Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Still Life: A Three Pines Mystery (DVD)

Still Life is a Canadian production that stars Nathaniel Parker.  It's an adaptation of the book by the same title by Louise Penny that is the first in Three Pines Mystery series.  I reviewed the book almost five years ago on this book, click here to read that review.

When a beloved, retired teacher is shot through the heart by an arrow and left for dead in the woods near her home in tiny Three Pines, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is dispatched to the scene to determine if the incident was an accident or a homicide.  He is accompanied by his crack team that includes his second in command, Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Agent Yvette Nichol, a less experienced law enforcement agent.  This tiny, idyllic Quebecois village that has become a haven for artistic types won't be same when Gamache's investigation concludes.

The investigation is initially hampered by the victim's next of kin, a real piece of work, who refuses to allow the police to search the victim's house.  In addition an arrogant, incompetent junior agent (Nichol.  I still loathe you.) and a false confession and subsequent arrest that precipitates Gamache's suspension also threaten to derail the pursuit of the truth and justice.  Several questions emerge throughout the investigation.  Was it an accident or homicide?  If it was homicide, who murdered Madame Neal?  And most importantly why?  Ultimately the real murderer, apprehended following a terrifying ordeal, is revealed to be a twisted, villainous caricature.

My thoughts

In this adaptation the villain's reveal is poorly managed and poorly and cheesily acted; for example, the actor's take on the stereotypical, maniacal villain's laugh is cringe inducing and unnecessary.

At several points throughout this piece I wondered what the hell happened to the victim's dog.  Her niece refuses to allow the police into her aunt's house, so who went and got the dog the victim left at home when she went for a walk in the woods?  And while one character mentions that Neal never would have left her dog at home as she did, no one ever mentions what happened to the dog.

There is something off about Peter Morrow, but it's never really addressed by the adaptation.

Nichol.  I hated her in the book, and I hated her in the adaptation.  The adaptation tries to imply that her arrogance and incompetence are symptoms of social awkwardness, but the woman won't acknowledge that she's wrong--ever.  She never owns up to her mistakes.  And her incompetence and dishonesty and its impact on the investigation are not adequately addressed.

The conclusion, I think, leaves out quite a bit of background as to why and how the murderer is so twisted.  Though his motive for the second murder is explained, his motive for the first murder that eventually comes to light and as it turns out precipitates the second murder is never explained.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Miss Shayne reviews Dracula by Bram Stoker this week.  In fact, both Ms. Angie and Miss Shayne have read this book for a class for college.  You hear so much about vampires in the media and through TV shows and movies that you feel like you already know Stoker's Dracula story before you've even read it.  When Ms. Angie read Dracula, she found it was not at all what she was expecting.  Read on to find out what Miss Shayne thought about the novel when she read it!

Before reading this novel, I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen in this story. I didn’t. Hollywood gets it all wrong! So, forget everything you thought you knew about Dracula! Like always, the book is nothing like the movies.

After spending a few days in Count Dracula’s castle on a business trip, Jonathan Harker notices Dracula is up to something. Harker is being held against his will and strange things keep happening both inside the castle and out. He eventually escapes the castle and flees back home, where he and his gang devise a plan to take down the Count once they discover he is a danger to all of Europe. Chaos ensues, the gang closes in, and the Count keeps slipping through their fingers.

This story is told from several points of view. Each character has something to contribute to the story, and it all gets documented. This is helpful because it communicates the thoughts and ideas that each character has. Seeing one scene from different perspectives makes it easier to draw conclusions both about the events transpiring and the individual characters’ credibility. I haven’t read many stories that do this.

Though I found that aspect of this book interesting, it still dragged on and on. In addition to being too time-consuming, this book contained many boring details that could have been cut from the story to make it better. I found the female characters unbearable as well. There were also many continuity issues that were pointed out in my footnotes. I think that is sloppy writing, and Stoker should have edited his work better. Admittedly, I probably didn’t enjoy this book because I had to read it for a college class. (I was forced to read about half of it over my spring break, which I did NOT appreciate.)

 I had always wanted to read Dracula, but I may have enjoyed it more if I didn’t have to write two essays on it. I constantly had to take notes and that contributed to my hatred of this book. I may pick this book up again one day and enjoy it, but being the typical lazy college student that I am, I am not going to recommend this book.

--Reviewed by Miss Shayne

Friday, May 13, 2016

Kingsman: The Secret Service (DVD)

Miss Shayne, guest reviewer, has returned, so expect to hear from her about what's she's read and/or watched lately!  This is her first review of the summer!

I had such high hopes for Kingsman: The Secret Service. The trailer was so action-packed; it looked just like the kind of movie I’d be into. I had wanted to see it since it came out, but I never did until recently.

This movie is about a secret organization that thwarts villains all over the globe. A member of this organization dies, so they have to replace him. One member recruits a lovable misfit to undergo a series of tests to see if he would do well in the organization. Meanwhile, our villain is implanting the world’s richest citizens with chips that can protect them from his awful creation or make their heads explode. The secret organization must figure out what he is up to and stop him before he is able to control everyone on the planet who is without the protection of the chip implant.

This movie started out great. It is filled with action, humor, and fleeing scenes that are just as good as the fighting scenes. It stars an underdog that you can’t help but root for, and his mentor, an intense secret agent who participates in action scenes that give you adrenaline rushes. This cast is near perfection. Everyone acts exactly how I want them to, except for the main villain. He’s too eccentric for me. Maybe that’s what they are going for, but I think he should be a little more serious and dastardly.

About halfway through this movie, some of the scenes started getting strange. I love action-packed scenes, don’t get me wrong, but one scene in particular had WAY too much. I understand it is showing what the villain is capable of, but it could have been executed better. The ending isn’t what I was hoping for, either. Abandon all preconceived notions of enjoyable, wholesome endings. You will not find one here.

Overall, this is a movie I plan on watching again. The mesmerizing action scenes outweigh the sloppy, over-the-top ones, so they are easily forgivable. There are many hilarious one-liners, as well, and they make it worthwhile to view this movie a second time.

--Reviewed by Miss Shayne

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America's Coldest Cases by Deborah Halber

The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America's Coldest Cases by Deborah Halber is a non-fiction title that reads like a page turner.  It is gripping and suspenseful, and if you love reading mysteries or true crime, this book is a must read for you.  It's a fairly quick read because it's hard to put down.  It reminds me a lot of Marilyn Johnson's books that looked at the worlds of obituaries, libraries, and archaeology, all of which have been reviewed here on the blog (click the links to read those reviews).

Like Johnson, Halber immerses herself in the world of these amateur web sleuths and interviews several big players in the cold case solving field.  She also exposes the drama and competition that happens on the online discussion boards that lead to irreparable rifts between the sleuths and online forums.  In addition to profiling several sleuths who have solved some of the most notorious cold cases and given names to unidentified corpses, Halber also details the cases and the victims.  The true stars of the book are the victims, their stories, and the long journeys to identifying them and bringing them home to their families--for some it's taken decades, for others, they still wait.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Monday, March 21, 2016

Rebecca of Sunnybrooke Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin

I read Rebecca of Sunnybrooke Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin for a class.  I had some opinions so I decided to review it for the blog.  This is considered a classic of children's literature.  The edition I read is a slim volume, and the chapters are brief, so it made for a quick read once I got sucked into the story.

At first it was a slow start, but the story is engrossing, so stick with it.  The vernacular of some characters' dialog can be difficult to decipher, and this too slows the story.  Wiggin's writing style can also take some getting used to.

Rebecca Randall, a vibrant, lively, good hearted girl, is sent to her maternal aunts in Riverboro, Maine to receive an education (that her mother hopes to be "the making of" Rebecca).  Rebecca's tenure with her aunts also ameliorates the economic situation at home where her ne'er do well father is three years dead, there are seven small mouths to feed, and a mortgage to pay on the farm.  Any tiny, unexpected hardship can throw a wrench into the family's tenuous circumstances, but all the Randalls know is scrapping by to live.

While aunts Mirandy and Jane initially requested the eldest Randall child, Hannah, due to her stoic, responsible nature and her surface resemblance to the Sawyer "side of the house," it is the lively, talkative Rebecca who is sent instead.  Even prior to her arrival in Riverboro, Rebecca charms everyone she meets, although this lively nature fails to charm miserable, miserly aunt Mirandy.  Throughout the novel, aunt Mirandy and Rebecca continue to butt heads though at some point Mirandy realizes that Rebecca is indeed a good person who takes after the Sawyers in her care and sense of duty and responsibility that she feels towards her family.  However, Mirandy never lets on about this change of heart to her beloved niece.

The reader follows what is indeed "the making of Rebecca" over the course of the novel that covers about five or six years while she's under her aunts' tutelage, attending the local school, and then her time at the boarding school that she attends for high school.  Over these years she acquires friends, honorary uncle and aunt, and a rich businessman benefactor and admirer as well as a female teacher mentor.  This is all due to Rebecca's good hearted, charming, and lively nature.

My Thoughts (You know I had some)

Aunt Mirandy is miserable, and it's easy to hate her in the beginning.  However, Mirandy is not your average 'storybook villain' in that at her core she's not unnecessarily cruel or evil.  She's a blunt, abrasive woman, who's cheap, but she's not evil.  And in the end her love for Rebecca and what she does for her niece redeems her.

It's ironic that Hannah, the niece the aunts originally wanted, turns out to be most like the Randalls at her core in terms of familial duty and responsibility.

Also "Mr. Aladdin."  What is up with a grown man taking an interest in a little girl?  Later as Rebecca grows older, especially when she's off at school as a teenager, it's implied that perhaps Mr. Aladdin may harbor some romantic feelings towards Rebecca.  Or maybe I, as a modern reader, was just reading something into their relationship that wasn't intended by Wiggin.  And the novel ends way before anything like a romantic relationship begins between Mr. Aladdin and Rebecca.  I still don't know whatt to think about this except to say that if a future romance is implied, it's slightly disturbing because Mr. Aladdin, an adult, meets Rebecca when she is still a child.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie