Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Review: Fool Moon

The second book in the Dresden Files series, Fool Moon brings back Harry Dresden as the only professional wizard in the telephone book who also happens to doubles as a consultant to the Chicago Police Department.  The second installment in the series finds Harry Dresden lending a hand in solving a series of murders involving the full moon.  One real interesting takeaway from this book is that Jim Butcher didn't just stick with plain old werewolves.  No, he broke them down into multiple types and styles of wolves.  This brings an added dimension as Harry has to find out who the murderer/s is/are and sort out who's good, who's bad, and who's neither.

Fool Moon also shows the reader more of Dresden's power than Storm Front.  In the first novel, I kept waiting for Dresden to do something spectacular, and was often left wondering if he was really so great after all.  Fool Moon definitely upped the ante in that respect, and I expect future installments will have Dresden growing even further in power and presence.  As far as writing style, it is on par with the first novel.

I read elsewhere that Jim Butcher wrote the first three novels in the series back to back and then approached a publisher, who picked up all three.  Friends have told me that in future installments Butcher's writing gets even better as he better learns his craft and really comes to know the characters.  This is good news, because as it stands the first two novels, Storm Front and Fool Moon, are good novels in and of themselves.

However, besides Dresden's power growing and a new set of baddies, Fool Moon wasn't as intriguing as Storm Front simply because the first time I was introduced to Harry Dresden, I was really interested in the character, the world, and the relationships.  In Fool Moon, I don't feel like a lot of new ground was broken with the relationships and Dresden's character from an interpersonal standpoint.  Sure he is more powerful (or shows more of his power), but we don't learn too much more about the magical world than
we learned from Storm Front.  I would, however, still recommend this as a solid fantasy read that gives hope that future installments will be even better.  If you liked Storm Front, you should read Fool Moon if nothing more than as a bridge to the supposed better installments to come.

Bookophile Rating: Good (For a solid read that shows promise for future installments)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Film Review: The Bourne Identity

The Bourne Identity is a 2002 film based on the 1980 novel of the same name.  It follows Jason Bourne, an amnesiac attempting to discover his true identity, while terrorist organizations, assassins, and the CIA want him dead (the latter due to a deep-rooted conspiracy).  Bourne must use all of his considerable skill to discover the truth before it is too late.  This is the first in a franchise that spans four films (so far) as well as three original books by Robert Ludlum and seven additional books by Eric Van Lustbader.

The film's opening scene was potent.  Matt Damon is dragged out of the sea with bullet holes in his back.  He is nursed back to health by the Captain of the fishing boat that saved him.  He finds his memory is gone and all he has is a tiny metal chip that looks like a grain of rice which can flash a safety deposit box number.  He is dropped off in Italy to track down clues to his past.  Soon he finds himself on the radar of people intent on killing him.

Matt Damon gave a thrilling performance as Jason Bourne.  It was a part he was meant to play.  I personally enjoyed when he randomly broke into various languages without knowing he could speak them.  Also, his trick with remembering license plates was humorous.

The part of Marie, played by Franka Potente, was adequate, though lacked real chemistry with Damon.  Probably the thing I liked most about her was the kind of car she drove (an old Mini Cooper).  For fans of car chases, you will find there are some great chase scenes in this movie.

Bookophile Rating: Excellent (For great acting by Damon, and a good plot that unravels splendidly).

Monday, April 8, 2013

Film Review: A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly is a film based on the novel of the same name by psychedelic master Philip K. Dick.  The movie was filmed digitally then filtered by a process called interpolated rotoscope, which gives the film a comic book sort of look that is pretty unique.  The main premise of the story is that in the near future, there is a drug epidemic in which much of the population is addicted to a drug called Substance D.  The government has created a sort of police-state to deal with the crisis, which results in countless police detectives and snitches around every corner.

The acting was quite good by the main cast.  Notably, Woody Harrelson's drug tripping performance was the most memorable of the bunch.  The film deals with mind-bending realities that Philip K. Dick so enjoys exploring.  For the most part, A Scanner Darkly is an interesting ride, although at times a terrifying one.  Dick had firsthand experience with a multitude of drugs and so his dystopian vision is all the more vivid.

About the only downside of A Scanner Darkly is at times the pacing is slow and I found myself itching for something to happen.  It's one of those films that is much better in retrospect when thinking about the concept, or the idea of the film itself, rather than the quality of the film itself.  Although this film never found mainstream success, I believe it is one of the closer adaptations of Philip K. Dick's extensive works and has its place in the hearts of his fans.

I recommend this film and the source book for fans of Philip K. Dick, dystopian fiction, psychedelic drug trips, and a glimpse into a dark subculture that, though few talk about it, already exists in America today.

Bookophile Rating: Good (For a film that is enjoyable despite its flaws and offers a new way to show audiences the inner workings of a dark subculture).

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Book Review: Einstein's Dreams

This fascinating work of fiction tells the story of Albert Einstein as a young scientist and the dreams he has while trying to posit the theory of relativity.  Each chapter explores a dream, truly capturing the phantasmagoric nature of our dormant minds.  During a few interlude sections, Einstein speaks with his friend Michele Besso about the troubling thoughts he's haunted by while sleeping.  Alan Lightman does a wonderful job fictionalizing these events.  As a reader, I felt it was entirely plausible that Einstein could dream the way described.

Each chapter's dream explores a different conception of time.  While some dreams are entirely nonsense, as is the nature with many dreams, some were truly profound ways to look at the universe and time.  Ultimately, it is the human perception of time that is the most elusive to describe.  However, Alan Lightman has helped give an understanding of a man who so many idolize, but so few actually knew.  I recommend this novel not only to fans of science and Albert Einstein, but also to people who want to discover a new way to look at the world around them.

Bookophile Rating: Excellent (For groundbreaking insight to the inner workings of one of history's most famous and revered minds).

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Book Review: City of Thieves

City of Thieves is a World War II historical fiction novel written in with a dark comedic style fitting for the timeframe.  The story is set in Leningrad as two teenagers desperately search for a carton of eggs for soviet officers for a wedding cake.  Meanwhile, the Germans are sieging the city and each day becomes more dangerous than the last.  It is a coming-of-age story about love and friendship in the darkest of times.

The story is introduced as the author, David Benioff, speaking to his grandfather about his experiences growing up during World War II.  Benioff appears to have taken minute amounts of truth from his grandfather and spun it into a story far grander than the original but no less moving.

After reading this novel I researched the author and discovered he is one of the co-creators of HBO's Game of Thrones (one of my favorite series').  He is an exceptional writer and is succinct enough to complete a story without bloviating for 500 pages, which I appreciate.

Bookophile Rating: Excellent (For a well-written piece that shows a unique perspective of one of history's darkest hours and the sliver of good that shines through).

Friday, April 5, 2013

Film Review: Silver Linings Playbook

The latest craze seems to be the film Silver Linings Playbook, which began as a small independent film with limited release, and grew to amass a box office return more than 10 times its budget (at the time of writing).  I saw this movie in theater just after it made it to my town in January and was blown away by the acting by the always-complex Jennifer Lawrence and the usually-shallow Bradley Cooper.  Perhaps as intriguing, the film is based on the 2008 debut-novel by Matthew Quick.

The biggest surprise had to be Bradley Cooper's performance.  In my opinion, this is the first role he's played that truly had any amount of depth.  His character had a number of mental illnesses that prohibited him (and his family) from leading a normal life.  His goal is to get his act together and get his wife to take him back.  He plans to do this by finding the "silver linings" in everything, essentially finding small positive ways to look at every situation.  This isn't easy, as he has anger issues on top of his other disorders.  Hope seems lost, until he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence).

Tiffany is another example of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG), which I've discussed in previous posts.  The story is less about her personality and mental disorders, and more about how her presence helps Patrick (Bradley Cooper) get his life back.  It's rare with the MPDG motif that the girl actually is manic from a mental illness.  In this case, the motif just plain works.  Tiffany and Patrick are right for each other on so many levels, the audience is rooting for them from the start.

Bookophile Rating: Ludicrous! (For probably the best movie of 2012 and some of Jennifer Lawrence's best acting - she won an Oscar for it).

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Film Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, based on the bestselling novel by Stephen Chbosky, follows high school freshman "Charlie," the name being an alias to protect his identity.  Charlie narrates the film, much like he did in the novel, as though he were writing to an anonymous "friend."  Without having read the book, I can see that parts of the film would be difficult to decipher, since a lot of the messages and themes portrayed in the book are through subtext.  In this way, if you watch the film once, then watch it again later, you start to pick up on elements you may be kicking yourself for not getting the first time.

The film is about a boy, Charlie, who is a wallflower (see: loner).  Before the events of the film, he witnessed his best friend commit suicide.  In addition to that scarring incident, there are elements of his past that are unexplained to the viewer that shape his personality.  Before long, he meets Sam, Emma Watson's character.  She is a classic example of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl motif.  Essentially, she is a character that exists only to break the main character (generally a male) out of their shell by getting them to do things that are out of their comfort zone.  It is an overused but nevertheless popular characterization that wasn't as common when the novel was written in 1999, but is all too common today.  Regardless, Emma Watson played her part beautifully and the chemistry with Charlie (Logan Lerman) was palpable.

Besides facets of the story being fairly generic, there are parts that are underrepresented in mainstream film.  Topics like homosexuality and abuse are explored in ways uncommon to films for the target age group.  I recommend this film to teens and twenty-somethings struggling with their identity and place in the world (so pretty much anyone age 13-29).

Bookophile Rating: Excellent (For pushing the boundaries and dealing with tough issues in a well-acted, well-directed film)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind

Once in a while, a book comes along that makes you believe there are still great stories to be told and authors who can make that story come to life before your eyes.  Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind is a book that will change you.  He made me believe in books and the power of the written word in a time when every story seemed to be about vampires or superficial teenage relationship woes.  The Shadow of the Wind is a novel for people who enjoy the act of reading with every fiber of their being.  

The story begins with young Daniel Sempere being led to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his father.  There, he picks out a book written by Julián Carax.  Soon, he discovers that someone is tracking down all of Carax’s books and destroying them.  Daniel becomes obsessed with the elusive author of the novel he cherished, soon becoming entwined in events he never imagined possible. 

The Shadow of the Wind is a story about love, finding oneself, and any number of cliché reasons to write a book.  However, I have never read a book that described so vividly the feelings boiling over in the hearts of the characters.  Daniel became real to me within the first quarter of the novel, so that what he experienced, I felt I too experienced.  While the themes in the novel are nothing groundbreaking, the execution and story surrounding those themes is so well done, I found myself caring more about the message than I would have if I simply read a synopsis and analysis of the book.  It’s a book you have to experience for yourself to understand what I mean.

Bookophile Rating: Ludicrous! (For some of the best characters and certainly one of the best books I’ve ever read).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Book Review: City of Bones

After seeing the preview for the film "City of Bones," coming out this August, I decided to read the book and start myself on a new series.  I should have read the endorsement from Stephanie Meyer on the front of the book before reading so I knew what I was in for.

The story revolves around a teenage girl, Clary, who witnesses a supernatural murder.  After a series of events, she finds herself thrust into a world of angels and demons in which her role is far more important than everyone (except the reader) foresees.  Clary discovers she is a Shadowhunter, or, a half-human, half-angel demon-killing machine.  Being the first book in a trilogy, City of Bones sets itself up for its sequels nicely, but ends in an anticlimactic and abrupt fashion. 

The first couple chapters sparked my interest, but it was mostly downhill from there.  The sentence structure was juvenile, which makes sense based on the target audience (teen girls who are normally not voracious readers).  The characters were thinly portrayed and leave a lot open to reader interpretation.  This quality might actually help the film version, as the director and actors can use creative license to really mold their own characters to whatever they wish.  About the only thing Cassandra Clare does well is end each chapter with a cliffhanger, enticing the reader to continue on their path to mindless entertainment.

Bookophile Rating: Poor (For a predictable story that is poorly executed, yet somehow addicting).