Movies Watched: May 8 – May 14, 2016

[May 8] “Lord of War” (2005)

lord_of_warNicolas Cage plays Yuri Orlov, an arms dealer with origins in Little Odessa in New York City. It’s very biographical – we see the evolution of his career (of course), his relationship with his troubled younger brother Vitaly (Jared Leto), his courtship of his childhood crush (Bridget Moynahan), his relentless Interpol pursuer Jack Valentine (played by Ethan Hawke; what a name!) and much more. I’ve watched and loved this movie before, and re-watching it didn’t change that at all. Andrew Niccol, who wrote and directed this, also wrote The Truman Show and wrote/directed Gattaca – he’s a smart guy. It doesn’t glamourise the life of an arms dealer in any way, and it shows plenty of bad things happening, but it’s also not moralistic or melodramatic. This is one of my favorite Nicolas Cage performances – sure, he’s in a lot of dumb action movies, but he’s also a really good actor in dramatic roles. Plus the opening titles sequence showing the life of a bullet is one of the most memorable I can think of.

[May 9] “Notting Hill” (1999)

notting_hillAn unassuming travel bookshop owner, William Thacker (Hugh Grant) meets the world’s most famous actress, Anna Scott (Julia Roberts), and they fall in love. Being in a relationship with a famous actress comes with a whole additional set of pitfalls, though. Notting Hill is written by the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral and it has a lot of the same tropes – a bunch of friends that all have their own side stories (mostly involving finding love), Hugh Grant being awkward and falling in love with a confident but temperamental American woman. I liked it better, though, Julia Roberts does a pretty good job as the love interest. I didn’t like that the movie ended with a climactic romantic declaration, it was pretty down to earth until then. I guess the main problem I have with romantic comedies is that I don’t usually think the characters know each other that well, and so I’m not really that invested in them getting together, and that was the case for this movie too – but I think that’s more a reflection on me than the movie.

[May 10] “Three Kings” (1999)

three_kingsThe Gulf War has just ended, and four U.S. soldiers in Iraq are determined to steal a huge cache of Kuwaiti gold in the confusion. Things don’t go according to plan though, as they meet a bunch of Iraqi civilians who are convinced they are heroes come to save them from Saddam. I think this was one of the first few movies that Joseph and I watched when we started dating, I didn’t remember much from it. It’s a pretty heartwarming movie, there aren’t a lot of movies that go from cynical to heroic so well. The four soldiers are played by George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze, and they are all very good. The atmosphere also seemed pretty realistic, the sets, the attitude of the military, the Iraqi refugees. One of the Iraqis is played by a real life Iraqi that was tortured by Saddam’s forces. I haven’t seen a David O. Russell movie yet that I haven’t enjoyed.

[May 11] “Super 8” (2011)

super_eightWhile filming an amateur movie, a group of kids witness one of their teachers deliberately crashing an Air Force train, and then inexplicable events start happening in their small town. Super 8 is pretty much a modern 80’s kids adventure movie, it seems pretty personal to writer/director J.J. Abrams, who also grew up making movies in the Super 8 format. It’s evocative of E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goonies, etc. (and it’s also produced by Steven Spielberg.) It’s pretty fun, the tension stays constant throughout the movie, and the kid who plays the main character, Joe (Joel Courtney) does a really good job, he’s cute, he’s determined, and he’s really sympathetic. There’s also a lot of families mending fences and getting closer to each other, which makes for good character arc. My only complaint was that I wished that there was more sci-fi and less thriller.

[May 12] “Joy” (2015)

joyJennifer Lawrence plays Joy, an overworked young mother who invents a revolutionary mop and her journey to starting her own business despite running into a lot of obstacles. This is another David O. Russell movie (like Three Kings above and American Hustle, which I’ve reviewed previously) and as usual, I enjoyed it. The pacing could have been better, it had a bit of a slow start, and the ending wrapped up a bit too quickly. But I didn’t mind because I found the story compelling, and Jennifer Lawrence is a joy to watch (no pun intended.) There aren’t a lot of movies about really smart women succeeding by just being who they are relentlessly, and I really liked that. I particularly enjoyed her relationship with her ex-husband, it’s not often that a movie depicts really good relationships and really dysfunctional ones (the ones with other members of her family) in the same context, it felt pretty realistic.

[May 13] “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979)

Kramer-vs.-KramerWhen Ted Kramer’s wife Joanna leaves him and their young son Billy, he has a hard time dealing with it at first, but he soon figures out how to be a great father. But then Joanna reappears and wants custody of Billy, and they have to fight it out in court. Kramer vs. Kramer won the Best Picture Oscar, and I can see why, it’s a really, really good movie. Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep do an excellent job as the Kramers, and Justin Henry (who was the youngest Oscar nominee ever) does a really great job as Billy. Ted goes from being a stereotypical “married to the job” kind of guy to a devoted father without much fuss at all, and the growing bond between him and Billy is a joy to watch. I think this movie could be remade today without changing much of the dialogue or characters at all, it doesn’t feel over thirty five years old.

[May 13] “Gattaca” (1997)

gattacaIn the future, genetic engineering has become common and created a new underclass – the genetically inferior. Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) dreams of traveling to space, but knows that he’s too genetically flawed to be allowed to do so, so he assumes the identity of Jerome Morrow (Jude Law), a disabled but genetically gifted man. He’s been pretty careful, but just as he’s about to go to Titan, there’s a murder at his workplace, and his secret might just come out. I’ve seen Gattaca before, and it’s one of my favorite science fiction movies. It’s really atmospheric, it gives you a real sense of the planned and clinical world that it has created, but it’s also somewhat noir (Writer/director Andrew Niccol is good at this) The trope of the individual pushing against his limitations (both internal and external) never gets old, and Ethan Hawke is a compelling protagonist (he has a great earnest/serious face.) Also I absolutely love Jude Law in this movie. The world that it portrays is a lot better than ours in many ways – humans go to space all the time, people are healthier and live for longer, but that doesn’t extend to all individuals, and I can’t think of many sci-fi movies that are as smart and add such complexity to their worlds.

[May 14] “Outbreak” (1995)

outbreakA deadly new virus decimates an African village in the Motaba River Valley in the Congo, and is believed to be contained, but eventually gets introduced into the U.S. by a smuggled African monkey. Army doctor Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman), his ex-wife and CDC employee Robby Keough (Rene Russo) and their teams work frantically to contain the outbreak, but that’s not the only agenda in play. This was another dimly remembered rewatch for me, I remembered it as being similar to Contagion, the recent Matt Damon movie, but that was a drama, Outbreak is more of an action-thriller. It’s a pretty standard movie, although it’s got a really great cast – Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey – they’re underused, but still entertaining to watch. The plot is black and white, and fairly predictable, especially the relationship between Sam and Robby.

“City of Blades” by Robert Jackson Bennett

City_of_Blades_coverI know this blog has been inundated with movie reviews lately, but I’m still reading books too!

Retired war hero General Turyin Mulaghesh is sent to the city of Voortyashtan on a sort of tour to count down the days until she earns her pension. That’s the official story, anyway – actually, she’s there to covertly investigate a new metal that just might be related to the supposedly dead gods of the Continent, and figure out why the last person sent to investigate the issue ended up missing. Voortyashtan is complicated, though, and there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.

I enjoyed City of Stairs when I read it last year, but not as much as a lot of other people. Mulaghesh was one of my favourite characters in the book, though, so I was pretty thrilled that she was going to be the protagonist of City of Blades. She does not disappoint – she’s a curmudgeonly one-armed war hero that’s unabashedly competent and won’t take any nonsense from anybody. She starts off the book pretty tired and lost, but once she enters problem solving mode, there’s no one I’d rather have on the case. She’s got a unique perspective and it never gets tiring to look through it. I would read a whole series of books about Mulaghesh.

City of Blades starts off with a pretty similar premise to the first book – a Saypuri is sent to a hostile Continental city to investigate possible Divine intervention – but it quickly evolves into its own thing. It helps that it doesn’t have to do all the worldbuilding that City of Stairs had to; the world of these books is complicated, and it was good to be familiar with how it all worked. The world does get extended, but in a very natural way. The martial Voortya is a pretty interesting god to explore, and Mulaghesh is the perfect person to understand her.

The new characters introduced in this book are pretty cool, especially Sigrud’s engineer daughter Signe. Sigrud is back as well, and he seems much more like a real person, which was great. I was a little bit frustrated with the character arcs of the villains – I can’t say more without spoilers, but I wished that they were less stereotypical. It’s a minor flaw in an otherwise terrific book, though.

I’m looking forward to the third book, City of Miracles – I think that’s going to be the last book. Sigrud is going to be the protagonist, which I’m more excited about thanks to his development in City of Blades.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett (The Divine Cities, #2)
Broadway Books, 2016 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Movies Watched: May 1 – May 7, 2016

[May 1] “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)

zero_dark_thirtyBased on the true story of the US hunt for Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We follow CIA analyst Maya on her search for bin Laden, through several years misinformation and false leads, until she finally thinks she’s found him. This movie is pretty relentless, it’s by the same writer and director team as The Hurt Locker, another very intense movie about the recent war on terror. Jessica Chastain does a really good job as Maya, from her beginnings as a rookie to her determination to find bin Laden despite a lot of opposition. I found the amount of torture depicted a little scary though, especially because it so often provides accurate results (which I’ve always heard is not the case with torture.) I also wish the movie hadn’t taken quite as many liberties with the facts of what happened, it seemed like they always went for the more traditionally dramatic plot points.

[May 2] “Moneyball” (2011)

moneyballAnother “based on a true story” movie about Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane’s adoption of a new statistical approach to hiring players in order to successfully compete against teams with much bigger budgets. I don’t know anything about baseball, but I enjoyed this movie a lot – it reminded me of the movie Draft Day, which is also about the behind-the-scenes aspect of a sport. Brad Pitt is always pleasant to watch, and he does a good job as Billy Beane. Jonah Hill is usually known for his comedic roles, but he’s great as the Oakland Athletics’ assistant GM/statistical whiz. Plus it was nice to see Chris Pratt before he got super famous. Moneyball is well paced, it’s well shot, and it was feel good without being too unrealistic.

[May 3] “Bad Boys” (1995)

bad-boysWhen a whole lot of heroin is stolen from the police station, officers Marcus Bennett (Martin Lawrence), a long-suffering family man, and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith), a smooth talking unrepentant womanizer, are put on the case. They’ve got more than just a clever thief to deal with though – there’s a scared murder witness to protect, an internal affairs cop after them, and an accidental identity switch that they have to keep going until the case is over. This is a pretty silly movie, but Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have great comic timing, so it’s pretty fun. It’s made by Michael Bay, so as usual with him, it’s not very subtle and there are a lot of explosions. Tchéky Karyo does a great job as the charismatic villain, and Téa Leoni plays a very convincing borderline-insane woman (she does that really well in Spanglish too.)

[May 4] “Rush Hour” (1998)

rush-hourWhen the Chinese Consul’s young daughter is kidnapped, he brings in an Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan), a trusted detective from Hong Kong to help solve the case. Detective Carter (Chris Tucker) is assigned to be Lee’s guide and keep him out of the hair of the American authorities already working on the case. The two form an unlikely partnership and decide to solve the case themselves, though. Rush Hour is definitely a comedy, but it also has a lot of heart, especially around Inspector Lee and his relationship with the kidnapped girl. Chris Tucker is his usual obnoxiously loud self, and usually I find people like that annoying, but I really like him (possibly because he played such a great character in The Fifth Element.) Jackie Chan is simultaneously adorable and deadly and really funny. Definitely one of the best buddy cop action comedies I’ve seen.

[May 5] “Rush Hour 2” (2001)

rush-hour-2We enjoyed Rush Hour so much that we watched Rush Hour 2 the very next day. Inspector Lee and Detective Carter are vacationing in Hong Kong after the events of the first movie, but Lee just can’t stop working and they’re soon pulled deep into a case involving counterfeit American dollars. This movie seemed less well-rounded than the first, there’s a lot more action and fewer quiet moments. It doesn’t really get going until halfway through the movie, a lot of the beginning felt like Lee and Carter just stumbling into stuff randomly, and not finding much except comedy material. Chris Tucker also seemed a little bit more obnoxious in this movie. But it’s still fun to watch, there seems to be genuine affection between Lee and Carter, and that makes up for a lot of things.

[May 6] “The Abyss” (1989)

the-abyssWorkers in an underwater oil rig are asked to help in search and rescue operations to find a sunken US nuclear submarine. They end up encountering some very strange things underwater, though. There are two versions of this movie – I watched the shorter theatrical version, and the ending is pretty different from the special edition. The Abyss is written and directed by James Cameron and it has all the hallmarks of his movies – a very well-realized world and great atmosphere, a bunch of action, some romance, sci-fi. I really enjoyed Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s character Lindsey, the extremely stubborn oil-rig designer who’s the heart of the movie. Ed Harris is also great as the leader of the oil rig workers (and Lindsey’s estranged husband.) I kind of wished that there had been less action and more discovery, but it’s still a great movie.

[May 6] “Chef” (2014)

chefCarl Casper is a restaurant chef who’s just plain unhappy but refuses to acknowledge it – he’s cooking boring food, he’s recently divorced, and he never has time for his kid. When a bad review from a critic results in a blow up that goes viral, he’s fired and forced to reevaluate his life. Jon Favreau wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the movie – I tend to like movies that are made with a singular vision because they’re usually good, and this one is not an exception. It’s one of the most heartwarming movies I’ve seen in a long time. All the characters are really nice and reasonable people, even when they’re not on the side of the protagonist. Emjay Anthony, the actor who plays Carl’s son, is amazingly earnest, and he really carries the movie. Plus, even minor characters are played by terrific actors like Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, and Robert Downey Jr. Highly recommended.

[May 7] “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)

Captain-America-Civil-WarWe’re both big fans of Captain America (the Marvel Cinematic Universe version; I haven’t read any of the comics), and we actually went to the movie theater to see this movie.  The world is starting to fear the loss of life and destruction caused by superhero fights, so the United Nations pushes to regulate the Avengers through an oversight panel. The Avengers disagree about whether this is a good idea, and split into two factions led by Captain America and Iron Man. I enjoyed the movie, it’s fun, it’s got a lot of great action, and it actually sticks to its premise all the way through. It’s definitely got the Marvel tone to it, there’s plenty of quips, and it doesn’t get too dark, but that’s to be expected. There are a lot of superheroes – it seems a lot like an Avengers movie (only Thor and the Hulk are missing) without the bombastic threat, which is nice in one way, but I wanted more Captain America.

[May 7] “Little Buddha” (1993)

little-buddhaLama Norbu, a Tibetian monk, goes to Seattle to meet Jesse, a nine year old boy whom he believes to be the reincarnation of his master, Lama Dorje. As Jesse learns about Buddhism, we see the story of the Buddha from his birth as Prince Siddhartha through his journey to enlightenment. Along the way, we’re also introduced to two other candidates for the reincarnation of Lama Dorje. This movie was very interesting, the premise sounded a little ridiculous to me in the beginning, but it’s played absolutely straight and the boy that played Jesse does a really good job. It seemed like the filmmakers were trying to be as authentic as possible, many of the Tibetian monks are played by real monks, and the set design is beautiful. Siddhartha is played by Keanu Reeves, which is a little weird, especially when he tries to do an Indian accent, but once I was able to suspend disbelief, he actually did a fairly good job. An odd movie, but recommended.

Movies Watched: Apr 24 – Apr 30, 2016

I’ve finally caught up with all my movie reviews! From now on, I’m going to be aiming to post one post every weekend with reviews of that week’s movies.

[Apr 24] “Sliding Doors” (1998)

sliding-doorsHelen has just been fired from her job, and she’s about to take the train home to her apartment. Her whole life will be very different depending on whether she catches the train or not, and we see both futures unfold in parallel. This movie is mainly a romantic comedy, but the parallel universe story makes it a bit more interesting than usual. Gwyneth Paltrow does a good job playing two different versions of the same character, and the movie makes it easy to distinguish the two timelines from each other despite featuring the same people. The way the parallel universe situation resolved itself at the end was a bit melodramatic for my taste, but that doesn’t make it bad necessarily. I also kept being reminded of My Real Children by Jo Walton, which has a similar premise, and which I really enjoyed – I feel like it’s unfair to compare Sliding Doors to it though, since the tones are very different.

[Apr 25] “United 93” (2006)

united93Based on the true story of one of the four planes hijacked during the September 11 terrorist attacks – the passengers figured out what the hijackers intended and attempted to take control of the plane rather than allow more people to be killed. United 93 is one of best dramatizations of real events that I’ve ever seen. It’s set in real time, and we see the events of 9/11 both from United 93’s perspective and various aviation control towers throughout the country. Most of the actors are not very well known, and we don’t even know most of the characters’ names – this seems like it would make us less invested in the story, but in reality this makes us feel closer to them because they seem like real people we have met on a plane. Some of the FAA/military people actually play themselves, so that adds to the realism even more. There’s no melodrama, director/writer Paul Greengrass lets the truth of the events speak for themselves. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here and just say that I can’t recommend this movie enough.

[Apr 26] “Adaptation.” (2002)

AdaptationCharlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) is hired to write an adaptation of the book The Orchid Thief, but he’s having trouble figuring out how to adapt it. Meanwhile, he’s also having issues with his twin brother Donald and Amelia, the woman he likes. This is the most meta movie I’ve ever seen, because it was actually written by the real life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman when he was having trouble adapting The Orchid Thief, so it both adapts the story, tells the story of adapting the story, and extends the real story into something fictional. I liked it a lot, it’s very unusual and it wouldn’t have worked at all if it wasn’t so well written. Nicolas Cage does a great job as both Kaufman brothers, who are very different from each other, and Meryl Streep is terrific as usual. Chris Cooper is also fantastic as the colorful orchid poacher Laroche.

[Apr 27] “Lost in Translation” (2003)

lost-in-translationWashed up movie star Bob (Bill Murray) and neglected young wife Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) meet in a Tokyo hotel and become close. I’ve seen this movie before, but not after I realized that I notably liked Sofia Coppola (and this earned her a Best Director Oscar nomination), so I was looking forward to rewatching it. It’s a very good movie, Coppola portrays both characters’ loneliness and aimlessness, and the bewilderment of foreign culture beautifully. The relationship between Bob and Charlotte happens so naturally – they don’t talk very much, and what they say doesn’t matter, but their bond is apparent. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are both incredible (apparently Johansson was only 17, but she plays someone in her mid-twenties very well). Lost in Translation is sad, moving, subtle, quiet, and very very very good.

[Apr 28] “Taps” (1981)

tapsWhen it’s announced that Bunker Hill Military Academy is to be torn down and replaced with condos, a group of cadets decide to take matters into their own hands, and the situation quickly escalates. This movie has a great cast of people that weren’t famous yet – it’s Sean Penn’s first movie, Tom Cruise’s second movie, and there were also a bunch of people I recognize from recent TV like Giancarlo Esposito, Evan Handler, and Timothy Hutton. Taps is a movie about the dangers of ideology taken too far – the cadets at Bunker Hill think they know what honor and duty means, but they’re really just teenagers that don’t understand consequences yet. Tom Cruise is absolutely terrifying as the baby-faced company commander that’s way too excited about war, and Sean Penn plays dissenting but loyal friend to perfection, he’s easily the most sympathetic. It was also nice to Ronny Cox in a heroic role for a change.

[Apr 29] “Just Like Heaven” (2005)

Just-Like-HeavenDavid (Mark Ruffalo) has just moved into a new apartment, but the previous occupant Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon) hasn’t quite left, she’s still haunting the apartment in non-corporeal form. They start to get to know each other and fall in love while trying to solve the mystery of Elizabeth’s existence. This is another pretty typical romantic comedy made somewhat interesting by the unusual premise. I like Mark Ruffalo a lot, I think he makes a great exasperated romantic comedy lead type, and Reese Witherspoon is a good actress too. I didn’t really buy their romance, though, I thought they made great friends, and I wish this had just been a movie about David helping Elizabeth figure out her existence – I think that would have been cuter. This isn’t a bad movie though, at least not as far as the romantic comedy genre goes.

[Apr 30] “21” (2008)

21Ben, an MIT senior, is invited to join a team of students led by Prof. Micky Rosa who go to Vegas and win big sums of money at blackjack by counting cards. This is nominally based on a true story, but it seems like the only thing that actually happened was that there was a team at MIT that counted cards to win at blackjack – pretty much everything else is original to the movie. 21 is not a very good movie. Every beat is predictable, the dialogue is usually trite, and a lot of the details just don’t make any sense. For example, Ben’s main motivation is enough money to go to Harvard Medical School (which he’s already been accepted into), but the possibility of a student loan is never even mentioned. I also didn’t find the characters that compelling – Ben is supposed to be socially awkward, but the actor does not really ever convey that. The rest of the team seems like caricatures too, and even Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne can’t really escape the confines of the writing. It was flashy and fast paced and fairly entertaining though, as long as you don’t expect much.

Movies Watched: Apr 11 – Apr 23, 2016

[Apr 12] “Castle in the Sky” (1986)

castle_in_the_skyTwo children, Sheeta and Pazu, go on a quest to find a mysterious floating castle, pursued by pirates and secret agents. This is the first movie officially released by Studio Ghibli (we’re watching all the Ghibli movies chronologically). I enjoyed this movie, it was more of a fun adventure movie than other Ghibli movies I’ve seen, although there are still definitely themes of environmental balance and the characters aren’t very black and white. I was really drawn into the world and mythology of Castle in the Sky, I wanted more movies set in the same world. Sheeta and Pazu aren’t as complex as some of the older Ghibli characters, but I liked their relationship a lot.

[Apr 12] “Menace II Society” (1993)

menace-ii-societyCaine, a young man from the projects (Tyrin Turner) who’s just graduated from high school tries to figure out what kind of life he wants – the usual life of drugs and violence that his friend O-Dog (Larenz Tate) lives by, or a new life far away from everything he knows. Menace II Society is a very good movie, although it’s also pretty depressing. The casual violence kind of horrified me – especially Larenz Tate’s character, but I guess it’s a reality in some parts of the country. There are some great scenes – the shots and angles that make you feel like you’re right there with the characters. Caine is a very sympathetic protagonist, even when he makes really dumb decisions.

[Apr 13] “Wing Commander” (1999)

Wing_commanderIn the 27th century, humans are at war with the ruthless alien Kilrathi, who’ve just captured a NAVCOM that will allow them to jump straight to Earth. It’s up to rookie pilot Christopher Blair (Freddy Prinze Jr.) and the battle cruiser he’s been assigned to to stop the fleet. This is not a very good movie (the dialogue is especially horrible), but it’s set in space and it involves spaceship fights and aliens, so it was still pretty enjoyable. I wish that the world of the movie had been better explained – they mentioned enough things (like about the Pilgrims) for it to be intriguing, but there was no real payoff.

[Apr 14] “Sideways” (2004)

SidewaysMiles (Paul Giamatti) and his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) take a week long vacation in California wine country in anticipation of Jack’s upcoming wedding. They’re very different from each other – Miles is uncertain, lonely, and depressed, and Jack is determined to have as much fun and sex as he can. I really liked this movie, Paul Giamatti in particular is terrific as Miles. He conveys a billion things at once without having to say a single word. I always like movies about people growing and changing, and Sideways is extremely honest about how hard that can be. I also really like Sideways for showing people who are almost obsessively knowledgeable about something (wine) without making fun of it.

[Apr 15] “Tombstone” (1993)

tombstoneThe famous lawman Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) decides to leave his past behind and moves in Tombstone, AZ to go into business. Unfortunately for him, the outlaw gang The Cowboys won’t leave the town alone, and he’s forced to intervene, along with his two brothers and his friend “Doc” Holliday (Val Kilmer). This is based on real events, and it’s a really good movie. I’m a fan of both Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, and I was really glad to see them in a movie together, being friends. Kurt Russell doesn’t have any of his usual smirkiness about him, but he’s great. Val Kilmer gets to have pretty much all the smirkiness of the movie, and he’s also great. The story is tight, the characters are three dimensional (even the outlaws), and the details of the world are done well.

[Apr 16] “Traffic” (2000)

trafficA bunch of connected stories about the drug trade in the US – the new “drug czar” appointed by the government (Michael Douglas) discovers that his daughter is a crack addict, a Mexican police officer (Benicio Del Toro) struggles with the situation he’s in, a drug baron’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) comes to terms with her husband’s business after he’s jailed, and a couple of DEA agents (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) protect an informant. Each of the stories has a different color tone, which I found a bit distracting at first, but it did make it really easy to figure out whose story I was watching. The actors were all really good, I found some of the storylines a bit melodramatic though (especially Michael Douglas’). It’s a good movie though, and a good look at the kinds of issues caused both by drugs and the drug war.

[Apr 17] “American Hustle” (2013)

american-hustleBased on a true story, conman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are forced to work for FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) as part of a sting operation. DiMaso’s ambition pushes them into cons with much higher stakes than they’re used to, though, and they find themselves in dangerous waters. Movies about cons are usually pretty great, and this one is no exception – it’s even better than most because of the stellar cast. Christian Bale is almost unrecognizable as Rosenfeld, and he does a great job as always. I also thought Jeremy Renner was really good as the good hearted politician Carmine Polito, and I’ve never seen Jennifer Lawrence in a role like this – she plays Rosenfeld’s insecure and unpredictable wife to perfection. And Bradley Cooper, who’s usually so reassuring, really had me on edge every time he was on screen. I’m going on and on about the cast, but everything else about this movie was good too!

[Apr 18] “The Color of Money” (1986)

the_color_of_moneyWe were inspired to watch this movie by Roger Ebert’s “Tom Cruise formula” in his review of Days of ThunderThe Color of Money features retired pool player/hustler “Fast Eddie” Felson (Paul Newman) discovering cocky young pool player Vincent (Tom Cruise) who he believes can be a first rate hustler just like himself. With the help of Vincent’s girlfriend Carmen, he persuades Vincent to go on a road trip through various pool halls, but it doesn’t quite work out as planned. I was expecting a typical movie where Tom Cruise charms everyone around him and accomplishes something huge at the end, and although there’s elements of that, it’s really more of a character drama about the interactions of Fast Eddie, Vincent, and Carmen. It’s made by Martin Scorcese and so of course it’s very well-made. My only complaint was that this movie is apparently a sequel to The Hustler (1961) which I haven’t seen – I felt like it would’ve been helpful if I had because I didn’t quite get the payoff of Fast Eddie’s arc.

[Apr 20] “Message in a Bottle” (1999)

message_in_a_bottleNewspaper researcher Theresa (Robin Wright) finds a love letter in a bottle washed ashore from a man to his dead wife, and tracks down the writer, Garret (Kevin Costner). They start to fall in love, but the ghost of his wife makes it hard to have a future together. I really wasn’t expecting much from this movie (I know it’s based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, and while I haven’t actually read one, everything I know about them makes them seem melodramatic in a very generic way) but I like both Costner and Wright, so I wanted to watch it. It wasn’t a great movie by any means, but there were some good things about it – Paul Newman is really great as Garret’s dad, the area where Garret lives is beautiful, and the romance is realistically complicated. The ending frustrated me – it reminded me a lot of the frustration I had at the ending of The Guardian.

[Apr 21] “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988)

my_neighbor_totoroTwo young sisters, Satsuki and Mei, move to the countryside with their father in order to be near their ill mother. They have a bunch of adventures, mostly with Totoro, a spirit of the nearby forest. My Neighbor Totoro is a much simpler movie than the previous two Ghibli movies (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky) – it’s a story about kids having adventures, there are no antagonists, and the main conflict is just traditional sibling misunderstandings. I think a lot of people really love this movie because it captures childhood so well, but I didn’t identify with this movie very much because I’m an only child, and as a kid, I usually shut myself in and read books – I didn’t ever run around. It’s cute, it’s magical, and it’s a great movie, but it’s not my favourite of the Ghibli movies so far.

[Apr 22] “The Sting” (1973)

the-stingWhen his partner is murdered by a mob boss, young con man Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) teams up with veteran of the “big con” Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) to take him down. The Sting is a great movie – it’s got a lot of twists and turns as any good con movie should, but it’s not ostentatious and flashy about them. Paul Newman and Robert Redford are terrific together. I always find it really hard to review movies that I like a lot because everything just works well together, there’s not a lot to single out. One thing I did find interesting was the number of people involved in the scam; usually movies tend to be about a few guys pulling off something huge.

[Apr 23] “Rounders” (1998)

RoundersReformed gambler Mike (Matt Damon) goes back to playing high stakes poker to help his friend Worm (Edward Norton) out of his debts. I loved this movie when I first saw it years ago, and that hasn’t changed at all. Edward Norton’s character Worm is particularly infuriating, he plays a very convincing sleazeball and lives up to his name entirely. Matt Damon is a master of playing sympathetic protagonists who may be making questionable life decisions (Good Will Hunting, The Good Shepherd, The Informant! to name a few), and he really sells you on his conviction that poker is something he can win consistently at. Rounders is predictable but it’s so well executed that that doesn’t matter at all, and it leaves you feeling great.

[Apr 23] “The NeverEnding Story” (1984)

the-neverending-storyBastian is a lonely young boy that’s often tormented by bullies at school. One day, when running away from them, he finds a mysterious book about the land of Fantasia and the hero Atreyu, but as he reads it, it turns out the the story might not be as fictional as he assumed. I really enjoyed the book when I first read it, but I’d read it long enough ago that I didn’t remember the details. It’s a pretty fun adventure story, and the actor who plays Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) does a great job of playing a warrior that also happens to be a child. The setting and the creatures are pretty well done, although Falkor seemed a little odd. I can’t help comparing it to the book though (I reread it immediately after the movie), and I wish they’d retained some of Bastian’s character growth rather than just making it a fun adventure for a lonely boy.

Movies Watched: Apr 1 – Apr 10, 2016

[Apr 1] “Swimming with Sharks” (1994)

swimming-with-sharks-movie-posterGuy (Frank Whaley) is the newest assistant to legendary Hollywood producer Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey). He starts off all bright eyed and enthusiastic, but Ackerman turns out to be the worst boss imaginable, and eventually after much suffering, Guy gets his revenge. This was a pretty odd movie, none of the characters are very likeable, even Guy doesn’t seem very sympathetic even as he’s being put through hell by his boss. However, Kevin Spacey is excellent as the abrasive and volatile Ackerman, he’s kind of like Ari Gold from Entourage, but without all the heart.

[Apr 2] “From Russia with Love” (1963)

from_russia_with_loveThis continues our quest to watch all the Bond movies in order – From Russia with Love is the second movie after Dr. No. In revenge for killing Dr. No, Spectre sets up a trap to lure Bond into stealing a Russian decoding machine, with the side effect of causing hostilities between the British and the Russians. I enjoyed this movie quite a bit, it clearly has a bigger budget than the first one, and the action moves through a lot of different locations. Plus, we have Q and some pretty cool gadgets! My only complaint was that Bond seems to just be reacting to things in this, rather than figuring things out for himself.

[Apr 2] “Spanglish” (2004)

spanglish-movie-posterThis is one of Joseph’s favourite movies (and mine too!), and was a rewatch. Flor (Paz Vega), a newly immigrated woman from Mexico starts working for famous chef John Clasky (Adam Sandler) and his family in Los Angeles. Their families end up becoming close, and Flor has to navigate cultural shock and an attraction that she doesn’t anticipate. I haven’t seen any of Adam Sandler’s comedies, but I’m assured that they are really dumb – this is not one of those movies. It’s a really cute movie about adults making responsible choices despite whatever they feel, despite other adults making horrible choices based entirely on how they feel. Téa Leoni is horrifyingly believable as Deborah Clasky, John Clasky’s neurotic and insecure wife, and the rest of the cast is great too.

[Apr 2] “Tango & Cash” (1989)

tango_and_cashTango (Sylvester Stallone) and Cash (Kurt Russell) are two lone wolf narcotics cops with very different styles, but one thing in common – they’re great at at their jobs. When the city’s leading crime lord gets tired of them and has them framed, they have to learn how to get along and work together to clear their name. Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone are both terrific, both individually and when they play off of each other. There are some good action scenes, there’s comedy, and while this isn’t an amazing movie, it’s very entertaining.

[Apr 2] “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)

miracle_on_34th_stWhen the newest Santa employed by Macy’s claims that his name is Kris Kringle and he’s the real Santa Claus, he ends up being institutionalized for insanity. He’s defended by young lawyer Fred Gailey, who not only has to prove that Kringle might very well be the real Santa Claus to the law, but also to his no-nonsense neighbor (who works for Macy’s and hired the Santa) and her young daughter. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, the acting was great, and I liked the look into the world of the 1940’s. I thought it was pretty cool for an independent, divorced woman to be in management at a large business – the world seems to have taken a step backwards in the next couple of decades (at least judging by the James Bond movies and things like Mad Men.)

[Apr 3] “Seven Years in Tibet” (1997)

seven_years_in_tibetBased on a true story, this movie tells the story of Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountain climber who lived in Tibet for seven years and became friends with the Dalai Lama. It’s set immediately preceding and during China’s takeover of Tibet, which I didn’t know much about, and I found very interesting. Brad Pitt plays Harrer, and he’s pretty good, even if his accent took a bit of getting used to. I found the Dalai Lama fascinating, the actor who plays him does a fantastic job of conveying the mixture of curiosity, brilliance, and wisdom usually associated with him. The movie really draws you into the world of Tibet along with Harrer and his friend Aufschnaiter (played excellently by David Thewlis), and even if you know the inevitability of what happens with China, you can’t help but mourn the loss of old Tibet.

[Apr 3] “The Truman Show” (1998)

the-truman_showAnother re-watch. Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), an insurance salesman, is coming to realize that he’s spent all of his life in a simulated reality – he’s been the subject of a television show from birth, and his friends and family are all actors just playing the part. This is a classic movie for a good reason, it’s great! I don’t know if it would have been half as good without Jim Carrey playing Truman, he’s generally lovable, from when he’s greeting his neighbors to when he’s facing his worst fears and figuring out the truth despite literally everyone in his life manipulating him. The rest of the cast is great too, but I was most impressed by Laura Linney (I find her so reassuring in John Adams, among other things) who’s incredibly creepy with her saccharine responses to everything and her obvious product placement.

[Apr 4] “Ronin” (1998)

roninA team of ex-spies and special forces soldiers is hired by the Irish to steal a heavily guarded suitcase. Loyalties within the team aren’t as simple as they seem, though, and when things go wrong, a complex and deadly game of intrigue is set into motion. I thought this movie was fantastic, it’s a very different kind of action movie, it’s not sleek or glossy, it’s atmospheric and it’s realistic. For example, the car chases show the cars being handled realistically, and plenty of collateral damage, and the scenes with gunfights pay close attention to bullets that miss as well as bullets that hit. The cast is really great, Robert De Niro as ex-CIA agent Sam and Jean Reno as ex-French agent Vincent are particularly wonderful (especially when working together!) Highly recommended.

[Apr 5] “The Ghost and the Darkness” (1996)

the_ghost_and_the_darknessBased on the true story of two legendary man-eating lions preying on workers building a bridge in East Africa in late 1890s and Col. John Patterson’s (Val Kilmer) efforts to deal with them. Patterson is a famous engineer, but he’s never built anything in Africa with its unique problems – a workforce divided by ethnic tensions (African natives vs. Indian migrants, and further divisions within those two groups), constant disease, and of course, man eating lions. I’ve always been fascinated by man-eaters because my grandfather was too, and when I was growing up, he often told me stories about hunting them. I also don’t think I’ve seen any movies set in this time period in Africa, and so that was interesting too. It’s hard to imagine simple animals being so menacing in an era of industry, but the movie manages to make them terrifying. The cast is great too, especially Michael Douglas as the larger than life big game hunter Remington.

[Apr 6] “Space Cowboys” (2000)

space-cowboysIn the 1950’s, hotshot pilot Frank (Clint Eastwood) is pulled off the nascent space program, along with his crewmates. Fifty years later, when an satellite with an operating system designed by Frank is failing, he insists on being sent to space to repair it himself, along with the rest of his old team. Lots of humor about old people in space ensues. I love space, and I think Clint Eastwood is a great director, so I was ready to love this movie, but I really didn’t. It followed a pretty similar story to Armageddon, but seemed much more unoriginal, it seemed like the story was being told by a formula rather than following characters. A lot of the humor felt flat too. It’s too bad, because all the actors were great.

[Apr 6] “Four Brothers” (2005)

four_brothersWhen an upstanding woman who’s helped many members of her local community is seemingly randomly killed in a grocery store robbery, her four adopted children get together to avenge her death. They (of course) find out that there’s a lot more to her death than they first realized, but they’re treading very dangerous waters. I enjoyed this movie, it’s directed by John Singleton who also did Boyz n the Hood, and it’s got that same grounded feeling to it. I didn’t quite buy Chiwetel Ejiofor as the capricious gangster, he seemed like he was trying to chew scenery but not quite succeeding, but that’s a minor quibble.

[Apr 7] “The Patriot” (2000)

the_patriotSoldier-turned-farmer Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) tries to stay out of the Revolutionary War to keep his family safe, but when tragedy strikes, he can’t help but join the fight against the British. I liked this movie up to about halfway through, but it ended up being too ridiculous and melodramatic by the end – it’s made by Roland Emmerich, who often likes to do that kind of thing. I’m not even sure why this movie is called The Patriot because Martin is not patriotic, he just wants to defend his family – there are no speeches about America’s values or taxation without representation or anything, there’s just the British troops being cruel and horrible and the “bad guys”, and the Americans being good and noble and the “good guys”.  I do enjoy seeing Heath Ledger in things though.

[Apr 8] “The Quiet American” (2002)

the-quiet-americanBritish reporter Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) enjoys his life in 1950’s Vietnam – he doesn’t have too much work, and he’s got a beautiful girlfriend, Phuong. However, things are changing – the paper wants him back in London, a young American doctor named Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) is trying to win his girlfriend away, and the conflict between the French and the communists in Vietnam is getting worse. This is an adaptation of a Graham Greene novel, and it’s really all about Fowler and Pyle and their different philosophies. Both Brendan Fraser and Michael Caine are incredible, and play nuanced and complex characters – their situation can get unusual at times, but they handle it well. You don’t really know what’s going on until the very end, but it all makes sense. A strange but unexpectedly good movie.

[Apr 9] “Hook” (1991)

hookPeter Pan (Robin Williams) has forgotten his origins and grown up into a busy corporate lawyer, but when Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps his children, he has to go back to Neverland and reclaim his legacy in order to rescue them. I love this movie; this was a re-watch. It’s made by Steven Spielberg, so of course it’s well-made. Robin Williams is excellent as usual, and Dustin Hoffman as Hook chews the scenery to shreds (it takes a lot to do that in a movie with Robin Williams!) and he’s clearly having so much fun. Julia Roberts also holds her own as Tinkerbell, Maggie Smith is great as Wendy, and Neverland is boisterous and crazy and very familiar from reading the books (although minus the Indians).

[Apr 9] “Everything Must Go” (2010)

everything-must-goAlcoholic Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) has just lost his job, and he comes home to discover his wife has left him, changed the locks, and left all his stuff out on the lawn. His friend gets him a permit for a yard sale in order to buy him some time, and he must come to terms with his situation and figure out his life before it expires. I like Will Ferrell in this movie, it’s not really a comedy like his usual roles, and he’s very sympathetic as a guy whose whole life is falling apart around him. As usual with these movies, he meets some people, relapses, gets better, and eventually ends up making a beginning towards making his life better. I liked it, my only complaint was that his wife seemed like an utterly horrible person (who leaves a house AND changes all the locks so her husband can’t use it either?) and I wish that had been addressed more strongly than it was.

[Apr 10] “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986)

big-trouble-in-little-chinaJack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a truck driver who gets mixed up into helping his friend Wang Chi rescue his fiancee who’s been kidnapped by the legendary Chinese sorcerer, Lo Pan. He enters a world of magic, monsters, and martial arts that he’d never even dreamed existed. The movie doesn’t take itself very seriously at all, and it’s very campy. Kurt Russell is pretty good in it, apparently it was one of the first movies to feature a protagonist who is brave but not very competent (at one point Kurt Russell’s character knocks himself out during a fight). Overly campy isn’t usually my style, but as far as it goes, I enjoyed it.

[Apr 10] “Days of Thunder” (1990)

days_of_thunderCole Trickle (Tom Cruise) is a young stock car driver who’s recruited as a driver for a new NASCAR team. This movie is directed by Tony Scott, and it’s pretty similar to Top Gun in a lot of ways – Tom Cruise plays a cocky hotshot who has to learn to work with his team, he charms someone in a position of authority, and most of the movie is him gaining experience to get to an eventual goal (Roger Ebert even codified this formula!). That’s not a bad thing at all, though, Tom Cruise has enough charm that you could see him do that over and over again. I don’t know much about NASCAR, but I enjoyed the movie, it’s fast paced and fun, and the characters are likeable.

Movies Watched: Mar 21 – Mar 31, 2016

[Mar 21] “The Bodyguard” (1992)

the-bodyguard-movie-posterA former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard for hire (Kevin Costner) takes a new job guarding a pop star (Whitney Houston) who has a dangerous stalker. At first the two are at odds over security requirements, but they slowly develop feelings for each other. As much as I like Kevin Costner, this wasn’t a great movie; it’s very melodramatic and it tries to do too much – it’s a romance, a thriller (with a couple of unexpected twists), and it’s also a showcase for Whitney Houston’s singing (which is very good, but distracts from the tightness of the movie.)

[Mar 22] “eXistenZ” (1999)

existenzAllegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a leading game designer, is testing her new masterpiece eXistenZ with a focus group when she’s suddenly attacked by an assassin and forced to escape with only a marketing trainee Ted Pikul (Jude Law) as her bodyguard. Unfortunately the only copy of eXistenZ is damaged during the escape and Allegra and Ted have to play through it to determine if it still works as intended. This is a really weird movie about virtual realities within other virtual realities, and I found it really uncomfortable in a couple of different ways – the characters change constantly because they can be overriden by the game and so they don’t feel real enough to invest in, and the organic body horror aesthetic of the game eXistenZ really creeped me out. The concept of the movie is pretty interesting, but I can’t say whether this was a good movie or not because my visceral reaction makes me far too biased.

[Mar 23] “The Guardian” (2006)

the-guardianThis movie tells the story of two Coast Guard rescue swimmers – Ben Randall (Kevin Costner), a veteran turned instructor who is recovering from the rest of his crew being killed, and Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), a cocky high school swim champion that’s in Randall’s rescue swimmer class. The structure of the movie is a lot like Top Gun, where most of it is spent in training, but there’s a real mission at the end. Unlike Top Gun, though, there are two protagonists. For most of the movie, I didn’t think it was great, but I was enjoying it fine. The end was really melodramatic and kind of ruined the movie for me.

[Mar 23] “A Knight’s Tale” (2001)

a-knights-tale-posterWilliam Thatcher (Heath Ledger) is a squire to the knight Sir Ector. When Sir Ector dies unexpectedly just before he is due to joust at a tournament, William takes his place and acquires a taste for jousting. He just can’t be caught because only nobles are allowed to joust. This is a pretty classic story, but it’s heartwarming and wonderful. Heath Ledger is adorable as the protagonist, Paul Bettany is having way too much fun as the penniless gambling Geoffrey Chaucer (who happens to be William’s herald), and William’s rival Count Adhemar (who of course has his eye on William’s love interest) is satisfyingly villainous.  I predict that I’m going to be coming back to this movie many times.

[Mar 24] “Straight Outta Compton” (2015)

Straight_Outta_Compton_posterA biographical drama based on the rise and fall of the pioneering hip-hop group N.W.A. from Compton, CA. I really didn’t know much about the history of hip-hop, so I found this movie really interesting (and it’s a good movie, too!)  The atmosphere really draws you in, and everything in the movie felt pretty realistic. The movie focuses mainly on Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, who are all played excellently (Ice Cube is actually played by his real life son), they don’t always come off as the nicest people, although you’re still ultimately sympathetic to them. Paul Giamatti is also great as N.W.A. manager Jerry Heller. Recommended!

[Mar 25] “The Postman” (1997)

the-postman-movie-posterIn a post-apocalyptic America ruled by tyrants, a drifter (Kevin Costner) finds a derelict postal truck and inspires hope by restarting the postal service. This was a re-watch, this isn’t a very well-loved movie but I really like it. Kevin Costner is a good director (as proved by Dances With Wolves), and the world of the movie is interesting. Besides, I love the idea of civic services and institutions inspiring social progress, that’s pretty much what civilization invents as it progresses, so I think it’s great to see that work in reverse. I also love Larenz Tate as Ford Lincoln Mercury, and Tom Petty as himself. The romance is a bit weird, but that’s okay.

[Mar 25] “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994)

four weddings and a funeralThis movie tells the story of the romance between Charles (Hugh Grant) and Carrie (Andie MacDowell) over the course of four weddings and a funeral. I thought it was entertaining, Hugh Grant plays the awkward eternal bachelor with far too many ex-girlfriends pretty well, and Andie MacDowell is confident and charming as Carrie. There’s something about a lot of 90’s romantic comedies (like this one) that rubs me the wrong way though, they seem too cavalier and the romances seem too impulsive for me to be satisfied when the couple actually gets together.

[Mar 26] “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000)

o_brother_where_art_thouO Brother, Where Art Thou? is about the adventures of three convicts in 1930s Mississippi (played by George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson) who escape from a work gang. It’s loosely based on the Odyssey, which I’m not very familiar with, but the sirens, and the prophet/oracle were pretty recognizable, and John Goodman plays a one eyed character that I think is supposed to be analogous a cyclops. This was definitely a good movie – it’s well shot, the setting is really interesting, the acting is impeccable, and I appreciated all that on an intellectual level, but I don’t know if I actually liked the movie. I don’t even know why it left me so ambivalent.

[Mar 26] “The Pelican Brief” (1993)

the_pelican_briefIn response to the recent murders of two Supreme Court justices, law student Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) writes a brief explaining what she thinks is going on. When her apartment is burgled and she’s almost blown up, she realizes she’s on to something, and goes to intrepid reporter Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington) for help exposing the story. I was pleasantly surprised by this movie, I expected it to be the usual run of the mill thriller (but with a good cast), but it was actually really enjoyable. The characters are actually smart, so the events following them aren’t as cliched as usual, and the pacing is great – the movie isn’t afraid to take a pause between the action when it needs to. Highly recommended.

[Mar 27] “Conspiracy Theory” (1997)

conspiracy_theoryMel Gibson plays Jerry Fletcher, a New York taxi driver obsessed with a whole bunch of conspiracy theories. When someone actually starts trying to kill him, he has to figure out what’s going on, and the only person he trusts is a lawyer who doesn’t believe any of it (Julia Roberts). I found this movie really uncomfortable, Mel Gibson does a very good job of playing a mentally unstable person (between this and Taxi Driver, I’m kind of terrified of New York cab drivers now.) Also, Patrick Stewart plays the bad guy, and I couldn’t take him seriously because his character was not very subtle, and I’m just used to finding him reassuring as Captain Picard. I was hoping it would be more of a comedy (the summary sold it to me as “he believes all these crazy things, he has to figure out which conspiracy is actually true!”) but that wasn’t the case at all.

[Mar 28] “Hanna” (2011)

hanna-movie-posterHanna (Saoirse Ronan) has spent all her life in remote Finland, training with her father (Eric Bana) to be an assassin for a very important mission. When she finally starts her mission, she finds the world to be a much more interesting place that she’d imagined, but she can’t stop too long to enjoy it because she’s being pursued by a ruthless CIA agent (Cate Blanchett) and her minions. I liked the premise of the movie, but I don’t think that the execution was very good. It seemed like two movies that were haphazardly blended into one – an action thriller with a breakneck pace, and a drama about a sheltered girl meeting the world for the first time.

[Mar 29] “Spotlight” (2015)

spotlightI’ve been wanting to see this movie ever since I first saw the trailer, and even more so when it won Best Picture at this year’s Oscar. It’s based on a true story of the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic church’s systematic cover ups of child sexual abuse by priests. Given the subject, it would have been really easy for Spotlight to veer into melodrama, but it never does. Instead we get a tight movie about investigative journalists doing what they do best. It’s very realistic, the cast is absolutely terrific, and I can’t think of a single negative thing to say about it.

[Mar 30] “Magic Mike” (2012)

Magic-Mike-Movie-PosterRecent college dropout Adam (Alex Pettyfer) is introduced into the world of male stripping by the more experienced “Magic” Mike (Channing Tatum) and finds that he has a talent for it. As Adam descends deeper and deeper into the partying lifestyle that comes with being part of their group, Mike struggles to get out out of it and realize his dream of owning his own custom furniture business. This movie was based on Channing Tatum’s experiences as a male stripper (he’s very good at it), and despite the fun of the well choreographed strip show scenes, it’s kind of a sad story. Adam, his sister, and Mike are the main focus of the movie – most of the other characters aren’t very well fleshed out. I did enjoy seeing Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the ex-stripper running the show – he’s both sleazy and reassuring in the way only he can be.

[Mar 31] “Cry Freedom” (1987)

cry-freedomSet in late 1970s South Africa, this movie tells the story of the newspaper editor Donald Woods (Kevin Kline) and how his friendship with activist Steve Biko (Denzel Washington) inspired him to fight for black rights. It’s made by Richard Attenborough, who’s very good at these kinds of stories – he also made Gandhi. Denzel Washington is absolutely perfect as the charismatic Biko, and Woods’ transition from being skeptical of his points to passionately supporting him makes total sense. The movie loses some momentum when Biko is killed (although there are still some flashbacks), and turns into an somewhat different movie when it starts focusing on the Woods family’s escape from South Africa. It’s still very good, though, and I think it’s notable that it was released when apartheid was still in effect in South Africa.

Movies Watched: Mar 11 – Mar 20, 2016

[Mar 11] “The Horse Whisperer” (1998)

the-horse-whispererWhen Grace (a young Scarlett Johansson) suffers from a traumatizing accident with the horse, her mother is determined to help her (and her equally traumatized horse) and finds a uniquely gifted horse trainer to help them. I was expecting an inspirational movie where Grace learns to conquer her fears, and there’s a lot of that, but the main focus of the movie is a romance between Grace’s mother Annie (Kristen Scott Thomas) and the “Horse Whisperer” Tom (Robert Redford). I don’t mind that the movie didn’t end up being what I anticipated, but I found the characters somewhat frustrating (more on that in the spoiler section below), so I didn’t enjoy the movie as much as I’d have liked to. On the plus side, Montana is beautiful, and I enjoyed seeing the ranch life.

[Mar 12] “The Hateful Eight” (2015)

the-hateful-eight-posterWe’re Tarantino fans, so we were pretty excited about his newest movie. Set sometime after the Civil War, eight strangers are trapped in a cabin together by a blizzard, but they all have hidden agendas and not everyone is going to leave alive. The Hateful Eight has all the hallmarks of a Tarantino film: incredible atmosphere, non-chronological storytelling, extreme but cartoonish (and almost beautiful) violence, a pulpy revenge story. Maybe we’ve been watching too many of his movies recently though, or maybe my expectations were too high – it didn’t seem as original as his other movies (the tension between a group is reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs, and the setting is similar to Django Unchained), and it didn’t blow me away. It’s certainly nowhere near a bad movie though.

[Mar 12] “Our Brand is Crisis” (2015)

Our_Brand_Is_CrisisA weary political consultant (Sandra Bullock) is hired to help re-elect a controversial ex-President of Bolivia to office, and his main opposition’s campaign is being run a longtime rival. I thought this movie would be comedic than it ended up being, it’s a pretty jaded look at the world of politics. It’s not very subtle sometimes but I enjoyed the cast (or in the case of Billy Bob Thornton, really didn’t like him, which helped me be invested in the outcome of the Sandra Bullock’s character’s campaign). I don’t think this movie was great, but it was solid and I enjoyed it. (However, I’m automatically heavily biased towards enjoying political movies, especially set in foreign countries.)

[Mar 13] “Marie Antoinette” (2006)

marie_antoinetteA biopic of Marie Antoinette from her marriage to Louis XVI to the fall of Versailles. This was one of the most exceptional movies I’ve watched in the last few months; I thought it was brilliant. It’s a very sympathetic portrayal of Marie Antoinette (played by Kirsten Dunst), and Sofia Coppola (as usual) does an incredible job of conveying her isolation and disappointment with her new life. It’s not made in the usual biopic or historical drama styles, the storytelling is very contemporary and occasionally uses modern music (one particular montage set to “I Want Candy” stands out), but it’s very effective. Jason Schwartzman is surprisingly good in the role of Louis XVI, and it’s nice to see his relationship with Marie Antoinette evolve.

[Mar 13] “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014)

kingsman-posterHarry Hart (Colin Firth) recruits the unsophisticated but gifted son (Taron Egerton) of a former colleague into the Kingsmen, an independent spy agency, just in time to stop a maniacal tech billionaire (Samuel L. Jackson) from unleashing a genocide. This movie is based on a comic book by the same author as Kick-Ass, and has the same sort of over the top storytelling, except applied to the James Bond type spy genre instead of the superhero genre. Everyone seemed to love this movie, but I didn’t think it was notably good. It was well-made, and it had a good cast playing against usual type (especially Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson), but it kind of reminded me a Doctor Who episode (which everyone still loves too). I didn’t really enjoy the humor or the violence, it seemed like a bad attempt at a sillier Tarantino movie. It was entertaining, though.

[Mar 14] “Enemy of the State” (1998)

enemy_of_the_stateA hapless lawyer (Will Smith) accidentally receives evidence implicating a corrupt politician who happens to have NSA’s resources to chase him down with. This is an extremely prescient movie about the dangers of the surveillance state, and it’s also a fun fast-paced action movie (it’s directed by Tony Scott, how could it not be). Gene Hackman is particularly great as the professional ex-NSA paranoid. Even the minor characters in this movie are often played by semi-famous actors, which is pretty cool.

[Mar 15] “Jack Reacher” (2012)

jack_reacherJack Reacher, an ex-military policeman investigates the case of a sniper who killed five random people with the help of the sniper’s defense attorney (Rosamund Pike). I hadn’t heard very much about this movie before I watched it, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I enjoyed it very much. Tom Cruise plays a compelling intense loner, and the movie flouts a lot of the conventions of the mystery thriller genre. There’s good tension, the action is fun, and the plot is a bit convoluted, but who cares. I particularly enjoyed Robert Duvall’s character (and he’s from Ohio!)

[Mar 16] “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (2011)

extremely loud incredibly close

extremely loud incredibly close

Oscar, a nine year old in New York finds a mysterious key left in his father’s belongings after he dies during 9/11, and he’s convinced that he needs to find the lock that matches it. This is a touching movie about growing up and moving on (his grief is extremely sympathetic, but even more so because his dad is played by Tom Hanks, who has to be one of the most reassuring people on the planet), as Oscar goes through everyone in the phone book named “Black” (based on a note found with the key), and conquers many of his anxieties in the process. He also makes friends with a mysterious mute boarder living with his grandmother (played with panache by Max von Sydow). Thomas Horn does an incredible job of playing Oscar, who can be pretty obnoxious but you can’t help feeling for. Sandra Bullock also does a great job as his mom, I didn’t even recognize her until halfway through the movie.

I read this book a while back, but I don’t remember it very well, so I can’t judge the movie in relation to it, but I thought it was really good, and not too melodramatic despite the subject.

[Mar 17] “50/50” (2011)

5050-movie-posterAdam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 27 year old living a pretty normal life until he’s diagnosed with a rare cancer. Given that Seth Rogen was in this, I thought it would be more of a comedy, but it’s another movie about growing up and getting in touch with who you really are (Seth Rogen’s character is still very crude and pretty outrageous, but he also has heart.) I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who doesn’t) and it’s great to watch his character be more confidently himself throughout the movie. Anna Kendrick usually plays pretty irritating characters, but she’s actually cute in this.

[Mar 17] “A River Runs Through It” (1992)

a-river-runs-through-it-posterBased on a true story, the movie is about two brothers from rural Montana, and their life growing up, figuring themselves out despite their strict upbringing, and doing a lot of fly fishing. This movie was directed by Robert Redford, who seems to love Montana (he also did The Horse Whisperer, reviewed above.) I don’t think this movie is about anything in particular, just the lives of the two brothers – Craig Sheffer plays the protagonist, Norman, and Brad Pitt plays his rebellious younger brother, Paul. Paul reminded me a bit of Brad Pitt’s character in Legends of the Fall, another rural movie where he’s somewhat wild, but he’s screwed up in different ways. I always like seeing movies set in times and places that I haven’t before – early 20th century Montana is new to me, and the movie establishes atmosphere very well. Recommended.

[Mar 18] “The Good Shepherd” (2006)

The-Good-Shepherd-movie-posterEdward Wilson (Matt Damon) has been a CIA company man for most of his life (from when it was the OSS). The movie starts off with an investigation into a leak about the Bay of Pigs invasion, and as he investigates, we see his whole career unfold in a series of flashbacks. This movie is directed by Robert De Niro (who I didn’t even know directed movies, and it’s both a great drama and a great quiet spy movie. The early history of the CIA is fascinating – I’d never really thought about how the very first spies were recruited. Matt Damon is really good as Wilson, growing more stiff and cold as he gets better at his job. I thought Angelina Jolie was a bit wasted as the alcoholic wife (I kept expecting her to do more), but she’s good, of course. Many of the minor characters are played by pretty notable actors, including a cameo by (ordinarily retired) Joe Pesci.

[Mar 18] “Focus” (2015)

focusVeteran con man Nicky (Will Smith) runs into old flame/protege Jess (Margot Robbie) during his latest scheme and he can’t stop obsessing over her. This was a very weird movie, both in its structure and its story. I usually enjoy movies about cons, they usually rely on misdirection, but I felt like things just happened in this one, and even when various cons were revealed, they didn’t have the whole “oh of course that’s what they did” moment that similar movies do. And cons are usually pretty far fetched, so without the proper structure, the ones in the movie just came off as being ridiculous. Not paying attention to cinematic conventions can be great when done well, but I feel like in this case, they just made it flat.

[Mar 19] “Primal Fear” (1996)

primal-fear-posterI’ve always avoided this movie because based on the name, I thought it was a horror movie, but it’s actually a courtroom thriller. Ambitious lawyer Martin Vail (Richard Gere) takes on the case of a young and guileless altar boy, Aaron (Edward Norton), accused of killing the Archbishop that gave him a home off the streets. Aaron was caught fleeing the scene covered in blood, but the truth isn’t always as clear cut as it seems. Edward Norton is amazing as Aaron, doubly so because this was his first movie. I liked the rest of the characters too, they were fleshed out much better than many other movies of this genre.

[Mar 19] “Dr. No” (1962)

dr_noWe’ve decided to go through all the James Bond movies in order. I’d only ever seen Die Another Day, Casino Royale and Skyfall, so I was looking forward to starting at the beginning with Dr. No.

James Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a British agent and ends up uncovering a plot to disrupt the American space program by the nefarious Dr. No. It’s a fun movie, although I kept having to remind myself to view it through the lens of the times; the casual chauvinism was somewhat distracting, and some of Bond’s decisions seem pretty questionable. I didn’t know how many of the Bond conventions (the unique title credits, the music, the Bond girls, “Bond. James Bond”, etc.) were established from the very beginning, that was interesting to see. Sean Connery is great as Bond, I understand why everyone loves him now.

[Mar 20] “The 33” (2015)

the_33This movie tells the recent true story of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped inside a collapsed mine for 69 days. It’s a pretty formulaic movie; it’s not better or worse than any other movie of the “real life dramatic event” genre. I don’t know much about mining though, and I was pretty interested in the mechanics of solving a problem like how to rescue people in a closed cave 700 meters underground. Antonio Banderas plays the miner who takes charge and the story focuses the most on, which I was amused by because one of his subplots involves reassuring the other miners that he won’t put himself above everyone else as far as publicity goes.

[Mar 20] “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008)

forgetting_sarah_marshallPeter (Jason Segel) takes a Hawaiian vacation to get over his recent break up with his girlfriend of five years, Sarah Marshall. Unfortunately for him, Sarah and her new boyfriend, Aldous have decided to vacation at the same resort. Although he runs into them constantly, with the help of resort employee Rachel (Mila Kunis), he starts to become himself again. This movie was cuter than I thought it would be; it resists the temptation to make either Sarah or her boyfriend into villains, instead reflecting that people can have good sides and still do really horrible things to other people. Russel Brand is really funny as the outrageous rockstar Aldous Snow, and Mila Kunis and Jason Segel have great chemistry.

Movies Watched: Mar 1 – Mar 10, 2016

[Mar 1] “Le Chef” (2012)

le_chefA French comedy starring Jean Reno as a veteran chef who is at odds with the owner of his restaurant, who wants him to modernize by cooking molecular gastronomy. He finds an unlikely brilliant sous chef who happens to not have any formal training, and together, they achieve culinary heights. Jean Reno is as reassuring as usual, and Michaël Youn is brilliant as the oddball perfectionist chef Jacky. It’s fast-paced, it’s funny, it’s cute, and it has a lot of heart. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this movie as much as I did.

[Mar 2] “Great Expectations” (1998)

Great_expectations_posterAn adaptation of the Dickens novel set in contemporary America. Ethan Hawke plays the protagonist Finnegan Bell (Pip in the novel), a poor fisherman who is also a talented artist. When he acquires an unknown benefactor that provides him with an artist’s life in New York City, he assumes that it’s the eccentric Mrs. Havisham, who he spent a lot of time with growing up, and whose ward Estella he’s never gotten over. I enjoyed the movie, Ethan Hawke is great, and Gwyneth Paltrow drove me absolutely crazy as the untouchable Estella (as she’s supposed to). A lot of the more melodramatic aspects of the novel are removed, and I thought the movie told a tight story even if you’d never heard of the book. Also, both Robert De Niro and Chris Cooper are fantastic in this movie.

[Mar 3] “Amistad” (1997)

amistad-movie-posterThis Steven Spielberg movie tells the true story of the legal case of the survivors of the 1839 revolt on the Spanish slave ship Amistad. When the United States government captures the ship, abolitionists help defend the African captives’ right to be free from the several parties who claim all property on board, including the slaves – the Spanish government, the ship’s owner, the American men who found the ship. The movie was somewhat predictable, but I enjoyed it. I liked Matthew McConaughey as the main lawyer, and it was interesting to see the legal system of 1839. It wasn’t a very subtle movie though, especially with its constant foreshadowing of the Civil War.

[Mar 4] “Emma” (1996)

emmaEmma is my favourite Jane Austen novel (it’s certainly the most fun) and I was pretty excited about watching this movie. The poster (Gwyneth Paltrow shooting an bow) had me somewhat worried that they’d modernized it too much, but this was a very good adaptation. Emma is a young woman who is convinced that she is great at matchmaking, but her attempts fail and she has to learn that people aren’t as simple as she thought they were. The relationship between Emma and Mr. Knightley is filled with banter, but it’s delightful. Gwyneth Paltrow plays a terrific Emma, she’s lovable but you also sometimes want to scream at how oblivious she is. And Jeremy Northam is dreamy as Mr. Knightley.

[Mar 4] “The Fifth Element” (1997)

The Fifth ElementIn the 23rd century, the universe is threatened by an all consuming Great Evil and the only thing that can save us is the Fifth Element. The cult that protects the secret of the Fifth Element is dangerously outnumbered. and it’s up to cab driver Korben Dallas to protect the Fifth Element and get her where she needs to be. This was a rewatch, and I love this movie. It’s silly, it’s cacophonous, and the story is pretty simplistic, but it’s so much fun and such a visual treat, and it’s got all the cool worldbuilding of something like Star Wars. Luc Besson is great at kickass women, and Leeloo is no exception, and Bruce Willis is perfect as the curmudgeonly ex-military protagonist. And Chris Tucker’s Ruby Rhod is a really memorable character.

[Mar 5] “Gosford Park” (2001)

gosford-parkDuring a shooting party at a country manor in England in the 1930s, the host is murdered, and nearly everyone in the house had the motive to kill him. The movie isn’t really about the murder though, it’s about the lives and secrets of both the guests and their servants below. It was written by Julian Fellowes, who you might know as the creator of Downton Abbey (which was originally supposed to be a spinoff of Gosford Park). This was also a rewatch for me, and it’s just as good as I remember it being. It’s a pretty quiet movie, it’s not very dramatic, but you’re really drawn into the world that it portrays. And the cast is great too – Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Stephen Fry, Derek Jacobi…

[Mar 5] “Fly Away Home” (1996)

fly-away-homeWhen Amy Alden’s (Anna Paquin) mother dies, she has to go live with her crazy inventor father in Canada. She has a lot of trouble adjusting to her new life, but when some motherless geese imprint on her, she finds something to care about. But the geese need to migrate thousands of miles during the fall, and without a mother to teach them, her geese won’t know the way. Clearly the only solution is to teach them using a goose shaped low powered airplane (and this is based on a true story!) There are antics and there’s environmentalism and there’s even some villains, but when it comes down to it, this movie is just oodles of heart. Also, Jeff Daniels is extremely reassuring as the inventor dad who clearly cares a lot about his daughter.

[Mar 6] “Mr. Holland’s Opus” (1995)

mr-hollands-opus-movie-posterThis movie tells the story of Mr. Holland, an aspiring composer who gets a job as a high school music teacher to pay the bills. His definition of a successful life slowly changes over his career, though. This was one of my favourite movies I’ve watched since we began watching a movie a day, it’s about growing up, and then growing up some more. Richard Dreyfuss is fantastic as Mr. Holland, he plays a very irritatingly real person. It isn’t a perfect movie – some characters are a bit cliched, the way the school was run seemed a bit extreme on occasion, especially at the end, but I loved it.

[Mar 6] “RED” (2010)

red_movie_posterWhen Frank Moses’ (Bruce Willis) peaceful Cleveland home is attacked by assassins, he reassembles his old “Retired, Extremely Dangerous” team to figure out who’s after them and why. This is a silly action movie based on a comic book, but it’s so much fun. First of all, Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle is something I’d apparently always wanted to see but didn’t realize until I saw it. Bruce Willis is in his usual form, and he’s a great action star. Plus Morgan Freeman! I also have an irrational crush on Karl Urban, so I love seeing him in things. My only complaint is that I find Mary-Louise Parker somewhat annoying, and she plays a really ditzy character, but that’s okay.

[Mar 7] “Shakespeare in Love” (1998)

Shakespeare-in-LoveA young William Shakespeare’s (Joseph Fiennes) play is about to start rehearsals, but he hasn’t actually written it yet, and he’s out of ideas. But then he meets and falls in love with a rich woman with a passion for theater, and he’s inspired to write one of his most famous plays, Romeo and Juliet. The movie is structured kind of like one of Shakespeare’s plays – there’s action and comedy and romance, and you can see that the cast is having so much fun. The conceit of being so meta could’ve been disastrous, but it is actually very well-executed (probably helped by the fact that the movie was written by Tom Stoppard, who is great at riffing off of Shakespeare  – he also wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead). And the cast is excellent, the main characters of course, but I also enjoyed Ben Affleck as the actor Ned Alleyn and Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth.

[Mar 8] “The Big Short” (2015)

the-big-short-posterThe Big Short is about a bunch of (real-life) people who successfully predicted the recent housing market crash and were thought to be crazy but actually ended up making a boatload of money. It’s also one of the best movies I’ve seen recently, just because it’s told in such a fun way. I love movies that break the fourth wall, and this one does so constantly, even offering meta commentary on the movie. It does a great job of showing how much fun it is to screw over big banks while also keeping in perspective that the thing all these people bet on were tons of people losing their houses. The characters and actors are really good, of course. Christian Bale in particular plays a really convincing socially awkward genius, and Ryan Gosling was almost unrecognizable at first. I really like movies that talk about the world (especially politics and economics), so there’s no way I’d find this movie boring, but even if you think finance sounds boring, watch it! It’s fast-paced, it doesn’t dwell on exposition (it breaks the fourth wall instead to get the context over with) and I promise you’ll both enjoy it and learn something.

[Mar 8] “Mumford” (1999)

mumfordA psychologist named Mumford moves into a small town (also named Mumford) and has a huge impact on the lives of people there. It turns out that he might not be exactly who he says he is, though. This was a re-watch for me, it’s a cute feel-good movie where the solutions to people’s problems are pretty simple, if they would only look in the right places and learn to accept who they are. Mumford doesn’t have a very strong personality, but that’s part of what makes him reassuring. I also like the supporting cast a lot.

[Mar 9] “Burnt” (2015)

burntBradley Cooper plays Adam Jones, a chef who destroyed his career on drugs and bad behavior. Now he’s cleaned himself up and is determined to earn the third Michelin star that he was never able to get. We are big fans of both Bradley Cooper and cooking shows, so we had to watch this movie as soon as possible. It’s pretty good, Bradley Cooper is great as the intense chef who has already learned a lot from his mistakes, but still has something to prove. The fancy restaurant scene seems pretty cutthroat, and the movie can get pretty tense sometimes.

[Mar 9] “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2015)

second_best_exotic_marigold_hotelIn this sequel to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (reviewed here), the hotel is doing really well and Sonny (Dev Patel) is pursuing financing to expand. His potential backers are sending an anonymous guest to check the place out, but there’s trouble when two new guests arrive with only one vacancy left. Plus, pretty much everyone has stuff going on on the romantic front. I didn’t think the movie was on the same league as the first one; the characters seem to have changed to fit the plot (especially Sonny’s mother), and there seemed to be a lot more silliness than heart. The cast continues to be great, and there are some touching moments, but overall, I was disappointed.

[Mar 10] “The Virgin Suicides” (1999)

virgin_suicidesA group of boys are fascinated by the five Lisbon sisters, who live an extremely strict and sheltered life, but are clearly unhappy in it. I’m not really sure how to describe this movie but I thought it was incredible. This was Sofia Coppola’s first movie, and she’s apparently always been really good at realistic and sympathetic women that are also lonely (and usually in pretty crappy situations). She also captures being a teenager extremely well, both from the boys’ side and the girls’. The story of the Lisbon girls seems almost dreamlike, because how could a story like that happen in a normal suburban neighborhood, but it’s also painfully real.

[Mar 10] “Friday” (1995)

friday-movie-posterTwo friends, Craig and Smokey, have to figure out how to get their drug dealer $200 by the end of the day. Along the way, they smoke a lot of weed and have some encounters with their friends and neighbors, mostly from their front porch. I haven’t seen a lot of stoner movies, but I found this one pretty funny. There aren’t a lot of crazy adventures for most of it, just two friends hanging out. Chris Tucker is great (as usual) and Ice Cube plays a good straight man (and also apparently wrote the movie.)

“Every Heart A Doorway” by Seanan McGuire

every_heart_a_doorwaySeanan McGuire is one of the most prolific fantasy writers out there today, but I hadn’t read anything by her yet. I was pretty excited to get a copy of Every Heart A Doorway to review. Also, I’ve been intrigued by the new imprint dedicated to publishing short fiction, and so I was doubly excited to finally read a book published by them.

Any fantasy reader is familiar with portal fantasy, but once you’ve found your portal, being forced back into the mundane world can be harrowing experience. This is where Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children comes in – it is a school dedicated to helping children who have lost their way to the fantasy world they once lived in. We follow Nancy, newly returned from the Halls of the Dead who wants nothing more than to go back, but instead she ends up in a school for misfits just like her. And just as she’s getting used to her life, her schoolmates start dying.

I really enjoyed the first half of this book, where the rules of the worlds are explained and Nancy adjusts to her new school. The classification system for other worlds is fascinating, and so is learning about the different worlds that each of the people we meet went to. McGuire’s prose is lovely, especially when describing what these worlds mean to each of the characters – she actually makes being surrounded by spiders and living in a classic horror movie with reanimators and vampires sound appealing! The characters are as diverse as the worlds they claim home, but you can see how neatly the world matches their personality. I wasn’t really able to identify with Nancy’s desire to be a living statue, but she seemed like a pretty well-adjusted person otherwise.

The second half of this book isn’t bad in any way, but it does switch gears into being a murder mystery. I’m a little bit tired of the murder mystery trope in general, and this novella was short enough that I don’t think there was enough time to build suspense. The murders happened really close together, and the resolution happened pretty quickly too. Plus, it still continued the story of Nancy’s acceptance of who she was and her life, so it felt like the book was trying to do a bit too much. I think it would have been a really great book if it had stuck to one of the two plots (I liked Nancy’s coming of age plot more), or maybe if it had been longer. As it is, though, I’d just call it good. I’d still recommend it, though, and I’ll be seeking out more of McGuire’s work.

Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire, 2016 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.