Monday, December 14, 2015

It's Christmas!

"For unto us a child is born."

It's Christmas break now for Shire Reviews. We'll be back in January, hopefully with some new books to review. Until then, merry Christmas, and happy New Year! And remember the real reason for the season.

    "And it came to pass in those days, that there came a decree from Augustus Caesar, that all the world should be taxed. (This first taxing was made when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) Therefore went all to be taxed, every man to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee out of a city called Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David,) to be taxed with Mary that was given him to wife, which was with child.
    "And so it was, that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first begotten son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
    "And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. And lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone about them, and they were sore afraid. Then the Angel said unto them, "Be not afraid: for behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people, That is, that unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you, Ye shall find the babe swaddled, and laid in a manger." And straightway there was with the Angel a multitude of heavenly soldiers, praising God, and saying, "Glory be to God in the high heavens, and peace in earth, and toward men good will." And it came to pass when the Angels were gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said one to another, "Let us go then unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord hath showed unto us." So they came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph and the babe laid in the manger. And when they had seen it, they published abroad the thing that was told them of that child. And all that heard it, wondered at the things which were told them of the shepherds. But Mary kept all those sayings, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God, for all that they had heard and seen, as it was spoken unto them."
Luke 2:1-20

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

TV Show Review: Doctor Who Series 9

Doctor Who Series 9

Rating: PG

Recommended for: 10 to Adult

Peter Capaldi returns as the Doctor alongside Jenna Coleman and guests including Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams. Now that the Doctor and Clara have established a dynamic as a partnership of equals, they’re relishing the fun and thrills that all of space and time has to offer. Tangling with ghosts, Vikings and the ultimate evil of the Daleks, they embark on their biggest adventures yet. 

Doctor Who Series 9 was great. At least, in my opinion. Peter Capaldi has settled into his role as the Doctor, he and Clara Oswald are getting along just fine now, they're traveling the universe together with no fear of danger, and they go on quite the journey together. There was very little I didn't like about this series. I don't know if I'm in the minority on this, I know my dad doesn't really like the Twelfth Doctor and didn't like Clara as much once the Impossible Girl mystery was solved, but I thought series 9 was really good.

The Magician's Apprentice/The Witch's Familiar

This was a truly interesting story. I'm not sure how much I can say without spoilers, but it revolves around the daleks and Davros. The end of the pre-titles scene had me loudly exclaiming. It involves Missy and Skaro, and wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey. Aaaand we get to see the Doctor come in on a tank playing an electric guitar getting medieval people to yell "Dude!" We see the first of the Doctor's confession dial, basically a Time Lord's last will and testament, or so Missy says. This little object is actually quite important later on. Missy is a quite entertaining incarnation of the Master, and this really shows in this story, the only one of the series with her character. She does do some infuriating things (like trapping Clara inside a dalek), but things do work out in the end. An interesting theme is that of mercy. Because when [a certain character] asks the Doctor what side he's on, he replies that it doesn't matter, "as long as there's mercy." And yes, the sonic screwdriver is gone from this series (replaced by sonic sunglasses), but it didn't bother me since they've gotten rid of it before, in the Fifth Doctor episode "The Visitation."

Under the Lake/Before the Flood

This was kind of creepy, but I still loved it. There are ghosts. The Doctor originally insists that they're not really ghosts, but later...."They're ghosts!" And, yes, he's excited about it. The Doctor and Clara end up on an underwater base haunted by ghosts that only come out when it's in night mode, and can't get into the Faraday cage. A scientific team investigating an unearthed alien ship is aboard. They have to figure out what the ghosts are trying to do, without getting turned into ghosts themselves. The Doctor decides to go back in time to before the area flooded to find out the reason for it all. And Clara sees his ghost. There's a lot about paradoxes in this story. It's really very interesting. Things happen in the past, but they are based on things you know from the future, so where did it really originate? Who really wrote Beethoven's Fifth? One of my favorite things from the episode, though, is the cue cards. Clara is trying to help the Doctor with his people skills, so she gives him cue cards...which he's not great at using. But I really love the one that references Sarah Jane Smith: "It was my fault, I should have known you didn't live in Aberdeen." Very interesting story with great references.

The Girl Who Died

(Technically considered part one of a two parter, but while both stories center around Ashildr, the stories are distinct from each other, IMO.) The only episode in which I like Ashildr. This sets off an important part of the series 9 story arc. The Doctor and Clara end up in a Viking village terrorized by aliens claiming to be Odin. A girl named Ashildr is different from the other Vikings, and she's a skilled storyteller. After their soldiers are killed, Ashildr declares war, causing the villagers to have to fight against a merciless alien race. The Doctor is clever. And he can't leave people to die. But his plan has unforeseen consequences...and causes a very big change to happen to Ashildr. It was a good episode, going into the historical side of Doctor Who, a thing which doesn't seem to happen much anymore. It's sort of a set up for things to come later with Ashildr. And she's a character well played. By the way, the Doctor's face is explained in this episode. No, he's not actually Caecilius, but at least they give it an explanation.

The Woman Who Lived

Ashildr is back, in 1651 England, and she's not so happy about it. She's immortal now, due to events of "The Girl Who Died," calling herself Me, living with only a servant as a wealthy lady by day and acting as a masked highwayman by night. She's been alive for 800 years at this point, and is lonely. She's seen some very hard times, but it's only made her harsh. Maybe it's because with a finite mind she can't remember it all. Maybe it's being alone. She begs the Doctor to take her with him, but he refuses. I kind of felt like the story itself in this episode was a bit flat, but they more than made up for it with character and theme. It might just be because I've explored the idea in my own writing, but I find the subject of immortality/abnormally long life in this world to be a fascinating concept. It takes much the same stance on it that Natalie Babbitt did in Tuck Everlasting and that I did in Time Captives. You don't want to live forever in this world. It's not a good thing. Clara's absent for most of this episode, which I didn't like, but oh well.

The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion

Osgood is back! No, her death in the series 8 finale wasn't fake. But if you remember in "Day of the Doctor," human Osgood and Zygon Osgood became friends. One of them died. Which one? It doesn't really matter. The Zygons were assimilated into Earth's culture after those events, living as humans, which most of them were content to do. However, there are a few who want to take over Earth instead. The Zygons want the "Osgood Box" to destroy the humans, but the Osgood Box is not quite what it seems...and there's a very good reason it's called the Osgood Box. I tend to love it when they bring UNIT in, because it necessarily makes references abound. After all, Kate Stewart is the Brigadier's daughter. There are many throwbacks to "Day of the Doctor" and even "Terror of the Zygons" in this story. And then towards the end, the Doctor gives a great speech on the consequences of war and the necessity of forgiveness. He's fought in a very terrible war. He has done worse things than you can imagine. And he doesn't want anyone else to have to live with that.

Sleep No More

I...didn't really understand this episode. There's a machine called the Morpheus that concentrates a month of sleep into five minutes, but it somehow creates sand monsters from the dust that collects in your eyes while you sleep. It's supposed to be assembled from security footage from where it takes place, so the format is a bit different. It's kind of inconclusive too. I really just need to watch it again, because it's one of those episodes that doesn't make a lot of sense. It's supposed to be a scary episode, but I didn't understand it enough to be scared. Maybe next time...

Face the Raven

Get the tissues ready. Rigsy from "Flatline" calls Clara to ask for her help. A tattoo appeared on the back of his neck, a number...and it's counting down. And when it gets to zero, he will die. They learn that Ashildr put it there, and that death can only be avoided if she takes it off or if it's transferred to someone else. I'm not sure what to say about the rest of this episode or the remaining parts of the finale, because it's spoiler territory, but extremely important to the storyline. I really liked this episode, but I finished it in shock. I wasn't expecting that ending. And I really don't like Ashildr now.

Heaven Sent

The Doctor goes solo in this lead up to the ultimate finale of the season. Trapped in a castle in the middle of an infinite ocean, the Doctor is pursued by a mysterious shrouded figure called the Veil. He falls out a window, finds a drying set of his own clothes by a fire, digs up a grave, sees stars that indicate he's in the future even though he didn't time travel, punches a wall made of diamond but 400 times stronger, realizes that the rooms in the castle reset themselves and then...spoilers. This episode was very different. It's not usual for the Doctor to be without a companion. He's not Time Lord Victorious yet, that's more of the next episode, but the circumstances surrounding his companionlessness makes him very determined. And that ending! Great episode. My sister didn't love it because she doesn't like him without a companion, but it was still a really good episode.

Hell Bent

And then the very last episode of the series. I can't tell you the premise of the episode without spoiling the ending of "Face the Raven," was a good episode. Hard. And the Doctor is really not doing well. It's like Time Lord Victorious all over again. There are Time Lords in funny hats, vague hints at the Doctor's past, Ashildr alone at the end of the world, the "hybrid" hinted at throughout the series becomes important, a scene with the Doctor and Clara in a diner that doesn't make sense until the very end, TARDIS stealing, "Journey's End" references. It's sad. It's epic. Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey. At the end, the Doctor is off alone, ready for a brand new companion to come in the next series. 

Doctor Who series 9 was far better than series 8, though I liked that series too. There are still unanswered questions, like where Orson Pink comes from, but I have confidence that it'll eventually be explained. Clara was great in her last series as companion. Peter Capaldi makes a great Doctor. Some interesting developments have come to the story in this series, and I'm looking forward to what comes next, seeing a new companion and new story in the next series. And seeing the sonic screwdriver back in action.

But before that comes "The Husbands of River Song." Because River is coming back for the Christmas special!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Book Review: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

Rating: PG (smoking)

Recommended for: All Ages

"Hey! Unto you a child is born!"

Meet the Herdmans--they lie, cheat, and love to give clonks on the head. They are, without a doubt, the worst kids in the history of the world. So no one is prepared when this outlaw family invades church one Sunday and decides to take over the annual Christmas pageant.

None of the Herdmans has ever heard the Christmas story before. Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus--it's all news to them. So they're convinced that the Wise Men should bring pizza and that the Angel of the Lord is straight out of a comic book. Everyone worries that this year's pageant will be horrible (just like the Herdmans!), but they are sure to make it the most unusual anyone has seen and, just possibly, the best one ever.

This is really more of a Friday Favorite on Monday. (Monday Favorite? It doesn't quite have the same ring to it.) Anyway, this is kind of a classic, one of those books we read for school when we were little. I remember reading it, reading about how horrible the Herdmans are...and being bothered that it doesn't actually mention the main character's name (it's told in first person).

The Herdmans are simply horrible. They're basically the worst kids that ever lived, at least, from the perspective of proper churchgoing folk with functional families. They are brats, they're always causing problems, and despite the fact that they don't really learn much in school, they're never held back because no teacher wants to have two Herdmans in her class. They never went to church until they were told there were refreshments (which there weren't). But when they heard about the annual Christmas pageant, they wanted to take part.

Instead of the typical, everyday, ordinary Christmas pageant, they had Herdmans in all the main roles. The other kids were afraid of the Herdmans, everyone thought it would be terrible, and it looked like they would be right.

But the Herdmans were actually interested in the Christmas story. They had never heard it before. It was entirely new. And because of them, people started to see the Christmas story in a different light. They started to get it.

When something is incredibly familiar to you, it sort of loses its meaning. It becomes routine. You don't really think about it much anymore. And then sometimes something happens to make it fresh and new. And you get it in a way you never have before. It finally means something.

That's what The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is about.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Movie Review: Mockingjay Part 2

Mockingjay Part 2

Rating: PG-13

Recommended for: Ages 15 to Adult

As the war of Panem escalates to the destruction of other districts by the Capitol, Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant leader of the rebellion, must bring together an army against President Snow, while all she holds dear hangs in the balance.

Read my review of Part 1 here.

Mockingjay. Heartbreaking. Horrible. Meaningful. 

This movie is sad, just like the book. It's hard to watch, yet I like it. It was really good, in my opinion, at least. The only possible ending to the story after what they went through, though I hate that so many people had to die. If they hadn't, it wouldn't have been as real. It wouldn't mean so much. "If you kill Snow, those deaths, they mean something."

Since I reviewed the book and thus the story and its meaning earlier this week, this review will primarily focus on how they adapted the original material to the screen, which was very well.

Technical: 5/5

Can I think of any technical complaints? Um....still thinking. With so much word-for-word-from-the-book dialogue, ultra-professional filmography, brilliant acting, and beyond amazing score, I'm really having a hard time thinking of technical problems. Oh, wait, I thought of one. The Mockingjay hairdressers don't appear to know how to create the iconic Katniss braid from the first two movies. When she has a braid, it's just a side braid, not a Dutch braid that crosses the back of her head diagonally. This movie works best watched right after Mockingjay 1, which I was not quite able to do, since I had to watch MJ1 the night before, but even so, it's a well made movie. It was well acted. Josh did a good job of portraying hijacked Peeta, which was heartbreaking to see, even though he was less broken than in the book. Jennifer Lawrence, as usual, was spot on for Katniss, despite the fact that she too was less broken. Really, they all were. It was well done.

And have I mentioned the score? I think Mockingjay 2 is my favorite soundtrack of the series. It's so amazing, so full of emotion. The last song makes me want to cry every time. It's just beyond words.

Setting: 5/5

I don't have much to add to what I said last year. The worldbuilding remains consistent. Panem is a horrible place to live, but it's very well developed. We get to see more of the Capitol streets here, though they're kind of turned into a Games. We see Snow's mansion again, and it plays an instrumental part. (By the way, I don't even live incredibly far from it. I want to go drive by. I've been to the Tribute Center too. I had Chick-fil-A there after going to the World of Coca-Cola.) They're at war. Panem is certainly war-torn. They did a good job of portraying that on-screen. Things aren't running the way they used to. Everything's falling apart. Panem will never be the same again.

Plot: 4.5/5

It was a very faithful adaptation. I appreciate that. They did change a few things, like having Prim visit Peeta instead of Delly Cartwright, which makes sense, since they never mentioned Delly. So much was right out of the book, what Katniss said to the guy who wanted to kill her in 2, Peeta and Gale's conversation about her, bits from the very end and the epilogue...That's what makes a good movie to me, basing it on the book. There wasn't very much of Annie, mostly due to the biggest change they made, I assume for time and to keep the tension high. SPOILER In the book, Katniss trains to go on a mission to the Capitol and passes. In the movie, she sneaks onto a transport and they send her team to pretend it was their plan all along. END SPOILER So that gives less Finnick and Annie time, less Johanna time, and even a little less Peeta time. But that was really the biggest change. And I appreciate the changes they made to make some of the deaths less gruesome. And then there's the ending. They did rush the aftermath of a certain thing Katniss does a bit, keep her from sitting in a room crazy for so long, but they dwelt a bit more on the actual ending. They did cut the making of the book, but they had several little scenes showing "Peeta and I grow back together." And then "You love me. Real or not real?" I was kind of annoyed at the people who laughed in the pause between the sentences, but I still managed somewhat to focus on the beautiful moment there. And the epilogue. Nothing can compare. 

Character Development: 5/5

I've been on a long journey with these characters. They feel like old friends. Even Johanna's that girl I never really liked but feel sorry for just the same. I miss Finnick. Peeta makes me want to cry. Gale...he's too much of a soldier. Prim, dear sweet Prim. Katniss, a girl who just wanted to save her sister and is now so broken. Katniss and Peeta aren't quite as damaged and broken in the movie as they are in the book. I'm not quite sure how I feel about that. I like it because I hate to see them so scarred, but at the same time, it kind of feels like it diminishes what they went through a bit. Anyway, the character development is still excellent and I miss these characters.

So, like I've said before, these stories are not a light read or watch. They're meant to be pondered. They're not for everyone, especially if you're sensitive to violence. (Though the violence is very tastefully handled. I can barely handle LOTR, but I'm fine on THG.) If you've watched the first three movies, watch this one. If you've read the books, watch them all. Think about it. And work to turn this country around before we become a nation like Panem.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Movie Review: Miracle on 34th Street

Miracle on 34th Street

Rating: G

Recommended for: All ages

 Miracle on 34th Street is an irresistible fable that has, for many years, become synonymous with celebrating Christmas. And now this three-time Oscar-winning tale is as colorful and resplendent as the holiday itself in an all-new colorized version that's sure to delight fans old and new!

 The holiday season is full swing when a cultured gentleman with twinkling eyes, an ample belly, and a snowy beard (Edmund Gwenn) is hired as Macy's department store Santa. He claims his name is Kris Kringle, and soon fills everyone with Christmas spirit...except for his boss, Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara), who's raising her daughter (Natalie Wood) to not believe in Santa. But when Kringle is declared insane, and put on trial, everyone's faith is put to the test as young and old alike face the age-old question: Do you believe in Santa Claus?

 We like to watch this movie around Thanksgiving because it starts out with Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. This movie has some funny parts and the way that they resolve everything is clever.
Technical: 4/5

 Some of the acting is stiff or doesn't seem quite authentic but the majority of it is done well. The quality of the film isn't as clear as Blu-ray but it is not terrible. There really isn't anything in the way of special effects.

Setting: 4/5

 The story is set in New York City and was a modern story when it was made. I have never been to New York City but nothing seemed to be out of place. The main places are Macy's, Doris's apartment, and the courtroom. The settings all fit the story very well.

Plot: 3/5

 The story follows Kris Kringle and the difference he makes at Macy's. Kris hates the commercialism of Christmas and is unwilling to push certain toys just because too many were bought. What he does is turned into a new policy which the rival store also does. After an incident, in which one person involved twists the facts, Kris ends up in a hearing on his sanity. His lawyer says that he is going to prove that Kris really is Santa Clause. As far as Santa stories go, it doesn't make sense. He lives in New York and not the North Pole, and although he mentions being busy on Christmas Eve, he also tells parents where the best places to buy the toys that their children want are. 

Characters: 4/5

 There are many characters, like Kris who is nice and friendly. Doris is practical and while she likes Kris, she thinks that he is just a nice old man. Her daughter Susan, who doesn't know any fairy tales, is puzzled by Kris. Kris teaches her how to play make believe and tries to teach her how to use her imagination. Albert also hates commercialism and likes to play Santa and to see children's faces light up when they get presents. There is a doctor, whose name I forgot, that doesn't like Kris and wants to get him fired.

 The story is a lot about believing in Santa, which I never have, but it is still a good story and I would recommend it.