Friday, August 31, 2007

The Animated Treasures of Mr. Bluth

This was the first comprehensive look at the career of Don Bluth. The book was released by a small publisher, with an initial print run of around 2000. An error in printing caused sections of text to be inadvertantly dropped. A few years later, the publisher went out of business. Copies of this book are extremely rare.

Title: The Animated Films of Don Bluth
Author: John Cawley
Published: October 1991
Publisher: Image Pub of New York
Pages: ?
Genre: Nonfiction- Reference

I was a Don Bluth fan before I even knew that there was a difference between "cartoon" movies. The Land Before Time was actually the first movie I ever owned. I picked up The Animated Films of Don Bluth by John Cawley hoping to learn a bit more about my second favorite animated story-teller (Mr. Walt Disney is the first of course) and something more about some of my favorite movies like Thumbelina, Rock-a-Doodle, All Dogs Go to Heaven, The Secret of NIMH, etc. I got to read about what went into the production of those movies and a few good photos were included (even if they were in black and white).

I did discover an amazing fact while reading the book: The Walt Disney company hadn’t been working very hard on making good animated movies (kind of like today huh?) and refusing to put money into making the animation better (just look at The Aristocats if you don’t believe me) and this is why Don Bluth left the Disney studio in the first place. What amazes me is that as soon as Disney had someone to compete with, someone who was making better animated films (even if Disney had the better storyline, Bluth’s was animated in the classic Disney way), they started to put an effort into their work. That’s not to say that I don’t love all of those Disney movies (The Aristocats, The Great Mouse Detective, etc) it’s just that until the Disney company had someone to compete against they were willing to put out whatever would make a few bucks. In an indirect way we have Mr. Don Bluth to thank for The Little Mermaid and all of the great animated films that followed it.

I enjoyed reading the book but I do have a few complaints about it. For one, it was published in 1991 so there wasn’t much information on later films like The Pebble and the Penguin. For two, the book was large, thin, and paperback (it looked like a how-to-draw manual from the outside). The last thing that was wrong with the book is what hated the most: there were millions of typos on every page! I understand that it was published before spell check was used but it only took me a little while to read the book, someone should have gone through it and corrected it. I do hope one day that Mr. Bluth will be able to make more masterpieces.

First Paragraph: Don Bluth loves animation. Unlike the early animators who were largely artists who went into animation because it was steady work, and many of the artists today who are fans and have a "gosh wow" approach to the craft, Don has a deep serious love for the art form. This comes across when he talks. His quiet and somewhat humble mannerisms often hide a fierce spirit and drive not found in many.

Links:
~ The author has included most of the book on his website.
Don Bluth has his own website too.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Still Going Strong at Thirteen

New secrets, old flames, and hidden agendas are about to send bounty hunter Stephanie Plum on her most outrageous adventure yet!

MISTAKE #1: Dickie Orr
Stephanie was married to him for about fifteen minutes before she caught him cheating on her with her archnemesis, Joyce Barnhardt. Another fifteen minutes after that, Stephanie filed for divorce, hoping never to see either one of them again.

MISTAKE #2:Doing favors for super bounty hunter Carlos Manoso (aka Ranger)
Ranger needs Stephanie to meet with Dickie and find out if he’s doing something shady. Turns out, he is. Turns out, Dickie’s also back to doing Joyce Barnhardt. And it turns out Ranger’s favors always come with a price. . . .

MISTAKE #3: Going completely nutso while doing the favor for Ranger, and trying to apply bodily injury to Dickie in front of the entire office.
Now Dickie has disappeared, and Stephanie is the natural suspect in his disappearance. Is Dickie dead? Can he be found? And can Stephanie Plum stay one step ahead in this new, dangerous game? Joe Morelli, the hottest cop in Trenton, New Jersey, is also keeping Stephanie on her toes---and he may know more than he’s saying about many things in Stephanie’s life. It’s a cat-and-mouse game for Stephanie Plum wherein the ultimate prize might be her life.

With Janet Evanovich’s flair for hilarious situations, breathtaking action, and unforgettable characters, Lean Mean Thirteen shows why no one can beat Evanovich for blockbuster entertainment.

Title: Lean Mean Thirteen
Author: Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, Book 13
Published: June 17, 2008
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 352
Genre: Mystery- Romance, Humor

My mom first told me about the Stephanie Plum series and she was constantly trying to get me to read them but I always have a very large TBR (to be read) pile so kept putting it off until last year when Twelve Sharp came out and I decided to see what all the hullabaloo was about. I’m so glad I listened to my mom! Our reading tastes sometimes differ but not when it comes to this series. All of Janet Evanovich's books have her certain "writing style" to them but not one of them can claim to be repetitive or boring! Lean Mean Thirteen was very good and even if it is the thirteenth book in the series (and they show no signs of stopping) it was very well thought out and funny.

Stephanie still hasn’t decided which man (Morelli or Ranger) she wants in Thirteen but who could blame her?! They are both so yummy but I think she would have to give up a lot to be with one or the other. I think her life just works the way it is and I think this little love triangle is what is mainly keeping readers coming back for more. All I have to say is, Stephanie Plum is one lucky girl!

The most disappointing thing for me in the book was the fact that Grandma didn’t have as many scenes as she usually does so I mostly had to get my comedy from Lulu. The funniest part in the whole book (and most memorable) has to be the results of her egging Stephanie on about giving the "singing beaver" to Joyce. I mean, it’s not like Joyce didn’t deserve what happened, she’s awful! I can’t wait to see what happens next in this series.

Stephanie Plum Series
1. One for the Money (1994)
2. Two for the Dough (1995)
3. Three to Get Deadly (1997)
4. Four to Score (1998)
5. High Five (1999)
6. Hot Six (2000)
7. Seven Up (2001)
8. Hard Eight (2002)
9. To the Nines (2003)
10. Ten Big Ones (2004)
11. Eleven on Top (2005)
12. Twelve Sharp (2006)
13. Lean Mean Thirteen (2007)
14. Fearless Fourteen (2008)
15. Finger Lickin' Fifteen (2009)
16. Sizzling Sixteen (2010)

Stephanie Plum Between-the-Numbers Novels
1. Visions of Sugar Plums (2002)
2. Plum Lovin' (2007)
3. Plum Lucky (2008)
4. Plum Spooky (2009)

First Paragraph: For the last five minutes, I'd been parked outside my cousin Vinnie's bail bonds office in my crapola car, debating whether to continue on with my day, or return to my apartment and crawl back into bed. My name is Stephanie Plum, and Sensible Stephanie wanted to go to bed. Loco Stephanie was thinking she should get on with it.

Find Janet Evanovich Online

Links:

Source: Borrowed from my mom, hardcover

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sometimes People Are the Purest Form of Evil


Readers around the world have fallen for Kelley Armstrong’s intoxicating, sensual and wicked tales of the paranormal, in which demons and witches, werewolves and vampires collide – often hilariously, sometimes violently – with everyday life. In Armstrong’s first six novels, Elena, Paige and Eve have had their way with us. Now get ready for Jaime Vegas, the luscious, lovelorn and haunted necromancer. . .

Jaime, who knows a thing or two about showbiz, is on a television shoot in Los Angeles when weird things start to happen. As a woman whose special talent is raising the dead, her threshold for weirdness is pretty high: she’s used to not only seeing dead people but hearing them speak to her in very emphatic terms. But for the first time in her life – as invisible hands brush her skin, unintelligible fragments of words are whispered into her ears, and beings move just at the corner of her eye–she knows what humans mean when they talk about being haunted.

She is determined to get to the bottom of these manifestations, but as she sets out to solve the mystery she has no idea how scary her investigation will get, or to what depths ordinary humans will sink in their attempts to gain supernatural powers. As she digs into the dark underside of Los Angeles, she’ll need as much Otherworld help as she can get in order to survive, calling on her personal angel, Eve, and Hope, the well-meaning chaos demon. Jeremy, the alpha werewolf, is also by her side offering protection. And, Jaime hopes, maybe a little more than that.

Title: No Humans Involved
Series: Women of the Otherworld, Book 7
Published: May 1, 2007
Publisher: Bantam
Pages: 352
Genre: Urban Fantasy

No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong is the current book in the Women of the Otherworld series and it is narrated by the necromancer Jaime Vegas. I really liked the whole Hollywood feel to this one and the idea of a show like the one Jaime is working on in the book. They’re trying to contact dead celebrities (well actually murdered celebrities), I’m just upset that they never got around to Marilyn Monroe!

I think Jaime is such an interesting character. Of course, she’s always getting kidnaped because she can’t do magic (Paige, Eve) or have brute strength (Elena) but somehow she’s always rescued in time! Some of the book is a little hard to stomach for me but I really did enjoy it and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Women of the Otherworld Series
1. Bitten (2001)
2. Stolen (2002)
3. Dime Store Magic (2003)
5. Haunted (2005)
6. Broken (2006)
8. Personal Demon (2008)
9. Living with the Dead (2008)
10. Frost Bitten (2009)
11. Waking the Witch (2010)

First Paragraph: Brendan struggled to stay awake. A tough battle-- far tougher than it should have been under the circumstances.

Find Kelley Armstrong Online

Links:
Soundtrack List for the Series

Interview:
Audio Interview with Kelley Armstrong

Source: Personal collection, paperback

Book Trailer:

Interview:


Related Reviews
Darkest Powers Series
1. The Summoning (2008)
2. The Awakening (2009)
3. The Reckoning (2010)
4. The Gathering (2011)

Nadia Stafford Series
1. Exit Strategy (2007)
2. Made to Broken (2009)

Anthologies
Dates from Hell (2006)
My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon (2007)
Many Bloody Returns (2007)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Even Pregnant, Elena Still Kicks Butt!

In this thrilling new novel from the author of Industrial Magic, a pregnant werewolf may have unwittingly unleashed Jack the Ripper on twenty-first-century Toronto – and become his next target...

Ever since she discovered she’s pregnant, Elena Michaels has been on edge. After all, she’s never heard of another living female werewolf, let alone one who’s given birth. But thankfully, her expertise is needed to retrieve a stolen letter allegedly written by Jack the Ripper. As a distraction, the job seems simple enough — only the letter contains a portal to Victorian London’s underworld, which Elena inadvertently triggers — unleashing a vicious killer and a pair of zombie thugs.

Now Elena must find a way to seal the portal before the unwelcome visitors get what they’re looking for — which, for some unknown reason, is Elena…


Title: Broken
Series: Women of the Otherworld, Book 6
Published: April 25, 2006
Publisher: Bantam Books
Pages: 480
Genre: Urban Fantasy


It’s been awhile since Elena and the rest of the werewolf clan had a major "screen time" in one of Kelley Armstrong's fabulous novels so I was more than a little excited when I picked up the sixth book in the Women of the Otherworld series, Broken. I was even more intrigued when I discovered that Jack the Ripper is included in the storyline too. Xavier also makes a small appearance and is the catalyst for the whole book (for those that don’t remember or don’t know he is the half-demon from the second book Stolen) and incidentally he is responsible for my favorite Elena argument in the whole book:

"Dangerous? Do you remember what Xavier’s power is? Teleportation. Limited teleportation. The guy can move about ten feet. Worst thing he can do to me? Poke me in the eyes, go ‘nyuk, nyuk, nyuk’ and zip away before I can smack him."

Broken turned out to be pretty good but still not one of my absolute favorites in the series. A new character was introduced in this book that I hope to see more of. Her name is Zoe and she’s a vampire but she’s a whole lot nicer and interesting than some of the other vampires in the Otherworld. Jaime (the necromancer who narrates the next book in the series, No Humans Involved) is pretty cool in this book too but as I’ve said before and will undoubtable say again, Elena is my favorite heroine in this series (and her husband Clay is the best "hero") and it was good to spend some quality time with her again.

Women of the Otherworld Series
1. Bitten (2001)
2. Stolen (2002)
3. Dime Store Magic (2003)
5. Haunted (2005)
6. Broken (2006)
8. Personal Demon (2008)
9. Living with the Dead (2008)
10. Frost Bitten (2009)
11. Waking the Witch (2010)

First Paragraph: Clayton doesn't do "unobtrusive" well. Not even when he tries, and that afternoon, he was trying his damnedest. He was downwind of me, at least two hundred feet away, so I couldn't smell him, see him or hear him. But I knew he was there.

Find Kelley Armstrong Online

Links:
Here is a website about Jack the Ripper
Source: Personal collection, paperback

Book Trailer:


Kelley Armstrong Interview:


Related Reviews
Darkest Powers Series
1. The Summoning (2008)
2. The Awakening (2009)
3. The Reckoning (2010)
4. The Gathering (2011)

Nadia Stafford Series
1. Exit Strategy (2007)
2. Made to Broken (2009)

Anthologies
Dates from Hell (2006)
My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon (2007)
Many Bloody Returns (2007)

He Walks in Both Worlds

His curse became his power.

Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) was only a teenaged stunt biker when he sold his soul to the devil (Peter Fonda). Years later, Johnny is a world-renowned daredevil by day, but at night, he becomes the Ghost Rider of Marvel Comics legend. The devil's bounty hunter, he is charged with finding evil souls on earth and bringing them to hell. But when a twist of fate brings Johnny's long-lost love (Eve Mendes) back into his life, Johnny realizes he just might have a second chance at happiness - if he can bear the devil and win back his soul. To do so he'll have to defeat Blackheart (Wes Bentley), the devil's nemesis and wayward son, whose plot to take over his father's realm will bring hell on earth - unless Ghost Rider can stop him.

Title: Ghost Rider
Release: February 16, 2007
Genre: Action/ Fantasy- Superhero
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Based On: Ghost Rider comics
Writer: Mark Steven Johnson
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Music By: Christopher Young
Produced By: Avi Arad, Stan Lee, David S. Goyer, Michael DeLuca, & Gary Foster
Distributed By: Columbia Pictures & Marvel
Run Time: 114 minutes

I was so excited when I first heard that Ghost Rider was coming out. I had never heard of the comics before (I’d never even read a comic until after I graduated high school, so that’s not unusual) but the idea of a flaming skull dude who fights evil and is Nicholas Cage in his down time just sounded like a good movie to me. Then once it came out everyone I knew who saw it said it was just okay. Surely not! Yet when I finally did get around to watching it I have to agree, it was just mediocre.

Nicholas Cage is a really great actor most of the time but I haven’t seen a decent movie by him since National Treasure (speaking of which there is soon to be a sequel!) but I thought he did a really good job as the main character Johnny Blaze. Also Eva Mendes played her part as Roxanne (Johnny’s love interest and former childhood sweetheart) pretty well too. The only thing I can really complain about with the acting in the film is that sometimes it’s a bit overdone.

I don’t know who is responsible for making what could have been fantastic, into a "just okay" movie. I can’t even pinpoint the reason I didn’t love it like I thought I would. It’s not the special effects teams fault because they held nothing back and made Ghost Rider look really cool but I think the editing process may shoulder part of the blame because sometimes the story seems a little uneven. Overall I have to agree that the film was just okay. Hopefully whenever they make the sequel (and you know they will) it will be much better, although who knows?

~ I have only seen the theatrical version of Ghost Rider. There is a director’s cut on the DVD which is said to be better but I haven’t yet seen it.

Find Ghost Rider Online
Official Site
Imdb.com
Wikipedia

Links:
Ghost Rider Blog

Trailer:


Nick Cage Interview:


Related Reviews
Nicolas Cage- Johnny Blaze / Ghost Rider
National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)- Ben Gates

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Beautiful Animation Never Dies!

Heartwarming, enchanting and beautifully crafted, this magical cartoon fantasy ushered in a new era of dazzling animation! "Gorgeous to look at" (Times). The Secret of NIMH will "delight kids everywhere" (Newsweek).

This animation extravaganza is based on Robert C. O'Brien's award-winning story of Mrs. Brisby, a timid mouse who becomes a heroine in spite of herself. Struggling to save her home from Father Fitzgibbon's plow, Mrs. Brisby gets help from a colorful menagerie of local critters including a wonderfully klutzy crow, a wise owl, and some highly intelligent rats. You'll be mesmerized by the Oz-like kingdom of the rats, their charming leader Nicodemus and the climatic showdown between two swashbuckling "ratversaries!"

The fun, drama and suspense of this delightful tale are brought to life by the voices of Dom DeLuise, Jogn Carradine, Derek Jacobi, Hermoine Baddeley and Elizabeth Hartman. With the music of Oscar winner Jerry Goldsmith beautifully underscoring every mood, The Secret of NIMH is sheer delight! Share it with someone you love.

Title: The Secret of NIMH
Release: July 2, 1982
Genre: Animated-Family
MPAA Rating: G
Based On: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
Writer: Don Bluth, Will Finn, Gary Goldman, & John Pomeroy
Director: Don Bluth
Music By: Jerry Goldsmith
Produced By: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, & John Pomeroy
Distributed By: MGM/UA Entertainment Co.
Run Time: 82 minutes

The Secret of NIMH was the first feature film for the Don Bluth studio and in my opinion it’s one of the very best animated classics. I’ve always loved this movie so much. It has all the action, drama, and even comedy you would find in a live-action movie but because it’s animated I think it’s even more entertaining. When I was younger, I picked up the books it was based off of by Robert C. O’Brien and his daughter and although it’s been probably ten years I still remember bits and pieces of the books. I think it’s time for a reread!

Some would argue that, "because it has so many characters and involves them in so many different problems that there's nobody for the kids in the audience to strongly identify with" but I heartily disagree! That’s one of the reasons I’ve always liked The Secret of NIMH because it featured such strong, distinctive characters that are voiced by very talented actors such as Derek Jacobi (Nicodemus), Dom DeLuise (Jeremy the crow), and the late Elizabeth Hartman (Mrs. Brisby).

This was actually the first Don Bluth film where Dom DeLuise voiced a character and because Bluth liked him so much he went on to voice three more characters in his later films, Tiger (An American Tale), Itchy (All Dogs Go to Heaven), and Stanley (A Troll in Central Park). He even did the voices for his characters in follow-up sequels (an almost unheard of practice), including the direct-to-video sequel The Secret of NIMH: Timmy to the Rescue.

~ I own a VHS copy of this film, there has been a release of a "special edition" DVD but since it has no bonus features other than the original trailer (it also comes with a booklet), I’m not buying. Note: Quote from Roger Ebert’s review of the movie.

Find NIMH Online

Links
NIMH Archive

Trailer:


Related Reviews
Book
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
Dom DeLuise- Jeremy
An American Tail (1986)- Tiger

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Afterlife Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be...

In this thrilling new novel from the author of Industrial Magic, a rebellious--and formally deceased--witch must cross into the darkest dimensions to stop a killer from destroying everything she loves... for all time.




Former supernatural superpower Eve Levine has broken all the rules. But she's never broken a promise–not even during the three years she spent in the afterworld. So when the Fates call in a debt she gave her word she'd pay, she has no choice but to comply.


For centuries one of the ghost world’s wickedest creatures has been loosed on humanity, thwarting every attempt to retrieve her. Now it has fallen to Eve to capture this demi-demon known as the Nix, who inhabits the bodies of would-be killers, compelling them to complete their deadly acts. It’s a mission that becomes all too personal when the Nix targets those Eve loves the most – including Savannah, the daughter she left on earth. But can a renegade witch succeed where a host of angels have failed?



Title: Haunted
Series: Women of the Otherworld, Book 5
Published: January 1, 2005
Publisher: Bantam
Pages: 528
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Haunted by Kelley Armstrong is the fifth book in the Women of the Otherworld series and it is one of my favorites. I just love the idea of a world parallel to the real world where the ghosts live and interact with each other, angels, and the Fates. Actually I’ve always been fascinated by ghosts in general but this was a well-written world that makes you want to believe exists. Especially with the "theme" worlds like the pirates. Wouldn’t that be cool?!

This is the first book in the series that is narrated by the ghost of Eve who is Savannah’s mother. She is such a cool character! Elena and her have the same kind of edge to them that all the other females in the series lack. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of her now that Jaime (the necromancer) and her have become friends. Hopefully she’ll get to narrate another book soon.

Women of the Otherworld Series
1. Bitten (2001)
2. Stolen (2002)
3. Dime Store Magic (2003)
4. Industrial Magic (2004)
5. Haunted (2005)
6. Broken (2006)
7. No Humans Involved (2007)
8. Personal Demon (2008)
9. Living with the Dead (2008)
10. Frost Bitten (2009)
11. Waking the Witch (2010)

First Paragraph: Marie- Madeline let the flame under the bowl. A draft through the empty fireplace blew it out. She adjusted the metal screen in front of the hearth, then moved the bowl and tried again. As the flame took hold, smoke swirled through the room, filling it with the acrid stink of burning hair and the sweet smell of rosemary.

Find Kelley Armstrong Online

Source: My personal collection, paperback

Related Reviews
Darkest Powers Series
1. The Summoning (2008)
2. The Awakening (2009)
3. The Reckoning (2010)
4. The Gathering (2011)

Nadia Stafford Series
1. Exit Strategy (2007)
2. Made to Broken (2009)

Anthologies
Dates from Hell (2006)
My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon (2007)
Many Bloody Returns (2007)

Witches, Sorcerers, Vampires, & Werewolves Oh My!

Meet the smart, sexy — supernatural — women of the otherworld. This is not your mother’s coven...

Kelley Armstrong returns with the eagerly awaited follow-up to Dime Store Magic. Paige Winterbourne, a headstrong young woman haunted by a dark legacy, is now put to the ultimate test as she fights to save innocents from the most insidious evil of all...

In the aftermath of her mother’s murder, Paige broke with the elite, ultraconservative American Coven of Witches. Now her goal is to start a new Coven for a new generation. But while Paige pitches her vision to uptight thirty-something witches in business suits, a more urgent matter commands her attention.

Someone is murdering the teenage offspring of the underworld’s most influential Cabals — a circle of families that makes the mob look like amateurs. And none is more powerful than the Cortez Cabal, a faction Paige is intimately acquainted with. Lucas Cortez, the rebel son and unwilling heir, is none other than her boyfriend. But love isn’t blind, and Paige has her eyes wide open as she is drawn into a hunt for an unnatural-born killer. Pitted against shamans, demons, and goons, it’s a battle chilling enough to make a wild young woman grow up in a hurry. If she gets the chance.

Title: Industrial Magic
Series: Women of the Otherworld, Book 4
Published: September 2, 2004
Publisher: Bantam Books
Pages: 496
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Industrial Magic is the fourth book in Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series and it is the second book narrated by the witch Paige. She’s grown up quite a bit since I first met her in Stolen (the second book in the series). In that book I couldn’t stand her, then in each subsequent novel I grew to tolerate and now even to like her! She isn’t my favorite female from the Otherworld (the werewolf Elena holds that title) but she is pretty great.

When I finished Dime Store Magic I had a hard time getting my hands on Industrial Magic and when I finally did get the book I was deeply immersed in another series. Thankfully one of my online book groups (Witch Novels- now deleted) was reading it this month so I decided I would restart the series. And what a great book to re-start the series with! I remember being a bit worried about Paige, Lucas, and Savannah in the last book because Paige’s life as she knew it has literally went up in flames but she’s a trouper and she pulls through in this novel.


Women of the Otherworld Series
1. Bitten (2001)
2. Stolen (2002)
3. Dime Store Magic (2003)
4. Industrial Magic (2004)
5. Haunted (2005)
6. Broken (2006)
7. No Humans Involved (2007)
8. Personal Demon (2008)
9. Living with the Dead (2008)
10. Frost Bitten (2009)
11. Waking the Witch (2010)

First Paragraph: "Got another CSI question for you," Gloria said as Simon walked into the communication hub with an armload of papers. "If you're not busy."

Find Kelley Armstrong Online

Source: My personal collection, paperback

Related Reviews
Darkest Powers Series
1. The Summoning (2008)
2. The Awakening (2009)
3. The Reckoning (2010)
4. The Gathering (2011)

Nadia Stafford Series
1. Exit Strategy (2007)
2. Made to Broken (2009)

Anthologies
Dates from Hell (2006)
My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon (2007)
Many Bloody Returns (2007)

Get Out Your Roller-Skates!

XANADU is a look at the future and a loving remembrance of the way things were in the heyday of Hollywood. The musical score includes the hit songs "Magic," "I'm Alive," "All Over the World," "Suddenly," and the title sone "Xanadu." Olivia Newton-John will dazzle your senses with her luminous beauty and fabulous voice. She and Gene Kelly star in this mesmerizing musical fantasy. The '40s meets the '80s in XANADU, a very special love story and the first lavish, old-fashioned musical to utilize today's music.

Title: Xanadu
Release: August 8, 1980
Genre: Musical
MPAA Rating: PG
Writer: Marc Reid Rubel & Richard Christian Danus
Director: Robert Greenwald
Music By: Barry DeVorzon
Produced By: Lawrence Gordon & Joel Silver
Distributed By: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 93 minutes

Xanadu is not my favorite musical by any means but it does have an amazing soundtrack, incredible (for it’s time) special effects, good actors, and really great choreography. It’s kind of hard to believe that the movie was such a flop (although it has since become a cult classic and there are many fan-run websites today) but I have no trouble believing that the soundtrack was such a great commercial success. I own both the movie and the soundtrack and guess which one gets played more often?

Really though, I do enjoy watching the film every once in a blue moon mainly because it features Olivia Newton-John (who I adored in Grease and is the whole reason I discovered Xanadu in the first place) as Kira, and Gene Kelly, who plays Danny Maguire. Well it also features Michael Beck as the leading male Sonny Malone but I still don’t really know who he is and his performance wasn’t that great. Gene Kelly is terrific in his very last film role, not only does he sing and dance, he also roller-skates!

Besides the fabulous music (that I’ll still be singing until at least next week) my other favorite thing about Xanadu is the short animated sequence by Don Bluth. It’s such beautiful work and it fits the dreamy, fantasy song "Don’t Walk Away" perfectly. I’ve heard it said that some of the sequence resembles one of Bluth’s later films Thumbelina but to me it has a Disney feel to it. Kind of like Peter Pan and The Sword in the Stone but it’s still overall a recognizable bit of Don Bluth’s fabulous animation.

~ I own the VHS of Xanadu. I’ve heard that there is a DVD but it’s not worth buying except for the (barely) enhanced quality of the picture and the sound. Universal could make some money off of the movie now if they released a special edition DVD, especially with as many nostalgia nuts running around as there are!

Find Xanadu Online

Trailer:


Making of Xanadu Pt. 1:


Animated Sequence:

Related Reviews
Gene Kelly- Danny MaGuire
For Me and My Gal (1942)- Harry Palmer
Anchors Aweigh (1945)- Joseph Brady
Singing in the Rain (1945)- Don Lockwood
Wilfrid Hyde-White- Male Heavenly Voice (Zeus)
My Fair Lady (1964)- Colonel Hugh Pickering
Agatha Christie's 'Ten Little Indians' (1965)- Judge Arthur Canno

Monday, August 13, 2007

It All Started With a Cat

The classically animated film made in a garage that kick-started Don Bluth, Gary Goldman & John Pomeroy's independent animation careers was in production from 1975 to 1979, this is the little film that attracted financing for The Secret of NIMH, ushering in the second Golden Age of Animation. The team went on to produce and direct the 1983 animated arcade game Dragon's Lair, and the hit movies, An American Tail, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go to Heaven and Thumbelina.

Banjo is your average young cat, with major growing pains. When one of his own pranks backfires, Banjo decides to run away from home instead of facing his parents. He winds up in the big city where he meets cool cats Crazy Legs (Scatman Crothers) and Zazu (Beah Richards). Yet the good times (late night musicals) and the bad times (dogs!) only make Banjo realize all he has left behind. With the help of his new friends, he sets off to find his way back to where he really belongs- home with his family. Featuring original music and songs, this delightful tale is heartwarming animated for the entire family.

Title: Banjo the Woodpile Cat
Release: November 16, 1979
Genre: Animated- Family
MPAA Rating: G
Writer: Don Bluth & Toby Bluth
Director: Don Bluth
Music By: Robert F. Brunner
Produced By: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, & John Pomeroy
Distributed By: ABC
Run Time: 30 minutes

Before Anastasia, before The Land Before Time, even before The Secret of NIMH (which this film bears more than a slight resemblance to) there was Banjo the Woodpile Cat. It was the very first thing Don Bluth and his partners did when they left the Disney studio. For a first try it’s not that bad but as a Don Bluth fan, I can honestly say it isn’t on par with his later works.

I was impressed with the voice actors though. You can tell sometimes that they directly influenced the facial expressions of the characters, especially with Crazy Legs (Scatman Crothers) and Zasu (Beah Richards). Other times though, you can barely tell that these are supposed to be cats! Poor Banjo, if it weren’t for the other cats to bolster the story along, he would have seemed even flatter to me than he already is. At least the backgrounds are detailed and beautifully drawn for the most part and the songs are catchy (but nothing to brag about).

~ I watched a VHS copy of this rare film. I think the color was a little off but it was still in remarkably good condition. I don’t think there even is a DVD available!

Find Banjo the Woodpile Cat Online


Complete Film:






Related Reviews
Don Bluth
The Animated Films of Don Bluth by John Cawley
Xanadu (1980)
The Secret of NIMH (1982)
An American Tale (1986)
The Land Before Time (1988)
Thumbelina (1994)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ignore the Ugly Cover, This is a Great Series!

Being surrounded by all varieties of undead, changeling, and preternatural beings has gotten to be nothing out of the ordinary for Louisiana cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse. Still, even she has her limits. Betrayed by her long time vampire love, Sookie must now not only deal with a possible new man in her life-the oh-so-handsome shapeshifter Quinn- but also contend with the long planned vampire summit in Rhodes.

The summit, which has attracted undead power players from all over central U.S., is sure to be a tense situation. The vampire queen of Louisiana is in a precarious position, her power base weakened by hurricane damage to New Orleans. And there are some vamps who would like to finish what nature started. With secret alliances and backroom deals the order of the day-and- night Sookie must decide what side she'll stand with. And her choice may mean the difference between survival and all-out catastrophe...

Title: All Together Dead
Series: Sookie Stackhouse, Book 7
Published: May 1, 2007
Publisher: Ace
Pages: 336
Genre: Urban Fantasy- Mystery

All Together Dead is the seventh book in the brilliant Sookie Stackhouse series which just happens to be one of my favorites. I can’t figure out why I love this series so much. Sure the men are yummy and that’s usually a deciding factor but I genuinely like Sookie. She’s in my top five of favorite heroines and Eric makes it into my top five of vampires I really like. The only thing I can’t stand about the books is the cover art. In my humble opinion I think it’s hideous and detracts from the novel. If I hadn’t have had my first Sookie experience in the anthology Bite I wouldn’t have picked up the books on my own.

With as many vampire based books going around you would think it would be hard for Charlaine Harris to be original but all her stories are. The series is so creative, fun, and action packed that I usually read the book in a day then have to wait almost a whole year for another one. Ms. Harris and I definitely need to have a talk about that! I know she has four different ongoing series (Sookie Stackhouse, Lily Bard "Shakespeare", Aurora Teagarden, and Harper Connelly) but I honestly wouldn’t care if she dropped all the others if I could have more time in Sookie’s world! I’m so excited that it’s being made into a TV series called True Blood!

Sookie Stackhouse
1. Dead Until Dark (2001)
2. Living Dead in Dallas (2002)
3. Club Dead (2003)
4. Dead to the World (2004)
5. Dead as a Doornail (2005)
6. Definitely Dead (2006)
7. All Together Dead (2007)
8. From Dead to Worse (2008)
9. Dead and Gone (2009)
10. Dead in the Family (2010)

First Paragraph: The Shreveport vampire bar would be opening late tonight. I was running behind, and I'd automatically gone to the front door, the public door, only to be halted by a neatly lettered sign, red Gothic script on white cardboard: WE'LL BE READY TO GREET YOU WITH A BITE TONIGHT, AT EIGHT O'CLOCK. PLEASE EXCUSE OUR DELAYED OPENING. It was signed "The Staff of Fangtasia."

Find Charlaine Harris Online

Interview
Barnes and Noble: Meet the Writers (audio interview)

Source: Library Loan, hardcover

Charlaine Harris Interview:


Related Reviews:
Aurora Teagarden Series:
1. Real Murders (1989)
2. A Bone to Pick (1992)
3. Three Bedrooms, One Corpse (1994)
4. The Julius House (1995)

5. Dead Over Heels (1996)
6. A Fool and His Honey (1999)
7. Last Scene Alive (2002)
8. Poppy Done to Death (2003)


Harper Connelly Series:
1. Grave Sight (2005)
2. Grave Surprise (2006)
3. An Ice Cold Grave (2007)
4. Grave Secret (2009)

Anthologies:
Many Bloody Returns (2007)
Wolfsbane and Mistletoe (2008)

A Mid-Life Crisis Isn't Always a Bad Thing

"The wine has been drunk, the pasta demolished, three quarters of the tiramisu polished off..." A group of friends sits around a half-cleared dinner table. Now in their late thirties, most haven't seen one another for years.

Paul, a handsome freelance journalist, is happily married to a gorgeous fashion entrepreneur, but they're struggling--unsuccessfully so far--to have children. Saffron lives in Los Angeles; she's had many roles but is hoping for that one big break as she navigates a secret love affair with one of the most famous men in the world. Olivia, always the wallflower of the group, runs an animal shelter in London and finds herself single after her long-time lover walked out.
And the hostess, Holly, is married to the perfect man, has two perfect children, and lives in the perfect house... or does she?

When their friend Tom is killed in a terrorist attack, the group gathers to mourn, and as they do they rediscover the power of friendship, the politics of change, and the true meaning of a mid-life crisis. How long can Paul and Anna continue, emotionally and financially, the IVF treatments? Will Saffron's true love leave his wife for her? Will Olivia's blind date lead to anything? Can Holly make her marriage work--or has someone come back into her life who will change everything?

Page-turning, mesmerizing, and deliciously appealing, Second Chance will strike a chord with anyone who is still trying to figure life out.

Title: Second Chance
Author: Jane Green
Published: June 19, 2007
Publisher: Plume (Penguin Group)
Pages: 384
Genre: Women's Fiction

When I was younger I used to drive my mom crazy because I would talk about the characters in my books like they were real people. She’d ask me if "Claudia" was someone I had met in school and I would just look at her like she was insane because of course she was my latest favorite person in The Babysitters Club series. I mention this odd little personal story about me because I realized I was doing the same thing this morning when I was talking to my husband about the characters in Second Chance. They seemed almost real to me, like cleverly disguised people that the author actually knows. I have to say it, I loved this book!

At first when I started it, I thought I would hate it because I’ve had both bad and good experiences with British novels and I was almost positive that this would turn out to be a bad one but since one of my fabulous online book groups (The Chick Lit CafĂ©- now deleted) was reading it I thought I would give it a shot anyways. I’m so glad I did! It touches on the serious issues like divorce, death, infidelity, infertility alcoholism, and it even touches on abortion but it’s also about love and hope. I really enjoyed this book and although I had never read anything by Jane Green before I won’t think twice about picking up another one of her books.

First Paragraph: The wine had been drunk, the pasta demolished, three-quarters of the tiramisu polished off. Were you to peer through the window you might think you were looking at a group of old friends laughing, catching up, having a wonderful time, never seeing the gossamer-thin threads of grief that are woven between them, that have brought them together again after all this time.

Find Jane Green Online

Links:
~Songs Mentioned in the Book:
Irene Cara-Fame
Police-Every Breath You Take
Linda Ronstadt-Goodbye My Friend

Source: Library loan, hardcover

Thursday, August 9, 2007

My Favorite Crime TV Series

Title: CSI: Miami
Release: September 23, 2002 – present
Genre: Crime Drama- Forensics
MPAA Rating: TV
Writer: Ann Donahue, Carol Mendelsohn, Anthony E. Zuiker, Marc Dube, Ildy Modrovich, etc.
Director: Joe Chappelle, Sam Hill, Scott Lautanen, Karen Gaviola, Matt Earl Beesley, etc.
Music By: Jeff Cardoni, Kevin Kiner, & Graeme Revell
Produced By: Jerry Bruckheimer
Distributed By: Jerry Bruckheimer Television & CBS
Run Time: 40-45 minutes per episode
Official Site

I love just about every catch-the-bad-guy show that’s on TV but CSI: Miami is my favorite. I just started watching it this past year but I adore everything about the show.... including Horatio Caine. For those living under a rock, he’s the CSI: Miami boss like Grissom is the Las Vegas boss but unlike Grissom (who I really like as well) he focuses not only on the bad guys and catching the bad guys but he’s also there for the victims.

My husband and I are just now starting to collect the CSI: Miami seasons (we love our TV shows on DVD!) And he recently bought me the second season (we own the first already). The thing is I’ve already seen a lot of the episodes on TV so there are quite a few on the DVD that I’d already seen but I did watch a lot I hadn’t seen. I really enjoyed this season more than the first because the actors have already gotten to know their characters and become the characters so it seems a bit more real.
I always have a couple of favorite episodes per season but on this one it’s almost every episode. There are always great special effects like in the Hurricane Anthony episode and Horatio doggedly goes after the murderer sometimes even going to New York (where he teams up with CSI: NY) like he did in MIA/NYC- NonStop because he promised a girl whose family was brutally murdered that he would catch their killer. I could go on and on about my favorite TV series (ever since they cancelled Veronica Mars it got bumped up into the number 1 slot) but I won’t. Just try it if you haven’t already and I bet you’ll be hooked too.


~ There is a separate disc of Behind-the-Scenes featurettes including two tours, a few interviews with the cast in CSI Miami: Recalling Season 2, and Visually Effective which talks about the special effects and how they were achieved. Note: if you have a problem with maggots like I do, you might want to skip this and the episode Hard Time or at least hide your eyes like I did!

Commercial:

Is She Or Isn't She?

The Great Romantic Enigma of The Twentieth Century.

In July of 1918, the Bolsheviks shot Russian Czar Nicholas II, his wife and their five children during the Russian Revolution. So begins the epic saga of Anna Anderson, the woman who claimed until the day she died in 1984 that she was truly Grand Duchess Anastasia, the youngest child of Czar Nicholas II and sole survivor of the family's execution. Her story became one of the greatest romantic mysteries of the twentieth century. This breathtaking adaptation of Anna's journey is also a depiction of a lost era, from her days of Russian royalty, her flight from execution and her years of struggle to reclaim her royal heritage. Amy Irving leads a luminary cast in this spectacular drama filled with triumph, tragedy, mystery and hope.

Title: Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna
Release: December 7-8, 1986
Genre: Drama, History
MPAA Rating: PG
Based On: The Riddle of Anna Anderson by Peter Kurth
Writer: James Goldman
Director: Marvin J. Chomsky
Music By: Laurence Rosenthal
Produced By: Marvin J. Chomsky
Distributed By: NBC (TV movie)
Run Time: 200 minutes

I know very little about the story of Anastasia and what I do know I learned from Don Bluth’s classic animated masterpiece so Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna came as a bit of a surprise to me. The story is fabulous and although the movie is quite long (it was a originally a telefilm) I never was bored. The costumes are very nice and although the story adaptation isn’t quite true to the actual events of Anna Anderson and her plight I didn’t know at the time of watching so I really enjoyed it. I think if I hadn’t have read what was a major spoiler for me (not going to say what but if you are familiar with what happened after the death of the person who the film is based on you already know) I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It’s very little wonder the film was nominated for four Emmy Awards altogether and won two.

My favorite thing about the movie actually involves two actors in it. This was Christian Bale’s (Batman Begins) very first film and Rex Harrison’s (My Fair Lady, Doctor Dolittle) very last although he did go on to star in a few plays before he died. The whole cast is amazing with Amy Irving in the title role but those are the two were my favorite actors in the film. Harrison is actually the reason I discovered the movie in the first place. I had never even heard of it before but it was interesting to watch a movie made the year I was born.

~ I borrowed the VHS from the library to watch the film. It came out on DVD in 2006 but from what I’ve read online there aren’t any bonus features.

Find Anastasia Online

Links:
If you would like to watch the Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna you can watch it online because Tbozfan has uploaded the entire four hours onto YouTube.

Related Reviews
Rex Harrison- Grand Duke Cyril Romanov
A Damned Serious Business: My Life in Comedy by Rex Harrison
Night Train to Munich (1940)- Dickie Randall/ Gus Bennett
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)- Capt. Daniel Gregg
Cleopatra (1963)- Julius Caesar
My Fair Lady (1964)- Professor Henry Higgins
The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)- Pope Julius II
Doctor Dolittle (1967)- Dr. John Dolittle
Amy Irving- Anna Anderson
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)- Jessica Rabbit (singing)
Claire Bloom- Czarina Alexandra
The Haunting (1963)- Theodora 'Theo'

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Yummy Treat!

It's Tri-County fair time and Lake Eden, Minnesota, is buzzing with more than mosquitoes. Hannah Swensen, owner of The Cookie Jar, is hot on the trail of a killer whose perfect carnival prize would be getting away with murder...

It promises to be a busy week for Hannah Swensen. Not only is she whipping up treats for the chamber of commerce booth at the fair; she's also judging the baking contest; acting as a magician's assistant for her business partner's husband; trying to coax Moishe, her previously rapacious feline, to end his hunger strike, and performing her own private carnival act by juggling the demands of her mother and sisters.

With so much on her plate, it's no wonder Hannah finds herself on the midway only moments before the fair closes for the night. As the lights click off, she realizes that she's not alone among the shuttered booths and looming carnival attractions. After hearing a suspicious thump, she goes snooping - only to discover Willa Sunquist, a student teacher and fellow bake contest judge, dead alongside an upended key lime pie. But who would want to kill Willa and why? Before long Hannah is sifting through motives and a list of suspects which include a high school student Willa flunked, the hot-blooded brothers of a disqualified beauty contestant, a rodeo cowboy, a baking competitor who failed to win her yearly blue ribbon, and the college professor Willa was dating.

As fair week draws to a close, Hannah cranks up the heat, hoping that the killer will get rattled and make a mistake. If that happens she intends to be there, even if it means getting on a carnival ride that could very well be her last...

Title: Key Lime Pie Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke
Series: Hannah Swensen, Book 9
Published: March 1, 2007
Publisher: Kensington Publishing
Pages: 352
Genre: Cozy Mystery- Culinary

Key Lime Pie Murder is the latest release in the Hannah Swensen cozy mysteries by Joanne Fluke. It’s a fluffy, PG-13 cozy mystery that has plenty of truly yummy recipes included in the book that I can’t wait to try! Especially the popovers, the peach bread, the orange cake, the Mock Apple Pie, and the blonde brownies. Wow did you just hear all the tummy rumbles? I think I would like the Deep-Fried Candy Bars too but all that sugar would make me sick.

There are no less than seven recipes in every mystery (50 in Sugar Cookie Murder) but I’ve only made a few (even though I do have copies of all the recipes). The ones I have made from the previous books are still getting rave reviews from family. But that’s enough about the food in the books, the mysteries themselves aren’t all that bad either. The romance is more of an old-fashioned type that you don’t see very much of today which can be a bit infuriating at times but the actual mystery itself is well thought out and flows throughout the book. I have to admit that I have read better "cozies" but I always look forward to the next Hannah mystery (which will be a novella called Candy Cane Murder due out in Oct.). Until then I guess I’ll just have to wait to find out if I’m right about Delores’ (Hannah’s mother) secret!

Hannah Swensen Series
1. Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder (2000)
2. Strawberry Shortcake Murder (2001)
3. Blueberry Muffin Murder (2002)
4. Lemon Meringue Pie Murder (2003)
5. Fudge Cupcake Murder (2004)
6. Sugar Cookie Murder (2004)
7. Peach Cobbler Murder (2005)
8. Cherry Cheesecake Murder (2006)
9. Key Lime Pie Murder (2007)
10. Carrot Cake Murder (2008)
11. Candy Cane Murder (2008) (in Candy Cane Murder)
12. Cream Puff Murder (2009)
13. Plum Pudding Murder (2009)
14. Apple Turnover Murder (2010)
Sugar and Spice (anthology)

First Paragraph: At precisely eight forty-five on the second Monday morning in June, Hannah Swensen took a number from the deli- style dispenser mounted on a pole next to the secretary's desk and plunked herself down in one of the nondescript chairs in the nondescript waiting room to wait her turn.

Source: Library loan, hardcover

Related Reviews
Culinary Cozy Mysteries

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Epic Film of the Queen of the Nile

Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison star in this sweeping tale of power and betrayal -- the legendary story of the Queen of the Nile and her conquest of Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. Here is the truly unforgettable portrayal of the beguiling beauty who seduced two of Rome's greatest soldiers and changed the course of history. Breathtaking in scope and grandeur, the picture won Oscars® for cinematography, art direction, costumes, sets and special effects. In the tradition of epic romantic adventures like Braveheart and Titanic comes the greatest spectacle of all... Cleopatra.

Title: Cleopatra
Release: July 31, 1963
Genre: Drama/Romance- History
MPAA Rating: G
Based On: The Life and Times of Cleopatra by C.M. Franzero
Writer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Sidney Buchman, Ben Hecht, & Ranald MacDougall
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Rouben Mamoulian (fired), & Darryl F. Zanuck (quit)
Music By: Alex North
Produced By: Walter Wanger
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 244 minutes

Cleopatra was one of the last truly epic films and unfortunately it was considered the biggest flop of all time and nearly bankrupted the 20th Century Fox studio. It actually did earn back the money spent (eventually) and that’s saying a lot because it was -and if adjusted for inflation, still is - the most expensive film ever made ... and for good reason! The sets are big and spectacular, the costumes are elaborate and gorgeous, and the actors themselves are the cream of the crop.

I honestly believe that if the director had been allowed to split the movie into two parts like he originally wanted to do, the film wouldn’t have suffered so much and it would have been a million times better. As it stands its simply an ok movie that’s really, really long (can you imagine that it was actually longer but they cut it?!). I still loved the actors and their wonderful performances but I almost wish Elizabeth Taylor hadn’t been involved in it but then Hollywood loves their spectacles and the movie couldn’t have had a better bit of advertising than Richard Burton’s and Taylors’ very public affair.

~ I enjoyed watching the 3-disc (the last disc is bonus features, the first two is the movie... I told you it was long!) DVD but I really hope that those missing three hours are recovered one day so the world can see the epic as it was meant to be seen.

Find Cleopatra Online

Trailer:


Premiere:

Related Reviews
Rex Harrison- Julius Caesar
A Damned Serious Business: My Life in Comedy by Rex Harrison
Night Train to Munich (1940)- Gus Bennett/Dickie Randall
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)- Captain Daniel Gregg
My Fair Lady (1964)- Professor Henry Higgins
The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)- Pope Julius II
Doctor Dolittle (1967)- Dr. John Dolittle
Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986)- Grand Duke Cyril Romanov
Roddy McDowall- Octavian/ Caesar Augustus
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)- Mr. Jelk (Priest)

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