Movie Review: Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)


TitleCaptain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Release Date: 2017 June 2
Director: David Soren
Production Company: Dreamworks Animation
Summary/Review:

The extremely silly and slyly satirical Captain Underpants books are brought to the big screen in the epononymously-declared first of what will be many movies.  I’ve enjoyed the books as much as someone who was already an adult when they were first published, but I find the adaptation questionable.  Mostly, for a movie with a theme of the importance of laughter, the laughs are few and far between (albeit there are some undeniably hilarious moments).  The sense of superhero satire is lost in the final act when it is subsumed to the type of big action adventure climax they’re supposed to making fun of.  I give it a “nice try” but know that from the source material there is a better movie to be made.

Rating: **1/2

Book Reviews: Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson


AuthorBrandon Sanderson 
TitleAlcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia
Narrator: Ramon De Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2012)
Previously Read By the Same Author:  Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones
Summary/Review:

The third book in this series sees Alcatraz Smedry finally arrive in the Free Kingdoms where he learns he’s quite a celebrity (lots of not so subtle jabs at Harry Potter here) and that there are currently evil librarians meeting with the kings and queens of the Free Kingdoms on a treaty.  Alcatraz’s frenemy and protector Bastille is stripped of her knighthood due to Alcatraz breaking her sword in the previous book.  Alcatraz and a whacky crew – including a daft prince and a “recovering librarian” – work to uncovers suspicious goings on while the librarians are in town.  Central to the plot is the Royal Archives (Not a Library), a running gag that makes me laugh as an archivist who has attended professional conferences, but maybe won’t be as funny to other readers.  As usual, this addition to the Alcatraz series is clever, witty, funny, and still a rather ripping adventure.

Favorite Passages:

“The love books.  However, to them, books are a little like teenage boys.  Whenever they start congregating they make trouble.”

Recommended booksA Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.
Rating: ***1/2

Movies that Everyone Has Seen Except Me


I like movies, and I’ve seen a lot of them in my time, but there are some movies that seem ubiquitous in popular culture that despite no particular effort to avoid, I’ve never seen.

Avatar – apparently no one actually likes this movie, but it is currently the top grossing movie of all-time without my contribution.

Blade Runner – I’ve been meaning to watch this for decades.  Of course, it’s difficult to determine which “cut” of the movie I should watch first.

The Godfather (and all its sequels) – I remember my sister watching one of these movies when I was a kid but I was too young to handle reading the subtitles of Sicilian people yelling at one another.

Goodfellas – I guess I’m just not into mobster movies

Jurassic Park (and all its sequels) – I actually did avoid this one because I read the book and it was styooo-pid.  I’m surprised it’s still such a big cultural phenomenon.

Mrs. Doubtfire – This was once on the list of top-grossing films of all-time but has been usurped.  It looked dumb and creepy so I never saw it.

Pulp Fiction – I actually have avoided this one because I’ve been told that someone gets shot in the head which is something I find too disturbing to watch.

The Shawshank Redemption – I rented the videotape once, but it malfunctioned.  Why have I never followed up?

The Shining – Over the years, I think I’ve gleaned the entire plot of this movie, at least the part that was reenacted by bunnies.

Shindler’s List – Always meant to watch, but never found the right time.

What hit or classic movies have you missed seeing?  Which of these movies should I try to watch first?

 

Book Review: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley


AuthorDaniel O’Malley
TitleThe Rook
Narrator: Susan Duerden
Publication Info: Dreamscape Media, LLC , 2012
Summary/Review:

This book was recommended to me as being something I might enjoy as a fan of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.  While there are similar approaches to a detective novel with supernatural elements sprinkled with humor, I found this book darker and grimmer than anything Fforde has ever written.  The novel begins with a woman waking up in a park surrounded by dead bodies with no memory of who she is.  From letters she finds in her pockets and more letters found elsewhere, it is revealed that she is Myfanwy Thomas (or was Myfanwy Thomas, since the conceit of the book is that she is a new person born into an old body) and that she is part of a covert organization of people with superpowers who protect England from paranormal forces.  She holds the title of Rook in an organization based on chess pieces called the Checquy, hence the title of the book.

It turns out that the old Myfanwy was shy and obedient, but losing her memories has made her forget the traumas of her youth and more willing to explore using her powers to their full extent.  Thus, Myfanwy is set on finding the traitor in her organization who caused her amnesia while simultaneously dealing with the threat of the Grafters, a Belgian group that has learned how to augment and modify human bodies.

This is a very high-concept book, and I feel like at least the first third of the book is a slog because it’s mostly in the form of Myfanwy’s letter to herself that explain her past in a very tell, not show manner.  If you manage to  make it through that part of the book, though, the letters and Myfanwy’s present day adventures both get entertaining with a wry mix of humor, clever concepts, and gross outs.  There’s a sequel to the book I’ll check out, albeit I’m not rushing to get it right away.

Recommended books: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Portable Door by Tom Holt, A Soul to Steal by Rob Blackwell,  Who Could That Be at This Hour?” by Lemony Snicket and Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story by Christopher Moore
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde


Author: Jasper Fforde
TitleThe Well of Lost Plots
Narrator: Emily Gray
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2012)

Other Books Read by Same AuthorThe Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good BookShades of GrayThe Last DragonslayerThe Song of the QuarkbeastOne of Our Thursdays is Missing, and The Eye of Zoltar.
Summary/Review:

I’m revisiting the Thursday Next series and struck by how Fforde can keep at least five plots going simultaneously, interweaving them, and somehow bringing them all together at the end.  First there’s Thursday’s apprenticeship with Miss Havisham at Jurisfiction and getting caught up in the Ultraword conspiracy.  Then there’s Aornis Hades’ memory worm, and Granny Next’s efforts to help Thursday remember Landen.  Then there’s the plot within the book Caversham Heights where Thursday gradually reshapes a derivative detective novel into the setting for Fforde’s Nursery Crime novels. And then there’s the the hysterical evolution of the generic characters Lola and Randolph. There are no plots lost here.  I was delighted to read this book again (in Emily Gray’s voice) and surprised to look back at my original review when I didn’t think too highly of this installment in the series.

Rating: ****

Book Reviews: Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney


Author: Jeff Kinney
Title:  Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Publication Info: Amulet Books, 2007

Title:  Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever
Publication Info: Amulet Books, 2011

TitleDiary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel
Publication Info: Amulet Books, 2012

TitleDiary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down
Publication Info: Amulet Books, 2016
Summary/Review:

I started reading these books with my 9-year-old son and then more surprisingly my 5-year-old daughter took an interest.  So I dove deep in Wimpy Kid books for a while.  The books are purported to be the journal of  middle-schooler Greg Heffley complete with hand-drawn illustrations.  The books are generally a series of humorous events as Greg gets himself into various scrapes.  While depicted as an unpopular weakling and thus a sympathetic character, Greg can also be arrogant and insensitive to others.  In short, a typical teenager.  Greg frequently is embarrassed by/tries to change his nerdy friend Rowley to help him fit in, although the irony is that Rowley by being cluelessly unreflective of himself, ends up more popular.  These are funny books that occasionally touch upon more serious issues (dating, puberty, honesty, responsibility, etc.).  I expect I’ll end up reading more.

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli


Author: Becky Albertalli
TitleSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Narrator: Michael Crouch
Publication Info: Harper Audio, 2015
Summary/Review:

Simon is a closeted gay teenager living in the Atlanta suburbs and finding himself falling in love for the first time.  The problem is that the boy he loves he only knows through anonymous email exchanges.  Over the course of this novel, both Simon and “Blue” end up coming out and eventually meeting in real life.  But what’s great about this novel is that it explores the changes and complications of life in Simon’s circle of friends and family.  The book has a lot of heart, romance, and humor.

Recommended books:

Every Day by David Levithan and George by Alex Gino
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson


Author: Brandon Sanderson
TitleAlcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones
Narrator: Ramon De Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2012)
Previously Read by the Same Author: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians
Summary/Review:

Six years ago I read the first book in the Alcatraz series and really enjoyed it and meant to continue with the series.  Now at last I’ve read the second book in the series and it was worth the wait.  Sanderson’s Alcatraz Smedry is an unreliable narrator who keeps interrupting the story to deliberately make the reader question everything.  It’s gimmicky but in-universe it works since the concept of this world is that evil librarians control reality.  It’s a funny adventure set in the Library of Alexandria, and Sanderson is committed to the idea of the wraith-like curators persistently trying to trick the human visitors into taking a book in exchange for their soul.  It’s a clever and enjoyable read and I should not wait so long to continue the series.

Recommended booksA Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Hark! : a Vagrant by Kate Beaton


AuthorKate Beaton
TitleHark! : a Vagrant
Publication Info: Drawn and Quarterly (2011), Edition
Previously read by the same authorStep Aside, Pops!
Summary/Review:

This is the first collection of the hilarious webcomics on historical and literary themes from the brilliant Kate Beaton.  I was going to post links to my favorites but I lost the file so you’ll just have to find the book and read.  And laugh.  And then say, “hmm…yes, I’ve learned something.”  Cuz they’re that good.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde


Author: Jasper Fforde
TitleLost in a Good Book
Narrator: Emily Gray
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2011)
Other Books Read by Same Author: The Eyre Affair, Shades of Gray, The Last Dragonslayer, The Song of the Quarkbeast, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, and The Eye of Zoltar.
Summary/Review:

Rereading the Thursday Next series has its surprises in remembering what basic concepts of the Nextian universe have and have not yet been introduced.  Lost in a Good Book is a workhorse of a second novel introducing Jurisfiction, Mrs. Havisham, and Aornis Hades, among other things.  After the “relaxed” pacing of The Eyre Affair it’s also the first book in which Thursday has to jump among threats from Hades, Goliath, the Book World, Spec Ops, and the impending demise of the world.  There’s even a joke in which Thursday is quoted in her memoir remembering the first time she saved the world from destruction which is hilarious in retrospect.  A good follow-up in a great series and Emily Gray provides excellent voice work for the narrative.

Here’s my review and favorite passages from when I first read this book in 2003:

The second book in the Thursday Next series, and like <i>The Empire Strikes Back</i> is better than its predecessor and a stand-out in the series. It also begins a story arc that continues in the next two books. Of course, you should just read them all. The Thursday Next series is just one of the best examples of fantastic, alternative historic, time traveling, satirical, police procedural, and humorist writing out there today.

“Growth purely for its own sake is the philosophy of the cancer…” (p. 97)
“My father said that it was a delightfully odd – and dangerously self-destructive – quirk of humans the we were far more interested in pointless trivia than in genuine news stories.” (p. 141)

Rating: *****