Our Oscar Vlog Part II

For those of you that enjoyed part I of the Oscars vlog rejoice! It’s time for part II!  We discuss the nominees in the two writing categories, as well as go on tangents about the Muppets and fashion!  As usual – leave us your picks and comments in the space below! Enjoy!

2012 Oscar Vlog Part II from Kimberly Denny-Ryder on Vimeo.

Our Oscar Vlog Part I

Adam, Charlie, and I recently got together to put together a vlog about our Oscar thoughts.  The three of us are pretty big film lovers and wanted to share out thoughts on the snubs, pics, and surprises of this years nominations.  Part I of our IV part series is below.  Part I discusses our thoughts on the best actor and best actress nominations.  Make sure to leave us a comment! Enjoy!

2012 Oscar Vlog Part I from Kimberly Denny-Ryder on Vimeo.

Adam’s Film Friday – A Review of The Artist

Do you ever wish you could travel back in time and live in another generation? Experience what life was like back in another lifetime and view some of the entertainment that our ancestors once enjoyed? Very few period movies released now-a-days actually have the ability to transport the audience to a whole new world, one that we would otherwise would not be able to see. However, I have found a movie that not only transports you as back in time, but it also makes you want to stay there. The Artist transports the viewer back to the golden age of silent films, allowing you to experience a truly unique movie-going experience which you won’t soon forget.

A mix of two of my favorite old movies, A Star is Born and Singin’ in the Rain, The Artist tells the story of silent film star George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin) who at the time is the biggest silent star in the world. At one of the premieres to his films he has a chance meeting with a fan and struggling actress named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). The next day George is able to get Peppy a role in the film he is working on. However, Hollywood is changing over from silent films to talking pictures, and George is unable to find work while Peppy becomes a bigger and bigger star. Now fully unemployed, George’s life begins to fall apart. His wife leaves him, he loses his house, and soon the only companionship he has is a dog (played by the adorable Uggie). Will George be able to bring his career back to the star level it once was on? Will he ever find happiness in another person again?

This movie made me so happy. Never have I ever seen a movie in the theaters that made me as genuinely happy as this movie did from the beginning  to the end. Even including the more serious parts, this movie made me smile. Maybe it was the environment I was in (I saw it in a single picture movie house, sitting in the balcony), but this movie just made me so happy. It felt true to other silent films I have seen in the past and seemed like it could have been an “Old Hollywood” film just from its feel alone. Jean Dujardin had a very Gene Kelly-like quality about him, and every time he smiled I thought of him. He just oozed personality and charm, which is very difficult considering there is no dialogue. He was able to convince the audience that he was in fact a struggling silent movie actor awash in a confusing new world of sound. He deserves any accolade he gets for this film and should be preparing his shocked winner face/speech for the Oscar, because if there is any sanity left in the world he will be rewarded for this truly unique performance. The only actor who out-acted him was Uggie, but sadly dogs can’t be nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Berenice Bejo was divine as the up-and-coming Peppy and really lit up any scene she was in.

Although it was a mixture of two great films’ plots, the storyline seemed to be really fresh and delved into uncharted territory. Maybe it was the silent aspect, but it seemed like it was a new story. The direction was beautifully done, and Michel Hazanavicius deserves a lot of credit for not only this but for being the lead writer of the film as well. Additionally, the fact that the movie is in black and white just made it that much more special. Black and white adds an extra ounce of quality to any movie, and it was really cool to see it used in this day and age. The music, more important than ever due to the lack of dialogue, still fit the film perfectly and really enhanced the story telling and helped move the story along.

All and all, I think The Artist is a rare movie that deserves the title of perfect. From the acting, to the direction, to the music, everything in this movie excited me. I think it will soon be considered a modern classic. I know a lot of people are put off by watching a silent film, but please don’t stop that from allowing you to experience this true joy of a film. Go out and see it!

7 out of 5 stars

The Artist (2012)
 La Petite Reine
PG-13, 100 Minutes

Adam’s Review of Carnal: Pride of the Lions by John Connell

What if we lived in a world where animals ruled the world and the human race became all but obsolete?  What if rather than humans evolving into superior beings, animals such as lions and hyenas fought for control of the world’s power?  All of these what if’s are discussed and explored in John Connell’s graphic novel Carnal: Pride of the Lions.

Taking place in Africa after humans have become all but wiped out, Connell’s work begins with an introduction stating that due to man’s arrogance and some sorcery, animals developed human traits and eventually evolved into human-like beings who ruled the planet.  Lions, buffaloes, and hyenas became the most powerful, with such species as leopards being killed off in a constant battle of survival of the fittest.  After a war between the lions and the hyenas, in which the lions were victorious, the hyenas were banished to living underground.  The real story thus begins with Long Eyes, the oldest lion in his tribe.  He is waiting for his son Oron to arrive back after a mission to spy on the hyenas and hunt for food.  Unfortunately Oron doesn’t return and instead another lion named Short Day comes back, telling Long Eyes that he and Oron were captured by the hyenas.  Short Day was able to escape however, leaving Oron still in captivity.  With the help of the other lion prides, Long Eyes sets out to rescue his son.  Will Long Eyes be able to rescue his son or will the hyenas be able to gain control that they feel is rightfully theirs?

This was definitely the most unique graphic novel I’ve ever read.  I am so used to reading them in a comic book format (with multiple strips) that seeing the format of paragraphs with pictures at the end of the page was refreshing.  I think having the book written in the graphic novel format helped me, because the pictures helped enhance the wealth of text provided.  The illustrations made reading the text more interesting allowing the reader to be able to imagine what it would be like to live in a world like this.  Having Long Eyes’ sad blue eyes staring at me made me sympathize with this old lion, and seeing the evil in the hyena’s eyes made the story jump off the page.  The illustrations were breathtaking and seemed like watercolor paintings thrown into the book.  More times than I’d like to admit I didn’t want to leave a particular page because the illustrations drew me in.

Connell was able to create a world that was very real and alive, despite the fact that it was fictitious.  The idea of giving animals human abilities and making them the stronger species was intriguing, and even a little scary.  The reason I say scary is because in the introduction the author writes that mankind’s arrogance was our downfall, and I can definitely see that being true.  I’m not saying lions will someday rule the world, but it is an interesting concept to think about.  Will there ever be a day where we are taken over by something or someone we underestimate?

All and all I would definitely recommend Connell’s work.  I think the unique premise will draw you in, and the context and the drawings will keep you wanting to come back for more.  As a funny aside, for some reason while reading this I kept picturing an R rated version of the Lion King, without the cheesy ending and the music.  I hope you enjoy it!

4 out of 5 Stars

Carnal by John Connell
Sea Lion Books (2012)
Hardcover 120 pages
ISBN: 9780983613169
Special thanks to Sea Lion Books for sending over my review copy!

Adam’s Review of The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Today I will be reviewing the novel that got me interested in graphic novels and really introduced me to this underrated genre of books, The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman. With the source material coming directly from conversations Art had with his father Vladek over a period of time, Art converted this story to a graphic novel where every Jewish person is a mouse and every other ethnicity is portrayed by a different animal (Germans are cats, Poles are pigs, etc). The story paints a vivid and true picture of what it means to survive under any circumstances, and how we often don’t know the real version of our parents’ history until we hear it from them firsthand. Telling his father’s story of the events leading up to the Holocaust and how he survived his time in Auschwitz, this graphic novel somehow makes the events of the Holocaust more real than any textbook could. Maybe it’s because it’s a real story and not just a jumble of different facts and figures, but this novel really hit me in a way that other Holocaust literature hasn’t before.

As I previously stated, Maus tells the story of the author’s father and his journey during the Holocaust. Now in his 70’s, Vladek is in poor health after surviving two heart attacks. Art wants to get the full story of what actually occurred with his father and mother (who committed suicide 10 years prior to Art starting to collect his notes). The retelling of the events begin with Vladek meeting Art’s mother Anja, and details how they got married and the life they had prior to the Holocaust. Told as if we were a fly on the wall during the conversations Art had with his father, we mainly listen to Art having multiple conversations with his father, including some side notes and historical information to fill the reader in. This allows for a full experience, as you somehow feel more part of the story than if it was written in a third person narrative. Maybe it was the pictures that accompanied the dialogue, but reading this was a much more fulfilling experience for me. We can never imagine what life was like for the Jewish people and those others who were sent to concentration camps, but this book gives an accurate tale of what it was like for one person, and the pictures really help to bring that message home. The illustrations were amazing and really vivid. My favorite part of the novel’s illustrations was when the mice were hiding or were pretending to not be Jewish. Rather than drawing them as a different animal, Art put a mask on them depicting the animal they were trying to impersonate. It was an extremely creative solution to illustrating this portion of Vladek’s story

One of the most amazing parts that I was really surprised to see in the book was Art’s own thoughts about the Holocaust. Art was born after the Holocaust in Sweden and grew up in Queens, New York, but it was interesting to see that he had a lot of guilt regarding the Holocaust. His older brother, Richeu, was sent to live with an aunt when the Germans began rounding up Jews and putting them in ghettos.  (Her ghetto was deemed safer than the one Vladek and Anja lived in) As the ghettos began to be liquidated, Art’s aunt poisoned Richeu, her niece, her daughter, and herself as not to be sent to the concentration camps. It pains Art because he feels as if he isn’t as deserving to be alive because he didn’t experience it. In the beginning of the second volume, he visits with his therapist and he brings this up, which was interesting to read/see. It made me think, can we have guilt for something we don’t have any control over? We don’t have any control over what happened before we were born, but is it possible to still feel bad for it? It made me also made me wonder if any of the survivors of the Holocaust or any other tragic historical events have survivor’s guilt.

All in all, I think Maus is a great way to learn about the Holocaust. It is extremely informative, but also has a heart in the middle of this terrible story. It allows the reader to laugh at the flashbacks of Art’s conversations with his father, and really get emotional learning first hand what it was like. Art was great at drawing the reader in. Whether it was the dialogue or the illustrations, I could not put this book down. Even when the story got deeper and a lot sadder I was enthralled by it and couldn’t sleep until I was done. If you are just starting to learn about the Holocaust, know a lot about the Holocaust and are looking for another source to read, or are just in the mood to read an excellent graphic novel, I would recommend this work 1000%. Definitely a must read for anyone over the age of 14. (Note: some of the material regarding the death camps is very heavy and may not be appropriate for younger readers)

5 out of 5 Stars

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
Pantheon (1993)
Paperback
ISBN: 9780679748403

Winner Announced in the Switch Witch Giveaway!

Switch WitchOne person has been chosen the winner in the Switch Witch Giveaway!

Congratulations to: Margaret who left a comment on December 10th for being the lucky winner!!

Please contact me with your mailing address by Saturday, December 24, 2011 to claim your prize.  Shipment is to the US and Canada only.

Thank you to all who participated and left comments!

Adam’s Review of Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Hark! A VagrantWelcome back to another of my graphic novel reviews.  I am really excited about writing this review because it combines two of my greatest loves: history and pop culture.  Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton is a series of little cartoons which not only tell their own individual stories, but combine history and literature with different pop culture events.  This book creates a great series of little vignettes which are sure to make anybody laugh, regardless of their mood.

While the book doesn’t really have a central plot, it’s still completely enjoyable reading all of the individual vignettes.  The vignettes make the book a quick and easy read.  Before realizing it you’ve finished half of the book.  You just keep telling yourself  “just one more vignette and then I’ll go to bed”, but then you can’t put the book down.  I really enjoyed seeing how Beaton integrated pop culture into some of our favorite books and historical moments.  One excellent example is the cartoon called “Suffragettes and the City”, a play on Sex and the City.  It was so interesting to see how they combined Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Bradshaw and made it make sense.  Both of them are examples of independent and strong-willed women, but seeing them as one thought brought tears to my eyes from laughing.

My favorite vignettes were definitely the last groupings, which were all sitcoms set in Victorian times.  There were four different stereotypical situations of special sitcoms throughout the years, such as a “a very special episode” and “rating slumps” that were perfect fits for the Victorian time period parody.  The inclusion of Victorian dialogue was an excellent touch.  The “rating slumps” solution was to add a baby, which is a classic solution that sitcoms (especially in the 80’s) did to get higher ratings.  However, the father in this sitcom mentions that infant mortality rates are especially high and that maybe they should come up with a better solution.  I know dead babies aren’t something to laugh about, but it was really funny to see the smart way Beaton included this historical fact.  It really made me laugh.  Another one of my favorites (for obvious reasons) was a parody of Les Miserables.  In this particular one, the little details put into it was really good and made it hysterical.  For example, Beaton had Inspector Javert work for the Bread Task Force (Javert arrests Valjean for stealing a loaf of bread).  It not only showed that Beaton was creative, but also showed that all of the humor wasn’t in your face; a lot of the humor was subtle and you had to pay attention to the dialogue and pictures.

All in all, I loved this book and think it would be a great coffee table book that anyone from 13 to 130 would love.  You can actually learn a lot and laugh at the same time.  There is also a website where you can see some of the cartoons and not have to buy the book.  Even if you only read the website I can guarantee that you’ll love it so much you’ll want to buy the book.

5 out of 5 Stars

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
Drawn and Quarterly (2011)
Hardcover  160 pages
ISBN: 9781770460607

Adam’s Review of Switch Witch by Pamela Hurd + GIVEAWAY

Switch WitchFor as long as Kim has been blogging about her journey to read 100 books in a year, I have been pestering her to review a children’s book.  Being a visual learner I enjoy seeing pictures when I read, and think they help enhance the story, hence why I review the majority of graphic novels for the blog.  Kim gave me the opportunity to read a new children’s book, Switch Witch, which is being marketed as a great stocking stuffer for this holiday season.  This marketing plan gets the thumbs up from me because my parents gave me a book for Christmas every year when I was a kid (this is probably the reason I have all the Bernstein Bear’s books).  I think stuffing your children’s stockings with books is a wonderful idea because it’s important to foster a desire to read in your children when they’re young. With that all being said I can proceed with my review!

Switch Witch by Pamela Hurd tells the story of Flotilla, a witch who is often forced to do things against her will per the request of her best friend Blistell.  Blistell likes to have a little bit more adventure than Flotilla, such as playing dodge ball with comets and playing hide-and-seek in the Milky Way.   Blistell convinces Flotilla to participate in an experiment where they use roller blades rather than traditional brooms to travel with. How will this crazy adventure end?  Will Flotilla learn to loosen up, or will Blistell learn that sometimes it’s best not to mess with tradition?

Personally, I think this book would be a great addition to any child’s stocking and is a great book to start a holiday tradition with (Halloween though, not Christmas).  It is a very traditional children’s story of two opposite friends, but told in a creative and unique new way.  The use of witches adds a fun and festive touch to the story.  Hurd creates this world where these characters are over the top by nature yet still relatable to children.  In addition, Lowell Hildbrandt’s illustrations are very visually appealing and definitely bring the characters to life.  They are so colorful and really made this big kid enjoy the book and the story.

All in all I really enjoyed reading this tale of two best friends and their crazy adventure.  Like previously stated, this would be the perfect addition to any child’s stocking, and as a teacher I recommend getting your child this book for Christmas.  They’ll be so over stimulated from the toys that this will be a great way to unwind with them right before bed.

4 out of 5 Stars

Switch Witch by Pamela Hurd
AuthorHouse (2011)
Paperback 20 pages
ISBN: 9781463445874

Special thanks to Jessie from Author Solutions for giving me my review copy!

Giveaway

One lucky person will have the opportunity to win their own copy of Switch Witch by Pamela Hurd.  Simply leave a comment below on why you think it’s important for young children to read by midnight on Saturday, December 17, 2011.  Winner will be picked at random and announced on Sunday, December 18, 2011.  Giveaway open to residents of US and Canada only. Good luck!

The Women of Les Miserables by Adam Gorsline

If you’ve read my little biography or my about me, you should know that I love a good musical. For some reason, whenever random people burst out into a song that random people on the street magically know the lyrics and dance moves to, my soul feels a little better. Songs are a great way to express oneself and also tell a great story. My favorite musical happens to be based on one of the hardest, most difficult novels I have ever read (and I only read the abridged version), Les Miserables. With a movie now being made based on the musical, Kim and I have had many discussions about the musical and how it will translate to the big screen.  There are a lot of differences between the novel and the musical, so it will hopefully be unlike any other movie version of Les Miserables.

One of the biggest differences between the novel and the musical is the characterizations of the characters, in particular the female characters and the female leads, Fantine, Eponine, and Cosette. All of these characters play a crucial part in the different stories and interaction with the main character, Jean Valjean.

Cosette and Eponine are two of the younger females and are polar opposites both in the novel and the musical.  In the novel Cosette is someone who is charitable; she volunteers with the homeless and actually considers becoming a nun because of her charitable nature. She is very sweet and naive, but knows more about the world than musical Cosette. Musical Cosette is very unlikable (at least to me). She is made even more naïve, devoid of all personality, and comes off too Disney princess-esque. I feel like she should have animated birds follow her and she should have a friend who is a talking rabbit. I don’t know if it’s done intentionally, but she just seems so robot-like.  On the other hand, Eponine is portrayed in the reverse. In the novel she is described as having a voice similar to nails on a chalkboard and is very selfish. She is part of her father’s gang, who offers to help Marius get to Cosette, but has an ulterior motive. When she is killed, she says she took the bullet because she knew Marius wasn’t very strong and unlikely to survive the rebellion, adding that they would be together in heaven. Eponine in the musical, on the other hand, is extremely likeable. Many people who see the musical feel she is a better fit for Marius than Cosette, as Marius and Cosette have more of a platonic relationship which happens to be flirtatious at points.

One of the characters that is most interesting, heartbreaking, and has an all around great story is Fantine. Her character’s back story is discussed more in the book than in the musical, in the sense that it goes into such detail as her past before she just shows up on the scene. The novel goes into detail about how she and her friends fall in love with four friends, spend the most romantic summer in the French countryside, and how the four friends all leave their girls in the middle of the night. All the girls take it lightly and laugh it off, but Fantine is devastated. She soon finds out she’s pregnant with his child and eventually gives the baby up to the Thénardiers when she sees their children playing happily. As part of the deal, she is required to send 10 francs per month for necessities for Fantine. What she doesn’t know is that the Thénardiers take her money and force her daughter, Cosette, into labor.  She gives everything up to send money for her child: she becomes a prostitute, she sells her hair, she sells her two front teeth, and just descends terribly until her death (sorry for the spoilers, but there’s a song called “Come to me – Fantine’s Death”, so really this isn’t much of a spoiler). Much of her back story is left out of the musical, such as how Fantine meets the Thénardiers, and the lengths she goes through to be able to provide for Cosette and her death is really watered down. It’s interesting to see Fantine so watered down because in the book she is very raw and very real, where as in the musical she seems so demure and already defeated. I think by the time we are introduced to her she’s been through half the battle and is close to death. It is extremely heartbreaking to see her demise, and the story, albeit watered down, still tugs at the heart-strings.

I am extremely excited to see this movie, and I wonder if the movie will incorporate anything from the novel. Because the musical is almost 3 and a half hours by itself, it will be interesting to see what the differences there will be from the movie musical to the stage musical. I am just upset I have to wait till December 2012, and I heard a rumor that it might be pushed back. It better not get pushed back…I NEED THIS MOVIE.