[REVIEW] ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’ (2020 Netflix) or How to Adapt Nostalgic Properties Right

Back in the old days when I was in middle school there wasn’t much of a YA reading scene (at least to my knowledge) but there were several popular authors (ala Cynthia Voigt and Judy Blume) and popular series (Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew) with my favorite being The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M Martin. What I loved about the series is the independent spirit of the girls forming their own business and also becoming a strong group of friends. It satisfied both my youthful needs for independence and connection in one set of novels. My friends and I even started our own club inspired by the books!

With this history you can imagine my excitement when I heard about the new series on Netflix coming this year. Well, excitement mixed with trepidation after what Netflix did with my beloved Anne of Green Gables in the abhorrent Anne with an E, which I hated. That show lost all the spirit of the novels and the characters in a weird mixture of melodrama and supposed grittiness. What would they do with my Baby-Sitters Club?


Well, I am delighted to reassure you all that not only is The Baby-Sitters Club a worthy adaptation of our beloved novels but it is one of the best live action family series I’ve seen in a long time. I absolutely loved just about everything they did in this series and I don’t see any reason why other fans won’t also be very pleased with it.

The biggest strength to the series is the writing. Taking inspiration from the novels each of the 5 main girls is granted their own episode or chapter where they are the lead narrator. Kristy played by Sophie Grace is the brainchild behind the club and a very independent young lady that bristles at the thought of her mother remarrying.

Then you have the artistic Claudia (Momona Tanada), free spirited Dawn (Xochitl Gomez), shy Mary Ann (Malia Baker), and sophisticated Stacey (Shay Rudolph). They all face their own unique challenges that feel authentic and real without resorting to unnecessary and overbearing trauma like Anne with an E did.

The conflict is especially impressive when we consider the writers have only 23 minutes to get their lead character’s story across as well as building the over-all narrative of the group.


I also really enjoyed the casting including Alicia Silverstone as Kristy’s Mom. She walks the tricky balance of defending her own choices while still giving her daughter space to grow and accept the big changes in their lives. Again, it was real and authentic and something anyone can relate with.


The show is also sweet with great chemistry on the part of all of the girls. You don’t have to be a teenage girl to love this show. If you ever were a teenager or ever faced the toils of growing up you will enjoy it. It’s honest and heart-felt without resorting to the cheap gags or sitcom antics of shows typically made for this age demographic.


There are also characters for younger kids like little Karen Brewer (Sophia Reid-Gantzert) who would go on to receive a spinoff series in the novels and I can see that happening here in The Baby-Sitters Club Little Sister series (they also have graphic novels of the main and Little Sisters series). She’s a funny, strange and superstitious character that smaller children will really enjoy.


What’s great about a show like The Baby-Sitters Club is it can be appreciated on many different levels. It tackles different issues teens are facing from having your period, to parents splitting up, to bullying but it also can be enjoyed on a basic entertainment level. This is because they took the time to write dynamic interesting characters we can relate to. I can think of so many family home evening discussion you could have with this show while still being very entertained.

As far as flaws the 2 episode arc at the camp was a little more over-the-top and less grounded than the rest of the episodes but I was with fine with it. A few of the side characters dipped into caricature like Claudia’s sister Janine. But in fairness she comes right out of the books and was based on Ann M Martin’s actual relationship with her sister, so I’ll allow it (one classic novel this episode is based on is literally called Claudia and Mean Janine). I also thought Mary Ann’s Dad (Marc Evan Jackson) took me out of the realistic tone and was a bit silly in his neurosis for the show.


Other than that I absolutely loved The Baby-Sitters Club. It was clearly made with love and I hope that families embrace it and it becomes the hit it deserves to be.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

smile worthy

Why I Liked Ready Player One But Prefer the Book (Spoilers)

“The book is better…” is an oft hurled accusation thrown at the world of cinema. I have no doubt those that love movies over literature tire of being told their medium of choice is always a second class substitute. Normally I stay clear of this conversation and try to appreciate both endeavors on their own merit; however, in the case of Ready Player One the book has been so unfairly maligned by many who have often read mere pages I decided it was worth an entry in my blog. I enjoyed Ready Player One as a fun adventure mystery movie but it is a step down from the book, and the more I thought about it the more changes bothered me. So, here goes…

There are two huge differences between the book and movie Ready Player One. The first is the time spent in the real world. The first third of the book is spent mostly in the real world of the Columbus Ohio stacks. This allows you to get to know Wade as a character in a way that the movie doesn’t. Wade is your classic nerd and in the movie he is much more of a cool, confident character. This helps make his bond and admiration for Halliday feel more understandable in the book. He knows there is something Halliday has to teach him through this quest and that’s what makes him continue when others have long since given up.

The search for the first key is all done in the real world in the book. He puts together all the pieces from the different parts of Halliday’s life and tries to find what is special or memorable about them. This is a lot more interesting to me than a race. In the book there is a book called “Anorak’s Almanac’ which lists all of the things that Halliday enjoyed (something that has been very criticized but never bothered me… It’s all part of the story of Wade researching to figure out the clues). In the movie they have “Halliday’s Journals” and the process of the research there feels easy and so you see less growth from Wade as a person. This makes his end takeaway when he meets Halliday not as impactful as the book’s ending. Wade comes to understand Halliday in the novel as a full person, and even a reflection of himself in many ways

In the book, Wade struggles with the fame he achieves when he gets the key which is interesting for a person who is literally surrounded by pop culture and knows so much trivia (which isn’t really trivia in the Oasis but survival knowledge). Wade is a character I loved in the book and was rooting for where in the movie he is a standard cocky teen male lead.

The other big difference is the changes to all the side characters. In the movie Art3mis is a standard avatar that doesn’t stand out much from the other avatars aside from her telling Perzival that he would be disappointed by her. One of my favorite things about the book is the reason Art3mis stands out to Perzival in the game is she is so confident and real. She is one of the few characters in the Oasis who has a realistic avatar. She doesn’t go with the sexed up version of herself and Wade finds that very attractive. I wish they had worked this into the movie more. She’s a positive yet still kick-butt character and in the YA literature world where every woman has to be a warrior I really appreciated her.

Much has been made about the pop culture ‘nostalgia porn’ of the movie and book. I personally think this criticism is a very surface-level analysis and misses the point. It’s like criticizing a Western for having too many horses. The pop culture is just the setting which the mystery takes place in. It’s not the story but where the story lives. That’s why in the book setting up the Oasis and all of the parameters of Halliday’s quest makes so much sense. We are in the real world and see all the research that Wade has to do so when we see the cornucopia of images in the Oasis it’s not just fun visual candy but clues Wade is ingesting and processing.

For example, in the book the jade key requires Wade to figure out he needs to recite the movie War Games, play a text game Zork (to get the key), unlock a Voight-Kampff machine from Blade Runner and play a game of Black Tiger (to unlock the gate) and more. This was exciting to read because we knew what Wade had been studying and it was unpredictable what would be asked of him next. Thus making the pop culture part of the puzzle/mystery more so than in the movie.

The other thing that wasn’t nearly as effective in the movie as the book is the villain. In the movie they make Sorrento a former intern who is generally resentful of Halliday and the Oasis. In the book it is more the world as a whole that is against Wade with them being envious and trying to stop him from winning. Sorrento is in the book but not as cartoonishly bad as he is in the movie.

Halliday and Morrow’s friendship is a lot more developed in the book and so their separation is more profoundly felt. It’s one thing to fall out of favor with a business associate as shown in the movie. It’s another to lose your best friend from childhood who you played Dungeon and Dragons with (making the first challenge being playing DandD all the more meaningful). Halliday’s clues are about his life not just nostalgia porn IMO.

The book also treats Aech very differently than the movie. He/she is more of a nerd who builds things and has a chat room as opposed to a warehouse. In the book none of the High 5 meet until very late in the story but it’s just all more layered, with harder clues, and characters than the movie. Aside from Art3mis giving herself to the loyalty center in the movie nobody else does much to find the clues or beat Sorrento like in the book. You even get a whole sublot with Daito and Shoto being hunted down by Japanese authorities in the book that adds to their story.

The last line of the novel is “It occurred to me then that for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had absolutely no desire to log back into the Oasis.” This makes sense because Wade was only in the Oasis because of his connection with Halliday. Now that he has finished his quest he’s done. The mystery is solved. All the research, study, thought is done. That is the fun part of the novel and what makes Wade a great character. The movie ends with him as a moderate user of the Oasis and says that real life is important as well. That’s fine but not as satisfying as the ending of the book.

It might seem like I hate the movie Ready Player One but I don’t. I liked it quite a bit; although, it was not as satisfying on the second watch as the first but still good. Unfortunately, they changed a lot from the book and it makes the movie less special as a result. I enjoyed it and will defend it but probably won’t remember it like I remembered the book.

The reason I loved the book is it was finally a YA novel that felt positive and hopeful. Most of these novels are cynical and depressing but here we had Wade trying to make his life better and trying to understand another human being in Halliday. We had him seeing the beauty in Art3mis and she being confident in her own unique identity. All of these things were hopeful and positive. You had fun characters and a mystery that was fresh and new. Yes, there was the nostalgia but that was just the unique setting like the maze in Labyrinth or Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings. It was an imaginative, inventive narrative where good won over evil, and that is hard to find these days. Most YA novels have characters limping towards the finish line having sacrificed all that was important to them at the beginning (cough Hunger Games cough). Not Ready Player One and I loved the novel for it!

So in the end, my opinion on Ready Player One– the movie was good, fun ride that especially kids will love (although The Shining sequence may be over their heads)

But the book was great. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it

Is Film More Art or Literature?

filmI’ve been thinking about something today and I wanted to throw it out to you guys for discussion. Lately I’ve seen a lot of bad movies and it’s got me asking  question-

Is film more art or literature? With some of these bad movies it’s tough to make the case they are either (I’m talking to you Adam Sandler!), but some like Alice Through the Looking Glass have decent artistry but are still failures. So it got me thinking…

Let me lay out the arguments on both sides.

The Case for Art

There’s obviously a visual component to film which places it in the art category. Photography is clearly art and film is basically moving photographs. However, there are very few films that can exist on the strength of the art itself. Don’t you think art needs to be somewhat self-sustaining?  Like when I go to a museum and see a statue I don’t need lots of text about said statue to appreciate the art. It’s a beautiful statue. I look at it and know that to be a fact.

However, with film that is usually not the case. With the exception of a Fantasia or a Terrence Malick film, a movie must be more than just pretty images to be appreciated and enjoyed. You could have the most beautiful imagery ever put to film and if the story is weak the art is a failure. I can’t think of any other artistic medium where that would be the case.

Perhaps you could make an argument that ballet is a visual art that requires context but even then I think the individual dancers mastery can be appreciated in a ballet. I certainly appreciate Gene Kelly’s artistry in his ballet in Singin’ in the Rain that has nothing to do with the plot.

All that said, when I think of my favorite movies the artistry is so obviously there- especially in animation. A film like the Little Mermaid had a million bubbles drawn by hand. How can that not be art? But then again I certainly have favorites like When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail which aren’t significant art films.

But I look at something like this it is so clear- film is art:

The Case for Literature-

Let’s be honest how often do we get a Tree of Life, a film which is so clearly art?  Most of the time it is much more muddled and commercial. There is a strong case that film is much more literature than art.

If you think about it the basis of most movies is literature- a script or screenplay that tells a story. Most people don’t consider a play art and yet how is that different from a movie? Sure the sets might be considered art in a play but not the play itself.

Most movies require dialogue and a story to be effective. You can have the most beautiful imagery and if the story isn’t good most of the time the imagery won’t be appreciated.

Many people would consider one of the great American movies to be Paul  Thomas Anderson’s There Will be Blood. While there are many striking moments in the movie most of the gripping scenes involve the dialogue and the insane performance from Daniel Day Lewis. Look at this scene. It’s just 2 men talking in a simple room:

Combo Films

Of course you have those films that are so clearly a merging of both art and literature.  I think that is why so many people loved Birdman. It satisfied the artistic impulse with the long tracking shots and visual style while having a story that many could relate to with its critique of superhero fandoms and celebrity. (I am not a Birdman fan but I did like this aspect of it).

But I think most of us lean more to one side or another- we see movies as art or we see them as storytelling. This impacts our enjoyment of certain films that lean more heavily to one side or another. I personally tend to see it more as art, so a movie like Boyhood doesn’t have a complex narrative it doesn’t bother me. I focus on the small moments and the way the images are teaching me about life rather than fixating on the everyday story.

I certainly can appreciate a dialogue heavy film but if I had to pick one side I’d go with art. Of my favorite movies (Up, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Little Mermaid are my top 3) they aren’t the most amazing stories in the world but the characters and artistry I love.

You might not think it matters but I think it does. It impacts what films we are likely to see and appreciate. Again Boyhood is an example. Last year’s Carol or The Revenant also come to mind being artistically bold but not the greatest stories I’ve ever heard. Even a movie like Avatar, those who see film as art are more likely to appreciate it than those on the literature side. Wall-e is another film that those with more artistic interests tend to appreciate more than plot-driven moviegoers.

We could even make that argument with this year’s superhero  movies. Those who see film as art more likely to go with Batman v Superman. In contrast, those that see film as literature more likely to go with Captain America: Civil War with it’s witty dialogue.

What do you think? Is film art or literature? What side do you land on?

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Review

Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge Jane Austen fan.  I reread all 6 of her novels every year and they never grow old to me.  She has such witty dialogue, complex characters and builds tension better than any author I know.  So, it was with some hesitation I saw Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was being made into a movie.  I had heard of the parody book but never read it because it seemed to be making fun of my beloved Austen.  I worried the movie would do the same.   In fact, I wasn’t going to see the movie but I decided a true Austen fan should give her review and so I took the bullet and went and saw it.

And to my surprise I had a pretty good time.  I still wish Pride and Prejudice and Zombies didn’t have the zombies and was just a straight adaptation but for what it was I found it entertaining.   In truth, it doesn’t mock Pride and Prejudice or Jane Austen but just has a new spin on the story.


The idea behind this version is that zombies came with the plague and the Bennett girls are not only looking for husbands but fierce warriors trained in China.  It is all very silly but done with enough panache to be fun.  Mr Darcy, Lady Catherine, Mr Bingley are all zombie warriors too.  Mr Wickham has shady background and is working with the zombies and Mr Collins is still just plain old Mr Collins.

zombies7The cast is a lot of fun in this version.  Lily James is wonderful as Lizzy.  Again I wish she could have just been a regular Lizzy.  I also LOVED Matt Smith as Mr Collins.  He may be my favorite Mr Collins yet on screen.  I thought Sam Riley was fine as Mr Darcy but nothing spectacular.  He was better at the zombie killing than the Darcyisms.


My favorite scene is probably the proposal which has a fighting component that totally worked.  Also the take on Lady Catherine played by Lena Headey was so much fun.


There are some problems with the direction of the film. A lot of the action is jerky and darkly shot and the zombies are rather inconsistent. Sometimes they can hold in their zombieness and other times they can’t. There are also one too many martial arts style fight sequences than they probably needed, but they all are done in a spirit of fun. I laughed a lot.

Overall, I went into this expecting to hate it but I had a good time.  It’s silly but also creative and doesn’t take itself too seriously.  I think if you give it a shot you will enjoy it.

As far as content much of the violence is off screen with just the sound effects.  What you do see is dark or in shadows.  I’m pretty squeamish and I was ok with it.

Overall Grade- B

Room Review

roomTypically after I see a movie people will rightly wonder ‘did you like the movie?’ and usually it’s easy to give a yes or no answer. However, sometimes a movie forces me to go on for paragraphs about how I responded. The answer isn’t simple particularly when there were such strong elements and the things I didn’t like I’m honestly not sure how much weight to give them.  I guess you could say my response is nuanced and complicated.  Room (not The Room!) is such a film.

Room is based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, which was in turn inspired by the true story of Elisabeh Fritzl who was held captive by her father in a room for 24 years! I have read the book and for 2/3rds of it I was transfixed.  It is told from the perspective of the 5 year old little boy who only knows the room he and his mother are held captive in.  But the final 1/3 when they are adjusting to life outside Room to me didn’t quite work as the responses of the boy felt overly precocious.  I missed seeing more of how Ma, the woman, was adjusting.  Still definitely worth reading but that was my response.

room2So then what about the movie?  Well, first of all, it was a very odd screening experience.  We got right up to the climax of the movie when little Jack is escaping and the emergency alert went on and we had to evacuate the theater!  Talk about leading you to the edge and leaving you hanging!  I’ve only had that happen one other time to me when I took my brother to see Avatar of all things. But it was a weird experience because during the break I realized how involved with the film I had gotten.  Despite having read the book and knowing how it would all turn out my heart was racing and I felt a little flushed.  It was weird because I don’t think I’ve ever had a chance to stop a film and analyze my physical reactions during the climax.  I’m usually too involved in said climax to notice.

Anyway, we got watching again and I had calmed down a bit and the climax continued.  It was very good.  Extremely gripping but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some of the same problems with the final 3rd of the movie that I had with the book.  What works in seeing a child’s understanding of Room feels simplistic when dealing with the horrors Ma has gone through.  I wish both book and movie had switched (despite how much I hate that technique) narrators and focused on the adult not the child in recovery. It’s still good.  Don’t get me wrong.  I just didn’t think it was perfect as some reviewers have claimed.

room3In some ways this movie and book remind me a little bit of The Help.  It’s way more somber than The Help but I think both books/movies portray a very difficult time in as rosy glasses as possible.  F or instance, it seems hard to believe that the predator Old Nick wouldn’t have ever seen or hurt Jack over all those years.  Similarly in The Help it is not realistic that a black woman at that time period could do what Minnie does without being killed by Klansmen. But I loved The Help because of the strong characters and Room also has very strong characters.

I feel like this review is coming across negative but that’s not my intention.  I just have this jumbled feelings about this movie/book.  The acting by Brie Larson as Ma was tremendous.  She is trying so hard to save her child but at the same time is literally beaten down every night. It’s like she is putting on a performance every day of her life.

room7The world she is able to create for her son in Room and the way she explains TV feels authentic and it is very moving.  Jacob Tremblay is outstanding as little Jack with anger, naivety, fear, whimsy that I bought every time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is nominated for best supporting actor and it would be deserved.

It’s also a film that looks beautiful and was directed well by Lenny Abrahamson.  As I mentioned I was completely engrossed in the Room section and the climax to the point of a physical reaction.  I also thought the scenes after Room were better than the book, even if I wish it had more of Ma’s perspective instead of Jack.

room4When I came out of the film I was upset- still tearing up as I made my way to the car. I said to myself ‘that was a great movie and I never want to see it again’.  I posted on twitter that ‘rewatchability is not the be all end all in what makes a good movie’.  Schindler’s List is an easy example or Amistad, The Color Purple, among others that were gut wrenching and painful, great films but I never want to experience that again.

Recently this fall I saw Spotlight and that was sobering and devastating in many ways but I felt inspired by it.  I would totally watch that movie again.  Room is about a woman who does all she can to create a world for her son, a world of beauty and light but in Room and even to an extent post-rescue she isn’t given much light back in return.  It’s just so devastating.

Maybe part of it is to know that it is all based on the Fritzl case which is Holocaust level of horror?  I don’t know.

room2015I know this is a very jumbled review but that’s honestly how I felt about the movie- jumbled.  The acting is amazing.  I love what Ma sacrifices to create a world for her son.  Brie Larson is someone I don’t know very well and she is just phenomenal as is Jacob Tremblay (and Joan Allen as her mother is good.  I liked some changes they made in her character from the book but the addition of a new husband I thought was unneeded).

You see things like Elizabeth Smart and watch a movie like Room and it gives you hope that even in the worse of circumstances the human heart can find a reason to keep going.  That is perhaps the greatest thing Lenny Abrahamson has done with this film.

On the downside I do think some of the plot elements feel a little unrealistic which is jarring given the realism of the piece.  I also wish I got more of Ma’s perspective then Jack’s outside of Room.

room6All and all, it is definitely worth seeing and experiencing.  I think it is good that not every film is tidy and easy to decide on.  I may see it again some day and think my little reservations are silly or they may bother me more.  I’m not sure. I was thinking about waiting to post this review so I could ponder it even more, but decided with Star Wars coming at the end of the week I better do it now.

As far as content there was a group of women near me who hated the film because it was sad.  This response baffles me.  Did they think the story of the woman kidnapped with her child in one room would be a pick-me-up?  Do people not do any research at all before seeing a movie? I understand people don’t want spoilers but literally a 2 sentence synopsis of the film should let you know it is going to be a tough, sobering movie.

But this is an  R rating mostly for tone and topic (obviously) because all the rape and abuse is only heard not seen (very chillingly so). Then we just see the aftermath and devastation.  There is some language but not much but it is definitely a film for adults only because of the mature topics!

So that’s my jumbled up, confused thoughts on Room.  It is a very good film but it is also a tough watch I wish had done a few little things differently. Definitely go see it but just know what you are getting yourself into and bring tissues!

Overall Grade- A-

District Tag

My friend over at the Lawn Gnome has just posted a neat tag based on the Hunger Games with different movies/books for each of the 13 Districts.  I’m actually not a big Hunger Games fan (yes I know you can all be shocked…) but you don’t really need to be to have fun with this tag.  So, I thought I would bring it over to the blogging world and give you my picks for both movies and books.

First here is his video:

So here is the tag-
District 1 Luxury: Pick a (BOOK/MOVIE) with lots of opulence.

For movie I will pick Citizen Kane based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, one of the richest men in American history.  It’s wildly regarded as the greatest movie ever made and literally every shot can be studied for its lighting, subject matter, cinematography and everything else.

citizen kaneI had a hard time thinking about a book about opulence but decided on Rebecca by  Daphne Du Maurier.  In it a girl falls in love with a rich mysterious man and when she marries him she becomes the new head of an equally mysterious large grand mansion

District 2 Masonry/ weaponry: pick a (BOOK/MOVIE)with a great war or conflict.

There are a lot of good war movies but I’m going to go with a recent great movie, American Sniper. In Sniper I felt like I was down with the marines going house to house looking for people.  It was a totally different kind of war than I have ever seen before and I was really moved by it.

APphoto_Film Review American SniperAs far as books about war in thinking about it I realized most of the books I have read about war are about prisoners or civilians during a war.  As far as actual battle, soldier books the one that came to mind is Shiloh by Shelby Foote. Some people would probably find this book boring because it methodically takes you through one single battle in the Civil War that in Foote’s opinion changed everything.  It isn’t the Antietam or Gettysburg that we know more about but the Battle of Shiloh.  It’s fascinating, gripping, tragic and will make you feel immersed in history like few other books.


District 3 Technology: Pick a(BOOK/MOVIE) with a technological twist.

A movie with a technological twist I will go with Gattaca.  A science fiction film with tremendous heart and great performances about a society who has created genetically perfect people known as valids who are considered superior to traditionally conceived people who are invalids.  Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law are great in it.

gattacaI’m going to give a little shout out to The Giver by Lois Lowry which is such a moving book that turned into a rather pedestrian movie. Kind of like Gattaca a perfect society has been created where all the best choices have been determined and diversity in the slightest is eliminated. People’s senses are lulled except for a man named The Giver who knows all that has been forgotten about human experience.  Jonas, our hero, becomes the apprentice to the Giver and as he see’s the world in a whole new way it makes you think about your own world and the choices you have made.  Great book.

giverDistrict 4 Fishing: Pick a water based (BOOK/MOVIE)

I love to swim so movies in and around water are some of my favorites.  Since you all know I love Finding Nemo, Little Mermaid and Song of the Sea let me dive a little deeper (excuse the pun…) and pick something more obscure.  I love the little British movie On a Clear Day about a man who decides he is stuck in his life and is going to swim the English Channel.  As an open water swimmer I relate to his story but on a slightly smaller scale

on a clear dayFor my swimming books I will do another obscure read that I think would make a great movie- The Great Swim by Gavin Mortimer.  This tells the true story of Gertrude Ederle, Mille Gade, Lillian Cannon, and Clarabelle Barrette who were the first women to swim the English Channel.  It is fascinating for the stories of the 4 women, their personalities and histories, but also the differences in the press and celebrity then and now. A great read! great swim
District 5 Electricity: Pick a powerful (BOOK/MOVIE) .

The first film that came to my mind when I thought of powerful movies is Hoop Dreams.  This is an amazing documentary by Steve James where he follows the lives of 2 inner city boys who dream of becoming professional basketball players.  It is heart wrenching and it goes places fiction couldn’t go.  It’s so profound about how our dreams are our inspiration and also our undoing at times.  It’s about everything that makes up a life. It’s without question one of the best movies ever made.

Hoop_dreamsposterOne of the most powerful books I’ve ever read is The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.  It tells the true story of Dutch old maid Corrie and her sister Betsie who are sent to Auschwitz for hiding Jews from the Nazis.   Her sister is unflappable in her determination to be grateful and positive in the absolute worst of situations while Corrie is a bit more of a realist, a little more sarcastic.  In the end her message of courage, faith and forgiveness is one I will never forget.

hiding place
District 6 Transportation: Pick a(BOOK/MOVIE) that takes place in many locations.

A movie that takes place in many locations I will go with the movie that has a map showing the characters zip around the globe- Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Just in the first few minutes he goes from Boston, to Nepal, to Cairo.

raidersThere are a lot of travel narratives I love so I could have picked any of those but I will pick Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose about the Lewis and Clarke expedition. Kind of like Shiloh, Undaunted Courage is a historical narrative without any fiction.  Just the history but it is gripping, well researched and gives you a new appreciation for America in its raw form.

undaunted courage

District 7 Lumber: Pick a(BOOK/MOVIE) with manual labor.

This isn’t farming but if you consider cooking manual labor then I love Babette’s Feast. It’s a Danish film about a woman who is a refuge and is welcomed in by 2 women and their friends who abstain from luxuries and eat very bland food.  She wins the lottery and gets a chance to cook the way she has dreamed of. It’s a beautiful movie about work and how when we find out what we are supposed to contribute to the world that is when we are really fulfilled even if it is just cooking one meal.

babettes feast2

I could have picked Grapes of Wrath for my movie as well but thought I’d have a little variety.  Nobody does a setting like John Steinbeck.  You can feel the dust and sun pounding down on the Joads family.  It is a book that is depressing in a way but it is also very unpredictable with a complicated notion of right and wrong and characters who wish they could work more than the land allows them too

grapes of wrath
District 8 Textiles: Pick a(BOOK/MOVIE) with amazing clothes!

The movie with amazing clothes I thought of is  Anna Karenina with Oscar winning costumes by Jacqueline Durran. The entire visual style of this movie is so inventive and different.  Joe Wright with his amazing cast and production values elevate it beyond the typical costume drama.  A lot of that goes back to the amazing costumes.

anna karreninaThe best book about clothes I am going to go with Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisenberg (I love the movie too) which is a great book/movie about work. Andy must learn to work with the devilish Miranda Priestly.  It’s a story about what you will sacrifice for work and how little choices bit by bit you can lose your soul to the office.  It’s also very funny with a lot of satire about the fashion world and everything else.

The_Devil_Wears_Prada_coverDistrict 9 Grain: Pick a(BOOK/MOVIE) where food is hard to come by.

Interestellar is a really good choice but since The Lawn Gnome chose that I am going to go with Cast Away. Tom Hanks is brilliant as the man who is shipwrecked on an island and must learn to survive.  When he gets fire it is a triumphant moment and the depth of feeling we get for a volleyball is profound. The film is weakened when he returns back to civilization and becomes more trite but the hungry part is great.

cast awayI couldn’t really think of a good hunger book so I will go with the oldest of standby’s The Bible.  When the Children of Israel are starving and God sends them manna in the wilderness which was sweet as milk and honey.  This kept them alive for 40 years but only if used within the guidelines set out by God.  If those rules were broken it became rotten and bug infested.  A great reminder that God will bless us if we are obedient and seek to follow Him.

mannaDistrict 10 Livestock: Pick a(BOOK/MOVIE) with an animal in it.

Got to go with Babe, one of the best family movies ever made IMO.  A sweet simple story with real heart and humor about the pig that wants to be a sheepdog.

babeFor books I will pick Black Beauty by Anna Sewell which is a simple book about a horse’s life as he passes from one master to another.  Some are cruel, some kind but always engrossing. She really does pack a ton of story into the life of a horse.

black beauty
District 11 Agriculture: Pick a(BOOK/MOVIE) where a character comes to a harsh gritty reality.

I will say Les Miserables. Fantine realizes the lowliness she will stoop in order to save her daughter. It is only a last gesture by a kind man that saves her story from being 100% tragic but it is a harsh gritty reality for sure.


For a book I will go with a play, A Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.  It’s a gut wrenching story of a man who realizes his life is a failure, his son is mediocre and it is his fault.  I normally don’t like downers but since it is a brief play and its characters are so vivid I have always been drawn to it.  I love movies, books, plays about work and this is certainly one of the most sobering. I guess you could call it a cautionary tale. DeathOfASalesmanDistrict 12 Mining: Pick a dark and sinister(BOOK/MOVIE) !

Well there aren’t many dark and sinister movies I like as you all know. There’s a few ghost stories I like and some funny scary movies like Ghostbusters but all of those have a certain lightness about them.  Maybe since I haven’t talked about it yet on the blog I will go with Strangers on a Train.  It’s a Hitchcock about two men who decide to murder for the other person.  It’s creepy and weird and one of his less well known films.

strangers on a trainAs few dark and creepy movies I like, there are even fewer books.  I could pick the old Grimm’s Fairytales but I will pick a very creepy scary children’s book called Peppermints in the Parlor by Barbara Brooks Wallace about a girl who is orphaned and sent to live at the home she remembers fondly of her aunt and uncle.  Now it is a strange home for the elderly but everyone is controlled by the evil Mrs.Meeching.  Any of you read it?

peppermints in parlor

I forgot about District 13 which is appropriate because it’s The Forgotten District: Pick a(BOOK/MOVIE) that’s “under ground” that not many people know about.

I will go with a film I bet none of you have heard of it is Lili starring Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrar. It is a lovely story about a girl who can’t seem to relate to anyone except for some puppets but she forgets the man behind the puppets a brooding ex-dancer who lost his moment in the spotlight. It’s got stunning dance sequences, Caron is at her best, Oscar winning music and a surrealist art direction.

liliAs far as underrated books there are a lot but I love a little book called The Delicacy and Strength of Lace by James Wright and Leslie Marmon Silko.  It is the correspondence between these two poets as they became friends through writing to each other.  I love letter writing and love poetry so it is the hat trick of things Rachel likes.  I also love that it isn’t romantic but merely a friendship over words.  It’s out of print but if you can find a lovely little read.


Because he does both book and movie reviews I am going to tag Richard at https://velociraptor256.wordpress.com/.

Another blogger with an eclectic blog I will tag is the POMAD https://pomadness.wordpress.com/

And finally my book club leader and fabulous book blogger who also occasionally blogs about movies Suey’s Books. http://sueysbooks.blogspot.com/

If you are tagged you can pick both or just do books or movies.  Have fun!

And anyone else who wants to do it go for it!

Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day Review

alexanderWhen I saw the trailer to Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day I was very annoyed.  The reason is I love the book by Judith Viorst it is based on so much.

ALEXANDER_TERRIBLE_HORRIBLEWhat’s special about the book is it validates a child’s feelings.  That Alexander can have a bad day full of negative emotions and that’s ok. I feel like too often we silence children and want them to stop pouting or crying instead of listening to their concerns and feelings.  It’s the same reason I love Charlie Brown because Shultz allowed his child character to be down and depressed on occasion.

The book Alexander ends saying “Today has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  My Mom says some days are like that…even in Australia”

What a perfect and lovely message for kids.

The trailer for the movie version of Alex seemed to forget the message by promising silly slapstick and a family having a ‘cursed’ day instead of an ordinary child having an ordinary bad day.

Now I have seen the movie and I have to give it some props.  It is not as bad as I thought it would be.  (If you’ve been reading the blog it is a total Shoney’s moment).  In fact, I can even admit it is a decent live action family comedy- something not made all that often any more.

Alexander has his terrible day where everything is going wrong- nobody is going to come to his birthday because a cool kid is throwing a party, he gets gum in his hair, doesn’t get to work on Australia for the big report and more.

alexander4Alexander is played by the likable child actor Ed Oxenbould.  The whole cast is very likable including Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner as Alexander’s parents.  It feels like a real family and they have a lovely chemistry together.

While Alexander’s day is rotten and nobody seems to understand him (that did call back to the book), everything is going great for the rest of the family.  Frustrated Alexander wishes on a candle that his family would know what it feels like to have a terrible day.

Then the next day comes and it is a horrible day for the family and of course everything seems to be happening on that day including a book unveiling  involving Dick Van Dyke that goes wrong, a job  interview for Carrel, prom for the oldest boy, a play for the girl and Alexander’s birthday.  That’s a lot for one day but you go with it.

I guess what makes all of hijinks on day 2 palatable is they do feel semi-realistic-  Carell can’t find a sitter, baby eats a marker, girl gets sick, boy fails driving test ect. And like I said there is a chemistry and love between the cast which forgives a lot of silly slapstick.


The funniest scene is by far Jennifer Coolidge as a driver inspector who gives Alexander’s brother Anthony his driving test. It reminded me of the scene in Clueless when Dion goes on the freeway for the first time.

The movie ends with a sincere and sweet moment for the family which feels earned and not as sentimental as you might think.


I wish they had been bolder like  Where the Wild Things Are and really told the darker tale hidden in the book.  It would have been so refreshing and exciting but as a pleasant family comedy it’s not half bad.

They are smart to not have a villain which would have dragged the whole thing down. (I was worried Garner’s boss played by Megan Mullally was going to be the villain but she’s just part of the overall bad day).  The bad day is the villain with perhaps a bratty high school prom girl thrown in for laughs.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DayIf you are wondering the humor is kind of juvenile but aside from a kangaroo scene it is all grounded in reality and not painful to watch like a Home Alone  movie.  I chuckled on a number of occasions and I think kids will really find it funny.  There aren’t that many comedies outside of animation you can go to as a family and Alexander is such a film.

There is some cartoon style violence but not much and some vomit and other gross scenes.  The Thunder from Down Under dancers appear as a joke but do not strip which is a little strange for a Disney film.  The word penis is also used 4 times in a scene but aside from that it is a pretty tame PG.

So, I have to give them some credit.  A movie I was sure I would hate I enjoyed.  It’s not as funny or as clever as Spongebob or Penguins but it’s still entertaining and worth a rental. I’m not trying to oversell it but it was just better than I expected it to be.

I’d say give it a shot especially if you are having one of those days…

And remember “some days are just like that. Even in Australia”

That said the book is better. I recommend all parents have it and read it regularly to their kids.

Overall Grade- B  The book gets an A+