Matthew McConaughey anyway.  After all, he is a Longhorn from UT.  He's always been a good actor.  With this performance, he is a great one.

Check it out.

I will be posting my review of Gravity later on today.

Take care.