book reviews

The Book Thief

book thief

The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany and is narrated by Death.  The main character is a little German girl named Liesel Meminger, who goes to live with foster parents. Her mother is gone and her brother is dead.

She steals her first book off a corpse and the rescues/ steals some subsequent books.  Her foster father, Hans, teaches her to read and she becomes an avid reader. She is a smart, tough little girl who likes to play football with the boys.  She befriends a boy called Rudy, who is her neighbour, and they become inseparable.  She and her foster family do not share the Nazi ideals. They hide a Jewish man, Max,  in their basement who becomes a very good friend to both Liesel and her family.  Though, hiding Max does put them in a very precarious situation.

The novel is perhaps a little heavy for vacation reading, but it has many light moments and is really well written.  A very intriguing and mesmerizing read.  The book includes German phrases, but they are also explained in English.  It is a beautiful story about humanity, love and friendship.

You would probably like this if you like The Boy in Striped Pajamas.  I would recommend this book.   There has been a movie made about this book, but I haven’t seen it yet.

I would highly recommend this book.

©lowercase v    2017 

Advertisements
book reviews

A Man Called Ove

ove.JPGA grumpy old widower who has lost his job, just wants to kill himself and die in peace, but his neighbours keep interfering.

The book is somewhat episodic, though it does follow a solid narrative.  It is well-written and the characters are well drawn.

This is a funny and touching story about being human. I enjoyed reading it and found that I could greatly relate to Ove.

I would recommend this book.

 

 

©lowercase v   2017 

board games

Carcassonne Review

I love playing board games. I wouldn’t really call myself an avid or regular player, but I will say almost never say no thanks to playing a game. I haven’t tried all the games the cool kids are playing, but I’m always happy to try a new game and their a lot of games that I still want to try.

This is a unsolicited/ unpaid  user review of a game I own. (I mean I own a copy of the game, not the rights to the game).

carcassonne

Age: 13 and up.
Players: 2-5 players.
Average playing time: ± 40 minutes

Carcassonne is a tile building game. The box contains  72 normal playing tiles ( including the a start tile),  12  river tiles (expansion), 5 sets of followers (player tokens), a score board and the game rules.


Each player has 8 “followers”. One follower is used to keep track on the score board and the rest is used to claim the player’s builds.

The start tile is place on the table and other tiles are shuffled and placed on in stacks on the table. Players can arbitrarily decide who will start the game or they can just let youngest player will start. Order of play proceeds clockwise.  The first player draws a tile from any pile of cards and places it on any side of the start tile, provided that the picture will build correctly.  The tile a player places has to line side by side to an existing game tile (you cannot  simply touch the corner of an existing tile with nothing touching the sides of the new tile).

In a basic game, players will build roads, cities and monasteries.  The player who has placed a tile can then place a follower on the newly placed tile, on the piece of road (the follower is called a “thief”) , city (“knight”) or monastery (“monk”), depending on what she is trying to build.  Once a build is completed, the player removes her follower from the board and returns the follower to her pile of game tokens. She scores her points and moves her scorer the appropriate number of points on the score board.  A road is complete when there is a crossroad, intersection on building at either end of a stretch. A monastery is complete when the tile is surrounded by 8 other tiles. A city is complete when the wall are closed around.

Each tile of road counts 1 point,  completed monasteries count 9 points  (1 point for each tile). City tiles count 2 points each plus an extra 2 points for each banner (at the end of the game,  uncompleted cities only score 1 point per tile or banner). Once a player laps on the score board, she turn her follower on its side to indicate that it has already gone around the board.

You cannot play a follower on a city or road already allocated to another player (for example if you have a city tile and can only add it to someone else’s city). If players build separate cities or roads and these roads or cities become one as they expand, the players who have followers will share the points if they have an equal number of followers on the build. If one plays has more tokens than the other co-builders, she will get all the points. (i.e  Blue has started 2 separate cities and Red has also started a city. During the course of the game these 3 cities become one large city. Blue will score all the points when the cities is completed. Red will score nothing.)

Play continues until all the tiles have been placed. Each player then count their points for uncompleted builds. Uncompleted builds score 1 point per tile. The player with the most points on the score board wins the game.

IMG_3255

As an extension, players can build farms as well,  though this should be decided before play starts.  Farms are claimed by placing a follower (“farmer”) on the green/ field part of a tile.  The farms extension can be a bit complicated as it isn’t always clear where borders are. I have only played this once. The game is much less complicated without this extension.

Another extension is playing with the river cards, which expands the play area and extends the game by a few minutes. When the river is played, the normal starting tile is taken out of play and the river origin tile is placed first. All the river tiles are then place by the players, until then lake tile is placed. The next player then draws the next tile from the normal playing tiles and play continues in the normal order.

What I like about this game is that the basic game is very easy to learn. Play doesn’t take very long (unlike Risk or Monopoly for example, though I do like both those games). It takes some strategy, but it is not too complicated. It is very inclusive and suitable for family play. There are no general knowledge questions (though I love trivia questions, but some people don’t) and no roll of dice influencing one player’s monopoly of the game.  Players are allowed to advise each other on where to place tiles, but they don’t have to.  Even  people who are not generally very big on board games seem to enjoy this game.  This is a fun game for family or friends and one you will probably play often.


©lowercase v  2017

movie reviews

School of Rock (2003)

Running Time: 108 min    Rated: PG-13

school of rock

Director: Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise,  Waking Life, Fast Food Nation,  Boyhood)
Writer: Mike White (Orange County, Nacho Libre.  Episodes of: Dawson’s Creek, Freaks and Geeks)

 

“Dude, I service society by rocking, OK? I’m out there on the front lines liberating people with my music!” – Dewey Finn

Dewey Finn (Jack Black)  is a unemployed wannabe rock star.  His best friend,  Ned’s (Mike White)  girlfriend, Patti (Sarah Silverman), wants to kick him out of their shared apartment, unless he can pay his part of the rent. His band mates has replaced him with another guitarist and kicked him out of the band.  Things look pretty grim.  Ms Mullins (Joan Cusack), the principal of a fancy prep school, calls regarding a substitute teacher job for Ned. When Dewey hears what the job pays, he decides to take “the gig”. At first Dewey sees his new job as paid nap time and has little interest in the bunch of 4th graders. After hearing the kids play in orchestra class, Dewey has a brilliant idea. He announces a new class project called “Project Rock Band”,  with the plan of entering them in the “Battle of the Bands”.   Of course, this has to be a “secret class project”. The kids are very excited about their new project and everyone is assigned a special role.  As he spend more time with the kids he forms a special bond with them.


School of Rock
 is a hilarious, feel-good movie (unless you end up feeling old and untalented).  It is well directed, shot and edited.  This is probably director Richard Linklater’s  most mainstream film.

Jack Black plays yet another wacky  goofball. If you enjoy his other movies you will enjoy this one. Jack Black and Mike White often act together in movies written by White.  This is probably my favourite Jack Black movie (I loved Orange County a lot, though he plays a minor role in it).

The child actors in this movie are both adorable and very talented. The young cast include (among many other talented performers): Miranda Cosgrove (iCarly, Dispicable Me),  Aleisha Allen (Are We There Yet?,  Are We Done Yet?), Cole Hawkins (Bid Daddy, Changing Lanes, Meet the Parents),  Angelo Massagli (Cosby, The Sopranos, Stuart Little 2)  and Zachary Infante (acted  in and produced a short film called The Black Experience) . 

The soundtrack features several classic rock anthem. Some of the artist featured on the soundtrack include: AC/DC,  Led Zeplin,  The Who, Cream, T.Rex, The Doors, etc.

The Special Collector’s Edition DVD includes commentary by Richard Linklater & Jack Black,  kid’s commentary, a music video, the theatrical trailer and several other bonus materials.

 

©lowercase v   2017

 

analysis

Excess Baggage vs A Life Less Ordinary

 

Both films were released in 1997.  Both are about a spoiled rich girl, trying to get her father’s attention, who is accidentally kidnapped by a troubled young man. In both cases they fall in love. I wouldn’t really call either films an example of Stockholm Syndrome, even though in both cases the kidnapping “victim”  identifies with the kidnapper, because the kidnappings are  accidental.
It often happens that movies with similar plots are released by different studios in the same year.  What makes a difference is the screenplay, director and cast.

spoilers

A Life Less Ordinary (ALLO for sake of comparison):
Running time: 103 min      Rated: R
Tagline: “A comedy for anyone who’s ever been in danger…of falling in love.”

Robert (Ewan McGregor) loses his job and confronts the company president.  He impulsively takes the boss’s daughter, Celine (Cameron Diaz),  as a hostage. He now finds himself as a kidnapper on the run with Celine.  In the meanwhile, Jackson (Delroy Lindo) and O’Reilly (Holly Hunter),  are two angels on a mission from God to reestablish romance between modern man and woman.

Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: John Hodge
Cast includes: Dan Hedaya, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shaloub, Ian Holm and Timothy Olyphant.

Excess Baggage (EB for sake of comparison):
 Running time: 101 min      Rated: PG-13
Tagline: “You would NOT believe what a girl’s got to do, just to get a little attention”
A spoiled teenager, Emily (Alicia Silverstone), fakes her own kidnapping.  While she is in the trunk of her car, Vincent (Bencio Del Toro), a car thief steals her car and inadvertently becomes a kidnapper. There are sparks between them and they form a special bond. In the meanwhile her father has sent his associate, ” Uncle Ray” (Christopher Walken) to retrieve Emily.

Director: Marco Brambilla
Writer:  Max. D Adams (story & screenplay), Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais.
Cast includes: Harry Connick Jr., Jack Thompson and Nicholas Turturro.

Comparison:

  • EB is more realistic than ALLO, which has the fantasy element of two angels on a mission.
  • ALLO employs Deux ex machina. 
  • ALLO overall has the better cast and acting performances.
  • EB: Alicia  Silverstone  was nominated for a worst actress Razzie. Good performances from Walken and Del Toro.
  • ALLO has a more famous writer and director.
  • ALLO has better overall cinematogrpahy and editing.
  • Both have cool soundtracks.
  • EB is more main stream and did better at the box office.
  • EB was made for a budget of ± $20,000,000  and ALLO for  ± $12,000,000 (source: imdb)
  • ALLO has funnier dialogue.
  • The romantic relationship in ALLO is more volatile.
  • Emily (EB) fakes her own kidnapping to get attention and then gets kidnapped for real… Celine (ALLO) gets kidnapped by mistakes but then decides to exploit the situation (and test how much her father loves her), by making Robert demand a ransom.
  • Both female leads are willful and opinionated and will speak their minds, but Celine (ALLO) is more independent and a stronger character.
  • Both women are American.
  • Robert( ALLO) is just   sweet, but frustrated guy, a bit of a loser,  who is at the wrong time and the wrong place and haplessly becomes a criminal.  Vincent (EB) is a career criminal (who wants out), who is also at the wrong place at the wrong time and gets sucked into s sticky situation.
  • Both male characters are of foreign origin. Vincent is Latino and Robert is British.

I enjoyed both movies, but I slightly favour A Lifeless Ordinary, as it is quirkier and a lot more absurd, albeit a little over the top.  It also briefly features two beautiful Dobermans.

 

Memorable Dialogue:

——————————————————————————————————————————
Emily vs. Celine:

===Excess Baggage===

EMILY:
What… you’re done? You don’t wanna play anymore?

**
EMILY:
Oh, hi Dad, I’m okay but um… Daddy he made me touch his penis.

VINCENT:
[Vincent hangs up the phone] Touch what?

EMILY: Oops.
===A Life Less Ordinary===

CELINE:
“Kidnap For Beginners”, Chapter One. Have you even asked for a ransom yet?
**

CELINE:
If word got around that I had been liberated for half a million dollars, I could never show my face in polite society again. Diamonds have no value except that which is placed upon them.
—————————————————————————————————————————–

Vincent vs. Robert

===Excess Baggage===

VINCENT:
I once stole a Ferrari with a Chihuahua in the back. He made less noise than you do.

**
VINCENT:
I’ve known this girl for two days, are you tellin’ me I care more about her than you? You son of a bitch! You should’ve sold her when she was born for cash value Mr. Business Man!


===A Life Less Ordinary===

ROBERT:
Right you asshole, I’ve got your daughter here, and I’m gonna send her back in pieces if… OH! I’m sorry, madam. No, I haven’t got your daughter here, I’ve got someone else’s. No, we’re not married. Yes, I’ve read the same thing, it’s very hard to find suitable young men these days. Well, I’m sure your daughter’s very nice, in principle I’ve got no objection to meeting her…
[Celine hangs up the phone]

——————————————————————————————————————————

Relationships: 

===Excess Baggage:===

VINCENT:
How stupid do you think I am, huh?

EMILY:
How stupid is there?
**

VINCENT:
I got a Twinkie in the car. It’s all yours, if you want it. Just make this call for me.
**
VINCENT:
Let’s see… we’ve got rum, tequila and rum… Rum and tequila. What would you like?

EMILY:
You don’t have to be drunk to kiss me.

VINCENT:
Well… I’m not drunk.
===A Life Less Ordinary===

ROBERT:
Why are you such a pain to be with?

CELINE:
Because you tied me to a chair all night.
**

CELINE
Despite your crummy poem, I came to see you and all you could do was humiliate me and turn me away. I thought you were decent, but it turns out you’re just a lying, cheating bastard like all the rest.
**
CELINE:
What’s wrong?

ROBERT:
What’s wrong, you crazy bitch, is I thought you were gonna shoot me! THAT’S what’s wrong!

—————————————————————————————————————————

©lowercase v  2017 

 

movie reviews

Excess Baggage (1997)

Running time: 101 min      Rated: PG-13

Excess Baggage was released 20 years ago…

excess baggage

To get her father’s attention, a spoiled rich teenager, Emily (Alicia Silverstone), fakes her own kidnapping.  While she is hiding out in the trunk of her car, Vincent (Bencio Del Toro), a car thief steals her car and inadvertently becomes a kidnapper. There are sparks between them and they form a bond as they spend more time together.  In the meanwhile her father has sent his associate,  “Uncle Ray” (Christopher Walken) to retrieve Emily.

I saw this movies as a teenager. I definitely wanted to have Alicia Silverstone’s outfit, which I thought was very cool.  The soundtrack is enjoyable and features the song “All Mixed Up” by Red House Painters . Benicio Del Toro gives a very sweet performance as Vincent. Alica Silverstone is very cute and was extremely popular at the time of this film, due to her movie Clueless (1996).

The whole poor little rich girl thing is a bit of cliché. Excess Baggage is not exactly a cinematic classic, but it is  very entertaining and a easy watch.

Director: Marco Brambilla
Writer:  Max. D Adams (story & screenplay), Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais.
Cast also includes:  Harry Connick Jr., Jack Thompson, Nicholas Turturro.

*A film with a similar premise, A Life Less Ordinary was released also released in 1997. Look out for my review and my comparison of the two films.

©lowercase v   2017

 

movie reviews

A Life Less Ordinary (1997)

Running time: 103 min       Rated: R

A Life Less Ordinary was released 20 years ago…

MV5BMTQ1MjQ0NDI0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjc4NTM5._V1_

Robert (Ewan McGregor), a cleaner and aspiring romance novelist, loses his job.  He confronts the company president and in the process takes the boss’s daughter, Celine (Cameron Diaz) as a hostage. He now finds himself as a kidnapper on the run with Celine. There are sparks between them and as they spend more time together, the possibility of romance. In the mean time, two angels, Jackson (Delroy Lindo) and O’Reilly (Holly Hunter) are stuck on earth with the mission to romantically united a man and a woman.

A Life Less Ordinary was directed by acclaimed British director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) and written by frequent collaborator John Hodge (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, The Beach).

The subplot of the top angels adds a fantasy element to the otherwise gritty movie.  The subplot makes the movie more quirky, but it could probably stand without it. The dialogue is witty and the cast is on point.  The film is technically well made and edited. I like the score and the soundtrack . I would not say this is a case of Stockholm Syndrome, because the kidnapping is accidental. Overall, I enjoyed this movie and it is one of my favourites.

Also starring: Dan Hedaya, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shaloub, Ian Holm, Timothy Olyphant.

 

*A film with a similar premise, Excess Baggage was released also released in 1997. Look out for my review and my comparison of the two films.

©lowercase v   2017

 

 

movie reviews

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – Review

rosemary
A young  married couple, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Casavettes) move into a notorious New York City apartment building.  They meet and befriend their neighbours,  an older couple, Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer).   The young couple is planning to start a family soon and Guy treats Rosemary to a special dinner.  That night she has very strange nightmares.  Shortly thereafter she  finds out that she is pregnant. She switches doctors to Dr Sapirstein, a family friend of the Castevets. He gives her strange advice about her pregnancy. Hutch, an old friend of the Woodhouses is concerned about Rosemary and becomes suspicious of her naigbours. He asks Rosemary to meet him but he never shows up for the meeting…

 

Rosemary’s Baby is well crafted, with many “plants” and “payoffs”. It  is packed with detail and soaked in irony. It is a psychological rather than a visual attack. There are no prosthetic demons or elaborate masked monsters (this was before CGI), except for a few flashes. The images are not excessively gory. There is no one hacking off limbs or poking out eyeballs. There is no throwing up green gunk or spinning heads.  The only cheesy thing about this movie is some of the wardrobe and the phony sweetness of the apartment dwellers.

As far as horror movies go, I think Rosemary’s Baby works very well. It is technically well executed and has enough layers to be a well-rounded film. Psychologically it works very well and it stays with the viewer for a long time.  It’s a disturbing look at the fragility of trust. Is all this really happening or is it all in Rosemary’s head.

***

Rosemary’s Baby was several awards. Ruth Gordon won the Oscar for best supporting actress for her role as Minnie Castevet.

Director: Roman Polanski
Screenplay: Roman Polanski (based on a novel by Ira Levin)
Running time: 131 minutes

 

 

©lowercase v   2017

movie reviews

Veronica Mars – Movie (2014)

vmars movie
Background:
The movie is based on a eponymous TV series – Veronica Mars, created by Rob Thomas (not the lead singer from Matchbox Twenty).  The show ran for 3 seasons  (2004 – 2007) and is set in the fictional town of Neptune, California.

During the first two seasons, Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) is a high school student who works as an assistant to her PI dad (Enrico Colantoni).  She also acts as private investigator for her fellow students and gets in all sorts of sticky situations. In season 3, Veronica is in college and living away from home. The series deals with several social issues and has a dark, quirky sense of humour.  The sound track also features some awesome music.

In order to make the movie, the producers and actors acquired funds through crowd funding. Those who contributed were allowed to be extras in the movie.

I wanted to go support the movie in theater, but it wasn’t showing over here. I got it later, on DVD.  The DVD featurette about the making of the movie and the Kickstarter campaign as a bonus material.

The Veronica Mars Movie:
Tagline: She thought she was out. 

The movie opens with a voice over (a common device in the show) and a quick recap of the series.  This works well enough in the context of a PI movie and introduces the characters and some of the references to those not so familiar with the show.

Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell)  is a college graduate, interviewing at prestigious law firms.  She learns that a classmate from high school was murdered and that her high school sweetheart, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) is the prime suspect. She returns to her home town of Neptune to help Logan with his case…  and is in town just in time for her 10-year high school reunion.

The role of Carrie Bishop was played by Leighton Meester , but in the movie the role was taken over by  Andrea Estella (lead singer of Twin Sister).   Although ailry central to the plot of the movie, Carrie was a minor character in the show.

In the TV show the Mars family had a pittbull, named Backup, who is absent from the movie (presumably the dog had already passed on given the time period).

The  Veronica Mars movie recalls the spirit,  witty dialogue and characters from the TV series. It is cool to see how everyone has grow… and also how some characters have stay exactly the same.   there are several references to the show and “inside jokes”  (this might go over the heads of those not familiar with the show).  The Logan vs Piz (romantic) rivalry from season 3 is back.

It was fun to watch the movie, being a fan of the show.  It did not disappoint, but if you are/were a binge watcher of the show, it leaves you wanting more.

Rating: PG-13
Running time:  103 mins
Director: Rob Thomas

Writers: Rob Thomas & Diane Ruggiero
Cast includes: Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Krysten Ritter, Ryan Hanson, Percy Dags III, Francis Capra, Chris Lowell,  Tina Majorino and Enrico Colantoni.

There are several well know actors in minor roles and cameo appearance.
Full cast and crew on imdb.

©lowercase v   2017 

short film reviews

Alone Time (short film)

alone time short
This movie was suggested to me by youtube.  You can view it: here.

A woman trapped in her mundane and seemingly lonely New York City life and takes a nature break for some alone time…

Director: Rod Blackhurst & David Ebeltoft
Written by: Rod Blackhurst

Alone Time features some beautiful scenery.  It is pretty well done and was clearly made by someone with film-making experience and/or film school training.  It is listed at comedy, although I didn’t really perceive it as such. The comedy is subtle and slightly dark. Like a good short film, there is a twist at the end.  The movie is sparse in dialogue, yet the performance of the actress (Rose Hemingway) conveys the emotion well.

I gave it a thumbs up.

©lowercase v   2017