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Trailers for April 18, 2014

TRANSCENDENCE



Otherwise known as: SkyNet – the Movie! I mean, I’ll see it, but how many times do we need to travel the same well-worn territory? Oh no! We created a supermachine and now it can boss us around! The horror!

BEARS



It’s Earth Day again and time for another kids’ documentary about cute animals. While you’re watching Bears, don’t forget to remind your littleuns that if they ever catch a whiff of the fishy garbage-heap-in-the-sun smell of a real bear, under no circumstances should they attempt to approach and/or pat the cute bears, as they will totally rip your face off.

HAUNTED HOUSE 2



Sometimes I like deliberately dumb spoofs, but this one is just bad. That trailer didn’t even make me smile once.

FACE OF LOVE



While I’m not opposed to the notion of a woman falling in love with a guy who looks like her dead husband (okay, I find it a LITTLE creepy), this looks like one of those slow, quiet (read: boring) movies that make me want to hit fast forward just to make something happen.

TRAILER PARK BOYS: DON’T LEGALIZE IT



I despise Trailer Park Boys, but I know a lot of people don’t, so here’s the trailer. Me: out.

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Draft Day Review

poster from the Summit Entertainment film Draft Day

My options this week were Rio 2, Oculus, and Draft Day, and I picked Draft Day because it seemed least uninteresting. Yes, a movie about a guy who talks on the phone to various people for two hours was more interesting than dancing birds and another monster that lives in a mirror. That’s the kind of week it was.

In the 12 hours before the NFL draft, the general manager of the Cleveland Browns wheels and deals, trying to resurrect his ailing football team.

I didn’t expect much from Draft Day. I don’t find dealmaking exciting, I don’t follow American football, and I find Kevin Costner a little bland. But Draft Day wasn’t a waste of time. I liked it while I was watching and I still like it looking back. Surprising!

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Book Review: The Bicycle Teacher by Campbell Jeffreys

Continuing to clear the backlog of free Goodreads books I have reviewed (and sticking with last week’s 1980s Berlin theme) here is The Bicycle Teacher by Campbell Jeffreys, available now from Rippple Books (yes, I spelled that correctly).

bike teacher cover

Michael, a disillusioned Australian mechanic, breaks his family’s cycle of poverty by moving to East Germany, where he finds love and the opportunity to move up in the world. But can it last?

This book isn’t for everyone. Michael’s virulent belief that life is better behind the Iron Curtain may alienate die-hard capitalists, but I found it fascinating. Until now, all the books I read about the USSR featured repressed intellectuals wanting to escape to the West. But looking at things through the eyes of an everyman like Michael, it’s easy to see the appeal of community and guaranteed subsistence, even if it means never achieving wealth or greatness.

Jeffreys cunningly constructs a mirror between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in East/West Germany and East/West Perth, and because Michael is trying not to become a bitter, angry drunk like his father, his experience has a universal appeal.

Jeffreys has a gift for description and has obviously done his research into Cold War era Berlin. His matter-of-fact style and attention to detail makes it easy to picture cities, events, and people. One of my favorite descriptions is: “he had a stringy mustache that seemed to start from deep within his nose.” The only time the descriptions get weighed down by metaphor is when Michael gets maudlin, as the book is written diary-style. For the most part the story stays focused on Michael and his personal experiences, though toward the end it did stray a little further into politics than I usually like to go.

I wanted to like Michael, and for the most part I did. He seems like a real person with good qualities (he works hard, helps his neighbors, loves his family) and bad ones (he’s judgmental, a bit homophobic, and extremely thick when it comes to the machinations of his wife’s cousin). However, I didn’t feel like I really connected with him. The bare-bones writing style told rather than showed his emotions, making him seem a bit cold and distant.

I would recommend The Bicycle Teacher to people who normally read travelogues or memoirs and to anyone who’s interested in hearing about the ‘other side’ of the Cold War (ideologically speaking). It’s a strong effort, so I rate it:

category 4

This review brought to you by:

american russian pants

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Trailer Reviews for April 11, 2014

RIO 2



Giant meh. The first Rio was pretty good, but I don’t remember it fondly enough that the thought of a sequel makes me excited. Jesse Eisenberg’s nervous parrot is a little annoying, I don’t like the dog… or the singing… none of the jokes in the trailer made me laugh and one of them (the super bicep parrot) seems like it’s ripped off The Fairly Oddparents. The only thing I really like is the evil cockatoo, and I don’t think I want to see a whole 3D movie just for that.

DRAFT DAY



Moneyball with football? Most of this seems like it takes place in an office… or on the phone. It doesn’t seem very exciting, but they managed to pull it off in Jerry Maguire. Even if it doesn’t get very tense, I’d rather watch this than another Rio movie.

OCULUS



Sadly, this movie has nothing to do with the Oculus virtual reality headset (that would have been a cool horror movie, eh?) I dunno about this. The trailer tells us nothing of the story. Something weird happens with a mirror that may or may not involve souls being taken, depending on whether the poet who wrote the voiceover was being metaphorical or not. I like horror, but the fake blood in the mirror looks cheesy, and the mirror thing has been done before, so I’m going to stick with Draft Day this week.

DOM HEMINGWAY



“Jude Law as you’ve never seen him before!” says the trailer. “Yes, with a different accent,” says I. The character and the accent seem funny but the whole ‘screwup tries to make up with his family’ thing isn’t drawing me in. Maybe because I’ve seen it too many times before. Or maybe I just don’t like screwups.

THAT BURNING FEELING



Okay, so, what is the plot of this movie? That scruffy guy has to tell all the people he slept with that he may have given them an STD? Or is he trying to get somebody to date him while he has an STD? Or both? I didn’t get much from that trailer other than that the characters are quirky enough to attract ‘name’ actors who are not quite famous. It’s still funnier than I expected, so it’s possible I may rent it later on.

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Book Review: Going Over by Beth Kephart

This Random Friday book review is Going Over, a teen historical romance by Beth Kephart. It’s new this month from Chronicle Books. I won a free copy in a Goodreads giveaway.

going over cover
It’s 1983. Wild graffiti artist Ada and cautious astronomer Stefan are dating from opposite sides of the Berlin Wall. Ada wants Stefan to escape from East Berlin. But does he dare?

This book is right up my alley (YA, Cold War, etc.) but we got off to a rocky start. At first Ada seemed selfish to me. She threatens to break up with Stefan unless he risks his life trying to escape. As I learned more of Ada’s secrets, I understood why she needed him with her. She’s strong, but even the strongest person can only handle so much alone.

At sixteen, Ada is already working in a daycare to help her damaged mother and grandmother eke out an existence in a squatter’s village. She’s also trying to protect a little Turkish boy and his abused mother. Ada deals with her feelings by spraypainting them onto the Berlin Wall. Her pictures sound so evocative that I wish I could see them. I also wish the book was a little less cagey. Unpleasant events are never explicitly stated – just hinted at. I’ll always wonder if things were really as bad as I thought.

Ada has plenty to do right from the get-go, but Stefan’s story gets off to a slow start. He spends the first half of the book waffling over whether to try and cross the wall. He’s caught between memories of his visits with Ada and his grandfather’s ill-fated escape attempt. However, once he reveals his desire to pursue a career not open to him in the East and starts gearing up to implement his crazy escape plan (which is based on a true story), he becomes a lot more interesting.

While I enjoyed the plot and characters, I wasn’t keen on the writing style. Ada and Stefan’s stories are told from two of my least favourite perspectives: first person present (I do this, I do that) and second person present (you do this, you do that). First person present is popular in YA because it helps create immediacy, but second person present is unusual and irritating. The author also makes some strange grammatical choices. I assume they’re meant be poetic, but I just found them difficult to swallow.

The author obviously did a lot of research into Berlin, the Cold War, the problems faced by Turkish immigrants, and graffiti. However, I don’t think Going Over is a good introduction to any of these topics. Description and explanation are sparse. This isn’t the first book I’ve read about Cold War Berlin, and even I didn’t understand what was happening at times. To avoid confusion, I suggest reading a few Wikipedia articles before picking up this book.

A good effort, but it didn’t blow me away. I rate it:
category 3

This review brought to you by:
east german graffiti

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Divergent Review

poster from the Summit Entertainment film Divergent

Teen dystopia is popular right now, largely thanks to the huge pile of money made by the Hunger Games series. What set The Hunger Games apart was that it was successful not just as a book trilogy but also as a film series. Now studios are throwing more teen dystopian novels on the adaptation bandwagon. But will lightning strike again for Divergent?

In a world divided into factions based on personality traits, a teenage girl joins the bravery faction to hide the fact that she doesn’t belong in any one category.

I read Divergent about a year ago and really liked it. As far as I can remember, this movie is exactly the same as the book, which should make fans happy. Nothing’s been changed and as far as I can tell nothing important has been left out. Except, perhaps, the people who came to see this movie without having read the book first.

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Trailer Reviews for March 21, 2014

DIVERGENT



I’ve been looking forward to this movie. The book is excellent. It reminds me a lot of how we’re always trying to put people in boxes with those personality tests – like there are only sixteen kinds of people in the world. I fully expect the movie to be as good (or better) than The Hunger Games, provided they steered clear of all that shaky-cam that plagued the first Hunger Games movie. The trailer says it does. Woot! Bring on Friday!

MUPPETS MOST WANTED



It’s a shame this movie opens the same week as Divergent, because everything about this trailer makes me laugh. “Kerrrrrmeet da frog heeer.” Dominic Badguy. “Thees is my car. Eet is illegal now for eets massive size.” “Turn dem back on, I can’t see anything!” I’m dying over here. The good news is that there’s nothing I care about coming out next week, so I can just wait and do the Muppets then. ERMEGERD MERPERTS!!

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Trailer Reviews for March 14, 2014

NEED FOR SPEED

)

No. Nope. Nuh uh. If I want to oogle expensive cars, I’ll watch Top Gear. At least those guys are funny. What I will not do is watch another terrible video game adaptation starring a guy who has that same dopey look as Deputy Dewey from Scream. Also, that stunt with the helicopter was a whole lot more hilarious in my head, where the chains just ripped off the car bumper and those two idiots plunged to the bottom of the canyon in a big dumb fireball.

ENEMY

)

Directed by the Prisoners guy or not, this looks slow and boring. I’m only mildly curious about why there are two guys who look the same and I feel like the answer to the puzzle is some kind of spaced-out metaphor that would just piss me off anyway. So no way.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

)

I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Wes Anderson films. I love The Life Aquatic and Fantastic Mr. Fox but I hated The Darjeeling Limited (too depressing, not funny enough). This one looks to be more on the goofy side of things, so I’ll see it.

VERONICA MARS

)

Ah yes, the Kickstarter movie the Veronica Mars fans funded when they couldn’t accept the cancellation of their beloved show. I never watched the TV show and I don’t live in one of the select cities this film will be playing in, but if you are/do, I hope you get your money’s worth out of it. I think it looks like Nancy Drew as written by Joss Whedon.

TYLER PERRY’S SINGLE MOM’S CLUB

)

Tyler Perry invents babysitting?

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DVDs for March 4, 2014

catching fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Between accidental revolution/totalitarian government mind-f**ckery and harrowing teenage death-match game show action, Catching Fire was the third best movie of 2013… not that the Academy agrees with me, but when do they ever? I would also rate this movie better than the first Hunger Games, simply because they did away with the shaky-cam and gave Gale (the non-annoying point on the love triangle) more screen time. Read my full review for more or just go ahead and watch it right now.

Buy Catching Fire on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

12 years a slave

12 Years a Slave

Films that win best picture Oscars (like 12 Years a Slave just did) are almost always depressing. Frequently they’re boring and/or pretentious too, at least from the viewpoint of normal people. Thankfully 12 Years a Slave is actually good. It’s a true story based on the life of a free-born African American man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 1840s. As the title suggests, the poor guy spends the next 12 years trying to get back to his family. The subject matter is depressing, but at least it has a relatively happy ending. Check it out.

Buy 12 Years a Slave on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

hours

Hours

Not to be confused with The Hours (a 2002 film about women and suicide), Hours is the story of a distraught father who has just lost his wife and is abandoned at a New Orleans hospital to keep his premature daughter alive on manual life support during Hurricane Katrina. It’s not based on a true story and it’s not particularly well written or made (about average for a B movie), but it is one of the last films Paul Walker had a chance to do before his accident, so if you’re a fan you’ll want to put it on your list.

Buy Hours on DVD.

girl rising

Girl Rising

I was having trouble finding another movie worth talking about on the release list for this week until I came across Girl Rising. It’s a documentary made to support the cause of making sure girls and women in developing countries are safe, educated, and able to direct their own futures. My Girl Guides and I learned about the Girl Effect (giving aid money to women/girls as a way of making sure it actually helps communities) a few years ago and I can tell you that the stories these girls have to tell are very compelling. So check out this movie.

Buy Girl Rising on DVD.

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DVDs for February 25, 2014

Whoops! It seems I accidentally did the DVDs for this week on February 4… which makes me wonder what actually DID come out February 4? Anyway here are those releases again, and this time it’s not a lie!

gravity

Gravity

The #2 best movie of 2013 (according to me) is now available to own! If you’ve seen it, you’re probably already pre-ordered your copy. If you haven’t see it – buy one now. It’s the thrillingest thriller I’ve seen in… possibly ever. Sandra Bullock plays an astronaut with a tragic past who struggles to stay alive in space after her shuttle is destroyed by debris. There are some science problems if you think about it too hard, but that doesn’t matter, because the rest of it is so awesome. Read my full review for more.

Buy Gravity on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

thor 2

Thor: The Dark World

Coincidentally, the #4 best movie of 2013 (according to me) is also available to own today. Thor himself may not be my favorite superhero (or even my favorite Avenger) but his movies are full of fun, action, witty jokes, and science. Fun science, not real science. In this one, Thor teams up with his (girl)fan-favorite brother Loki and portal-hop-battles an evil elf who wants to take over the universe with dark matter. Awesome! You can read my review for more or just go buy it already.

Buy Thor: The Dark World on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

nebraska

Nebraska

The quote on the DVD box, from the LA Times reviewer, says: “one of those movies I’ll watch for the rest of my life.” “Because it seems like it goes on forever,” my brain finished for him. This is one of those movies you either love or hate. If you’re into indie art house American slice-of-life drama, then you’ll think it’s the bees knees. If, however, you don’t, the prospect of a crotchety geezer trekking across a dreary black and white landscape to collect a scam lottery prize, occasionally stopping to argue with other local caricatures, will probably seem boring and pretentious.

Buy Nebraska on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

twice born

Twice Born

In Twice Born, Penelope Cruz plays a single mother who takes her teenaged son to Sarajevo so she can tell him all about his dad (Emile Hirsch), who died in the Bosnian war. Normally I’m all for depressing stories about Bosnia. I liked The Whistleblower, Welcome to Saeajevo, and Savior. But I think they would have done better to focus the depressingness on the conflict and the people caught up in it rather than trying to shoehorn in the same adultery/betrayal/marriage on the rocks drama that we’ve seen a million times. I recommend one of the other three movies I mentioned instead.

Buy Twice Born on DVD.

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