Thursday, February 25, 2016

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Rating: PG-13 (for action/adventure violence)

Recommended for: Ages 13 and up

 From producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pearl Harbor) comes Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the thrilling, high-seas adventure with a mysterious twist. The roguish yet charming Captain Jack Sparrow's (Johnny Depp) idyllic pirate life capsizes after his nemesis, the wily Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), steals his ship the Black Pearl, and later attacks the town of Port Royal, kidnapping the governor's beautiful daughter Elizabeth (Keira Knightly). In a gallant attempt to rescue her and recapture the Black Pearl, Elizabeth's childhood friend Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) joins forces with Jack. What Will doesn't know is that a cursed treasure has doomed Barbossa and his crew to live forever as the undead. Rich in suspense-filled adventure, sword-clashing action, mystery, humor, unforgettable characters and never-before-seen special effects, Pirates is a must-have on the grandest scale ever.

This movie is based off of a ride at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. While it is not the greatest movie in the world, it can be a fun movie if you don't take it too seriously.

Technical: 5/5

Like any Disney movie it is a professional product. The special effects were done well, although some of the things are obviously not real. The story flowed well but it can be hard to keep all the story lines and details straight. The music is also amazing and I liked it before I ever sat down and watched a Pirates movie. The costumes looked accurate for the time period.

Setting: 4/5

This movie is set in the Caribbean. I think that it was actually filmed there which would make it accurate. There are then the towns of Port Royal and Tortuga. Tortuga is a very interesting town with a lot of fighting. It is not a good town and I don't know how accurate it is. Port Royal is under the British rule and is a much nicer town than Tortuga. 

Plot: 4/5

There are many different plots in this story. Jack wants to get his ship that he lost in a mutiny back, and Will is willing to do anything to rescue Elizabeth from the pirates who kidnapped her. The bad pirates, because some pirates are good in these movies, are trying to break a curse that keeps them from dying or feeling things such as hunger and cold. 

Characters: 5/5

All of these characters are well developed although many of them are not good people. Jack is always out for himself and does whatever it takes to get what he wants. Jack influences Will to steal and eventually to become a pirate. Elizabeth tries to protect her people. She loves Will and is willing to marry someone she doesn't love in order to save him. The bad pirates are also willing to go pretty far to break their curse.

Unfortunately, bad is portrayed as good in this movie and the characters are less honorable at the end than they are at the beginning. If you like adventure movies and pirates you will probably like this movie.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Book Reviews: Tarzan of the Apes Series (Books 5-14)

Tarzan of the Apes Series (Books 5-14) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Recommended For: Ages 12 to Adult (Reading level and violence content)

Rating: PG-13 (for violence)

Come immerse yourself in this epic omnibus of stories about the one and only Tarzan of the Apes. Son of an English lord, he was raised by the savage apes that killed his father. Although he became well-known and respected in civilization, he never was comfortable there, always most at home in the savage jungle in which he was raised. Swinging through the treetops, bane of lions, tamer of elephants, terror of cannibals, finder of lost cities, and husband of American woman Jane Clayton (née Porter), this knight of the forest, never trained in chivalry, was known to the outside world as John Clayton, Lord Greystoke--but to himself and the inhabitants of the jungle in which he grew up, he would forever be Tarzan of the Apes.

After watching Disney's Tarzan for the first time almost seven months ago, I was sparked with the desire to read the book. To my delight, I found the first book as an audio book on Spotify, so I wound up listening to it and loving it. I even stayed up late to finish listening to it. I didn't have any intention of reading any of the sequels, but when I got to the end of the first book and found that Tarzan had renounced all claims to his title and Jane Porter was engaged to someone else, I just had to listen to the next one as well. After that, I was sucked in. I got all of the books I could for free on Kindle off Amazon, and got the rest off of Project Gutenberg Australia (to which I am forever grateful for having the text of all the books online for free). Just recently, to recover after beta-reading Samara's Peril by Jaye L. Knight, I finished Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar and followed that up by reading more.

Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar

This was the necessary amnesia episode of any series. It wasn't as good as the first three, mainly because Tarzan had amnesia and Jane was in trouble and Tarzan didn't know to go to her. Gah! It was infuriating. But it all worked out in the end, and Tarzan got back his memory. This also had annoying La, who loves Tarzan but is not loved back. She tries to marry him so many times and alternately saves his life and tries to kill himself again and again. even without his memory, though, Tarzan refused her. I enjoyed this one, even though it wasn't as good.

Jungle Tales of Tarzan

This was a collection of short stories about Tarzan growing up in the tribe of Kerchak. I enjoyed them a lot, especially The God of Tarzan, where Tarzan was trying to figure out what exactly was meant by the word "God" which he encountered in his father's books. He came to a correct understanding of God as the Creator by the end. (What is kind of awkward about basically the entire series is that Edgar Rice Burroughs seems to have believed in both Christianity and macro-evolution at the same time, which is strange and very contradictory, but oh well.)

Tarzan the Untamed

This one was really good and really horrible at the same time. Tarzan thought Jane was dead! It was awful. The book itself was really good, better than Son of Tarzan and Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. It was set about the time World War I started, and touched some on the part of the war that took place in Africa. Tarzan developed a hatred for all Germans, which was kind of awkward, since I am mostly German, but this hatred calmed down when he found out at the end of the book that Jane hadn't really been killed by German soldiers.

Tarzan the Terrible
Jane is back! Also this book was heavier on evolution than some of the others, but I just ignored those parts. I loved how Korak showed up in this one, just in time to save his father Tarzan from being sacrificed to a false god. This one was good.

Tarzan and the Golden Lion
Shame on Jane and Korak for not believing Tarzan could raise a lion cub to be tame! I have no idea where Meriem, Korak's wife, was, maybe in London. Tarzan intends to go to Opar again and, as before, gets in trouble. One of his former servants is also trying to get gold from Opar, with a man who looks exactly like Tarzan (and causes Jane some temporary heartbreak because she thinks Tarzan abandons her. Grrrr). Tarzan falls into the hands of Oparians when he is drugged and falls unconscious (darn his addiction to coffee). Thank goodness by this time La had married someone else, so while she was around for most of the book, he wasn't a nuisance. Again, some evolutionary material, but it's pretty easy to ignore. Tarzan escapes from so many almost-death scenarios, no wonder there's a later book called Tarzan the Invincible. Jane is thought dead for a while, but not half as long as before, and is safe in the arms of Tarzan by the end of the book. Also, there's a couple uses of the b-word, but in a completely appropriate breeding sense. Just a warning.

Tarzan and the Ant-Men
Tarzan's a grandpa! John Clayton IV is really cute, although he only gets a few paragraphs and is referred to only as "Dackie." Also, why in the world did Korak let Tarzan up alone in an airplane? Of course he was going to get stranded in a part of the jungle hitherto unexplored because it is surrounded by an impassable thorn forest. Tarzan's double is in this one, too, and is under the delusion that he actually is Tarzan, but he isn't quite as annoying as before, although they even perform surgery on him under the delusion that he's Tarzan and has lost his memory again. Thankfully, the misunderstanding is cleared up at the end, and Tarzan gets his diamonds back, which is a plus. I really loved this one. Tarzan was enslaved! There were a couple scenes that kind of even reminded me of Half-Blood. And Tarzan was only eighteen inches tall! It was amazing. Quite amazing.

The Tarzan Twins
This one was a lot shorter and had a lot less Tarzan, but was still good. I finished in in an hour or less.

Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins with Jad-bal-ja the Golden Lion
Oh, the naivete of these boys. More Oparians, but no La. I love how chivalrous the boys are. And how Jad-bal-ja saved the day. Three cheers for the Golden Lion!

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle
This one returned to the normal length of the books. Tarzan in a suit of armor, wow. That is really hard to visualize. It was quite entertaining, though, just the thought of it. Also, Tarzan isn't as proficient with the sword as he is with other weapons. Who would have thought? Edgar Rice Burroughs fell into sort of a pattern with his secondary character who falls in love with girl from a lost civilization, but I really didn't mind. It was fun seeing the medieval era. Also, nobody messes with Tarzan when they're on his African estates. It's just not done.

Tarzan and the Lost Empire
This one was hands down my favorite. On the surface, it was a lot like the others, lost civilization, young man falls in love with girl from lost civilization, Tarzan finds lost civilization as well...but in my opinion it was better than the others because the lost civilization was an offshoot of Ancient Rome! Ancient Rome in her emperor and gladiator days. I just love reading about that culture, don't ask me why. I was delighted by this book. And Tarzan was a gladiator! Oh my word, wow. I loved how he dealt with one conundrum. Problem: Tarzan could only be declared victor of a duel to the death with another man if he was the only one alive in the arena or if he was alone (one of the duelists could back out of the duel by going back down the tunnel, thereby forfeiting the duel). Solution: Once Tarzan defeated his opponent (of course), he just tossed him out of the arena. He didn't have to kill a defeated opponent and was abiding by the rules. Pure genius. Amazing book.

The Tarzan series is definitely worth reading, not just the first two, but the continuing books as well. While they are a tad racist, it's nothing you wouldn't expect from an evolutionary believer from those times. They are good books and much better, I would guess, than any of the movies with Tarzan in it. Definitely recommended, though for an older age because of the evolution and the violence.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Book Review: Jedi Quest Series Books 6-10

Jedi Quest Books 6-10 by Jude Watson


Rating: PG (action violence and dangerous situations)

Recommended for: Star Wars fans ages 8 to Adult 

Chosen by fate...tempted by evil...these are the early adventures of Anakin Skywalker, written by the best-selling author of JEDI APPRENTICE

Set between Episode I and Episode II, JEDI QUEST traces the emergence and education of Anakin Skywalker as a young Jedi devoted to the Force -- and tempted by its dark side.

 The Shadow Trap

I can see things hurtling towards Attack of the Clones. Anakin's decisions in The School of Fear have caused his and Obi-Wan's relationship to be strained. Anakin feels that he has lost Obi-Wan's trust. And perhaps he has. There's a good bit about facing temptations in this book. About staying strong in the face of them. And about doing your duty even when you want to do something else. Then there's ifs. It can be hard not to feel responsible for things sometimes, as Anakin learns. If I hadn't done this, then this horrible thing would not have happened. But ifs can't be changed. What happened happened. All we can do is focus on the future, not dwell on the past.

I did enjoy this book. My rusty memory allowed anew the shock of Granta Omega's identity. (Plus it makes more sense when you don't skip books 4 and 5.) I randomly remembered in the middle of reading that Omega is also the name of a Classic Doctor Who villain. Time Lord pioneer of time travel, stuck in an anti-matter universe, determined to do anything to come back. Yeah. So I did start thinking a bit about DW while reading this. Oh, and Obi-Wan can't sing. That part amuses me.

The Moment of Truth

The nest of gundarks! "You fell into that nightmare, Master, and I rescued you, remember?" I loved the, um, reference to the reference? Fulfillment of the reference?

Anakin and Obi-Wan are still dealing with the aftermath of the mission to Andara and Yaddle's recent death. They're struggling with blame and guilt and a damaged relationship. This wasn't my favorite of the series, the mission itself felt kind of disjointed, but I loved the section where Anakin was in the Zone of Self-Containment. Well, loved isn't exactly the right word. It was significant to me. Because of A Wrinkle in Time, The Giver, and the book I'm writing myself right now. The removal of emotions. The calm and serenity. The peace. But while it takes away the turmoil and the things that haunt, it takes away love. It takes away true happiness. It's easier, but is it worth it?

The Changing of the Guard

Anakin hit a breaking point in the last book, spilling out his fears to Obi-Wan, and it's the best thing that has happened for their relationship. This Master-Padawan team is finally what it should be, but things in the galaxy are only getting worse.

Obi-Wan and Anakin have been attempting to track down mad scientist Jenna Zan Arbor. Finally, they know where she is, but capturing her will require them and Siri and Ferus to impersonate a gang of criminals. Anakin and Ferus finally come to a decent working relationship, but Ferus's forebodings continue to foreshadow Revenge of the Sith. The Jedi have to make some tough decisions, where there is no clear right way. It's difficult for them, but, as Obi-Wan says, they have to make the best decision they can with the information they have at the moment. It kind of reminds me of what the Doctor said in "Mummy on the Orient Express": "Sometimes all the choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose." Ferus gets more character development in this book, which I liked. It's easier to see how he journeys into the person he has become by Last of the Jedi, easier to see who he really is underneath his "perfect Padawan" exterior. While impersonating criminals is a questionable tactic, it's not treated lightly. Mace Windu has a clear dislike of the whole thing. But again, "sometimes all the choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose."

The False Peace
Pretty good. Warning signs for Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith all over the place, but maybe that's just because I've seen them so many times.

They're still trying to capture Granta Omega. Man, is that guy good at getting away! And he is his father's son. There's a lot more focus on the political side of things in this book, which I really liked. That'll come as no surprise to my friends. Things are getting so corrupt. And Palpatine is taking steps to get to Anakin and fan the sparks of the Dark Side into flame. Unfortunately, Obi-Wan is too focused on Granta Omega to notice that there's something fishy about Palpatine's involvement. Though truly, all of the Jedi are blind to him. I always knew Palpatine was evil, but I watched the originals first.

Not sure about Obi-Wan's advice to Astri to leave Bog. Sure, he's a corrupt politician, and she's scared of the things he'll do as a senator, but I don't think he was actually abusing her or their son, so I don't know. She just never should have married him. But then Lune wouldn't exist.

It did bug me where Darra's last name was printed incorrectly. Hopefully that was just my edition.

The Final Showdown 

"I know . . . who [the Sith] is. You will wish . . . you did." --Granta Omega

The Jedi are spread thinly across the galaxy. There is much unrest as the Clone War approaches, and there simply aren't enough Jedi. The Council has decided to try speeding up the process of Padawans becoming Knights with one test case. And his name is Ferus Olin. Not Anakin Skywalker.

The Jedi have finally truly located Granta Omega . . . on Korriban, the ancient home of the Sith Lords, the place where their tombs still rest. And it is a place very strong with the Dark Side of the Force. It's a creepy place on its own, what with Dark Side induced visions and Sith zombies (yeah, don't really love that part). But beyond that, it wears on the Jedi, especially the Padawans, and ends very badly.

Ego runs strong in this book. Anakin's rivalry with Ferus turns to resentment and hatred. Even the civil working relationship they recently gained is gone. Ferus is ever the perfect Padawan towards Anakin, but even he makes some grave errors. And even Tru is caught in the competition to enter the acceleration program. Only Darra is not, but even she has to suffer the consequences.

It's a very sad book. Friendships are fractured irreparably. Characters are gone forever. And Anakin slips even further towards the Dark Side. We saw him as a sweet little boy. At the beginning of the series, we saw him as an ambitious young teen. Now we see him become the man who could slaughter an entire village of Sand People in a fit of anger with no regrets. Now he is the man who will abandon his duty willingly to do what he thinks the proper mission is, even though it violates his orders from someone wiser and to be trusted. Now he is the man who lets his jealousy turn to rage, who will do anything to get what he wants. He is becoming Darth Vader.

P.S. Do not read this book for the first time in the middle of the night after being totally freaked out by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. BAAAAAAAD idea. It wasn't so bad the second time around, though.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Movie Review: Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day  

Recommended for: Ages 13 and up

Rating: (officially) PG, Shire Reviews would go PG-13 (one inappropriate scene and attempted suicide)

 Weather man Phil who hates Groundhog Day is sent to Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day. He then gets stuck reliving Groundhog Day again and again and again.

 This is a funny movie about Groundhog Day, although there is one inappropriate scene to skip after he asks a woman a bunch of questions about her high school.

Technical: 4/5

 The flow of this movie is done well, being able to clearly show you when it is another day for Phil, even when the events are almost identical. There are several montages that show that Phil repeats the day much more than is shown. There aren't a lot of special effects but what there is in this movie, are all well done. The actors were able to  portray their characters in a believable way.

Setting: 5/5

 The story takes place mostly in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, but starts out at the news station studio where Phil works, also Pennsylvania. Punxsutawney is a small town with a small cafe, and a bowling alley. At the beginning of the movie there isn't a ton of snow, but on Groundhog Day there is a blizzard, which traps them in Punxsutawney.

Plot: 4/5

 The story focuses on how Phil reacts to being stuck in one day and how he changes because of it. It is never has a technical reason for why the day keeps repeating. The plot is very unique and interesting.

Characters: 5/5

 This story is mostly about the characters. Phil is mean at first, and has a bad attitude about Groundhog Day. When his day repeats at first he is confused but then he realizes that he won't have any consequences for his actions. Different events throughout the movie cause him to see things differently. The reactions of other characters, who don't know that the day is repeating, are done realistically. They sometimes think that he is crazy and are sometimes surprised by his actions and how much he knows. 

While this movie isn't completely clean, it is a funny way to look at things and is a unique concept.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Book Review: Jedi Quest Series Books 1-5

Jedi Quest Books 1-5 by Jude Watson

Rating: PG (action violence and dangerous situations)

Recommended for: Star Wars fans ages 8 to Adult

Chosen by fate...tempted by evil...these are the early adventures of Anakin Skywalker, written by the best-selling author of JEDI APPRENTICE

Set between Episode I and Episode II, JEDI QUEST traces the emergence and education of Anakin Skywalker as a young Jedi devoted to the Force -- and tempted by its dark side.

The Way of the Apprentice

Technically a reread, but when I first read it about six years ago, I only read half the series. It's surprisingly well written. It's Star Wars, so theologically it's not fantastic, but there are still good morals. And Obi-Wan. And Jude Watson makes me like Anakin more than George Lucas ever did. And I like Darra. Well developed characters all round. 

The Trail of the Jedi

Another reread. I'm not sure about all of Obi-Wan's lessons in this book, there seemed to be more emphasis on anti-absolute. While it's true that statements like "I would never do that" are rarely correct, it's easy to extrapolate it to mean that there are no absolutes. And that is what Anakin's thought process tends towards when he considers Obi-Wan's suspension of judgement, with which he disagrees. However, it is consistent with the movies. I did really appreciate the lesson Obi-Wan learned from the training mission: "I am not Qui-Gon and you are not me." We learn from our teachers and mentors absolutely. We learn how to teach from them. But we have to understand that everyone is different. What works for one Master-Padawan team doesn't necessarily work for another. Things must be adapted to fit each different personality, learning style, weaknesses and strengths, circumstances... Stemming from A Wrinkle in Time, this is a concept that is very important to me, and I liked seeing it here.

Also, spending time with Obi-Wan Kenobi is always fantastic. My favorite Jedi.

P.S. Astri, why did you marry that guy? It's not going to end well. I know. I've read Last of the Jedi. I mean, things are going to be semi-okay in the end, but that was a bad decision.

The Dangerous Games
The Star Wars version of the Olympics, podracing, illegal gambling, corrupt politicians, quite an interesting book. I'd forgotten Didi, Astri, and Bog were in this one. I don't know how, they're rather central to the plot. I guess I just focused more on their part in Last of the Jedi. As always, I don't agree with everything in Star Wars, but there was a lot of good in the things Anakin learned in not letting past grievances cloud his judgement. He didn't exactly make the right decisions, but the point is to learn from mistakes. I have to mention how I love Obi-Wan's total ignorance about famous athlete Maxo Vista. That would totally be me. And I'm finding that I agree with Ferus's skepticism towards Anakin. Of course, I know what happens to him later...

The Master of Disguise
Oh, Anakin. Anakin is faced with a desire to protect his friends and the belief that he is more qualified to defend them than they are to defend themselves. Trouble is, this isn't always true, and acting on this instinct causes some problems. Anakin's ego is under attack in this book, and Soara Antana is the one to do it. And she sees his problems with anger. She shows him his flaws, and he understands with his head, but he knows how much harder it is to put into practice. Unfortunately, I know he never really does. This book isn't so much of a self-contained plot as the previous books in the series. It furthers Anakin's journey (which isn't exactly a good thing) and really sets off things regarding Granta Omega. Omega by his nature causes lessons about discernment to enter the book. Wolves in sheep's clothing are hard to spot and even more dangerous for that.

There's a little more about the Force here, which isn't always completely compatible with Christianity, but you expect that out of Star Wars. And honestly, Jude Watson's books do less in the way of Force lessons than the movies. But it's still there.

And Darra. She's my favorite Expanded Universe character. I love her sense of humor. She's in this book, though not enough, IMO. I'm glad to see her again, though. I finally understand some of the references in The Final Showdown.

The School of Fear
I read this before restarting the series from the beginning and without having read book 4, so it didn't make as much sense as it should have, but I still enjoyed it.

Anakin and Ferus go undercover at a prestigious school to investigate the disappearance of a senator's son. Anakin is faced with all his usual problems: ego, pride, lack of communication with his fellow Jedi, lack of discernment, tendency to want to help the wrong people, and of course his enmity with Ferus. Obi-Wan is still trying to figure out Granta Omega and Sano Sauro. I can't remember much of the themes in this book, reading out of order will do that, but you do continue to see Anakin slipping. He has so much potential for good, why must he throw it away? Well, because they'd already made the Original Trilogy, I guess.

Reviews of books 6-10 coming soon.