Category: fantasy

When Disney Movies Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong

I watched Babes in Toyland once growing up, and I’ve had it in my head for a long time under the “good movies I’d like to watch again sometime.” Netflix added it to the collection a few weeks ago, and I so I sat down last night to watch it with the kiddos.

Oh. My. Golly.

It starts off light and fun enough. Fairy tale people having fairy tale problems. Annette Funicello is always a plus, and the songs weren’t too bad. About what I expected from a movie I’d watched once as a kid and remembered being good. The plot is simple: two fairy tale characters want to get married, and a villain wants to derail that. And how does he do that? By hiring two goons to drown the boyfriend. Fair enough. And true to plan, they knock him over the head with a  mallet and cart him off to throw him into the ocean.

Until . . .

They notice there’s a “Gypsy Camp” on the way to said ocean. And since Gypsies like to buy children, why not sell the guy to the Gypsies? Nothing like reinforcing a stereotype for kids watching the movie, right?

And then Annette–now without a fiance–must face the awful truth: she’ll be without someone to take care of her. Cue the musical number.

Cursed addition and subtraction! How ever will a woman be able to handle it all without a man to help out?

And then the Gypsies show up for a song and dance number:

Followed by this “gem” sung by the fiance dressed in drag (sorry–couldn’t find the video clip):

And why stop there? We finish our traipse down cringe-inducing clips with this great song about how girls are essentially toys created for guys:

You can’t make this stuff up, people. I recognize that a lot of this has to do with culture shift, and what was acceptable in 1961 is definitely UNacceptable today. But still, it’s amazing to me what was so commonplace at the time, and how it can really undermine a society on a fundamental level.

Some of you might be rolling your eyes and dismissing this post. I get that. “It’s a kids’ movie. Lighten up.” And honestly, the bit with the Gypsies is something I can understand for the most part. I mean, here we are 50 years later, and it’s not really any better. (How sad is that?) But the songs about women? Really?  I don’t consider myself a foaming-at-the-mouth feminist, but how can you not watch those today and wonder what in the world they were thinking?

DC was watching the movie with me. Do I want her growing up thinking that unless she’s got a man around, she’s hopeless/useless? Of course not. But that’s the underlying message of those songs, and there isn’t even any wink winking about the subject matter like you get in A Secretary is Not a Toy (done 6 years later):

Anyway. Don’t think I’ll be adding Babes in Toyland to the yearly Christmas rotation. Ugh. And I’ll get off my soapbox now and let you resume your normal Monday routines.

Book Review: The Rithmatist

The Rithmatist (The Rithmatist #1)The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At this point, sometimes I wonder why I write reviews of Brandon Sanderson’s books. I’ve loved them all, and so it seems at times like I’m just continually beating that “this was awesome” drum. But you know what? I like drums, and when you find an awesome one, why *wouldn’t* you want to keep beating it?

This is Brandon’s version of a school book, sort of on the vein of Harry Potter, but with the typical Sanderson flair for magic systems. The Rithmatist takes place in a world where certain people can cause chalk drawings to come to life. Oh yeah–and some of those drawings can eat people. There’s an elaborate system of magic built around the concept, with summoning circles and geometry playing big roles. It’s all a bit bewildering at first, but you soon get the hang of it, and there are plenty of illustrations to help you along the way.

So that’s the setting. The main character is a boy who wishes he could be one of the people who has this magic ability–but he isn’t. He studies everything he can about it, but no amount of wishing gets him closer to his dream.

And then people start dying at his school, and he’s one of the people tasked to help the main investigator.

I think that’s enough to give you a taste of what to expect from the book. I loved the fact that it worked well as a standalone book. Yes, there’s certainly lots of room for sequels, but it’s fairly well self-contained. The magic system was also very clever–it reminded me of Flatland in many ways, and that’s a good thing in my book.

It was also interesting and refreshing to have the main character unable to do any magic. That definitely goes against the grain of the normal in YA fantasies–or any fantasies for that matter. But it worked well in this novel.

It’s a fast read, and one I can wholeheartedly recommend without any need to give disclaimers about content. Yay for that.

So if you haven’t already checked it out, might I point you in this book’s direction? Have you already read it? I’d love to hear what you thought.

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Book Review: The Black Prism

The Black Prism (Lightbringer, #1)The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t read as many books at the moment as I’d like to. It’s more than I used to before I got my Kindle PaperWhite, but it’s still not as many as I’d prefer. (How many books? I’m right around 2-3 a month at the moment. I’d like to be at 1 a week or so.) In any case, I try to make the books I *do* read “count.” I don’t want to blow my reading time on something I won’t enjoy.

Thus, I will often put a book down if I’m not loving it, and I rarely get the second book of a series. I’m always on the hunt for something that will wow me. Something I’ll want to lose sleep over. And the sad truth is that more often than not, I’m disappointed. It’s one of the reasons I don’t write many book reviews–I try to only review the ones I really love. (Movies are more disposable for me. A 2 hour time commitment is so much less than 20 hours or however long it takes me to read a book. I can watch 20+ movies a month easily. Since I’m not a filmmaker, I don’t really feel any need to pull punches when I’m reviewing movies. But as an author, I’m never sure when the person who I’m asking for help (or a cover blurb) will turn out to be someone who I trashed in a review a year or two ago. Better to bite my tongue, methinks.)

This is just a long way of leading up to one fact: as soon as I finished The Black Prism, I bought the sequel and kept reading. It was that good of a book. Huzzah!
What makes it shine? First and foremost for me was the magic system. The book is epic fantasy, and the magic is color-based. Basically, magic users can tap into colors to do different things. Create objects. Change their bodies. Do cool things. It was such a nice shift from the typical magic you might encounter–fire or ice pellets. Wizards with pointy hats. It reminded me very much of Brandon Sanderson’s magic systems, and that’s a big plus in my book.

But it’s not all just about the magic. The book follows several viewpoint characters throughout the course of the novel. The characters are distinct and engaging, and the plot moves quickly and in unexpected directions. Weeks (the author) isn’t afraid to break away from the mold and do things that haven’t been done before.

What’s the plot? The book jacket does a fine job encapsulating it:

“Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. He is high priest and emperor, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. But Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live: Five years to achieve five impossible goals. “But when Guile discovers he has a son, born in a far kingdom after the war that put him in power, he must decide how much he’s willing to pay to protect a secret that could tear his world apart.”

That’s enough to give you a taste, but the plot itself involves so much more than that.

Now, there were some fairly violent scenes in the book, and a few steamy situations (nothing graphic, though), so it’s not a book for the younger crowd–but it’s also not a book full of George R.R. Martin shenanigans. There’s a learning curve involved in the book–expect to be confused for the first while as you’re reading. It’s okay. It will all become clear by about a third of the way through, and then it’s off to the races.

If you’re looking for an engaging read that’ll keep you turning the pages and you’re in the market for epic fantasy, look no further.

Anyone else out there already read it? Let me know what you thought.

View all my reviews

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review

When you’ve got a movie title like How to Train Your Dragon 2, you’ve automatically lowered everyone’s expectations. Not that I didn’t like the first one, but simple “add a number at the end of the title” sequels aren’t exactly known for their finesse and light touch. Typically, that number translates into “the first one made us a bunch of money, so here’s another. More please?” Real sequels get their own name. The Dark Knight. The Empire Strikes Back. The Godfather Part II. (Oh. Wait . . . ) So when I read the good reviews of the film, I kept my expectations squarely in the “review of a sequel” range. Still, I’d had a good time at the first one, and we had a day left of vacation, so why not try the second? ($27 for Denisa, me, and the two kids to go to the theater? That’s one reason right there. Sheesh!)

Anyway. I sat down, not sure of what to expect.

I was very surprised by what I got. No–I’ll go so far as to say “blown away.” This isn’t just a good animated movie–it’s a good movie.

The first hint that something’s different at work than a simple Shrek 57? Hiccup (the main character) is now in his late teens/early twenties. Something like 6 years have gone by since the first movie. So the characters aren’t just the same ones from the first–they’re older. They’ve changed some. (Not drastically in most cases, but still–a marked difference from a typical sequel approach.) Society has changed with them. Dragons are fully integrated into life in the village. So this isn’t just a riff on the first one. They’ve set up an entirely different conflict that draws on the setting and world building in the first, but goes somewhere else.

I don’t want to give away too much of the movie, since there were some actual surprises in store over the course of the movie, but I will say I was continually impressed with where the story was willing to go and how it treated the material. It wasn’t quite on a Pixar level, but it wasn’t trying to be, either. It was its own thing, and I respected that. Still plenty of humor and some silliness, but a solid outing across the board. (Realized after the fact that this director started with Lilo & Stitch, which makes this all start to make more sense. I get used to looking at animation houses for an imprint on a movie as opposed to directors. Maybe I need to stop that.)

So in the end, I’d give this one a 7 or 8 out of 10. Let’s call it a 7.5. A fun movie that’s more than I expected it to be. Solid story, great animation, nice soundtrack. Was it worth $27 in the theaters? No. But nothing is worth that much in the theaters. $10 a ticket for a movie? I have no idea how you all stand it. $4 matinees for me and mine, thank you very much. You all can keep your big city high fallutin’ ways.

Seen the movie? Let me know what you thought. Spoilers allowed in the comments, so be warned!

X Men: Days of Future Past Review

Sometimes you just have to go to the movies. Sit in a theater, relax, and forget your worries for a bit. I did that a few days ago, heading to the theater by my lonesome to check out the latest X Men movie. I’d heard good things, and MC isn’t yet at the age where we’re comfortable having baby sitters in charge, so Denisa and I have been missing out on the movie scene. This was one I didn’t want to miss, so off I went.

I’ve seen many of the X Men movies. I didn’t see the third one, because I’d heard terrible things about it. I also haven’t seen the Wolverine spinoffs. But I’ve seen the first two and the prequel that came out a couple of years ago, and I’ve enjoyed them all. So if this one was getting the thumbs up from people, why not give it a shot?

It was a fun movie, and I really liked it. Wolverine goes back in time to save the X-Men? So it’s basically the plot of Free Birds, but with superheroes and better writing? Sure–why not? It felt in line with the other X Men movies I’ve seen, which is to say, not quite as light hearted as a Marvel Studios film–more broody and serious for the most part, although there were flashes of humor that were nicely done. That all said, I also felt like it was more of a comic geek’s film than many of the Marvel movies. This isn’t to say the Avengers isn’t a comic geek’s film, but rather that the Avengers is more generally accessible than this X Men movie might be to the average movie goer. The plot is fairly complex–it involves time travel and alternate histories, after all. That can get a little head-whirling at times if you aren’t used to it. I didn’t have any trouble with it, and I actually liked the complexity, but if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like trying to remember who’s who and where they are in a timeline and what special abilities they have . . . you might like to go elsewhere for your movie ticket.

The film’s in the top 100 on IMDB at the moment, and I tend to think we’ll see that fall down significantly. It’s a fine outing, with good characters and interesting plots, but it’s not exactly the flat out most awesome movie evar. For example, Usual Suspects has an 8.7 rating on IMDB, and this X Men movie has an 8.5 at the moment. That’s just plain too high of a rating for it.

That said, when all’s said and done, I was happy to see it in the theaters, and I enjoyed it a great deal. I’d give it an 8/10. Comic and fantasy and sci-fi fans shouldn’t miss it. Good times, indeed. (It’s a movie I’d love to take TRC to. Not going to happen, since one of the main characters is a shapely completely naked blue skinned Katniss Everdeen–something the film never fails to take full advantage of whenever possible. Then again, I know a fair number of movies that could benefit from some Mystique. If she’d been the main character in Circle of Friends, for example, perhaps I would have enjoyed the movie a great deal more as a teenager. Just sayin’.)

Already seen it? Tell me what you thought.

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