Saturday, October 20, 2018

American Road Trip, by Patrick Flores-Scott

First of all, I didn't know American Road Trip by Patrick Flores-Scott would have so much emotions in it. I was merely interesting in reading something to breeze through but I was wrong.

This story gently handles how a family copes when a brother comes home from war. PTSD is front and center in this story told through the eyes of a younger brother who is trying to make the most of his life despite poverty, ability, and lack of resources. The protagonist is likable and has an engaging voice that allows us to see his ambition, his struggles, and how much he cares about his family. We all make sacrifices, and there aren't any easy ones. But the story feels approachable without hiding from the truth. There's a tough attempted suicide scene, but it is handled with compassion. You begin to learn that not everything in life is pretty, but the focus is on overcoming.

In the end, I realized there is so much to love about this book. What resonated with me the most is the mass amounts of emotion wrapped up within and between these characters. From the  beginning to end I was totally invested in "T" and how he maneuvered through a journey of self-improvement, understanding his brother's battle with PTSD, his first love, and how he loved his family. The characters, the plot, and the heart of the story were so well-developed that it was hard to put it down. *JK*

Friday, October 19, 2018

Tales from the Inner City, by Shaun Tan

I loved author/illustrator Shaun Tan's short story collection, Tales from Outer Suburbia. It was weird and whimsical and as oddly satisfying as taking a small, hesitant taste of a strange new food (like starfruit or kimchi) and discovering it's delicious beyond what you have words to describe. So when I learned a brand new collection, Tales from the Inner City, was out, I was beyond excited and couldn't wait to get my hands on it. 

Tales from the Inner City is one of those rare (make that RARE) occasions where a book lives up to its hype. Surpasses it, even. Tan creates a world where wild horses and rhinos roam the city's highways, where magical fish swim through the nighttime sky, and a where very special cat brings together a neighborhood of people who would otherwise have remained strangers. Here, a tiger stalks anyone not clever enough to wear a mask on the back of their head, a mischievous nighttime fox runs amok in your home--but restores everything by dawn, and a child prodigy dreams of only one thing (and it isn't what you'd think). There't more. Much more. But too much to cover in a single review. 

Tales from the Inner City was almost as wonderful as Tales from Outer Suburbia. Like those from its predecessor, the stories in Tales from the Inner City are not the sort of short story you read and forget. These are the sort that stick with you long after you've read them and returned the book to its proper place on the shelf. They are the sort you find yourself thinking about at odd times. They are commentaries about us and our world, but never in a way that's preachy or political or in your face. But they DO make you think. And the accompanying artwork is beautiful!

To sum it up: This book is incredible in too many ways to count. I loved it!


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Throwback Thursday: The Witches (dvd)

I remember watching The Witches on television shortly after cable finally made it down the little dirt road where my family lived (Keep in mind that I grew up in The Before Time). And it creeped the heck out of me! For years I was haunted by the images of a young girl trapped in a painting and a sinister, violet-eyed woman brandishing a snake at a little boy. I must have mentally blocked out how horrifying the main villain could be, though.


Until recently, that is.

Being that it IS Halloween Season, and being that witches are currently a trending thing for me, I couldn't pass up The Witches (now on our New DVD shelf) when it crossed my desk the other day. And watching it last night, it all came rushing back. Because certain elements of the film are just as terrifying to Adult Ms. Alissa as they were to Alissa as a Child.

So yes, this movie does indeed hold up.

The Witches, based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name, centers on a little boy named Luke who has an unfortunate run-in with not just one, but a whole convention of evil, child-hating witches (It is never really specified why the witches in the film don't like kids--other than they're smelly--but let's just go with it for the sake of enjoying a good creepy story). Luke is forced to drink a magic potion that transforms him into a mouse. Now he, and fellow kid-turned-mouse Bruno, must dodge cats, mouse-phobic hotel managers, and the Grand High Witch herself in order to stop the witches before they can unleash their diabolical plot to turn every single child in England into mice. 

First of all, don't let the cutesy picture on the DVD cover fool you! The Witches is horrifying on a number of levels. There's the obvious costumes and makeup, which are a product of Jim Henson. And if you've ever watched The Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal, you know how nightmare-inducing that can be! And of course the creepy seaside setting and the tragic demise of Luke's parents. But there's the more subtle qualities as well: Such as what really happens to the children who've already fallen prey to the witches? (the lifespan of the average mouse, for example) It can really mess with you if you think about it too much. There are levels of creepy I picked up on as an adult that somehow escaped me as a kid. So I would go as far as to say The Witches is even scarier to me now than it was then. It was awesome! 

So if you're looking for a good Halloween film that's not blood-soaked or rated PG-13 or more, give The Witches a watch. Maybe pair it with Return to OZ or the movie adaption of Coraline for a creepy double feature. 


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Stranger Things, Season 1

With Halloween fast approaching, I've been craving all things creepy, strange, and suspenseful. I found all this and more in Stranger Things Season 1, which more than made up for the disappointment that was X Files Season 11. Not only that, the show gave me all sorts of nostalgic feels: The Goonies...Super 8...and, yes, even old school X Files. I loved it!!

And now, my (relatively) spoiler-free review:

Hawkins Indiana, early 1980s: Tweenage William vanishes while biking home from his friend's house. This sets the small town's residents to panicking, and no one more so than Will's mother Joyce who insists against all odds that her boy is alive...just not in her own reality (And she's not as crazy as she seems). And Will is only the first of the town's residents to disappear...seemingly without a trace. Around the same time, a mysterious girl with strange abilities appears and befriends Will's buddies. The girl, whom the boys name Eleven, and Will's disappearance seem connected as do other mysterious and supernatural events happening around the previously quiet town. And everything seems to point to Hawkins Laboratories. But only the boys and a tenacious sheriff seem brave enough to investigate.

The season ends somewhat ambiguously with a not exactly cliffhanger moment: You could leave it at that and imagine what happens next or you could keep watching into Season 2 (which OPL also owns). I am excited to do the later.

I somehow missed Stranger Things when it first aired on TV. But what better way to experience a movie or show than to check it out of the library? Besides, my recent almost-Halloween viewing timing was perfect. Plus, the show had everything I could ask for: Mystery, suspense, humor, great characters, and, BONUS!, an awesome soundtrack. 

This show is a new favorite of mine! --AJB

Throwback...Saturday? Better Off Dead (DVD)

I admit it: I am a fan of cheesy 80s teen comedies. They're from a different, more simple time, and there's something...well, innocent about them. But even though I watched a countless number of these films growing up, and continue to enjoy them as an adult, I somehow missed Better Off Dead. But a friend recommended I see it and I'm so glad I did. After a somewhat crazy week, it was exactly what I needed. 

The film opens when Lane's girlfriend Beth leaves him for ski jock, Roy. Lane decides that life isn't worth living. So he does what any depressed teen in that situation would do: He tries to kill himself. Many times. Of course his attempts always fail in increasingly funny ways. All the while, Lane must cope with embarrassing parents, awful first jobs, vengeful paper boys, school dance nightmares, and failed attempts to win back the girl of his dreams. He also gets unwittingly caught up in a love triangle involving a French foreign exchange student and the nerd next door. Before long it's more than just getting Beth back. It's a matter of defending his own honor. And Lane's only chance of doing either one is to beat his rival at the notorious K-12 ski race. But if he does all that, will Beth even want him back? And, more importantly, will he want her?

Despite the grim undertones of suicide (which is a VERY serious matter), this film is not a downer by any means, but, rather, an affirmation that life is actually worth living after all. Even if one has just been dumped. True to most 80s comedies, the film boasts lots of near-slapstick humor and shamelessly pays tribute to pretty much every single high school stereotype in existence.

Definitely recommended! --AJB

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

X-Files Season 11

Occasionally, it's awesome when beloved shows or bands or whatever from one's past have a special reunion. But in most cases, a revamp of something that peaked 20 years ago (using all the original players) is not something that should see the the light of day. I mean, it sounds most theory. But the reality of it is cringe-worthy in the same way as seeing your grandmother model her dusty old prom dress (before offering it to you). In the worst case, seeing the revamp somewhat tarnishes the experience of the original for you.

Such was the case with The X-Files Season 11. In my opinion, Season 10 (or "X" if you're using the roman numeral/pun on the show's title) should never have happened. I really didn't want to see 50/60-something Mulder and Scully trying to solve mysterious crimes when they should be hanging up their badges and retiring to someplace like Hawaii where they could sit in the sun and eat pineapple and forget the Conspiracy ever happened. It was embarrassing and overly-campy and completely train-wreckish, but I couldn't look away. Which is why I nabbed Season 11 as soon as it hit the shelves. I guess I hoped it would get better and fix what Season X messed up.

It didn't.

The Conspiracy episodes really did nothing to add to the original storyline from Seasons 1-9, and the Mythology would have been better off had they not been filmed. The Monster Of The Week episodes were even worse. The writers were really scraping the bottom of the barrel for these, going the B-Horror Movie route and often substituting gratuitous blood and guts for substance. Unfortunately, that made things really boring. Admittedly, I even dozed off during the one where possessed "smart" technology stalks the agents after Mulder refuses to tip the robot chef for screwing up his meal (Mulder was right, in my opinion. I wouldn't tip after that experience either). The one (almost) stand-out episode was the one where creepy characters from creepy kids shows came to life to lure children into the woods and to their untimely doom. But even that plot kind of trailed if the writers didn't really know where they were going with it. 

Why are shows aimed at young children (Barney, Teletubbies) so darn creepy? Discuss.

Rumor has it there will be no Season 12, and, to me, that is a relief. I'd rather not see a beloved show from my past struggle any more toward a slow and painful (to watch) demise. I'd rather remember things how they used to be. 


Friday, October 5, 2018

Thunder and the House of Magic (dvd)

All the neighborhood animals know to stay away from the Haunted House at the end of the block. Strange things happen there. Bad things. And critters who unknowingly enter the property have been known to disappear. But an abandoned kitten would rather risk unknown horrors than face real world dangers like thunderstorms and sharp-toothed dogs. And thus begins an epic adventure!

When Thunder takes shelter in the creepy old house, he finds himself in a world of magic, where everyday objects come to life. Turns out the house is owned by an elderly magician who knows real, actual magic. The old man adopts Thunder and even begins to use him in his shows. But a jealous white rabbit is determined to get rid of the cute kitty at all costs. And his plan leads the magician to have a terrible accident.

But there is an even more sinister plot afoot! While the magician is recovering in the hospital, a scheming real estate agent tricks the old man into signing over the deed to the house, which he plans to sell to the highest bidder (and keep the profits for himself). Now Thunder and his long-eared nemesis must put their differences aside and team up to protect their home and stop this evil plan from happening. 

If you're looking for a cute, fun film, look no further than Thunder and the House of Magic. While the plot is not super original (it's actually very Home Alone), it's an extremely enjoyable movie that can be enjoyed by all ages.

Definitely recommended --AJB

The Moth Diaries, by Rachel Klein

Spotlight on Suspense

Tis the season for monsters, ghosts, witches, and things that go bump in the night. And if there's a better creature of the night than vampires, I don't know what it is. I'm not talking those NOT-pires that sparkle like so many unicorns in the sunshine and grace the pages of certain paranormal romances. i'm talking real old school vampires. The sort that should terrify us (if we know what's good for us).

While Rachel Kline's The Moth Diaries isn't terrifying in the obvious way, there's a subtle building sense of suspense and dread here that makes the story's creepiness factor almost worse than if there had been blood splattered over every scene. This gives the story a similar feel to that of Charlotte Perkins' classic, The Yellow Wallpaper in that, by story's end, you, the reader, don't really know what's real and what's in the narrator's head almost feel slightly mad yourself. In my opinion, this is exactly what a good horror story should do.

We meet the unnamed narrator when she is beginning her year at boarding school. She is glad to be away from home and excited to see her best friend, Lucy, with whom she is sharing a suite. Typical feelings. But then Lucy makes friends with new girl, Ernessa. At first it seems like nothing more than jealousy, but things begin to turn dark as the narrator develops an increasingly unhealthy obsession with Lucy and Ernessa. She begins to suspect Ernessa is a vampire who is slowly sucking the life force from Lucy. As the semester wears on, strange occurrences begin to plague the school, and Lucy becomes mysteriously ill. This should be proof enough that the narrator is correct about Ernessa. But why can no one else see it? In the end the reader is left wondering: Is Ernessa really a vampire? Or has everything that happened been filtered through a disturbed imagination?

I admit it: The Moth Diaries completely creeped me out when I read it. And that feeling lingered long after I finished. I suppose it's because it's not about real actual monsters, but rather about how the mind (anyone's mind) can create them given the right combination of circumstances.

Recommended for anyone looking to get that "hairs on the back of your neck" feeling. --AJB

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Beetlejuice (dvd)

When October arrives, my first go-to movie is, of course, Hocus Pocus (because nothing says Spooky like the Sanderson Sisters and their insatiable hunger for the souls of little children of Salem...MWA-hahahaha!). But although there are no words for how much I love this movie, I'm not reviewing it for today's Throwback, because it would be a bit too obvious. Even for (and especially for) me. 

Instead, I've elected to review my Number 2 Halloween Movie, which is BeetlejuiceThis film about two recently deceased souls trying to rid their beloved home of the living is classic Halloween and director Tim Burton at his best. And despite its mid-80s special effects and over-the-top campy-ness, this film holds up amazingly well. And that's not just the nostalgia talking. 

Beetlejuice opens as small-town newlyweds leave their quaint farmhouse for an innocent drive through the countryside...and meet with tragic demise when their car plunges off the bridge into the raging waters below!! They return home wet and shaken, but otherwise all right. Or so they think. It takes them a while to realize they are dead. But if blood-thirsty sandworms and an ominously-titled book aren't clues enough, their BIG wake-up call comes when a quirky family from the Big City move into their former house and proceed to do some very bizarre remodeling. The ghostly couple decide they must get rid of these people at all costs. But when their "haunting" efforts don't amount to anything, they go against better judgement and hire a bio-exorcist, whose name I will not say a third time (because you know what happens when you do!), to get rid of these pesky mortals. But his methods aren't exactly conventional...or safe. And there are hints things will end badly for everyone unless he-who-shall-not-be-named-a-third-time is banished back to the nether-realms. 

So if you're looking for a Halloween classic movie that's not extreme in its scariness, try Beet...OOPS! (I almost said it) This film whose title I shall not speak a third time. Because whether you're re-experiencing this movie's awesomeness or are watching it for the first time, you're craving for a near-perfect Halloween film is sure to be satisfied.