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Showing posts from 2007

Movie List: My Must See Holiday Movies

Here they are folks, the movies I must see each and every Christmas season. This is as necessary as breathing air to me. Some of the movies are just plain entertaining. Some of them are family favorites and remind of my younger childhood days when Christmas was truly magical. And some of them just make me laugh. Here's the list, in no particular order.

Library Program: Make Gocks!

Many teen librarians are hosting library programs for making gocks (aka gothic sock puppets).Well, let me tell you, this program is hot! I even had a walk-in older male teen enter the programming room when he heard the announcement, a risky move in a roomful of teenage girls.



The program originally ran in VOYA magazine. You take ordinary socks, any pattern, although plain black or funky patterns work the best. Then, use hot glue to apply hair, googly eyes, facial features, and you have a gock. The gothic part comes in with how you decorate. Some teens made clothes for their gocks. Others applied liberal safety pins to represent piercings or body art.



Other teens were more creative. I don't have a picture of this, but one of my teens made what she termed an "emock" (emogock). She was very proud of his "emo tear" in one eye. I found the teens responded very enthusiastically to this. The ones that were in our Mock Printz book club brought their gocks to t…

Movie Review: Sean Penn's Into the Wild (2007)

When Christopher McCandless graduates from Emory University, his parents are sure he will follow the path they have set for him and become a lawyer. McCandless wants nothing to do with that. He has grown up watching his parents choke on the American dream. They seem terribly unhappy.

Instead, he wants to break out of the trap, give away all of his money, take only the most essential possessions on his back, and work his way up to his ultimate adventure: surviving alone in Alaska. He left home in summer of 2000. By April of 2002, he was ready to walk into the wilds of Alaska.

On September 6, 2002, McCandless's malnourished body was found dead in a bus he had survived in for the past several months. What lead him to this fate? Dying alone is no man's dream. Primary source material for this movie and the book it was based on are the journals McCandless filled while he was on the road.

We see his trek across the country. The people he met and befriended. Everyone seemed to like him. …

Six Ways to Get Over Being Sick Quick

No one enjoys being sick, but once you get sick, what should you do to make it end as quickly as possible? I don't get sick very often, but it does happen on occasion. Usually, when I get sick, I get a cold, including a sore throat with chills and sometimes a stuffy nose. I don't usually get a fever or temperature, so keep that in mind when reading this article. Hopefully, by following these six steps, you will get over being sick quick.

1. Don't go outside for any reason

Stay in. It's okay. Eat the food in the cupboard. Call a friend to bring you something but don't go out all day. This will keep you from getting exposed to any germs as well as protect you from uncomfortable external temperatures. Just don't go outside.

2. Sleep a lot, especially at the beginning of the day

This step is one of the most difficult to follow for me. But whatever responsibilities you have can wait. If you don't rest now, you might be out for several days, and everything will …

Movie Review: Craig Gillespie's Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

If anyone had told me I would one day be crying during a movie about a man and his blow-up doll, I would have called them a liar. But, here I am, going through at least 3 Kleenex even after the movie is over. Lars and the Real Girl is a touching, quirky film that is a lesson in why people do the things they do. Anyone that is interested in social work, counseling, psychology, or ministry should watch this movie.

Lars is a quiet young man (probably 30s) who does not like to be touched. He works in a cubicle in some random office. Currently, he lives in the garage of his childhood home. His brother, Gus, and new wife, Karin, live in the connected house and are expecting a child soon. Karin puts a great deal of effort into trying to pull Lars out of his shell. Gus, on the other hand, thinks Lars is happy how he is. It's his choice to spend time alone, isn't it?

The status quo is shaken up, however, when Lars brings home a new girlfriend. Her name is Bianca, and she is a blow-up do…

Movie Review: Danny Boyle's Millions (2004)

Damian is a very imaginative 7-year old who has just moved into a new house with his older brother and widower father. Damian is one of those rare imaginative little boys who would rather read than play sports. His main interest is the Saints, as he believes his mum is now a saint in heaven. He hopes that by learning about the Saints and being like them, he might one day see his mum again.

One day, he drags all of the discarded moving boxes behind his house by the railroad track to make himself a fort. As the train passes by, a bag full of pounds falls off. To Damian, it seems like the package dropped from the sky, possibly from his mum. At first, Damian only tells his brother Anthony what has happened.

This quickly becomes their dirty secret, and each boy sets out to use the money in opposite ways. Anthony wants to live the grand life, investing in real estate and using his money as bait for friends in his new school. Anthony quickly forms a posse, who do everything for him from cyc…

Movie Reviews: James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma (2007)

This was a Western well worth watching. The genre is not dead after all. The film is full of star power but still gritty enough to be appreciated by the arthouse crowd. Christian Bale is Dan Evans, a husband, father, and ex-war veteran with a gimpy leg. Russell Crowe is Ben, the villain, an intelligent crook who commits crimes purely to make money he didn't earn. He's not a bad guy. Ben doesn't kill out of spite.

In a purely dumb luck encounter, Dan ends up helping to capture Ben. The sheriff is going to play completely by the book. Ben won't be hung. He will given a fair trial in Yuma. But Ben's gang is sure to try and stop them. The local sheriff decides to hire four men to get Ben to the train on time, Dan being one of them.

Dan's oldest son, William, is so enamored with Ben he can't see straight. On the side, he reads dime store novels about Ben's adventures. He is ashamed of his father and his supposed weakness. After all, his dad hasn't been ab…

Book Review: Leonardo's Shadow by Christopher Grey

Giacomo is the servant of the great Leonardo Da Vinci. Several years ago, a mob was chasing him through the streets, convinced he had stolen someone else's possessions. That night, Da Vinci saved Giacomo's life. Ever since then, Giacomo has served Da Vinci faithfully. Whenever anyone even hints that they are insulting his master, Giacomo is right there defending his honor, although it is most unsuitable for him to speak to his superiors.

His greatest ambition is to paint and learn from his master. But Da Vinci seems reluctant to teach him. Giacomo spends his days waiting on Da Vinci, hanging out with his small circle of apprentice friends, and bugging his master to finish the painting The Last Supper. Why won't Da Vinci finish the painting? The Da Vinci household has been buying food, clothing, and art supplies on a credit basis only, but the business owners are beginning to be impatient for actual money. More importantly, the Duke of Milan is most impatient for him to fi…

Book Review: Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge . . .

Nineteen Minutes deals with a town, a school shooting, and a boy named Peter Houghton, bullied since the day he started Kindergarten. In Picoult's signature style, we hear the thoughts of multiple characters throughout the story.

The introductory chapters are some of the most suspenseful writing you will ever read. We meet Josie, a girl who looks perfect on the outside but is drowning on the inside. She's getting ready for school at Sterling High. She's dating Matt Royston, one of the most popular boys in school, but plans how she will commit suicide when she is discovered to be the fake she knows she is.

We meet Alex Cormier, her mother, a Supreme Court judge who is more comfortable on the bench than in the mother role.

We meet Lacey Houghton, a midwife. She treasure her comfortable home and role as a wife and mother.

And we meet Peter. When we first meet him, he wakes up and goes to his computer to read email messages, only …

Movie Review: Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie (2001)

I watched Amelie over the course of 4 days. It's pretty pathetic when your life is so busy that it takes you 4 days to watch a movie, but I think Amelie might need extended viewing. The material is so rich that it takes awhile to process. Plus, the narrator names off facts as quick as bullets. I had to play several scenes over again to see how all the people tied together.

Amelie is a porcelain doll of a young woman. She was how I imagined Snow White would look minus the rosy cheeks: dark brown hair, gooey chocolate-colored eyes, perfect skin, and red lips. Amelie is painfully shy. She struggles with revealing her deepest needs. She longs to be close to someone and have a friend to talk to, but instead she watches from her window with binoculars. She observes those around her and thinks she might know what might make them happy. She studies them, takes notes, and executes a plan. If special ops needed a happiness agent, Amelie would be their woman.

When she was a girl, she had tw…

Book Review: The Camel Rider by Prue Mason

The timing is right for books like The Camel Rider to appear for children. With the hot success of books such as the Kite Runner, there is increased interest in Muslim culture and characters. This middle grade adventure story fits the bill. Aussie Adam lives with his family in the Middle East on a compound in the fictional city of Abudai. Adam is bored of his life and longs to get away from the thumb of his overprotective parents. His only joys are his beloved dog, Tara, and the hours he gets to surf with his buddies. Walid is a young boy from the Middle East who is a camel rider, a small child trained to ride camels in races that men gamble on. His mother felt pressured to give him up so he could have a better life and a possible education, but he spends his days abused and beaten by his guardians.

The lives of these two boys intersect when bombs are dropped near the compound.

Adam's parents are both away and so a family friend grabs him for an evacuation and chooses to leave th…

Library Program: Nifty 50s Mystery Party

This past Friday, July 27th, teens gathered at my library to solve a mystery set in a 50s diner. This was the first time I had bought a mystery party kit online from host-party.com. I would highly recommend using their pre-made mystery games. The price is good (only $30 in most cases), they have lots of choices (all settings and for all age groups), and you get everything online. This means you can print your kit immediately, email invitations out to everyone, and post pictures before and after the party.

The Nifty 50s was a scripted play. I had teen actors I found from both my TAB and a comedy improv workshop I held back in the spring. The mystery was so cute. John E. "The B" Good is going steady with Peggy Sue, who is having a birthday today. But John seems like he is more interested in the car he is driving, a 1957 Shavy El Domino. When the car ends up missing, John interrogates everyone in the diner, including Maybelle Lean, the waitress, Miss Molly, the high school etiq…

Movie Review: Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan (2006)

Black Snake Moan is a redemption story cleverly set in the hillbilly South. The acting is superb, including an excellent performance by pretty boy Justin Timberlake. Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) and Rae (Christian Ricci ) are two lost souls, seemingly acting off impulses neither one can control. Lazarus, an elderly blues guitarist, is torn up that his wife left him for his younger brother. He turns to booze and music for comfort. Rae, young, white, and the town slut is addicted to sex and can barely wait an hour after her military boyfriend (Timberlake) leaves for his enlistment before her next dip.

Their lives intertwine one night, when Rae, high from a party, is raped and beaten and left in Lazarus's driveway. I know this sounds brutal, but this is not done in a heavy, depressing manner. On the contrary, this story has a whimsical tone peppered with lots of deep fried Southern flavor. Yes, Rae is attacked, but she doesn't seem to mind. She knows it's a natural outcome of …

Movie Review: Sarah Polley's Away From Her (2006)

Away From Her had a sense of realism for which I was unprepared. The characters could be your parents, grandparents, or aunts and uncles. This could be your life. The suspended belief is removed leaving only a raw, uncomfortable feeling.

Away from her is a phrase the main character uses when he is telling people how he and his wife got engaged. "I never wanted to be away from her." But that is exactly what is going to happen, for Fiona is showing the signs of forgetfulness and fading common in a person with Alzheimer's Disease. Fiona wants to be checked into a nursing home. Grant, her husband, is clearly fazed by the thought of them being separated, but Fiona insists. I am not sure why she insists. Usually we think of family deciding they can't handle an individual, not the individual deciding she doesn't want to be handled.

Grant checks her into a nursing home. To his dismay, they have a first 30 days "no visitor" policy, which means he has to cope with…

Movie Stuff: Akira Kurosawa Films and Influenced Films

Last week was Akira Kurosawa week at my place. I have a deep-seated love of everything Japanese. About two years ago, I watched The Seven Samurai, which was one of the BEST movies I have ever seen, hands down. I had heard so much about this movie in pop culture but was never sure what all the fuss was about. It took me several days to get through the film, but it was heavy with meaning. It made think about what is a hero? And what is the cost of being a hero? In the Seven Samurai, poor farmers seek out the help of seven samurai to fight off bandits. The bandits regularly stop by and steal the crops they all slaved to grow. The townspeople know they need help.

They find these samurai superheroes that can kick butt, but most of them also have lovable personalities that make you want to take them home and keep them as a pet. I especially liked the leader of band (played by the amazing Takashi Shimura) and the comic character, Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune). As the town learn how to fight an…

Book Review: Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman

Author Alice Hoffman is wonderful at balancing the supernatural with the ordinary. She wrote Practical Magic, which was later turned into a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock, in which two witch sisters struggle to balance that fine line between wanting to be normal and embracing their unique gifts.

A few years ago, she wrote the TheIce Queen, which was about a librarian who is hit by lightning. The librarian can no longer see the color red and is always cold. She meets a man who was hit by lightning and is always hot, and they are drawn to each other in an electric way that leads to pain and pleasure.

Hoffman's work has a fairy-tale, dreamlike quality. She writes in a genre called magical realism. In The Ice Queen, there is a character who lives in an apartment building with a lime tree out back. The lime tree is brought up repeatedly, almost like a motif in a fairy story or a myth. There is also a motif of flying or wings. Her characters are usually doomed to some …

Book Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Yang

American Born Chineseby Gene Yang was the Printz Award winner for 2007. All the reviews I read about this graphic novel have been very positive, and I must agree it is a masterpiece. Although this graphic novel can be enjoyed on many levels, as a Christian I enjoyed the way the artist/author weaved scripture into the story. We all have filters we view the world through, and this is also true of the way we approach media, whether it be books, movies, poetry, etc. My Christian faith is a large filter for me, and it impacts the way I view books.

American Born Chinese is a story told in three separate stories that eventually converge. The three plotlines came together in surprising ways that add to the enjoyment of the story. It is part of the mystery of the book.

In plotline one, Jin Wang has started a new life in a new home and a new school. He struggles to fit in with his new classmates who only see his differences. His classmates focus only on the negative stereotypes they have heard a…

Movie Review: Irving Rapper's Now, Voyager (1942)

Now, Voyager stars Bette Davis in what I think is her finest role--even better than her performance in All About Eve. I know many may argue, but she was so unbecoming at the beginning of this movie, I barely recognized her.  Charlotte is a spinster with bushy eyebrows and a scared rabbit look in her eyes. Her mother has driven her to the brink of madness from too much attention and too much control. When Charlotte comes downstairs to meet Dr. Jaquith (Claude Raines), the word that comes to mind is "trapped." Charlotte is trapped in a world of unhappiness. Her mother forces her to wear unattractive clothes, won't allow her to lose weight, and has chased away every suitor.

We find out that Charlotte was born late in life and probably wasn't wanted. The only comfort her mother takes in her birth is knowing that Charlotte will care for her when she is old. So any joy that Charlotte takes in life becomes a threat to her mother. The mother fears Charlotte will l…

Movie Review: Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Although I do my best to keep up with contemporary cinema, I also adore the classics -- especially anything directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It is hard to appreciate the film world without a full understanding of where things come from. For instance, I was talking to a young man about the movie Disturbia. I found it to be very "disturbia" that he had no idea this was a modernized version of Hitchcock's Rear Window. One might be prone to think that Disturbia is more original than it is. And how can you survive in the world without knowing the works of Hitchcock?

The Lady Vanishes is a 1938 black and white picture from Hitchcock's British period. It has many of the trademarks of a Hitchcock picture. We have secrets, affairs, women who fall in love with a man they initially detest, espionage, spies, quirky dialogue, and humor.

After an avalanche, train travellers are stranded at an Alpine resort. We meet our main cast: Ms. Froy, a kindly old governess, Iris Henderson, a y…

Book Review: Haters by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

I really wanted to like Haters. It is a school story mixed with elements of paranormal romance. The main character has a strong psychic ability. She can see things before they happen. Over at the Disco Mermaids, Eve suggested you could describe the flavor and plot of a book by combining movies. This idea appeals to me since I am a film addict. I would call this book Heathers (dangerous run-ins with popular girls) crossed with Premonition (seeing the future) crossed with a Harlequin romance (explicit sexuality and romance). No, I'm not kidding.

Part of this book I really liked. The narrator had a very snarky, hip voice that made her appealing. Pasquela Archuleta, or Paski, has just found out that her dad is moving them to California. It seems his comic book, Squeegie Man, has been optioned for a movie deal. He's going to be rich, but he has to move to California. He and Paski move to the OC; Paski must leave her dear friends and new boyfriend behind to start a new school. Befo…

Movie Review: Zack Snyder's 300 (2006)

There was a time when the movie 300 would have been a perfect movie for me. I would have loooved this movie back in the day. "The day" meaning when I loved the gore movies. I used to be a huge horror movie fan, and although 300 is not a horror movie, it is filmed like one. Each scene is meant to shock and make the audience squirm.

There is this really great short story I remember, but I can't remember who wrote it. It was written by an Asian writer. Anyway, it's about this man who sees a painting of a tree. He doesn't purchase it but later wishes he had. He spends his whole life trying to find it and raise enough money to buy it. Then when he finally has it in his grasp, the painting is unveiled, and he is disappointed that it is not the same painting. The point of the story is that the painting WAS the same. It wasn't the painting that had changed; it was the man himself. He was not the same person when he saw the painting the second time, and the painting …

Book Review: Monkey Town by Ronald Kidd

I just finished reading Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial by Ronald Kidd. This was another coming of age novel. It is supposed to be part love story, as well, but the love story is very lightly applied. It is more of an afterthought and seemed like it was there solely to get more girls to read it.
Kidd claims he wrote this book based on the true accounts he heard from Frances Robinson about her life in the town of Dayton during the Scopes Monkey Trials of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee. He does share that Frances was actually only eight years old when this happened, although in the book, she is portrayed as being 15. He obviously thought this story would appeal more to teens, and he is probably right.
In our story, Frances Robinson is a precocious 15-year old who is in love with Johnny Scopes, a teacher at her high school. Johnny Scopes is one of those young (24 years old), cool teachers who breaks the rules of establishment only to pay for them later. He is a football coach but…

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Colin Singleton is a self-professed prodigy. He can anagram the heck out of any word combination (except a few un-anagramabble words), and he was once on a show called Kranial Kidz. He's the type of character one would call book smart but not very street smart. Colin's one big bummer in life is that he has been dumped by a procession of 19 Katherines. So he walks around looking for the next Katherine, although he is sure Katherine 19 is THE one.

When we first meet Colin, he has just been dumped by Ms. 19. His best friend, Hassan, decides to hornswaggle Colin into a summer road trip, meant to shake him out of his doldrums. They don't get too far. The boys find their nesting place in Gutshot, Tennessee, home to a factory where tampon strings are created.

They meet the owner of the factory, Hollis, and her daughter, Lindsey. Isn't that just the most beautiful name ever? Why you would want a Katherine when you could have a Lindsey, I'll never understand.

Hollis decide…

Book Review: King Dork by Frank Portman

All right, 'fess up? Who was a dork at school? Anyone? Anyone? Oh, I bet everyone's got a hand raised. My horrific school time was middle school. I went through my ugly phase with a combination of large glasses and crooked teeth. I also insisted on this weird hairstyle where my hair would completely cover one side of my face. I thought I was being a skater chick. The boys all had "squeebs" that covered one eye. I thought I should have one, too! I got made fun of a lot in sixth grade. There was also this huge bully that would routinely beat my friends up. Somehow I escaped her physical wrath, but I was terrified of her.

Well, no matter what your story, I think you might have trouble outdorkingKing Dork. In my head, as I read, I imagined a combination of Napoleon Dynamite, Bill from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, one of those computer geeks from the 80s films, and a Will from Good Will Hunting.

Here's some really original things about this book:
He is pic…

Book Review: Sex God by Rob Bell

I really enjoyed the book Sex God by Rob Bell. I can't say enough good things about this book. It is completely unique. It compares sex to spirituality. Specifically, it compares sex to having an intimate relationship with God. Bell says you can't talk about one without talking about the other. He makes a strong case, although it is not written in a linear style. He meanders from stories to conversations to scenes from the Bible to secular quotes. His writing style is very meandering.

This is what I got out of this book: Our extreme desire for sex is really a desire for a relationship with God.

Now, I can just hear people saying right now: "No, uh, I really want sex." Bell is not saying we should do without sex, but rather, sex is a physical expression of our truest desire: to be completely naked in front of someone and be unashamed; to be unconditionally loved and swallowed whole; to be connected with someone in the deepest way possible. In his chapter, Make Whoope…

Movie Review: Richard Fleischer's Soylent Green (1973)

The 1973 movie Soylent Green is often mocked for its campy look, for its overzealous actors (Charlton Heston), and its script. However, it is still a must-see for the American movie buff.

Soylent Green is set in Manhattan, New York, in 2022. The city is overcrowded. People are literally lying in the stairs, waiting for someone to die so they can have an apartment. At the beginning of the movie, we see a rather straggly young man make his way down the stairs past all the bodies. We then see this man having a private meeting with another man inside a car! This is how crowded it is. You have to meet inside a car (with open windows even) to have some privacy. The man is given a meat hook.

Next, we see one very rich man's apartment. He is obviously loaded because he has a humongous condo all to himself. No one is lying on the stairs. Rich man's mistress, named Shirl, is playing what appears to be an ancient video game. Shirl is furniture; she comes with the apartment.

Next thing we…

Book Review: London Calling by Edward Bloor

Edward Bloor is one wacky guy. He comes up with original plots, and he knows how to execute them with skillful writing. In London Calling, our protagonist is Martin Conway, a bright, unhappy 12-year old with little drive. He is a self-proclaimed hermit who prefers to live in his home's basement. Martin's nuclear family consists of an alcoholic dad that works for an airport steakhouse chain, an unhappy mother who works as a secretary at the private school Martin attends, and a sister who is a genius and works at an encyclopedia company as a fact checker.

Martin has only two friends at his private Catholic school, which is controlled by the Lowery family. The Lowery family claims that their ancestor, Hollerin' Hank Lowery, was a World War II hero. They have some money, and so the school kowtows to that family.

The current reigning Lowery loves to pick on the weak, and he makes regular sport of picking on Martin and his friends. On one such occasion, Martin's friend, Man…