Posts Tagged ‘children’s film’

Read It and See It: Beautiful Creatures

February 4, 2013

Alright, less guns!  More books!  So a quick break from my ramblings on gun control.  The movie is coming out Valentine’s Day, so you better get cracking!

Note: You can now find my review of the Beautiful Creatures movie here.

Beautiful Creatures Book CoverThe Book
Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl. Originally published in 2009.  First of four in the Beautiful Creatures series.

The Movie
Beautiful Creatures, Warner Brothers. Release Date, February 14

Paranormal Teen Romance (yes, there is such a genre)

Age Appropriate
10 and up.  While this book is definitely geared to the high school set, there really isn’t much in this book that wouldn’t be appropriate for the middle school set.  While there is a bit more sexual allusion (the heroine’s cousin is quite the siren—literally), it’s quite tame and, frankly, I was surprised about how little there was considering this is the story about a 15-year-old boy and his first true girlfriend.  The violence is also far tamer than say, The Hunger Games series, with the most vivid depictment being a Civil War flashback.  I would say a thoroughly PG affair.

Good for Grown-Ups?
Did you like Twilight?  I didn’t read Twilight, but if you did and liked it, I would guess you’d like this.

Book Availability
Available in pretty much every electronic medium imaginable as well as paperback.

Quickie Plot Synopsis (minor spoilers)
Ethan Wate is a teenager stuck in the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina.  His mother recently died and his father has cracked under the strain of the tragedy.  Only Amma, the housekeeper who has been like a second mother to him, is keeping things together.  But he longs to leave the pain of the past and the small-minded pursuits of Gatlin society behind him.

Great idea for a haunted house, or haunted society.

Great idea for a haunted house, or haunted society.

But when Lena Duchannes comes to school, Ethan’s entire world will be turned upside-down.  It starts just by defending her against the taunting of the school bullies, who ostracize her because she is living at the old Ravenwood estate with the town shut-in, Macon.  But as they get to know each other more, they find out that they are connected in ways Ethan could not have imagined, even being able to hear each other’s thoughts.

As their friendship turns to romance, Lena opens her secret world to him.  She is a Caster, a magical creature from a long line of such, and is here to fulfill her destiny to be chosen for a light or dark path on her 16th birthday.  Due to a curse brought on during the civil war, one where a love affair between Lena’s and Ethan’s ancestors sealed the Duchannes family’s fate, Lena will have no choice as to her destiny.  And if she goes dark, she will lose everything about her that Ethan has come to love.

The couple search desperately for a way to solve the issue, and tunnel deep into the hidden magical world veiled behind the veneer of Gatlin’s faded southern gentility.  Ethan discovers why his parents, most particularly his brilliant mother, never chose to leave this seemingly small and backward town.  But with time running out, another thought to be dead mother returns with a devil’s bargain for Lena—a way to be with Ethan forever, something that seemed impossible, in exchange for the lives of everyone else she loves.

Quickie Review
Okay, I’ll admit right up front that teen paranormal romance isn’t my cup of tea.  I didn’t read Twilight so I don’t really have a modern base for comparison here.  But I have to say what I had a hard time with in this book was my suspension of disbelief.

Perhaps the main reason I had an issue with the story was its choice of first person, and the fact that Ethan was telling the story (though it does transfer to Lena for a small section).  I myself was a former somewhat nerdy teen in a southern city, who was good at sports, never really fit in, and longed to escape.  So I felt I had good standing to connect with this character.  But, to me, this simply isn’t how a 15-year-old boy thinks.  It felt very idealized—frankly the way a 15-year-old girl might want a 15-yearl-old boy to think.  Maybe that’s the point of paranormal teen romance, but it left me a little cold.  Especially because of the sex, or lack thereof.

I know, I know, it’s a teen romance novel, and the girls don’t want to read about horny boys.  But if you’re writing a romance book in the voice of a red-blooded American adolescent male, it’s patently ridiculous if it’s not there at all.  Ethan and Lena end up in a torrid romance that includes the “L-word” and, even during all the scenes where they are making out, Ethan doesn’t mention sex once?  I was a nice guy teenager desperately looking for a Lena Duchannes, and I’ll tell you that if this happened to me, while I might never have acted ungentlemanly, it certainly would have been on my mind.  A lot.  A whole lot.  I think having that struggle on top of everything else would have made Ethan feel much more human, and the story feel more real and less Harlequin given this story is in his voice.

No wands this time, but similar magical destiny

No wands this time, but similar magical destiny

The magical world itself was pretty interesting. Very Harry Potter, with the things-that-go-bump-in-the night being real, but slightly different than we assumed, from witches (Casters) to vampires (Incubi).  The presence of voodoo and the role of some mortals as impartial guides through this realm was well thought out.  The big issue I have with both this and other hidden magical world books like this is that I really didn’t get any explanation as to why the magical world, one which is clearly much, much stronger than the human world and feels infinitely superior to it, chooses to hide itself rather than rule.  I felt the same way about the Potterverse.  I’m willing to be convinced, but when you just ignore that 800 lb. gorilla, it makes it much harder for me to suspend my disbelief.

This book also took itself VERY seriously, and I totally understand that.  It’s supposed to be a teen drama.  But they had Ethan’s best friend Link ideally situated for that very needed relief role, but I don’t think Garcia and Stohl really showed a deft comic touch.  Something needed to take a little starch out of the proceedings, and nothing really ever did.  The closest was probably the sexy siren and dark caster Ridley, Lena’s cousin.  Her character was probably the most enjoyable of the lot as because of her selfishness, impish attitude, and anger, she felt the most real.

The story’s big reveal at the end felt a little forced to me, but not unacceptably so.  And the small town southern life felt a little thick, but again not horribly so (though the idea of using live ammunition at a Civil War reenactment seemed a very odd contrivance).

So while I know that I am not the target audience for this story, I can’t help but think about The Hunger Games ability to pull me into its world despite the fact that I’m not a teen.  So while this book may be the rage with its demographic, I have to say there was little here to make that similar leap.

Overall Read Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Opportunities for Discussion
This is a story all about not fitting in and finding the power within yourself to stand up to bullies that berate you for being different or adults that think that they know what’s better for you.  It’s a pretty classic tale of adolescent rebellion that turns pages, but, unless I’m missing something, doesn’t have a whole lot else to say and really wasn’t trying to.

Lots of stars and bars in this one.

Lots of stars and bars in this one.

That said, the rural southern background, while pretty stereotypical, could certainly be used as a leaping off point to talk about the prejudices that still exist in our society, and how some of them are deeply rooted in our past.  The social bullying of Ethan and Lena is a universal story and could be a portal to discussion of whether there are things happening like that at your child’s school (though with significantly less magic, I’d guess).

So while I don’t think this book in itself raised any really interesting questions, there’s enough here in what is supposed to be a fun page-turner to perhaps engage in some serious discussion about the trials and tribulations of growing up.

Overall Family Discussion Score: 2 out of 5 stars.

BeautifulCreaturesMoviePoster1What to Expect from the Movie
Well, Warner Brothers certainly seems to think they have a winner on their hands given the heavy-weight actors they have supporting the teen-age leads.  Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, and Viola Davis will all play pivotal roles in the film and hopefully give what felt like somewhat two-dimensional characters on the page some new life.

I also think the script could help the movie out, perhaps just taking a little bit of the stuffing out of the story.  I understand this is supposed to be a drama, but I think a more humorous Link, for example, might help the film stay a bit more grounded than the book.  With my wife out of town for Valentine’s Day, I’m going to give her the most sincere demonstration of my love that I can think of, as I’ll go see the movie without her.

Next in this series: The games children play to save humanity.

A Three-Step Guide to Getting your Kids Watching Science Documentaries

April 27, 2012

Perhaps your children are different, but mine tend to prefer more straight-up entertainment when it comes to their TV watching.  The Amazing Race is about as close to a documentary as it comes.

If your kids are like mine, sometimes you need to connect the dots a bit in order to get them excited about more straight-up educational programming.  So here’s a little tip that might help out, courtesy of a couple of claymation features.  Here is my fool-proof three-step method:

Step 1: Take your kids to see The Pirates! Band of Misfits this weekend: The great team of animators at Aardman just released their latest.  Rotten Tomatoes is giving it a more-than-solid 87% fresh rating.  I hear it may not be their best, but it is still full of silly fun and wonderfully animated.  Seems like a great treat for children of all ages.

Step 2: Watch Wallace & Gromit at home: Let’s take for granted that your kids dig the movie.  Whenever that happens, my boys are always eager for more. Nick Park’s classic characters are still the cream of the crop for Aardman.  I would recommend the full-length feature Curse of the Were-Rabbit, an absolutely hysterical flick with the likes of Ralph Feinnes and Helena Bonham Carter joining the cast.  If you can’t find that movie, Netflix is streaming both the three original W&G short films, and the most recent, a half-hour feature called A Matter of Loaf and Death.  All are great fun and will likely hook your kids on both Aardman and the gang.

Step 3: Watch Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention: Assuming your children are clamoring for even more W&G, it just so happens that just released on Blu-ray is the six-episode series that originally aired on BBC.  I got mine at Best Buy for $14, so it’s not a major investment.  It is a classic frame series, as W&G host a news show that sends viewers to segments done by real people.  The man-dog duo have some sort of classic invention-related gag in each episode, like feeding a pet elephant brussel to bring electricity to the studio through “wind power.”

The actual stories themselves are very well produced and interesting (though make sure to explain the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit, as they don’t) .  I watched the one that looks at how people are taking designs from the natural world and shaping man-made inventions out of them.  From taking a page out of the manta ray for transportation to machines eating bugs for power, to a man who may have just figured out how to build Atlantis, it is a great way to see how nature, science, and engineering can work together to bring creative solutions.  And with an elephant fart joke built in, how can you go wrong?

So there you go.  I hope everyone has a great weekend, and if your child ends up becoming a great engineer due to my three-step program, remember I get dibs on the first flying car ride.