Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The First True-Life Adventure

Tons of fanged and savage fury... fighting for a mate! 
Mighty "Beach-master" and invading "Bachelor" clash in mortal combat... as the Arctic's strangest mystery unfolds before your eyes! First of Walt Disney’s “True-Life Adventures” Series. A live-action saga of nature in the Mystic Pribilof Islands.

Title: Seal Island
Release: December 21, 1948
Genre: Documentary- Animal
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Photographed By: Alfred and Elma Milotte
Production Supervisor: Ben Sharpsteen
Director: James Algar
Music By: Oliver Wallace
Produced By: Walt Disney
Studio: Walt Disney Productions
Distributed By: RKO Radio Pictures
Run Time: 27  minutes

“By special permission of United States Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife Service.”

The very first True-Life Adventure featurette was called Seal Island and it mostly features the mating and life cycle of the fur seal on the Pribilof Islands in Alaska which Walt Disney and daughter Sharon may have seen on their trip to the state the previous year. Narrated by Winston Hibler, this not quite 30 minute short won the Academy Award in 1949 for Best Short Subject (Two-Reel) and the Best Subject award at the Cannes festival. However, like many of Walt Disney’s brilliant ideas (adding sound to Steamboat Willie for example), he had to really do some fast talking to get anyone interested. RKO, the then Disney distributor, didn't want to take a chance on the film so Walt somehow got a theater in Pasadena to run the film to qualify it for the Academy Award. After it won, Walt was rumored to have said to his brother, "Here, Roy, take this [the Oscar] over to RKO and bang them over the head with it."

The idea for Seal Island and the eventual True Life series has become muddled with time. In some interviews, Walt Disney stumbled across Al Millotte in his camera store while visiting Alaska and asked him if he wanted to make pictures, another story goes that Walt Disney heard about the Millottes while they were in Seattle and sent them back to Alaska to see what they could get, and still another has Walt Disney taking credit for everything but the filming of the animals. Probably Elma Milotte's story is the most truthful in which they sent Disney some of the footage they shot of Alaska and he asked for more of the seals. They then filmed a ton of footage and cinematographer Alfred Milotte and the film editor Anthony Gerard pieced pieces of it together to come up with this short subject. The True Life Adventures; especially this first one, also helped the studio out financially because they grossed so much more than they cost to make. With very little animation (beautiful though it is), and no actors to pay, it pretty much just cost them the film and the money to pay the photographers.

At the beginning of the film, this appears on the screen: “This is one of a series of True- Life Adventures presenting strange facts about the world we live in. These films are photographed in their natural settings and are completely authentic, unstaged and unrehearsed.” In spite of this, to tell a coherent story, there is some manipulation of the film such as when a baby seal is supposedly lost yet you can see other seals around it when the mother "rescues" it and who knows? It may be another seal altogether! You don't really notice things like this when watching the film though. It does have anthropomorphic conventions to make the animals relatable to the viewer and some of the violence and deaths are softened as well too.

Other than a few basic facts, I didn’t know very much about the fur seal but boy are those “Beach Masters” some ugly brutes! Brute is an especially apt word when describing these animals since the climax of the film is a fight between two bulls, one Beach Master, one Bachelor (a male seal who has no harem of mates) and it does get a little bloody. The females and the pups were very cute though and it’s odd how their flippers really looked like hands and feet sometimes. Even if they weren’t a big part of this featurette, what I really liked was the birds featured on Seal Island, especially the penguins!

James Algar said that the True-Life Adventures were "based on the premise that information can be entertainment if interestingly presented.” However, there are no educators or scientist advisors for the film though there are three people credited as researchers, so not everything that is presented is necessarily true. Nor is all those sounds that the animals made what you’d actually hear in real life (the seals in real life sound a bit like sheep)… they are all special effects! There is actually no sound to any of the footage shot for any of the True- Life Adventures (the equipment wasn’t sophisticated enough back then to have both sound and picture and that‘s about the only “dated” thing in Seal Island) so it’s up to the sound effects guys and composers to make the film entertaining. Walt Disney received several awards for this and all his ’Adventure’ films such as being appointed as a member of the President's Committee on Higher Education and even a commendation from the National Geographic Society.

Favorite Quotes
It’s behind this curtain of fog that nature plays out one of her greatest dramas. A story strange as fantasy, yet a story straight from the realm of fact. For this is a True- Life Adventure, the saga of the fur seal. 
[Baby seal has caught his flipper under a bull or "Beach Master"]When 800 pounds of blubber has parked on your flipper, there’s not much you can do about it but wait until the big bully makes up his mind to move. Free at last. It's a hard life, this survival of the fittest.

Seal Island Links
Disney Archives

Since there is no videos online for Seal Island, here are some seals!

Also, there is a clip from the movie from 1:06-2:47

Thursday, February 24, 2011

No One Wins in Nuclear War

The day after the bomb dropped the thousands of years of "progress" that had covered the treacheries and weaknesses of ordinary man with a thin veneer of civilization were dissolved and melted like snow in the desert's dusty face. 
Then-- the law of the jungle reigned, but in the wreckage a few courageous survivors, men and women with the guts to have hope, were determined to build a new and better world on the ruins of the old. This is their story.

Title: Alas, Babylon
Author: Pat Frank
Start & Finished: 2/20/11
Published: 1959
Publisher: J.B. Lippincott
Pages: 312
Genre: Dystopian/ Post- Apocalyptic

Reporter, government official, war correspondent, philanderer, alcoholic, and fisherman Harry Hart Frank did a lot in his life but it's the novels he published under his nickname Pat Frank that got the most attraction, especially his magnum opus Alas, Babylon. Mr. Frank said that he got the idea for the book when a friend asked him a question that he himself had been pondering, “What do you think would happen if the Russkies hit us when we weren’t looking?” After replying that he thought we would win but with a casualty of fifty or sixty million, his friend said, “What a depression that would make!” After relating this incident in the foreward of Alas, Babylon Pat Frank said, “I doubt if he realized the exact nature and extent of the depression-- which is why I am writing this book.”

This story takes place in the fictional town of Fort Repose which is in Central Florida but based upon another real life small town called Mandarin and then set in the location of the town of Mount Dora. This book is one of the first post-apocalyptic novels written during the Atomic Era. Frank did do his research, from reading the Bible (which is where the title comes from, in Revelations) to visiting Cape Canaveral to consult with air command officials. He even called up a few doctors so Doctor Dan would be authentic. He also calls upon his time in the service as well as his prowess as a fisherman (he lived on a lake). It was said that he was a consultant of both the Department of Defense and NASA too. What he knew and what he learned during the course of writing Alas, Babylon and a few other of his books, Mr. Frank applied to real life such as buying canned food, bottled water, and building a shelter for his family. He even wrote a nonfiction book called How to Survive the H-Bomb and Why.

Alas Babylon is about adapting to the circumstances by learning to live like your great-great-great grandparents did and at the very center it's about family. Everything the main character Randy Bragg does is for his family; his blood relatives (brother's wife and children) as well as the adoptive family of all his nearby neighbors and the town doctor too. Though I enjoyed all the characters; especially little Ben Franklin, Randy was definitely my favorite and the most relatable for me. In the book there’s also a bit about the spirit and faith in and of man too and unlike other stories found in this genre (the barbarism of Lord of the Flies comes to mind), this book does end on a bleak but hopeful note. However, I believe after what Mr. Frank had seen all over the world and heard from his friends in the military, that he wrote this book as mainly a wake-up call about just how unprepared America is for war (or even natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina).  After all, General Curtis LeMay; whom at the time was the current head of the SAC (and who is quoted in the book), was to have said "this man must have been reading my mail" after he had finished reading Alas, Babylon.

It is a post-apocalyptic novel but it's also set in the present (the present being the time it was published, 1959) and it is a glance into not only the lifestyle but the prejudices back then too. However, it’s also completely realistic and is easily applied to life today. I may not be old enough to remember the heyday of the threats of the nuclear holocaust in the Cold War time period which was going on before and after Alas, Babylon's publication but reading it does make one aware just how dependent the human race is on all our wonderful modern conveniences. This fact hit home for me a few years ago after Hurricane Katrina when we (and our town) was without power for a few days. That was pretty scary for me then since I had never before experienced something like that and all told, we got off pretty easy because of the area we were in. I couldn't even imagine living in a world like the setting of this book with no end in sight.

Stephen King's The Stand is not only one of my favorite books, it's also one of the books I re-read most often and up till recently it never occurred to me that I'm a huge dystopian fan. Yet I've loved every dystopian novel I've ever read including Scott Westerfeld's Uglies and James Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began. That’s also counting Alas, Babylon which I read for the first time back in my junior year of high school when it was required reading. The teacher Mrs. Harris actually gave me a copy since I enjoyed it so much! I had forgotten a good bit of the story but I think I may have loved it even more this time around.

Favorite Quotes
“LeMay says the only way a general can win a modern war is not fight one. Our whole raison d'être was deterrent force. When you don’t deter them any longer, you lose. I think we lost some time ago, because the last five Sputniks have been reconnaissance satellites. They’ve been mapping us, with infrared and transistor television, measuring us for the Sunday punch.”Randy felt angry. He felt cheated. “Why hasn’t anybody-- everybody been told about this?”Mark shrugged. “You know how it is-- everything that comes in is stamped secret or top secret or cosmic or something and the only people who dare declassify anything are the big wheels right at the top, and the people at the top hold conferences and somebody says, ‘Now let’s not be hasty. Let’s not alarm the public.’ So everything stays secret or cosmic. Personally, I think everybody ought to be digging or evacuating right this minute. Maybe if the other side knew we were digging, if they knew that we knew, they wouldn’t try to get away with it.”
Pete began to play the cash register with two fingers while the car boy, awed, filled the big sacks. Randy was aware that seven or eight women, lined up behind him, counted his purchases, fascinated. He heard one whisper, “Fifteen cans of coffee-- fifteen!” The line grew, and he was conscious of a steady, complaining murmur. Unaccountably, he felt guilty. He felt that he ought to face these women and shout, “All of you! All of you buy everything you can!” It wouldn’t do any good. They would be certain he was mad.
Why should he be so upset about the remark of a thirteen-year-old boy? When he was sure the children slept in the back seat, he said, “They take it calmly, almost as a matter of course, don’t they?”“Yes,” Helen said. “You see, all their lives, ever since they’ve known anything, they’ve lived under the shadow of war-- atomic war. For them the abnormal has become normal. All their lives they have heard nothing else, and they expect it.” “They’re conditioned,” Randy said. “A child of the nineteenth century would quickly go mad with fear, I think, in the world of today. It must have been pretty wonderful to have lived in the years, say, between 1870 and 1914, when peace was the normal condition and people really were appalled at the idea of war, and believed there’d never be a big one. A big one was impossible, they used to say. It would cost too much. It would disrupt the world trade and bankrupt everybody. Even after the first World War people didn’t accept war as normal. They had to call it The War to End War or we wouldn’t have fought it. Helen, what has become of us?”
What had jolted Randy from sleep-- he would not learn all the facts for a long, a very long time after-- were two nuclear explosions, both in the megaton range, the warheads of missiles lobbed in by submarines. The first obliterated the SAC base at Homestead, and incidentally sank and returned to the sea a considerable area of Florida’s tip. Ground Zero of the second missile was Miami’s International Airport, not far from the heart of the city. Randy’s couch had been shaken by shock waves transmitted through the earth, which travel faster than through the air, so he had been awake when the blast and sound arrived a little later. Gazing at the glow to the south, Randy was witnessing, from a distance of almost two hundred miles, the incineration of a million people.
“I don’t know where, or when, or how. But as soon as school reopens in Fort Repose, or anywhere around, you go. You may have to walk.”“Golly, Randy, walk! It’s three miles to town.”“Your grandfather used to walk to school in Fort Repose. When he was your age there wasn’t any school busses. When he couldn’t hitch a ride in a buggy, or one of the early automobiles, he walked.” Randy put his arm around the boy’s shoulder. “Let’s get going. I guess we’ll both have to learn to walk again.” 
In block letters he wrote:“DANGER! KEEP OUT! RADIATION!”“You’d better put something else on there,” Randy said. “There are a lot of people around here who still don’t know what radiation means.”“Do you really think so?”“I’m positive of it. They’ve never seen it, or felt it. They hear about it, but I don’t think they believe it. They didn’t believe it could kill them before The Day- if they thought of it at all-- and I don’t think they believe it now. You’d better add something they understand, like Poison.” 
“Who cares about fish? If I grow up I’m not going to be a fisherman!”Helen called from the kitchen window. The children disappeared.Randy said, “Did you ever hear a little girl say ‘If I grow up’ before?”“No, I never did. It gives me the creeps.”

First Paragraph: In Fort Repose, a river town in Central Florida, it was said that sending a message by Western Union was the same as broadcasting it over the combined networks. This was not entirely true. It was true that Florence Wechek, the manager, gossiped. Yet she judiciously classified the personal intelligence that flowed under her plump fingers, and maintained a prudent censorship over her tongue. The scandalous and the embarrassing she excised from her conversation. Sprightly, trivial, and harmless items she passed on to friends, thus enhancing her status and relieving the tedium of spinsterhood. If your sister was in trouble, and wired for money, the secret was safe with Florence Wechek. But if your sister bore a legitimate baby, its sex and weight would soon be known all over town.

Article on Pat Frank that include interviews with his family
Book Wikipedia
Author Wikipedia

LOUD! Fan made promotional trailer

Source: Personal copy, courtesy of my high school literature teacher

Picture Explanations: 
Mushroom Cloud: see fourth quote
Boy Fishing: Ben Franklin fishing. A good bit of their food nowadays comes from the river
Armadillo: When the fish stop biting and the armadillos start rooting up the garden, the family learns that they taste pretty good!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Moonlight Becomes You So

"Moonlight can totally change your life. And it all starts so simply. You. Him. The moon. You’re toast."
Okay, so maybe Shelby has made a few mistakes with boys lately (how was she supposed to know Wes had "borrowed" that Porsche?). But her stepmother totally overreacts when she catches Shelby in a post-curfew kiss with a hot senior: Suddenly Shelby's summer plans are on the shelf, and she's being packed off to brat camp. It's good-bye, prom dress; hello, hiking boots. 
Things start looking up, though, when Shelby meets fellow camper (and son of a rock star) Austin Bridges III. But soon she realizes there's more to Austin than crush material—his family has a dark secret, and he wants Shelby's help guarding it. Shelby knows that she really shouldn't be getting tangled up with another bad boy . . . but who is she to turn her back on a guy in need, especially such a good-looking one? One thing's for sure: That pesky full moon is about to get her into trouble all over again.

Title: Never Cry Werewolf
Author: Heather Davis
Start & Finished: 2/18/11- 2/19/11
Published: August 18th, 2009
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 212
Genre: YA- Paranormal romance

The shortest way to summarize Heather Davis’ Never Cry Werewolf is this: a cute girl named Shelby Locke whose widowed father became rich landed a gold-digger that wants her out of the house. They’re sending her to brat camp where she meets a boy that they definitely won’t approve of if they knew his secrets. Most of the plot is a bit of a cliché and somewhat predictable but fairly good for an author’s debut novel.

Never Cry Werewolf as you may have guessed has a werewolf in it but other than that, it’s mostly a normal teen fiction of not getting along with your parentals and learning that there is consequences for your actions. Even without the supernatural element I liked it though I quickly learned that a good bit of the dialogue (and inner monologue) make the teenagers sound even younger than their age which is 16 for Shelby and who knows for the rest of them. Also, did anyone else find Shelby a little whiny? She wasn’t horrible or anything, just a little annoying at times. The rest of the characters were great even if I never felt like I got to know or really connect with Shelby but I knew I would adore the boy when he was first introduced as the son of a rock star ‘rebel troublemaker common to every school’ but when he opened his mouth and a British accent came out… yum! I’m surprised at how much I did like Austin though since I’m not really a fan of werewolves and I make very few exceptions.

All in all, I liked it. It was a clean little fluff book that only took me a few hours to read. It could have been better and I have to concur with all the other reviewers out there about that but I’m definitely still curious about that interesting ending, especially since it doesn’t look like there is going to be a sequel any time soon. The author did say she still has a lot more to tell about Austin and Shelby but it‘s been a little while since she published this and she has a totally different book coming out soon. What I would like to see is something told from Austin’s point of view. He was much more interesting than Shelby!

Favorite Quotes
All of a sudden, the entire line of kids clustered around me, talking about Re-Gen. Ariel hung back,  seeming to be the only one not interested in Dad’s plastic surgery drug. Meanwhile, everyone was chattering about their parents’ plastic surgeons or someone they knew who wanted Re-Gen. It was creepy. At least at my school, everyone was over everyone else’s fame or money or whatever. 
Meanwhile, Vince was starting to freak. “What idiots! Charles is from Palo Alto, what does he know about the woods? I mean, camp sucks, but it’s not worth risking your life. And what’s up with the British dude? They’re gonna get eaten by a bear or something.” 
The growling started again, sounding closer.Crap. Something *was* following me. Something  that thought I looked delicious and didn’t know about my bladder issues. I was so dead. I was going to literally pee my pants and die. Or be eaten-- which is totally worse. 
“She sent me here to get rid of me. I guess I really am normal.”Ariel shrugged, and we started walking again. “You know, I don’t think anyone is normal anymore,” she said. “Everyone’s got something weird about them. Something they think they ought to hide.” 
Austin glanced away, toward the campfire, and then, turning back to me, said, “Shelby, I’m a lycanthrope. What you’d call a werewolf. It runs in my family.”I swear my ears started ringing. “Holy crap. I thought you said you were a *werewolf*. What is wrong with my ears?” 
“I’ve had too many of these ‘trust me’ talks lately in my life,” I said. “I don’t trust you. I don’t trust anybody. I don’t even trust myself.” Ooh, that was weird to say aloud. I wondered where that’d come from, but somehow I knew deep down it was so true.

First Paragraph: Moonlight has special powers. Even in Beverly Hills, where everything sparkles whether it's real or fake, there's something magic about that big full moon. It can make you act crazy, take a risk you'd never consider in the daylight, or even fall completely head over heels. Moonlight can totally change your life. And it all starts so simply.

Heather Davis Online
Official Site
Buzz Girls Blog

On Author's Site
Blog With Bite
Reader Girl Reviews
Zoe’s Book Reviews
Shalonda’s Blog

Source: Personal copy courtesy of author from Buzz Girls Blog, autographed paperback

Friday, February 18, 2011

Taking Chances in Tuscany

From the studio that brought you Sweet Home Alabama comes the extraordinary romantic comedy starring Academy Award nominee Diane Lane. Based on the #1 New York Times best-selling book, Under the Tuscan Sun follows San Francisco writer Frances Mayes (Lane) to Italy as a good friend offers her a special gift-- ten days in Tuscany. Once there, she is captivated by its beauty and warmth, and impulsively buys an aging, but very charming villa. Fully embracing new friends and local color, she finds herself immersed in a life-changing adventure filled with enough unexpected surprises, laughter friendship and romance to restore her new home-- and her belief in second chances.
Title: Under the Tuscan Sun
Release: September 26, 2003
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Romance
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Based On: Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy by Frances Mayes
Writer: Audrey Wells
Director: Audrey Wells
Music By: Christophe Beck
Produced By: Tom Sternberg and Audrey Wells
Studio: Walt Disney Productions
Distributed By: Touchstone Pictures
Run Time: 113 minutes

Audrey Wells; the director, the screenwriter, and the co-producer very loosely based her 2003 Italian movie Under the Tuscan Sun on the memoir by Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy. Mayes’ bestselling book is about the author’s  purchase and restoration of a house in Italy and using her background as a poet, gourmet cook, and travel writer she tells her story. Audrey Wells (somewhat edited) and combined this with her own ideas of a woman overcoming heartbreak to get this film.

A beautiful movie that is an ‘internal adventure story,’ filmed entirely in Italy with a mostly Italian crew (there’s only a handful of American actors total once they get to Italy) except for one day in the director’s home town of San Francisco which takes place in the early part of the film. The villa Frances buys in the film is called Bramasole which means yearning for the sun. Though it is based on a real place, filming was in another location nearby in Villa Laura. The lovely scenery of the Tuscany countryside, Positano, and a little bit of Rome carry a good bit of this film with the esteemed Diane Lane carrying the other half. I believe this is one of her best roles and she’s absolutely gorgeous in that white dress and in several other scenes as well. The directors said in an interview that she had her in mind all along for the role of Frances.

Wells said Under the Tuscan Sun is, “about forcing yourself to engage even when you don’t feel ready to. About taking a step even before you’re ready to take a step because if you wait until you’re ready, you’re never going to do it.” There’s even the obvious metaphor for Frances that she’s remodeling a house while she’s trying to remodel her life.  Just as she brings life back to the house by the end and gets everything she wished for (though she doesn‘t realize it), she’s brought herself back to life as well, mostly through the people she encounters in Tuscany. There’s actually very little time spent on the remodeling itself in the film though as it really wasn’t the director’s focus.

There are parts of Under the Tuscan Sun that I just didn’t like but they were few and far between. When my friend told me she was going to Italy next month, one of the first things I thought of was this film though I hadn’t seen it since it’s original premiere. Watching it again I was struck by the fact that though it’s beautiful and even funny at times, a good bit of it was lonely and sad. I almost wish that the director had thought to add more of the cooking and restoration scenes. Maybe even have Frances spend more time out and about in Italy. Then again, it would have changed a good bit of the tone of the film if that had happened.

The people in this film are only secondary to Frances’ journey of self-happiness but everyone has such a distinct personality. I liked Frances’ friend Patty that she left behind in San Francisco. She’s played by Sandra Oh whom is the lesbian partner of Kate Walsh (who plays Grace). They are probably most well-known today as their characters Addison Montgomery and Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy but here they play a couple. Wells said she included this couple because she didn’t want to show just men breaking women’s hearts and that “heartbreak is an equal opportunity killer.”

It’s the people of Tuscany and the family she finds among her new friends that’s such a great part of the film however. Although she seems a little crazy, Katharine (played by Broadway Tony winner Lindsay Duncan) is my favorite character in this film. She’s supposed to embody the director Federico Fellini’s women, and some of her costumes are replicas from his films. I just love the very first shot of her rubbing the baby duck on her face. Ironically it wasn’t this scene but the very next one that was the only part of the film I remembered from the first time I saw it which is Frances writing a postcard for one of the guys she’s on the tour with. Though he didn’t like what she had written, it’s what was probably the most evocative part of the film for me. It almost certainly comes as no surprise to anyone that it’s verbatim from the actual book (which I still haven‘t read).

Audrey Wells did a lot for this film to be made and though she had worked on other things before (she wrote the screenplay for The Truth About Cats & Dogs, The Kid, and helped write George of the Jungle which appears as a clip in the film) this was only her second film that she has ever directed. She did an amazing job for as much as she put into this movie. I thought that she somewhat succeeded in keeping parts of it light and funny while still having the core of the film be about the main character’s inner pain. Believe me, Frances goes through a lot of pain in this film. As soon as she’s ready to pull herself out of the mud, she’s knocked back into it more often than not, which really bothered me. Thankfully, the film ends on a high note though. Ms. Wells says, “The story that Senor Martini tells Frances about the train tracks built across the Semmering pass [see below in quotes] is a true story, related to me by Austrian father. And if I had never heard that story I don’t know if I would have ever written this movie. It was the springboard and actually the reason for the film.” Under the Tuscan Sun was nominated for several minor awards and Diane Lane received a Golden Globe nomination but she nor the film won anything.

Favorite Quotes
Patti: Can you star-69 Italy? 
Katherine: It's a nice little villa. Rather run down, but redeemable... Are you going to buy it?
Frances: The way my life is currently going, that would be a terrible idea.
Katherine: Mm, terrible idea... Don't you just love those? 
Katherine: Regrets are a waste of time. They're the past crippling you in the present. 
Martini: Signora, between Austria and Italy, there is a section of the Alps called the Semmering. It is an impossibly steep, very high part of the mountains. They built a train track over these Alps to connect Vienna and Venice. They built these tracks even before there was a train in existence that could make the trip. They built it because they knew some day, the train would come. 

Find Under the Tuscan Sun Online

Bramasole, Home of the author
Cortona Information (setting)

Diane Lane and Audrey Wells with Charlie Rose (video)

Related Reviews
Diane Lane- Frances
Jumper (2008)- Mary Rice
Don McManus- Nasty Man (early in film, bad review man)
National Treasure (2004)- Dr. Stan Herbert


Sunday, February 13, 2011

No One Cares Except the Hitwoman

The author of the acclaimed Women of the Otherworld series returns with her latest novel featuring an exciting heroine with a lethal hidden talent. This time she’s hot on the trail of a young woman no one else cares about—and a killer who’s bound to strike again.
Nadia Stafford isn’t your typical nature lodge owner. An ex-cop with a legal code all her own, she’s known only as “Dee” to her current employer: a New York crime family that pays her handsomely to bump off traitors. But when Nadia discovers that a troubled teenage employee and her baby have vanished in the Canadian woods, the memory of a past loss comes back with a vengeance and her old instincts go into overdrive. 
With her enigmatic mentor, Jack, covering her back, Nadia unearths sinister clues that point to an increasingly darker and deadlier mystery. Now, with her obsession over the case deepening, the only way Nadia can right the wrongs of the present is to face her own painful ghosts—and either bury them for good, or die trying. Because in her book everyone deserves a chance. And everyone deserves justice.

Title: Made to Be Broken
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Series: Nadia Stafford, Book 2
Start & Finished: 2/6/11- 2/10/11
Published: February 24, 2009
Publisher: Bantam
Pages: 398
Genre: Thriller

Canadian-native author Kelley Armstrong has made a huge hit with her Women of the Otherworld series and recently with the Darkest Powers young adult series set in the same world as well. However, she also has a couple of other books that aren’t quite as well known though you won’t find anything supernatural in them. Featuring the ex-cop turned wilderness lodge owner/ hitwoman Nadia (Dee on the job) Stafford, there are currently only two books this series: Exit Strategy and Made to Be Broken, which was published two years later but takes place 6 months after the end of the previous book. There is a bit of a set up for a third novel though it hasn’t been announced as of yet.

The plot may not be quite as good in Made to Be Broken but there is much more character development here. We learn more about Nadia’s and Jack’s past, Quinn’s real life (and name), that Jack may just have romantic feelings towards Nadia, and a bit about just how far Nadia’s willing to push her personal line when it comes to killing the bad guys (though I expect it will be further pushed in future books). Evelyn even shows up for a token appearance a few times in the book (I could totally see Maggie Smith or Helen Mirren playing her if this was ever adapted for film) and though we don’t learn much more about her personally, she does seem a bit more driven to make Dee her protégé than she did before.

At the beginning, I had a hard time really caring what happened to single teenage mother Sammi since I really didn’t care for her in the first place but then again, Nadia didn’t like her either. Of course, we learn very quickly that the reported sounds of a cougar nearby were actually Sammi screaming which leads Nadia to find her body buried in the woods, professionally killed and her baby was missing. This piqued my interest but I was much more into the story when Nadia starts to draw parallels between Sammi and Amy (we finally get to ‘meet’ her) that makes her more determined to discover what happened to Sammi and her baby and make them pay. The secondary plotline that comes over from the first book about what happened to Nadia’s cousin Amy is what I believe really drives Nadia do what she does. She wasn’t able to save her cousin Amy from being raped and killed when they were kids (she has really bad night terrors about it in both books but it gets worse here) and she still harbors guilt over that. Mostly what happened to Amy and Nadia was just alluded to in the previous story but it’s explored a bit more in Made to Be Broken.

Kelley Armstrong is never a slouch when it comes to amazingly vivid characters.  Even the people who just pop into this book for a few pages like Emma and Owen; Nadia’s caretakers for the lodge, or even the nasty guests that she has to deal with that I think she should have taken Jack up on his offer to kill them and bury them in the woods. What I really love is her main characters though none of them are ever really described, not even Nadia really. They all have such interesting persona's and personalities. Jack is one of the best characters in this book so I love the romance angle that Armstrong tries to hint at (I really think Evelyn was right) and I hope she continues what she seems to have been trying to set up in the next book whenever that is published.

Numerous people said that Made to Be Broken is better than Exit Strategy, in my humble opinion, they lied. Not that this was a bad book, it was pretty great (does Kelley Armstrong even write bad books?) however it wasn’t quite as good as the previous one. I will admit that the teen mother killing, baby kidnapping angle was interesting but it just doesn’t beat professional hitman turned serial killer. I think my main problem was that in Exit Strategy, Nadia got to slip into her alter ego Dee to catch and kill the bad guy where here, they are on Nadia’s turf for the “case” this time which means she has to play it a little safer.  Thinking about there being professional hitman out there of Dee and Jack’s caliber gives me the creeps. It certainly makes me want to be even nicer when I interact with strangers!

Favorite Quotes
Most people in my profession would have a problem partnering with a cop, even one moonlighting as a hitman. I didn’t. I came from a long line of law-enforcement officers. My life goal had been to join that family tradition. And I had… until seven years ago, when I shot a suspect point-blank, made national headlines, and saw my life crash and burn. 
There are many names for what I do. Want to channel your inner Godfather? Go for hatchet man or hired gun. Prefer an air of legitimacy? Try professional killer or contract killer. Add an air of mystery and intrigue? Use assassin. I like it plain and simple. Hitman. Hitwoman or even hit-person, if one wants to be PC, but if you ask me, “politically correct” and “killer” are two terms never meant to go together. 
“That’s just it. No one’s interested. Her mother’s a real piece of work, so no big shock there, but nobody in town seems to care. These aren’t bad people. If it was Tess or Kira or any of the other girls in town, there would be search teams combing the forests. But with Sammi it seems like, even if something did happen, it’s…” I fumbled for words.“Expected.”I nodded. “Like she was heading that way all her life. Made to be broken.” 
For a professional killer, the line between caution and paranoia can be hard to find. One could argue that it doesn’t exist at all. Every hint of threat is worthy of investigation.It’s not like robbing the corner store of dealing drugs behind the lodge. If I’m caught, I’ll never see the outside of a prison. That’s the cost of a job that pays the equivalent of a constable’s annual salary for a couple of four-day stints in New York every year. 
“What epiphany? That you like killing bad guys? That it makes you feel good? Tell me something I don’t know. Something you don’t know.
After another minute came the faint sound of footsteps on the stairs. Now she needed to check who it was. There wasn’t a peephole. In this neighborhood, populated with upper-middle-class retirees, I’m sure there were lots of peepholes. But Evelyn would never get one installed for fear she’d be mistaken for something a lot worse than a cautious retired criminal: a nervous little old lady. And, besides, peepholes? This was the twenty-first century. For Evelyn, nothing short of a wireless, motion-detecting, auto tracking closed-circuit camera would do.

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

First Paragraph: Below the belfry, the city sparkled, the late afternoon sun glinting off the skyscrapers, every surface dripping from a brief shower. A spectacular view… even through the scope of a sniper’s rifle.

Find Kelley Armstrong Online
Official Site

Page 69 Test

Related Reviews
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)

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

Dates from Hell (2006)
My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon (2007)
Many Bloody Returns (2007)
Blood Lite (2008)

Source: Borrowed from library, paperback

Picture Explanations
Lodge Deck: This could be the deck of Nadia’s wilderness retreat Red Oak up in Canada.
Baby: Teenage mothers are being killed for their children
Sniper Scope: Nadia aka Dee, is a hit woman
Holding Hands: Two words: blackmarket babies.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Still Armed. Still Dangerous. Still Got It.

Frank (Bruce Willis) is a former black-ops CIA agent living a quiet life alone... until the day a hit squad shows up to kill him. With his identity compromised, Frank reassembles his old team-- Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich), and Victoria (Helen Mirren)-- and sets out to prove that they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Stand back and watch the bullets fly in this explosive action-comedy that critics call "a rip-roaring good time."
Title: RED
Release: October 15, 2010
Genre: Action Comedy
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Based On: RED by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner (graphic novel)
Writer: Jon and Erich Hoeber
Director: Robert Schwentke
Music By: Christophe Beck
Produced By: Lorenzo di Bonaventura
Studio: di Bonaventura Pictures and DC Entertainment
Distributed By: Summit Entertainment
Run Time: 111 minutes
Official Site

“Some thumb-sucker came along and tagged [them] RED…. Retired: Extremely Dangerous.” Those retirees; Frank Moses, Victoria, Marvin Boggs, and Joe Matheson are a team of black ops assassins who used to work together and now that someone is gunning for one of them, they’re all back in the game. These retirees are played by award-winning, veteran actors Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, and Morgan Freeman. RED is a 2010 action comedy that was shot entirely in Canada and New Orleans, this star-studded film was nominated for the Golden Globe in the category Best Motion Picture- Musical or Comedy.

This was an incredibly fun movie with lots of shoot-out scenes (Helen Mirren with a machine gun is not to be missed), witty dialogue, and some  great, but not overdone special effects (love that stepping out of a spinning car shooting move that Willis does) too. However, it was all of the brilliant actors that made me enjoy RED as much as I did. I would have enjoyed the movie more if they would have cut out the perquisite romance angle though. Willis’ character’s girlfriend Sarah Ross didn’t really add to the movie in my opinion. She stood around, sat around, and generally just got in the way. I honestly think Mary-Louise Parker tried her best but she isn’t given too much room to maneuver here. I actually wish that she had somehow been taken out of the film and Morgan Freeman’s character given more scenes than the few he does get since he’s one of my favorite actors. Personally, I thought the relationship between Sarah and Frank was slightly creepy as well. I was making the same face as John Malkovich’s character does at the end.

Speaking of which, the character Marvin Boggs played beautifully by John Malkovich. He’s this crazy guy whose not playing with a full deck and yet he’s funny, not goofy or slapstick (nothing in the film is like that even if it is a comedy). The character almost ended up being played by John C. Reilly but scheduling conflicts made it so the producers could go with their original choice. However, it was another character completely that became my favorite rather quickly and that was Helen Mirren who played Victoria. She’s so elegant, sophisticated, and deadly! Her demeanor is supposed to be based on Martha Stewart but I thought she pulled it off even better. While visually nothing like the original comic books and having moved away from the darker tone of them, RED doesn't completely forget it's source material either. The Victoria and Ivan (played by Brian Cox) story in the prequels is actually completed in the film though it would have been so much more interesting if someone could have found a way to work more of the others backstories in.

The main character I guess would be Frank Moses played by Bruce Willis and there’s just nothing I can say about him that I‘m sure hasn‘t been said before in every action film he‘s played in. Though Bruce Willis has done more than enough action films to qualify him to be in the action men hall of fame, I did think he brought a bit of difference to his role here because he’s not trying to deny that he’s getting old (or passing the reins to someone younger) but he can still kick young guy butt when needed to. Karl Urban (who plays the current CIA guy William Cooper whose been ordered to kill Willis’ character) gets his butt handed to him! Urban said that getting to fight Willis was “the most fun [he] had in years.”

Overall, RED is a good story with fantastic actors that wasn’t quite as good as it could have been but still a lot of fun to watch.  A sequel has been recently confirmed so who knows? Maybe it will be even better than this one by developing the remaining characters more. I just hope that the plot will be half as good as this one and of course that all of these fantastic actors will be coming back.

Favorite Quotes
Marvin Boggs: Do you know what's wrong with this country? 
Sarah Ross: They all are trying to kill us? 
Marvin Boggs: Exactly! 

Ivan Simanov: [sighs] I miss the old days. 
Ivan Simanov: I haven't killed anyone in years. 
Frank Moses: That's sad. 

Frank Moses: People get shot all the time. 
Sarah Ross: No they don't. They get... paper cuts. 
Marvin Boggs: ...I mostly get shot. 

Marvin Boggs: Why are you trying to kill me?
Frank Moses: Why would I be trying to kill you? 
Marvin Boggs: Because the last time we met I tried to kill you.
Frank Moses: That was a long time ago.
Marvin Boggs: Some people hold onto things like that.

Find RED Online
Official Site

Karl Urban on ReelzChannel
Helen Mirren on Moviefone
Ernest Borgnine on Moviefone
Willis, Freeman, & Malkovich on Moviefone Unscripted (video)
Robert Schwentke (director) on I Am Rogue
Robert Schwentke on Superhero Hype
Erich Hoeber & Jon Hoeber (screenplay writers) on Movieweb (video)
Warren Ellis (graphic novel author) on Movieweb (video)
Mary-Louise Parker on The Cinema Source


IGN Bruce Willis Interview:

ETC Red Carpet Interviews:

Cast Interview at Comic Con by EW:

Related Reviews
Bruce Willis- Frank Moses
Die Hard Franchise (1988, 1990, 1995, 2007)- John McClane
Brian Cox- Ivan Simanov
The Bourne Identity & Supremacy (2002, 2004)- Ward Abbott
Kiss the Girls (1997)- Chief Hatfield, Durham P.D.
Morgan Freeman- Joe Matheson
Wanted (2008)- Sloan
The Bucket List (2007)- Carter
Kiss the Girls (1997)- Dr. Alex Cross
Karl Urban- William Cooper
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)- Kirill
Helen Mirren- Victoria
National Treasure 2 (2007)- Emily Appleton

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Magic and Romance

Deep in the heart of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, scholar Diana Bishop requests a manuscript called Ashmole 782 in the course of her research. Coming from an old and distinguished lineage of witches, Diana senses that the ancient book might be bound up with magic-- but she herself wants nothing to do with sorcery; and after making a few notes on its curious images, she banishes it quickly back to the stacks. But what she doesn’t know is that the old alchemical text has been lost for centuries, and its sudden appearance has set a fantastical underworld stirring. Soon, a distracting horde of daemons, witches, and vampires descends upon the Bodleian’s reading rooms. One of these creatures is Matthew Clairmont, an enigmatic and eminent geneticist, practitioner of yoga, and wine connoisseur-- and also a vampire with a keen interest in Ashmole 782.
Equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense, A Discovery of Witches is a novel of epic scope, traveling from the cobbled streets of Oxford to the chateaus and mountains of the Auvergne to a small town in upstate New York. It also takes us into a rich fifteen- hundred-year history that spans Clovis and the Crusades, the Knights Templar, and the American Revolution. As Matthew and Diana’s alliance deepens into intimacy, Diana must come to terms with age-old taboos and her own family’s conflicted history-- and she must learn where the modern woman she is meets the source of ancient power that is her legacy. With a scholar’s depth and the touch of a great storyteller, Deborah Harkness has woven a tale of passion and obsession; the collision of magic, alchemy, and science; and the closely guarded secrets of an enchanted world.

Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
Series: All Souls Trilogy, Book 1
Start & Finished: 1/17/11- 1/27/11
Published: February 8, 2011
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 579
Genre: Fiction- Romance/ Paranormal
Official UK Website

From Romeo and Juliet to Edward and Bella, the forbidden love story never seems to get old and Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches is no exception. Already this lush, well-researched book has gotten great buzz from a variety of sources, including pieces in O, The Oprah Magazine and Entertainment Weekly and it is to be translated into 32 languages as well. Not bad for a professor of history at the University of Southern California’s fictional debut. A Discovery of Witches is the first book in a trilogy.

A Discovery of Witches is really only a love story on the surface between a vampire and a reluctant witch (whose ancestor was Bridget Bishop) who is coming into her powers after burying them so long, but it's actually so much more complicated than that. The story is equally about evolution, extinction, and racism (none of the supernatural races are supposed to mix) while sprinkled throughout are history, alchemy, and several beautiful settings too. It’s also equally about a lost manuscript called Ashmole 782 (which is an actual lost manuscript in real life, though Harkness’ contents are fiction) that only Diana has been able to get her hands on which peaks the interest of all three of the supernatural races who have been trying to get to it for years. Oh, and you can’t forget Matthew’s (and the author’s) love of wine either. What I would like to know is where in the world did this yoga thing come from? I’ve never heard of a vampire that does yoga. Much less witches and daemons too!

My initial impression of Diana is that she’s a bit of a loner and has the potential to be pretty powerful if she chooses to stop letting magic scare her so badly which is what she tries to do throughout the entire book. I loved all of the powers Diana kept discovering in herself, especially the ones where she can speak to the animals, ghosts, and control the elements too, even if the witchwater scene reminded me of Bella in New Moon. My only real issue was that Diana continued to let so many of the creatures bully her and calling in Matthew instead of taking care of it or even equally helping out. I’m not a big fan of a man (vampire in this case) fighting a woman’s battles for her when she’s capable of doing it herself. The male character Matthew took a bit of getting used to and I’m still not really sure what to think about him. He’s quite temperamental and some of his mood swings would give a pregnant woman whiplash though thankfully that starts to taper off some towards the end.

The author said that she came up with the idea for book by asking herself: “If there really are vampires, what do they do for a living?” Heroine name came second. "It's pretty hard not to notice the popular preoccupation with witches, vampires, and things that go bump in the night. But we aren't the first to be fascinated with these creatures. Today, we often imagine them into fantastic other worlds, but the people I study believed that such magical beings were living alongside them in this world. So I started thinking, if there are vampires and witches, what do they do for a living—and what strange stories do humans tell to explain away the evidence of their presence? A Discovery of Witches began with the answers to those questions as I essentially reimagined our modern world through the eyes of medieval and Renaissance people."

Out of the three creatures described in book (witches, daemons, and vampires) the witches are what fascinated me the most. The vampires are interesting- especially how logical they are: no fangs, sunlight isn’t an issue, enhances senses, and immortality- in that the ones in this story had much to do with several historical people and events but the daemons weren't really explained well since we only slightly get to know Hamish, Sophie, and Nathaniel. And they were only in a few chapters. I have high expectations for the next book in this trilogy since the book leaves off on a bit of a cliffhanger. I hope we get to see more of the Congregation because I really am curious if there isn't some good people to be found in it since all we see in this book is the evil.

Written in about a year; though it takes place in 40 days (“I think the only thing we’ve escaped is a plague of locusts.”), this book has got the feel of a good urban fantasy adventure story woven in with the aura of a great contemporary classic. Think an adult Twilight with a little Harry Potter thrown in for fun yet much more sophisticated. Considering that this ends right when it was really getting good, I’m definitely going to be first in line when the sequel comes out!

Favorite Quotes
Even at a safe distance, this manuscript was challenging me-- threatening the walls I’d erected to separate my career as a scholar from my birthright as the last of the Bishop witches. Here, with my hard- earned doctorate, tenure, and promotions in hand and my career beginning to blossom, I’d renounced my family’s heritage and created a life that depended on reason and scholarly abilities, not inexplicable hunches and spells. 

Aunt Sarah had always told me that magic was a gift. If it was, it had strings attached that bound me to all of the Bishop witches who had come before me. There was a price to be paid for using this inherited magical power and for working the spells and charms that made up the witches’ carefully guarded craft. By opening Ashmole 782, I’d breached the wall that divided my magic from my scholarship. But back on the right side of it again, I was more determined than ever to remain there. 

Witches aren’t the only creatures sharing the world with humans, however. There are also daemons-- creative, artistic creatures who walk a tightrope between madness and genius. “Rock stars and serial killers” was how my aunt described these strange, perplexing beings. And there are vampires, ancient and beautiful, who feed on blood and will charm you utterly if they don’t kill you first. 

“History only became more challenging when it became less neat. Every time I pick up a book or a document from the past, I’m in a battle with people who lived hundreds of years ago. They have their secrets and obsessions-- all the things they won’t or can’t reveal. It’s my job to discover and explain them.”
“What if you can’t? What if they defy explanation?”

“That’s never happened,” I said after considering his question. “At least I don’t think it has. All you have to do is be a good listener. Nobody really wants to keep secrets, not even the dead. People leave clues everywhere, and if you pay attention, you can piece them together.”

“I don’t like this one bit,” my aunt finally said in a tone that suggested the world was falling apart. “Bewitched books? Daemons following you? Vampires taking you to yoga? Witches threatening a Bishop? Witches are supposed to avoid notice, Diana. Even the humans are going to know something’s going on.” 

The enormity of what it meant to love a vampire struck home as I slid the account book back onto the shelf. It was not just his age that posed the difficulties, or his dining habits, or the fact that he had killed humans and would do so again. It was the secrets.

All Souls Trilogy
1. A Discovery of Witches (2011)

First Paragraph: The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable. To an ordinary historian, it would have looked no different from hundreds of other manuscripts in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, ancient and worn. But I knew there was something odd about it from the moment I collected it.

Find Deborah Harkness Online
Official Site
Author’s Blog: Good Wine Under $20

DOW Tour of Oxford (photos if Matthew & Diana's world)
Book Trib (Guest post)
Janicu’s Book Blog (Guest post)

Wall Street Journal Speakeasy
Love Vampires
Penguin (Q&A, reading guide, etc)
Night Owl Reviews
Crystal Book Reviews

Source: Personal copy, I was contacted by a representative for the publisher (hardcover)

Picture Explanations
Duke Humphrey’s Library: Diana discovers Ashmole 782 here as well as meets Matthew here.
Rowing on the River Thames: Diana rows when she’s not jogging or doing yoga for her exercise.
All Soul's College: Academic research oriented college, with no undergraduates that Matthew belongs to.
Horse: Once they get to Sept Tours, Diana spends a lot of time riding horses.
Old Wine: Matthew is a wine connoisseur and has tons of really old wine

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