Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Salon: Book Conferences

It's time to get excited about book conferences. I'm thrilled to be attending the 2010 Book Blogger Convention in New York City on Friday, May 28, 2010. I'm looking forward to meeting other book bloggers, networking and getting even more fabulous tips. Book Blogger Con is now officially affiliated with Book Expo America, which I will also be attending for the first time. Book Expo America is a huge deal in the publishing industry, so it's fantastic they're officially recognizing book bloggers too.
Book Blogger Con was planned to be the day after BEA (May 25-27), but now it can be held in the same spot. Plus, all bloggers registered for Book Blogger Con are automatically registered for BEA. It's awesome. Do you want to go? BEA is free for press, and Book Blogger Con is $115, but if you register before February 14, you get $25 off. Register now to guarantee the $90 fee.

I found a delightful studio apartment through Airbnb, a Web site that allows homeowners and apartment renters to rent either a room in their house or apartment or the entire place to visitors. I'm thrilled to have a studio in Chelsea for the week. Thanks to the New York Times Frugal Traveler column for making me aware of the site.

In June, I'll be attending the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. I was chosen as a Student-to-Staff participant, which means I'll spend four hours a day working for ALA, and in turn, they provide me housing, per diem and pay for me to attend the conference. I'll finish my Master's in Library and Information Studies in December 2010, and I'm grateful for this opportunity to meet fellow librarians.

I'm thrilled to be attending these conferences! Is anyone else planning to attend any of these?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

book review: Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman

Scottsboro: A Novel

Scottsboro was shortlisted for the Orange Prize last year, and it's the first of the six on the shortlist I've read. The Orange Prize is an award for full-length novels written in English by a woman of any nationality. Because it's a British prize, it's UK publication date is the one that counts. The Orange Prize is perhaps my favorite award because I enjoy the books chosen as both great literature and being immensely readable. Other prizes sometimes give awards to books that are good but not necessarily enjoyable to read. I want to be challenged, but I also want to enjoy reading.

Scottsboro is a historical novel based on the true story of the Scottsboro boys, nine African-American boys who were accused of raping two white women on a train in Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931. It's a story I'm sad I wasn't familiar with before starting this novel. Nevertheless, the opening scene of the novel is told through the eyes of Ruby Bates, one of the white women accusers. No rapes happened. No sex happened. In Alabama in 1931, when two white women were found hoboing in a train car with black boys and men, they wanted an explanation. It was an intense ten pages. All I knew about the book was the above cover, so I gathered it was about train travel in the 1920's or 1930's. (One of the greatest joys of reading books on my Kindle is diving right into the storyline. I'm prone to avoiding cover flaps and summaries, and they don't even appear in a Kindle book.)

From the incident, always a known falsehood in the novel, a young reporter takes over most of the storytelling. Alice is a delightful narrator. She's a single, well-educated white woman living in New York City. She's one of the first to take notice of the Scottsboro case, and spends years interviewing the key subjects, traveling to the trials, retrials and appeals of the nine defendants. Most of the story is through Alice's eyes, but Ruby often narrates as well.

I adored Scottsboro, but it wasn't always easy to read. Knowing it was based on a true story is absolutely gut-wrenching for me. I loved the character of Alice, and I loved the way Feldman placed the Scottsboro case in the context of not only Southern history but an international one.

I'm quite eager to read more books by Ellen Feldman. Scottsboro is her third novel. She's also written Lucy, the story of FDR's affair with Eleanor's social secretary. (They're all characters in Scottsboro too.) Her first novel, The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank, is, of course, about Anne Frank and Peter.

I also want to learn more about the Scottsboro case. I requested the episode of American Experience, Scottsboro: An American Tragedy from the library. I'm curious to see a visual depiction of the real-life characters of the book.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5) - it's wonderful
Pages: 383 in the print edition
Release date: April 2008
Source: I bought it to read on my Kindle


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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

dvd review: The Hangover

You might have noticed I'm rather enamored with the Golden Globes, even though I don't usually agree with their winners. After hearing people rave about The Hangover being THE FUNNIEST MOVIE EVER since last summer, I tried to go in with low expectations. It was the last film I saw in the Best Picture, Comedy or Musical category, and I already had my favorites (It's Complicated and Nine) and my least favorite, why in the world was this film nominated (500) Days of Summer, but I still didn't think The Hangover was a real contender for Best Picture. Obviously, I was wrong. It won.
The Hangover (Unrated Two-Disc Special Edition)
The Hangover, of course, is a film about a bachelor party gone horribly, horribly wrong. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis wake up in Vegas with a tiger in the bathroom, a baby, a missing tooth, and a missing groom. The three set off to figure out what the hell happened last night.

Overall, it's an okay movie. For me, the humor was more abstract than actually laugh-out-loud funny. The premise was amusing, but I didn't laugh very much during the actual film. I enjoyed the experience of watching it because it functions mostly as a mystery. I can't imagine it would hold up to multiple viewings, however. For me, a large part of it not being a film I want to re-watch is that none of the characters are likable. The audience is invited to laugh at the expense of these men, who have enough depth to pass for real people, but who are not people one wants to root for. As such, it's a simple humor rather a nuanced, character and situation based humor (like in It's Complicated). My favorite Bradley Cooper role is still as Anthony Bourdain on Kitchen Confidential, the under-appreciated tv show that is still one of my all-time favorites. (Seriously, if you've ever worked in a restaurant or if you have a passing interest in food, you should watch this short-lived show.)

This film is obviously very, very popular, but I rarely agree with mainstream America on humor. Two and a Half Men is perhaps the least funny show ever, yet 18 million people watch and love it each week. The shows I watch, 30 Rock, Community, Modern Family, and Better Off Ted have smaller followings and a less mainstream (and perhaps approachable) humor.

The Hangover isn't a bad movie; it was entertaining to watch. It has no place in a Best Picture contest, however. Once again, the Hollywood Foreign Press and I disagree. Out of the five nominees, this film beat only one film, (500) Days of Summer, on my ballot.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Running time: 100 minutes
Release date: it's out on dvd now.
Source: Netflix

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waiting on wednesday: The One That I Want by Allison Winn Scotch



Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight an upcoming release you're excited for.



My pick this week is Allison Winn Scotch's new novel The One That I Want. 


I couldn't find an actual summary of this novel, but that's okay. Allison Winn Scotch's books are universally adored. Yes, I still haven't actually read one, but as I was seeing which of her novels are available on the Kindle last week, I came across this new one, and I still got excited. I do, however, follow Allison Winn Scotch on Twitter , where she makes me laugh and smile daily.


The One That I Want will be published June 1, 2010 by Shaye Areheart Books.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

movie review: Nine




Nine is not a film for everyone. It's a film based on the stage play, which was based on Fellini's classic film 8 1/2. Musical films are rather hit or miss in general, and this one seems to be especially polarizing despite its all-star cast.

Here's a breakdown of its stars:
  • Daniel Day-Lewis plays an Italian movie director about to start shooting his latest film that has only a title, a crew and no script. He finds inspiration from the women in his life from imagined musical numbers of them singing.
  • Fergie plays a prostitute from his youth.
  • Nicole Kidman is the star of his film.
  • Marion Cotillard is his wife, whom he met on a film.
  • Sophia Loren is his mother.
  • Dudi Dench is the costume designer.
  • Kate Hudson is a writer for Vogue.
  • Penelope Cruz is his mistress.
Each woman gets her own musical solo, and Marion Cotillard gets two. For more than half of this film, I was ambivalent. I enjoyed it, but it didn't capture my attention; it lacked a little magic. I was surprised how underwhelmed I was with Daniel Day-Lewis's performance. I found his scenes with Penelope Cruz, his mistress, to be the weakest. The other women had more firepower and charisma. Once Marion Cotillard appeared, however, I was absolutely transfixed. She made this movie. Her performance, both acting and singing was transcendent. I hope she gets nominated for an Oscar, but if not, I will finally make a point to see La Vie en Rose, when she played Edith Piaf and won an Oscar.

For me, this film came together more and more as it went on. By the last half hour, I loved the film, but I know it's not a film all moviegoers will enjoy. If you like music, see it. If you want to be absolutely wowed by a performance, rent it on dvd and watch Marion Cotillard's scenes. As a whole, the film is lovely, even if it feels uneven at times.It's not for everyone, but it is a film I adored.

Rating: 4.5 stars
Running time: 118 minutes
Release date: It came out on Christmas, and it's still in theaters. Here's a map showing where it's playing.


As an Amazon Associate, I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase through the above links. Thank you!


movie review: It's Complicated

It's Complicated
Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of Nancy Meyers. I usually want to like her films or really enjoy the premise (The Holiday), but I usually leave the theater disappointed. I left the theater wanting to see It's Complicated again, preferably immediately. What makes this film so much better than anything else Nancy Meyers has done? Fantastic actors and a script that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Meryl Streep has been divorced from Alex Baldwin for fourteen years. They have three grown children, who are all wonderful. On a side note, all three are believably Meryl Streep's children, which is wonderful look-a-like casting. Jon Krasinski is about to marry their oldest daughter, and he almost steals the entire movie. He's fantastic. Also fantastic, of course, are Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin (Streep's architect who is designing her dream addition).

In the midst of the humor (and almost every scene is laugh out loud funny), are wonderful characters. Obviously, the acting chops of everyone in the film make this possible. Meryl Streep's character has three best friends (including the delightful Rita Wilson). The three have little to no backstory or character development, but it works because the four of them are believable as long-time friends. They have a rapport as solid as the women from Sex and the City. Alec Baldwin is perfect as the ex-husband, who is married to the cliched younger woman who wants to have a baby.

Does Meyer break new ground with this film? Not really. She has written a lovely ensemble hit with plenty of humor and a span of genuine emotions. Truly, she is blessed by impeccable casting and acting. Even scenes you realize are familiar fare stand about as wonderful. The situations may not be fresh, but these actors make you think they are.

At the end of the film, I was entertained, satisfied and eager to see it again. The jokes will still be funny and the acting will still be wonderful.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5 stars) - universally recommended
Running Time: 120 minutes
Release date: It came out on Christmas Day, and it's still in theaters. You can also pre-order the dvd from Amazon.

As an Amazon Associate, if you make a purchase through the above links, I will receive a small commission. Thank you!

Monday, January 25, 2010

young adult book review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson




Wintergirls
Wintergirls is the story of Lia, an 18-year-old with an eating disorder dealing with her life and the death of her former best friend, Cassie. At times, it's hard to read because it's not terribly pleasant to be inside the mind of a character obsessed with calories, exercise, and losing weight. I commend Laurie Halse Anderson for writing this honest book. While it was difficult for me to read, I can only imagine how beneficial it would be in the hands of a girl (or boy) struggling with an eating disorder. The book feels like a mystery too, as Lia looks into Cassie's final moments. It's not an easy book, but it's an important one.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Pages: 288 pages
Publication date: March 19, 2009
Source: my local public library

As an Amazon Associate, I will receive a small commission if you purchase this book through the above link. Thanks!

dinner and a movie: Broken Embraces

Welcome to my Monday morning recap of my Friday night. First, I see a movie at the Spectrum 8 Theater. Then, I meander two doors down and enjoy dinner at New World Bistro Bar, my favorite restaurant in Albany
.Broken Embraces
Broken Embraces is the latest film by one of my favorite directors, Pedro Almodovar. If you haven't seen his films (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, All About My Mother, Volver, Talk to Her and Bad Education), you really should.

Broken Embraces is classic Almodovar. It's a haunting story that slowly unfolds. It stars Penelope Cruz. It's visually haunting.

In the interest of maximum enjoyment, I'll tell you a little bit about the plot. It's the story of Harry Caine, a now blind writer living in Madrid in 2008. It's also the story of a film he made in 1994 before he was blind. The story flashes back and forth from the past to the present and then settles comfortably in the past to enlighten the audience. It's harrowing at times because the viewer cannot help but wonder how, when and why Harry loses his sight.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5 stars) - nearly universally recommended.
Running Time: 128 minutes
Release date: It's in theaters now. Here's a map of where it's showing in the U.S. Not playing near you? Pre-order the dvd from Amazon.


In other exciting news, New World Bistro Bar launched their new winter menu Wednesday. One of the reasons it's my favorite restaurant is the chef's commitment to local, fresh, seasonal ingredients. Menu changes happen frequently, and the specials often include the freshest of the fresh.


I started my meal with an appetizer special: diver scallops with fresh fennel, hearts of palm, and grapefruit. They were divine. After sampling most of the new dishes earlier in the week, I stuck with my perennial favorite: mushroom risotto.

A fantastic film from one of my favorite directors and a wonderful meal make a lovely Friday night. Next Friday: nomadreaderboy has the night off, and we're looking forward to seeing Crazy Heart and having dinner together!

As an Amazon Associate, I will receive a small commission if you purchase this film through the above links. Thank you!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

young adult book review: Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

Suite Scarlett
As many of you know, nomadreaerboy got me a Kindle for Christmas, and I love it. To resist the temptation to spend all of the Amazon giftcards my parents and brother bought me in the first five minutes, I started browsing the Kindle bestseller list for free books. I was delighted to see Maureen Johnson's Suite Scarlett available for free. I've read great reviews of it, but I hadn't gotten around to reading it yet. Having a free Kindle copy made it shoot to the top of my pile.

I started reading it on the train home from our Christmas vacation, and I instantly liked it. It's the story of Scarlett, a delightful teenager who lives in a New York City hotel. Her parents own the hotel, which has declined in prestige over the years. There's some teen angst: her friends are all off doing exciting things all summer, and she has to work at the hotel. There's some romance too. I adore New York City, and this story is a partial ode to the city. Most importantly though, it's laugh-out-loud funny. (There's a joke about That's So Raven fan fiction.) The story dances somewhere between the ridiculous and the real, and it works. The best news: Scarlett Fever, the sequel, comes out February 1. I ordered it before I finished Suite Scarlett. (See publishers, you can use the Kindle to sell more books. Normally, I would get these books from the library.)

You can also follow Maureen Johnson on Twitter.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Length: In print, it's 353 pages
Release date: it's out in paperback now
Source: I bought it on the Kindle for $0. Thanks, Point!


As an Amazon Associate, I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase through any of the above links. So far, I've made 28 cents. Thank you!

Waiting on Wednesday: Till You Hear From Me by Pearl Cleage


Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight an upcoming you can't wait to read.

Till You Hear from Me: A Novel
My pick this week is the latest novel by my absolute favorite author, Pearl Cleage. I couldn't locate a description for Till You Hear From Me, and I'm not sure I want to. I first fell in love with Pearl Cleage when I saw Blues for an Alabama Sky at the Alliance Theater in the mid-1990's. I was absolutely blown away. When her first novel, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, came out, she became not only my favorite playwright but my favorite novelist. When Oprah chose it for her book club, I was thrilled. I will read anything--plays, prose, nonfiction--Ms. Cleage writes. When she would come dine at the restaurant I worked at in Atlanta, I could never find the words to tell her how much her work means to me.

Random House will release Till You Hear From Me on April 20, 2010. You can pre-order it from Amazon now.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

tv review: Project Runway

After an uneven first season on Lifetime, Project Runway is back in New York City and actually airing shortly after it filmed, which should help the fashion seem more relevant. Last week's premiere was quite entertaining, as Nicole Richie was the guest judge, and she brought her quirky fashion taste and humor.

My favorite dress actually won:


This dress lost:


I dubbed it "a very Cosby Easter dress."

Project Runway airs on Lifetime Thursday nights at 10 p.m. Eastern. I'm sure you can catch repeats of last week's episode, but you can also watch it online. Thanks, Lifetime!

movie revew: Avatar


I still can't believe Avatar won Best Picture at the Golden Globes.

The good: Visually, this film is lovely. It's the first movie I've seen in 3D, so perhaps it was especially stunning for me. Pandora, the planet where much of the film takes place, is pretty cool looking, and 3D helps. There were lots of little touches enhanced by 3D. For seventy minutes, I was completely absorbed in the film and uttered the word "wow" more than once.

The bad: The story, the script and the length. James Cameron should never have full control of a script; he's not a writer. He's barely even a storyteller with this film. There's a good idea in there somewhere, but movies should not be a purely visual medium. I'm absolutely baffled the studio gave him (allegedly) $300 million and didn't insist on someone else writing the script. The film had zero depth, which is ironic given the visual depth. It went from lame to ridiculous. I rolled my eyes. I considered leaving. Thankfully, nomadreaderboy had a similar reaction, and we began making fun of it and laughing, which made the last two hours of the film moderately bearable.

Best picture? I'm baffled. I was baffled by the nomination, but the win is inexplicable. Movies are loveliest when they combine visual elements, acting and a moving story. Avatar had only one element of this trifecta.

Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5 - I didn't like it, but I did love the visual elements)
Running time: a mind-numbing 162 minutes (it felt longer)
Release date: December 2009 (it's out in theaters now)
Source: I paid $13.75 to see it, so I kept my 3D glasses

Monday, January 18, 2010

Golden Globes wrap-up


I'll focus on the positive about the 2009 Golden Globes: it was a really enjoyable telecast to watch. Ricky Gervais was funny but mostly absent from the stage. Mostly, he introduced a few key presenters of his choice with hilarious and surprising bits. As a telecast, the flow was good. Most recipients knew if they had time to talk (actors) or if they didn't (producers of miniseries and foreign films). The order of awards kept things fresh too; there weren't lulls.

The Movies
I am mostly baffled by the movie awards. Not only were many of those I didn't think should even be nominated winners, but the Hollywood Foreign Press seem to be pandering to mainstream, mall-shopping, corporate movieplex-going America. They have enough power with what movies are made; let us keep our quality films, please. There is nothing wrong with mainstream hits. Avatar is an important movie for it's technical advances for the genre, but it is not a good movie (my review will post tomorrow). I often find myself more in line with screenplay winners than best film winners, but I'm appalled two films not even nominated in the screenplay category can win Best Picture (Avatar for Drama and The Hangover for Musical or Comedy.)

It's okay for there to be a disconnect between the movies people see and the movies that win awards. The same is true for books. I'm a book blogger, and I made it my 2010 goal to read more award books. There are two main reasons for this difference: release dates and independent theaters. I'm very, very fortunate to live in a city with a vibrant independent movie theater. It has eight screens, and seven of those usually go to award-caliber movies. I realize how fortunate I am, and I see at least one movie a week there not only because I enjoy it, but also because I support local business and quality film making. I set a goal to see all ten Best Picture nominees before the Globes, and it was hard.

Is The Hangover funnier than It's Complicated and Julie & Julia? No. Is it a better movie? No. Is it better than the criminally underappreciated Nine? No. Is it better than (500) Days of Summer? Yes, so at least it beat one movie in its category. The Hangover is a fine movie; it's not Best Picture, even best comedy, material.

I lost track of the number of times I rolled my eyes in Avatar. I'm okay with James Cameron winning Best Director. Avatar was visually majestic, and I was captivated for the first seventy minutes. Then it became clear the movie had no heart, a ridiculously weak script and was laughably predictable and "emotionally unengaging" (to quote the Vatican. Yes, I'm actually agreeing with and quoting the Vatican). As many others have said, the unnecessary voice overs to tell the audience what characters were thinking or feeling, things that were already obvious to anyone paying attention, were insulting. Best picture? It had no depth, no layers, and it didn't challenge the audience. It challenged the technology of filmmakers, but it was not a good movie.

Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side? I will see the film, but I can't imagine she can hang with the other four. The only people I heard claiming she should win hadn't even heard of An Education and The Last Station, and they hadn't seen Precious or Young Victoria.

Television
While, there were fewer surprises here, I'm beyond thrilled Julianna Marguiles won for The Good Wife, which I adore. She is wonderful in the show, and the show is one of the best on broadcast television. Marguiles was the only television winner from a broadcast show. (Memo to NBC, CBS, Fox, and ABC: give us more good shows, good roles and new premises). Otherwise, I don't think Glee should have won, but I expected it to. I was hoping for Modern Family, the funniest show since 30 Rock. I know the Hollywood Foreign Press love to award new shows, and as someone who often loves the ratings-challenged quality new shows, I'm grateful.

Overall
I'm so glad for Twitter-venting during the ceremony. Knowing I was not alone made the show even more fun to watch. I'm angry at the Hollywood Foreign Press, but I expected to be. On the horizon, we have the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which I often agree with (they honored the criminally-underappreciated Bobby), the BAFTAs, which nominated An Education for almost every award. The Academy Award nominees will be announced February 2, and I'll start another round of disappointment. I do love the conversation, if not the winners. I know there will likely never be an award show I will totally agree with, and it's part of the fun despite the frustrations of discord.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

sunday salon: My Golden Globes Wishlist


Happy Golden Globes Day! I did not meet my overly ambitious goal of seeing all the films nominated for Golden Globe Awards before the ceremony. While I could have seen a few more in the theater, I would have had to travel to see some because they haven't opened in Albany. 


I did manage, however, to see all ten films nominated for Best Picture--5 Drama and 5 Musical or Comedy. Although a few have not yet been reviewed, the reviews should all post this week. I've had so much fun watching movies, and while it means I've read less, I've thoroughly enjoyed my deliberate movie watching the past few weeks. Although the Golden Globes are tonight, the Oscar nominees are announced February 2, and the ceremony is not until March 7. I hope to see all ten Best Picture nominees, as well as all of the films for the acting and directing nominees. 


Here are my predictions and my hopes for tonight's Golden Globes. As a forecaster, I tend to pick my hopes for the Golden Globes and my fears for the Oscars. These picks are probably optimistic, and they are definitely my personal preferences rather than predictions. 


Best Motion Picture -Drama:
I've seen all the movies, and all but Avatar deserve the nomination. 


my pick: Up in the Air (I really hope this film wins. It's one of my two favorites for the year. It is simply lovely.)

Best Performance by an Actress - Drama 
I've only seen two of these movies (An Education and Precious), but both of those nominees were wonderful. I'm pulling for Carey Mulligan because An Education was not nominated for nearly enough Golden Globe Awards, but truthfully, anyone but Sandra Bullock is fine with me.

my pick: Carey Mulligan for An Education
Best Performance by an Actor - Drama
I've only seen two of these movies as well (Invictus and Up in the Air). Although I didn't care for Invictus, Morgan Freeman was quite good, and playing a well-known figure is always difficult. I loved Up in the Air, and Clooney was fantastic. I will cheer for any actor who wins.


my pick: anyone
Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical
The nominees in this category make me question why there are five nominees. For me, it's a choice between It's Complicated and Nine, and I'd be happy with either. I think It's Complicated should win, but I doubt it will. This category is often hard to predict because it's difficult to judge comedies and musicals with the same criteria. I didn't particularly care for Julie and Julia, but I think much of my dislike of the film was because I adored the book so much and could not understand why Julie was frumpy in the film. 


my pick: It's Complicated
Best Actress - Comedy or Musical
I've seen all five films, and although I almost feel bad wishing for anyone but Sandra Bullock in two categories, it's true. I did not like The Proposal, nor did I find her performance extraordinary. I expect Meryl Streep to win for Julie and Julia because she played a famous person well. It would be deserved, but I'd love to see Marion Cotillard win because she made Nine for me, and I adore her. 


my pick: Marion Cotillard for Nine

Best Actor - Comedy or Musical
I've only seen two of these films (Nine and (500) Days of Summer), and I wouldn't award either a Golden Globe. Daniel Day-Lewis was good in Nine, but he didn't have that much to do as a lead actor. Personally, I'm pulling for Matt Damon for The Informant! because I like him, but this category is wide open, and I wouldn't be surprised to see anyone other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt honored.



my pick: Matt Damon for The Informant!
Best Supporting Actress
I haven't seen A Single Man, but I'm inclined to think Julianne Moore should take this award. I thought Mo'nique overacted with the exception of one scene, and I think her performance is overrated. I fear the wonderful Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga will split the Up in the Air vote. They are both deserving, but I can't pick between the two of them. Penelope Cruz was good, but she wasn't even the best supporting actress in the movie she's nominated for. 


my pick: Julianne Moore for A Single Man
Best Supporting Actor
I thought Matt Damon was quite good in Invictus, even if he didn't have enough to do. I've only seen two of these movies, but I wouldn't be surprised by anyone winning. They're all getting rave reviews. I hope to catch up in time for the Oscars.


my pick: Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones (because that's what all the experts say)
Will I yell at the television or cheer? I'm guessing a little of each, but I'm sure I'll be laughing. (I'm thrilled Ricky Gervais is hosting!) Either way, I'll have a recap tomorrow with my thoughts about the winners, losers and the ceremony itself.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

children's book review: Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose


Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice is an illuminating piece of nonfiction. Phillip Hoose tells the story without condescending, but he also doesn't assume the reader knows anything about his story. As an adult reader, I appreciated the deep background provided in sidebars.

From the first pages, which are largely pictures illuminating life in the South in the era of Jim Crow laws, I was wowed. The book reads almost like a documentary; Hoose uses photos, text boxes, background, newspaper text and interviews to paint a vivid picture not only of Colvin's life, but these years in Montgomery, Alabama.

Who is Claudette Colvin? She was a high school girl who refused to give up her seat for a white passenger. She did it nine months before Rosa Parks, and she was arrested. Part of what I love about this book is the honesty, which is at times brutal. Rosa Parks is an American hero, and so many of us growing up being wowed by her bravery. This book takes us back to the way it really happened, which isn't as simple. It's not a nice little story, but it's real. As a librarian firmly in the "teach the truth" camp, I loved this book. Some teachers and parents may react adversely to it. She cooperated with Phillip Hoose, who interviewed her numerous times for this book.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice is an important book. It's a book I found illuminating as an adult reader. It won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Pages: 144 pages
Publication: January 2009
Source: my local public library, but you can also buy it

dvd review: The Hurt Locker


The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, is the story of a U.S. bomb squad in Baghdad in 2004. It's a raw, honest war movie. It's hard to watch at times because it's intense. 


It's very, very good, but it is not quite great. Is it worth seeing? Yes, I think it illuminates the war in a way still photos, news footage and articles cannot. It's important to have a richer understanding of war and this war. Each scene opens with a graphic of the number of days the unit has left on their tour. What keeps this movie from being great as a movie is the lack of transcendence. Much of the film feels like a documentary, which is fine. When a story makes an appearance, it feels out of line with the rest of the movie. Perhaps there's too much side story or perhaps there's not enough. Either way, it was a nice break from the constant stress and tension, but it didn't quite work for me.


See this movie. It's not easy to watch, and at times it reminded me of a modern Saving Private Ryan. It's not a movie I'll want to watch again, but I am glad I saw it.There's some fantastic acting, and Kathryn Bigelow is a very talented director.


Awards: It's nominated for two Golden Globes, Best Picture (Drama) and Best Director


Rating: 4.25 stars (out of 5)
Running time: 130 minutes
Release: it's on dvd, and you can buy it in Blu-Ray too
Source: Netflix


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