Wednesday, December 31, 2014

MOVIE - Interstellar

PG-13 (2:49)
Wide release 11/7/2014
Reel Pizza 12/31/2014 with Fran and Christine
RT Critic:  73  Audience:   87
Cag:  4.5/Liked it a lot (despite its too-long length)
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Paramount Pictures

Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Michael Caine, Topher Grace, Matt Damon,

My comments:This one one loooooong movie!  Too long, some parts went on forever.  But what a mind it took to create this!  Space is one thing, time and space is another.  The time part - that's what this whole movie is about.  Really something.....

RT Summary:  With our time on Earth coming to an end, a team of explorers undertakes the most important mission in human history; traveling beyond this galaxy to discover whether mankind has a future among the stars.

Monday, December 29, 2014

MOVIE - Annie

PG (1:58)
Wide release 12/19/14
12/28/2014 with Ashley & Heather in Bangor
RT Critic:  29  Audience:   63
Cag:  2 /So disappointed!
Directed by Will Gluck
Sony Pictures

Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne, Bobby Canavale

My comments:  Cameron Diaz was horrible.  Jamie Foxx was coooool.  Annie - Quvenzane Wallis - wasn't sweet and optimistic at all.  And, although I realize it was a musical, if they broke out into song one more time I was going to barf.  It just didn't work.  At all.

RT Summary:  Academy Award (R) nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) stars as Annie, a young, happy foster kid who's also tough enough to make her way on the streets of New York in 2014. Originally left by her parents as a baby with the promise that they'd be back for her someday, it's been a hard knock life ever since with her mean foster mom Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). But everything's about to change when the hard-nosed tycoon and New York mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) - advised by his brilliant VP, Grace (Rose Byrne) and his shrewd and scheming campaign advisor, Guy (Bobby Cannavale) - makes a thinly-veiled campaign move and takes her in. Stacks believes he's her guardian angel, but Annie's self-assured nature and bright, sun-will-come-out-tomorrow outlook on life just might mean it's the other way around. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

78. The Devil's Hour - J. Carson Black

#3 Laura Cardinal, Tucson Police
Read on my iPhone
2007, Breakaway Media
287 pgs.
Adult Murder Mystery
Finished 12/26//2014
Goodreads rating:  3.72
My rating:    4 - Loved it
Contemporary Tucson, AZ

1st sentence/s:  "Steve Lawson was on his way back to the cabin when he met the little girl.  It was a beautiful morning, the kind Steve loved.  As he hiked, his eye automatically cataloged the glittery trail of schist mixed in with the dirt along the dry creek bed, the granitic boulders flecked with biotite flakes and garnet.  But this morning, he wasn't thinking about the geological events that had shaped these mountains.  He was preoccupied with the message someone had left on his cell phone.  He wondered if the message had anything to do with the break-ins."

My comments:  When I read the first two books in the series, I loved tracing the story in, around, and through the Tucson I know and love.  I've hunted for years for more in the series, to no avail, until I stumbled across a reference to the series here on Goodreads.  Apparently there ARE more in the series, but they're in ebook form.  Fine with me!  I flew through this installment, and loved it.  The story was well told (although I wish there had been a few more surprises), but the descriptions of many places where action took place (up on Mt. Lemmon and out on the Pinal Highway going towards Florence, particularly) were so right on -- I really love this!  Laura Cardinal is smart but not as savvy as she should be, despite some of the training she still reviews from her now-dead mentor, Frank Entwhistle.  Ah well, without goof-ups there'd really be no story, right?

Goodreads book summary:  “J. Carson Black's THE DEVIL'S HOUR is a superior mystery novel in all respects. Fine prose, terrific suspense, believable characters, and one of the most unexpected and satisfying conclusions I've read in a long time. Highly recommended." — John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of DAMAGE 
     Laura Cardinal: Packs a SIG Sauer P226 9mm. Investigates homicides in small towns that have limited resources. Brings justice to murder victims—and to their killers. Laura’s job description: Criminal Investigator with the Arizona Department of Public Safety. But maybe it should just say “Troubleshooter.” 
     In 1997, the disappearance of three young girls rocked the city of Tucson, Arizona. Eleven years later, one of those girls, Micaela Brashear, comes home—alive. 
     Laura Cardinal worked homicide for Arizona DPS, but now she's been moved to the Open-Unsolved Unit. With a new job and a new partner who questions her every move, Laura pieces together Micaela's fragmented memories in the hope she will learn the whereabouts of the other two children. 
     When a man walking his dog finds the bones of a child in a shallow grave on the mountain above town, it becomes clear to Laura that Micaela was the lucky one. 
     But the killer isn't through yet, and after the fiery death of someone close to Laura, she realizes she faces an implacable enemy.

MOVIE - Birdman

(R) 1:59
Wide Release 10/17/14
Friday, 12/20/14 at ElCon
RT Critic:  93    Audience:   86
Cag:  4.5 Liked it a whole lot
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Fox Searchlight

Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Gilafialankas

My comments:  Yay! An interesting, well-acted and crafted, "outside-the-box" movie.  An excellent choice to celebrate beginning a two-week vacation. (And, quite unforgettable....)

RT Summary:  BIRDMAN or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) - famous for portraying an iconic superhero - as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself. 

77. Snow Angels - James Thompson

#1 Kari Vaara, Finnish (Lapland) chief police inspector
Read on my iPhone
2010, G. P. Putnam
264 pgs.
Adult Murder Mystery
Finished 12/20/2014
Goodreads rating: 3.70
My rating:   4.5 Top-notch
Contemporary Finland

1st sentence/s:  "I'm in Hullu Poro, the Crazy Reindeer, the biggest bar and restaurant in this part of the Arctic Circle.  It was remodeled nolong ago, but pine boards line the walls and ceiling, like an old Finnish farmhouse.  Nouveau rustic decor."

My comments:  I've always been fascinated with the "idea" of Lapland - the Scandinavian winter (not the cold, harsh, DARK realities, but the pristine white ones), and complimentary artistry of Jan Brett.  This story takes us into the Arctic Circle at the very darkest time of year and gives it all the twist of a brutal murder from the point-of-view of the cop that has to solve it.  The twists and turns in the story are believable and were well appreciated. Believable characters, particularly the protagonists.  Kari Vaara's wife, Kate, an American expat who happens to be pregnant, is beginning to feel the depression of the 24-hours nights, which adds to the tension of the crime-solving. Searching for more information on American James Thompson in anticipation of more in the series, I discovered that he died suddenly a few months ago. Bummer.

Goodreads book summary:  Kaamos: Just before Christmas, the darkest time of the year in Lapland, above the Arctic Circle. The unrelenting darkness and extreme cold cause everyone to go just a little bit insane, whether or not they’ve just killed someone… 
          A beautiful Somalian refugee-turned-actress is found murdered on a reindeer farm, gruesomely mutilated, a racial slur carved into her chest. Inspector Kari Vaara, head of the rural police force, is under great pressure not only to solve this crime himself, without the help of the big-city cops from Helsinki, but also to keep the potentially explosive case out of the news. Sufia Elmi had become a tabloid fixture, and her death—not to mention the awful way she met it—is sure to send shock waves across this insular, secretly racist country. Was this murder a hate crime, a sex crime—or both?
          Kari is dealing with culture shock at home, too. His wife, Kate, is a young American woman, newly pregnant with their first child. She doesn’t understand much about Finnish customs or the Finns themselves and is struggling to come to terms with her new home. Kari himself is haunted by his rough childhood and his past, and even as he tries to shape a new life with Kate, the past keeps biting at his heels: the rich man his ex-wife left him for years ago may be Sufia’s killer.
 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

76. Cape Perdido - Marcia Muller

Audio read by Dick Hill & Joyce Bean
6 unabridged cds (7:00)
2005 Brilliance Audio
336 pgs.
Adult Murder Mystery
Finished 12/16/14
Goodreads rating: 3.50
My rating:    2 - It was okay
Contemporary Soledad County, northern California

My comments:  Short chapters from the point-of-view of four different people didn't pull the story together for me.  I couldn't seem to become embroiled in the mystery, or care about any of the characters. Also, I'm so used to Dick Hill's reading other books that I couldn't relate to him as the two male voices in this one. Nothing seemed to work real well for me in this one.

Goodreads book summary:  Cape Perdido is a small town in Northern California which has a clear, cold water river held in Public Trust. The town's main industry once was lumber, but when Timothy McNear closed the mill, tourism became the income source. Now a group wants to siphon off a large percentage of Perdido's water every year to ship to Southern California. To combat this, the town has brought in ecologists and environmentalist Joseph Openshaw, a native of Perdido. But the strife leads to a murder and awakens secrets from the past.
*** This is a true ensemble cast with each chapter focused on one of the four main characters, each a native of the town. Although they are interesting, it's one of the secondary characters, Jessie Domingo, a young environmentalist from New York, who really captured my interest. The story is well written and involving with good suspense at the end. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

75. Grasshopper Jungle - Andrew Smith

2014, Dutton Juvenile
388 pgs.
YA - very graphic 
Finished 12/13/14
Goodreads rating:  3.79
My rating:  4.5 Loved it
TPPL
Setting:   Contemporary Ealy, Iowa

1st line/s:  "I read somewhere that human beings are genetically predisposed to record history.  We believe it will prevent us from doing stupid things in the future.  But even though we dutifully archived elaboate records of everything we've ever done, we also managed to keep on doing dumber and dumber shit.  This is my history.  There are things in here: babies with two heads, insects as big as refrigerators, God, the devil, limbless warriors, rocket ships, sex, diving bells, theft, wars, monsters, internal combustion engines, love, cigarettes, joy, bomb shelters, pizza, and cruelty.  Just like it's always been."

My comments:  4.5 Definitely quite the story! This felt like the story of a 16-year old from a 16-year-old's actual point of view, complete with testosterone...a great deal of testosterone. Family history, friendship, questioning sexuality, midwestern America, private school vs. public, Lutherans and Catholics, excessive horniness, 6-foot tall indestructable preying mantises, shades of "Lost", underground bunkers that can sustain lives for years....stories and histories and his-stories ... and a bit more testosterone.  Many layers, written in a style that's just a little different than the norm, and completely refreshing.  It took me a bit to get into it, but once I did, it swallowed me up!

Goodreads book summary:  Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba interweaves the story of his Polish legacy with the story of how he and his best friend , Robby, brought about the end of humanity and the rise of an army of unstoppable, six-foot tall praying mantises in small-town Iowa.
          To make matters worse, Austin's hormones are totally oblivious; they don't care that the world is in utter chaos: Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, but remains confused about his sexual orientation. He's stewing in a self-professed constant state of maximum horniness, directed at both Robby and Shann. Ultimately, it's up to Austin to save the world and propagate the species in this sci-fright journey of survival, sex, and the complex realities of the human condition.

74. Chill of the Night - James Hayman

#2 McCabe & Savage, Portland, Maine
2010 Minotaur Books
340 pgs.
Adult Murder Mystery
Finished 12/9/2014
Goodreads rating: 3.85
My rating: 4
TPPL
Setting: Contemporary Portland, Maine

1st line/s:  Portland, Maine/ Friday, December 23:  "Had Number Ten Monument Square been set among the skyscrapers of New York, or even Boston, no one would have noticed it.  In a town like Portland it stood as one of the defining features of the skyline.  Twelve stories of reddish brown granite with black windows set between vertical piers, Number Ten towered arrogantly over the east side of the square, a big player in a small town.  At its top, large white letters proclaimed to anyone who cared to look that the building was the headquarters of Palmer Milliken, the city's largest and most prestigious law firm."

My comments:  I think I liked this one better than the first!  The major part of the setting is Portland, Maine; this time it forayed off onto an island just five minutes by ferry from the Portland dock.  This one had to do with the murder of a gorgeous, young lawyer, and included a schizophrenic 20-something, and a sanctuary for teenagers that have been sexually abused.  I particularly like that the lives of the police officers - mainly Mike McCabe and Maggie Savage (ah...a good Maine name.....) are so nicely intertwined with the story, their foibles, their insecurities, their characters.  Good mystery.  Very good.  I'm looking forward to more.

Goodreads book summary:  Glamorous young Portland attorney Lainie Goff thought she had it all—brains, beauty, and a fast-track to a partnership in a top-ranked firm that was going to make her rich. But then one cold winter night she pushed things too far, and her naked frozen body is found in the sub-zero temperatures at the end of the Portland Fish Pier.
          The only witness to the crime: a mentally disturbed young woman named Abby Quinn who mysteriously disappears the very same night.
          With the discovery of Lainie Goff ’s body and the disappearance of Abby Quinn, Portland homicide detective Michael McCabe finds himself on the trail of a relentless and clever killer. A killer he must find before another life is lost.

73. The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman

Audio read by the author!
5 unabridged discs
2013 William Morrow Books
181 pgs.
Adult Fantasy
Finished 12/6/2014
Goodreads rating: 3.99
My rating:    3.5 Liked it quite a bit, eventually
TPPL
Contemporary Sussex, England (I guess....)

1st sentence/s:  "It was only a duck pond out at the back of the farm.  It wasn't very big.  Lettie Hempstock said it was an ocean, but I knew that was silly.  She said they'd come here, across the ocean from the old country.  Her mother said that Lettie didn't remember properly and it was a long time ago and anyway the old country had sunk."

My comments:    At first I thought this book just wasn't going to be my cuppa tea.  But, as intricate and odd as the story was, it pulled me in.  I've never finished a Neil Gaiman book before - other than a picture book - although I love his writing  and the way he puts words together.  I'm glad I completed this book - it's the kind of story that will stay with me for awhile.  I'm particularly glad that I listened to the version that Neil Gaiman read himself.  The story is about what happened to a seven-year-old-boy, but told 30-plus years later as an adult.  A big element of creepy -- and a huge imagination needed, which I was able to access after the first disc or so....

Goodreads book summary:  Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
          Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
          A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Laneis told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.


MOVIE - Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Rating/Time
Wide/Limited release
1st time I've been to RoadHouse Cinemas: with Sheila 12/4/2014
RT Critic:    Audience:   
Cag:  3: Liked it, I guess.....didn't like this last book, so depressing, and the movie was dark (literally) making it even more depressing
Directed by
Studio
Based on the book by Suzanne Collins

Jennifer Lawrence, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson

My comments:

RT Summary:  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

72. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming - Joshilyn Jackson

Audio read by the author
Unabridged cds (9:24)
2008
311 pgs.
Adult CRF/Mystery
Finished 11/30/2014
Goodreads rating: 3.43
My rating:   3.5 Liked it a lot
Contemporary Florida

1st sentence/s: "Until the drowned girl came to Laurel's bedroom, ghosts had never walked in Victoriana.  The houses were only twenty years old with no accumulated history to put creaks in the hardwood floors or rattle at the pipes."

My comments:  I really love Joshilyn Jackson's writing.  Her descriptions are .... elegant.
The way she writes her characters make it seem as if you know them, or someone like them.  Her plots are always interesting, woven in fascinating ways.  This one had an element of "ghosts" that were not real, just in the protagonist's head, much like they could be in anyone's head, whether we'd like to admit it or not.  But the icing on the cake?  Jackson, herself, was the reader of this audio book.  And she was just plain terrific.  She has become one of my very favorite writers.

Goodreads book summary:  Laurel Gray Hawthorne needs to make things pretty. Coming from a family with a literal skeleton in their closet, she's developed this talent all her life, whether helping her willful mother to smooth over the reality of her family's ugly past, or elevating humble scraps of unwanted fabric into nationally acclaimed art quilts. 
          Her sister Thalia, an impoverished "Actress" with a capital A, is her opposite, and prides herself in exposing the lurid truth lurking behind life's everyday niceties. And while Laurel's life was neatly on track, a passionate marriage, a treasured daughter, and a lovely home in lovely suburban Victorianna, everything she holds dear is thrown into question the night she is visited by an apparition in her bedroom. The ghost appears to be her 14-year-old neighbor Molly Dufresne, and when Laurel follows this ghost , she finds the real Molly floating lifeless in her swimming pool. While the community writes the tragedy off as a suicide, Laurel can't. Reluctantly enlisting Thalia's aid, Laurel sets out on a life-altering investigation that triggers startling revelations about her own guarded past, the truth about her marriage, and the girl who stopped swimming.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Those Sappy Christmas Movies

I have totally immersed myself in the sappiest of sappy Christmas movies this season.  Most have been Hallmark movies, made similarly to the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries of old in that there is a general plot outline that's the same for all of them.  Some are definitely better than others.  There seem to be a lot of new ones this year, and a few from previous years that I haven't seen yet.  So in keeping with my list-keeping ways, I think I'll say a few words about each of them that I watch this season so that I can decide whether or not I want to rewatch them in the Christmas seasons to come.  37 so far!

My rating system:   surprisingly good (4); not bad (3); not too bad (2.5) pretty bad (2); who can say - it was boring & stupid and I barely paid attention (1); holy catastrophe - never again(1)

12 Men of Christmas (4) - All I Want for Christmas (2) - Angels Sing (3) - Best Christmas Party Ever (2) - A Bride for Christmas (3) - Christmas at Cartwrights (2) - The Christmas Choir (3) - Christmas for a Dollar (2.5) - The Christmas Ornament (2) - Christmas in Palm Springs (1) - The Christmas Secret (4)  - The Christmas Shepherd (2)  -  A Christmas Snow (4) - Christmas Song (2) - Christmas Town (1) - Christmas Under Wraps (3) - A Christmas Wedding Date (4)  - Christmas with Holly (2.5) - A Cookie Cutter Christmas (1) - Debbie Macomber's Mr. Miracle (4)  - Finding Christmas (3) - Fir Crazy (2) - A Grandpa for Christmas (4) - Hitched for the Holidays (2.5) - Let in Snow (3) - Marry Me For Christmas (2) - Matchmaker Santa (2.5) - The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (4)  - The Nine Lives of Christmas (2.5) - North Pole - One Christmas Eve (4) - One Starry Christmas (2.5) - A Royal Christmas (2)- Snow Bride (3) - The Thanksgiving House (4)  - The Tree That Saved Christmas (2) - A Very Merry Mix-Up (4) 


12 Men of Christmas
Kristen Chenoweth, Josh Hopkins
2009, Lifetime
rating: This was a good one, Bert  (even though I can't stand Kristen Chenoweth)
Summary:  It's anything BUT a Merry Christmas for die-hard New Yorker and publicist E.J. Baxter when she loses both her high-powered Manhattan job and her lawyer-fiance on the same night at her office Christmas party. E.J. winds up taking a job and moving to the opposite end of the earth - Kalispell, Montana. To help the local search-and-rescue station raise desperately needed funds, a la "Calendar Girls," she tries to convince the male rescue workers to pose for a naked calendar and along the way discovers what really matters to her and wins the heart of one of the pin-ups!


All I Want for Christmas
Gail Grady, Robert Mailhouse, Greg Germann
2009, Hallmark
rating: pretty bad
Comments:  Just too implausible, not matter how you stretch it....love the cast, though
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  Sara (O’Grady) has had little time to worry about a love life since her husband died seven years ago, as romance has taken a back seat to raising her wise-beyond-his-years son, Jesse (Jimmy Jax Pinchak, “The Polar Express”), and running a local community center. But when Jesse enters a toy company contest that asks children for their greatest Christmas wish, asking them to find his mom a new husband, Sara suddenly finds herself in a whirlwind of dates, with cameras following her every move.


Angels Sing 
Harry Connick, Jr, Connie Britton, Willy Nelson, Kris Kristoferson, and even Lyle Lovett
2014 Hallmark
rating:  not bad
Comments:  I wish that Harry Connick, Jr. & Connie Britton had sung!  There's a taste from Willy and Lyle, a tiny bit from Kris, and the film is music-y, but I wish there were more!
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary: As a child, Michael Walker wished every day was Christmas, until a tragic accident crushed his holiday spirit. Thirty years later, Michael still can't muster any joy for Christmas, despite encouragement from his playful wife and well-intentioned parents. But when his young son faces a tragedy, Michael needs to make amends with his past. Then, a mysterious man named Nick gives Michael a gift that instills in him the courage to find the Christmas joy that he lost.


Best Christmas Party Ever
Torrey DeVitto, Steve Lund
2014, Hallmark
rating: pretty bad....same old, same old, unfortunately
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  Jennie Stanton throws the best Christmas parties every year for her company, Portia's Parties.  Portia is retiring and looks to the next generation to take over. Jennie thinks she has her new job in the bag, until Portia's charismatic nephew, Nick shows up.
A Bride for Christmas
Arielle Kebbel, Andrew Walker
2012 Hallmark
rating: actually, not bad - cute, right down to the dog
Comments:  Finally, a movie where the kisses seem to work...
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  After Jessie (Kebbel) calls off her third engagement, she swears off serious relationships until he finds "the one." That is, until charming but chronically single Aiden (Walker) comes along. But unbeknownst to Jessie, Aiden has bet his friends that he can convince a woman to marry him by Christmas, which is only four week away. 


Christmas at Cartwrights
Alicia Witt, Gabriel Hogan
2014, Hallmark
rating: pretty bad - super sap
Comments:  Even though I like Alicia Witt, this was just a little to over-the-top for me (a female playing Santa and no one knows it?? Give me a break!)
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  With Christmas approaching, a struggling single mom finds herself working as a department store Santa Claus, as a real-life guardian angel shows up to deliver good fortune and holiday romance. 


The Christmas Choir
Jason Gedrick, Rhea Perlman,
2009, Hallmark
rating: not bad
Comments:  There were a few parts that were a little corny, but since it's based on a true story I'll overlook them
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  Successful-but-spiritually lost accountant Peter Brockman's life is turned on its head when he begins volunteering at a homeless shelter run by the caring-yet-cantankerous Sister Agatha (Perlman). Amazed at the musical prowess of some of the shelter’s occupants, Peter sets out to organize them into a choir, singing holiday tunes in a local subway station. Though the singers and Peter each go through their own difficult personal trials, they slowly begin to learn to trust in each other and the power their music holds.


Christmas for a Dollar 
Brian Krause, Heather Beers
2013, UP
rating:  a little too corny, but not too bad
Comments:  the depression-era setting was a nice change, the harshness of most of the adults was a little wearing, the kids were cute, but the bully-boy  and his buddy (brother?) was WAY over the top!
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  The Kamp family is struggling to get by, particularly since Mrs. Kamp's untimely death. The older children do their best to take care of the family, but the younger children -- straight-talking little Ruthie and Norman, a fan of fictional cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy – struggle most with a bleak-looking future. With their father facing mounting debts resulting from Norman's battle with polio, the siblings expect a Christmas without presents. But when father scrapes together a dollar to use for gifts, things change. As each child comes up with a special gift to give another member of the family, they soon begin to see many of their dearest wishes come true. 

The Christmas Ornament
Kellie Martin, Cameron Mathison
2013, Hallmark
rating: pretty bad
Comments: Kellie Martin is just too sugary for me
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  When a widow is having a hard time facing her first Christmas without her husband, she meets a Christmas tree lot owner who tries to help her see that there is still hope and love in the world.
Christmas in Palm Springs 
Patrick Muldoon, Dina Meyer
2014, UP
rating:  Holy gag reflex - unbelievably bad
Comments:  This really IS stupid...horrible storyline and not even very good acting.  I watched the first half, then fast forwarded to the end, which was also a waste of time.  What were they thinking?
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  Parents separated and heading for divorce are brought together in Palm Springs by their kids, who are doing everything to get them back together before Christmas with a little help from a guardian angel.


The Christmas Secret
Bethany Joy Lenz, John Reardon
2014 Hallmark Movies & Mysteries
rating: surprisingly good, although the sap-o-meter hit the ultra-high zone!
Comments:  Extremely predictable, super sappy, and very enjoyable.
My summary: A hard-working but struggling young mother moves to the lovely small town where her father grew up, although she doesn't even know his name.  Her a/h ex-husband is trying to get her kids, her car is almost dead, she loses her job, and she is evicted.  But when she saves the life of an elderly woman who has a heart attack, a huge series of events and misunderstandings lead to a very special, touching (though totally expected) Christmas.

The Christmas Shepherd 
Terry Polo, Martin Cummins
2014, Hallmark
rating:  pretty bad
Comments:  I suppose if you like dogs you'd like this better than I did.  This dog, who everyone took an instant liking/loving to, seemed blah....not much personality.  What was it? The whole story could have been told in about 45 minutes.  Terry Polo was....blah....  Not my cuppa tea at all.
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:   Sally Browing (Polo), a Children’s book author and illustrator is devastated when her beloved German Shepherd, Buddy, runs away during a thunderstorm. Buddy miraculously ends up in Boston with Mark Green (Cummins) and his teenage daughter. They are struggling to put their lives back together after losing his wife and her mother three years ago.


A Christmas Snow
Catherine Mary Stewart, Muse Watson
2012, shown on UP (made for TV)
rating: a surprisingly good super-sappy movie
Comments:  This actually wasn't stupid, it was well-written and acted and quite a surprise.
IMDb Synopsis:  A woman refuses to celebrate Christmas, because of her father abandoning his family during the holiday. Because of a blizzard, Kathleen finds herself stuck in her home with two strangers during the days leading up to Christmas. Sam, a gentle older man Kathleen took in for the night, and Lucy, the daughter of her soon to be fiancé bring her face to face with the hurts of her past.


Christmas Song
Natasha Henstridge, Gabriel Hogan
2012, Hallmark
rating: pretty bad
Comments: the dating-matching was funny and fun, but the last third (the competition part) was gag-inducing.
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  When budget cuts force the merger of two New York City high schools, two music teachers aim to compete in the largest, televised Christmas Carol competition that will determine the fate of the school’s music program and the teachers’ jobs. 


Christmas Town
Nicole deBoer, Patrick Muldoon
2009
rating: YUCK! Couldn't even finish it
Comments: Truly the most stupid, boring movie I've ever watched.  If I had a dollar for everytime one of the characters called, "Mason!" looking for the 9-year-old kid with the HORRIBLE haircut, I'd be able to afford to visit the North Pole myself.  This movie is a total and complete waste of time.
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary: cynical young realtor and single mom, and her eight-year-old son go reluctantly to visit her father, a stuffy ex-banker living in a small town in Central California known as "America's Christmas Town."  At the edge of town, a mysterious warehouse sits behind gates. While Liza reunites with her father and unexpectedly meets Kevin (Muldoon), the cute, laid back local café owner who believes in the magic of Christmas, her son sees the spirit first-hand as he sneaks over to the warehouse and spies what he believes to be elves, a sleigh, reindeer and even Santa Claus.

Christmas Under Wraps 
Candace Cameron-Bure, David O'Donnell
2014, Hallmark
rating: not bad
Comments:  I might have even gone for "it's surprisingly good" if it hadn't been for the stupid Santa angle.  Oh well, the story of a determined surgeon's transformation from her head to her heart was just sappy enough to be fun.  The Alaska setting was very enjoyable - and I loved how they never even had to wear hats!
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  When a driven doctor doesn’t get the prestigious position she planned for, she unexpectedly finds herself moving to a remote Alaskan town. While she meets the locals and even starts a new romance, she has to learn to let the life she planned for give way to a love she never could have imagined, and finds this festive small town is hiding one big holiday secret.


A Christmas Wedding Date
Marla Sokoloff, Chris Carmack, Catherine Hicks, George Wendt
2012, Ion
rating:  surprisingly good...well, at least entertaining......
Comments: Groundhog Day format, once you get over the original been-there-seen-that, it's lots of fun.
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  After being fired from her high-powered job, Rebecca (Sokoloff) heads back home to see her mom, Shirley (Hicks), and attend her friends' small-town wedding on Christmas Eve. Initially convinced that the trip is a terrible mistake, especially her botched romantic conversation with former beau, Chad (Carmack), Rebecca soon learns that, indeed, you can go home again, and, again -- until you get it right


Christmas with Holly 
Sean Farris, Eloise Mumford
2012, Hallmark
rating: (see comments for explanation) not bad with reservations
Comments:  The scenes and storyline about Mark, Holly, and his three brothers are just wonderful. But I didn't like Maggie - I'm not sure if it was the actress or the writing or both, and there didn't seem to be much "charisma" between the two...so those parts of the movie were "pretty bad" (or worse).  I'll have to use the average for a rating.
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  Maggie Conway has HAD it with big-city living, especially after being left at the altar. She moves to the small town of Friday Harbor in Washington State, finally realizing her dream of opening a toy store -- and meets Mark Nagle, the proprietor of the local coffee shop. Mark’s number one priority, though, is his six-year-old niece, Holly, whose single mom has recently passed away and left him as her guardian. He’s moved in with his two brothers to help him raise Holly. 


A Cookie Cutter Christmas
Erin Krakow, David Haydn-Jones
2014 Hallmark
rating: seriously flawed/Holy catastrophe, never again
Comments:  Yuck.  Two 2nd grade teachers acting less mature than their students.  It takes more than good looks to create a good movie, you need a decent storyline, too.....
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  Christie (Erin Krakow) and Penny (Miranda Frigon) have been rivals since they were little girls. All grown up now, and working at the same school, as elementary teachers, hasn’t changed things, at all. The rivalry between the two has only intensified, especially when a new little girl comes to the school and her father, James (David Haydn-Jones), is single.  Typically not interested in baking, Christie decides to join the Cookie Baking Contest, anyway. She says it’s to help win for her class and charity, but it’s clear she also wants to beat Penny, and maybe look good in front of James, too, in the process.

Debbie Macomber's Mr. Miracle
Rob Morrow, Michelle Harrison, Britt Irvin, Andrew Francis
2014 Hallmark Channel
rating: surprisingly good
Comments:  Rob Morrow was a riot as the bumbling angel, and Britt Irvin was sweet as the doubting young thing.  Actually enjoyable, though slow in places.
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  Heaven and earth collide when angel-in-training Harry Mills,  A.K.A “Mr. Miracle” is sent down to a community college during Christmas; for his first assignment: to help an insecure student realize her true purpose in life.


Finding Christmas
Tricia Helfer, JT Hodges, Mark Lutz, Cristina Rosato
2013, Hallmark Channel
rating: not bad
Comments: I've watched this twice and haven't been too nauseated....
My summary:  A busy, city advertising executive and a musical country guy, both down-on-their luck with relationships, trade abodes online....and the relationships they form because of this will become, of course, life changing (blah, blah, blah....)

Fir Crazy
Sarah Lancaster, Eric Johnson
2013, Hallmark
rating: pretty bad - didn't do much for me....
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  Elise MacReynolds is no fan of Christmas. Growing up on a tree farm meant every holiday was spent selling Christmas trees on a cold street corner. But when she loses her job and her dad breaks his leg, Elise agrees to run the family tree stand for one last season.



A Grandpa for Christmas
Ernest Borgnine, Katherine Helmond, Juliet Goglia, Jamie Farr, Tracy Nelson
2009 Hallmark
rating: this was a good one
Comments:  The young girl was one HECK of a singer!  The music was great fun, and all the old goats were marvelous.
Summary:  When a young woman gets into a car accident, they call her estranged father, which is the beginning of a joining of three generations and a bunch of the grandfather's cronies.


Hitched for the Holidays
Joey Lawrence, Emily Hampshire, Marilu Henner
2012 Hallmark
rating: not too bad - even though I don't like Joey Lawrence....it's to watch the Jewish blunders he makes.
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  Both Rob Marino and Julie Green are feeling pressure to be in a relationship this holiday season and, after finding each other through a dating website, agree to pose as each other's special someone. Things get complicated when Rob's Catholic family and Julie's Jewish family get involved to help these two make it to the altar. As they double their efforts to keep the charade going through New Year's Eve, Rob and Julie are more than a little surprised when they discover they're actually falling in love. 


Let It Snow  
Candace Cameron Bure, Jesse Hutch, Alan Thicke
2013 Hallmark Channel
rating: not bad
Comments: Hey, it's setting is Maine (what more can I say?)
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  The story of a driven hotel executive intending to transform a family owned lodge into the new winter, premier hot spot, until she meets the previous owner's son, Brady.  Their initial head-thumping, of course, turns into a whole lot more.


Marry Me for Christmas
Malinda Williams, Brad James, Karon Riley, Victoria Rowell
2013, UP
rating: pretty bad
Comments:  So many things to roll your eyes at....sap-o-meter not only hit the bell at the top but kept on jangling.
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  Marcie Jewel is a successful ad executive who is happy with her life.  Marcieʼs mom is applying pressure to her daughter to settle down and have children. So she does the only thing she can do: create a fake fiance.


Matchmaker Santa
Lacy Chabert, Adam Mayfield,
2012, Hallmark
rating: not too bad....
Comments:  This movie definitely contains some over-the-top ridiculousness, but the two leads are cute and although getting stuck in a town where her fiancee can't be bothered to figure out a way to come get her (storm or not), once you shake that off the rest is "not too bad."
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  When Santa magically traps business assistant, Dean Ford and baker, Melodie Hogan together in a small town... It’s more than a Delicious Treat! (Fun appearance by John Ratzenburger)


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year 
Henry Winkler, Brooke Burns, Morgan Derby
2008, Hallmark
rating: surprisingly good
Comments: Henry Winkler makes this movie - and the storyline, though based on the same-old-same-old, was really fun to watch.  The wayward nomad angle was fun.
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  Jennifer Cullen (Burns) is a single, working mom who has become somewhat of a Scrooge when it comes to the Holiday season. Even her six-year-old son Brian (Connor Levins, “Eight Below”) is having trouble believing in Santa Claus. When Jen’s Uncle Ralph (Winkler), a retired police officer, comes to visit for Christmas, he brings along a new friend, a nomad and Jack-of-all-trades named Morgan Derby (Christie).

The Nine Lives of Christmas
Brandon Routh, Kimberley Sustad
2014 Hallmark
rating: Not too bad
Comments:  There's charisma between the two leads...the story's definitely sappy, but the angle with the cats makes it cute.
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  Fireman Zachary Stone (Routh) is a confirmed bachelor who doesn’t believe in commitment. Then a stray tabby cat named Ambrose shows up at his door. Zachary’s commitment to solitude is further challenged when he meets Marilee (Sustad), an animal lover and veterinary student who teaches Zachary how to care for his new feline roommate.


North Pole 
Tiffani Amber Thiessen, Josh Hopkins, Baliee Madison
2014, Hallmark
rating: didn't keep my attention at all- boring as all get-out
Comments:  Hardly any of the movie took place at the North Pole (thank goodness, I'm definitely not a fan of movies that do), and the story, wasn't too bad - the fantasy was cute.  So I'm guess this would be a good movie for kids, but certainly a bit painful for me....
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  “Northpole” tells the charming tale about a reporter who, with the help of her son and his teacher, recaptures the joy of the holiday season and in the process saves Christmas.


One Christmas Eve
Anne Heche, Carlos Gomez, Brian Tee, Kevin Daniels
2014 Hallmark
rating:  A decent movie!
Comments:  This was a riot...one mishap after another, and not entirely farcical.
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  Anne Heche stars as a recently-divorced mom who wants her two kids' first Christmas "without dad" to be perfect. An entertaining but unfortunate series of Christmas Eve mishaps ensures that won't happen - unless perfect means the family has its most memorable and heartwarming Christmas ever. 


One Starry Christmas
Sarah Carter, Damon Runyan
2014,Hallmark
rating: not too bad
Comments:  There was some good line dancing, but some really awkward moments, too.
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  An aspiring astronomy professor finds unexpected Christmas romance when she meets a charming cowboy during her holiday travel. As she decides between this new cowboy and her practical boyfriend, she must decide whether it's better to play it safe in love, or let an adventurous cowboy steal her heart.


A Royal Christmas 
Lucy Chabert, Stephen Hagert, Jane Seymour
2014, Hallmark
rating: pretty bad
Comments:
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  A Royal Christmas centers on a young girl who, after accepting her boyfriend’s proposal, learns he is a prince. She must then gain the acceptance of his mother, who looks down on her humble origins. 



Snow Bride
Katrina Law, Jordan Belfi, Patricia Richardson
2013, Hallmark
rating: not bad
Comments: I watched this last year and didn't mind watching it again.  It's one of those movies that's totally and completely cheesy but you only grit your teeth for part of it.  The leads are absolutely adorable together, and Patricia Richardson -as the matriarch - is great.
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  With the promise of a promotion hanging in the balance, a tabloid reporter races to find juicy gossip about an influential political family. Her cynical opinion of them changes, however, when she inadvertently ends up spending the week leading up to Christmas with them and starts falling for one of the sons.


The Thanksgiving House
actors
date/company
rating: surprisingly good
Comments:
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:
The Tree That Saved Christmas
Lacy Chabert, Corey Sevier,
2014, UP
rating: pretty bad, over-the-top sap
Comments: not horribly bad - but extremely s...l...o...w...much-loved farm.
Movie summary:  A woman who grew up on her family's Christmas tree farm in Vermont leavers her job in Manhattan to return home to help save the


A Very Merry Mix-Up
Alicia Witt, Mark Wiebe, Scott Gibson
2013, Hallmark
rating: surprisingly good
Comments:Alicia Witt has a spark, a genuine up-ness that is refreshing.  This movie should have been corny, but worked.
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:  After travelling to her fiancé's house to meet his parents for Christmas, Alice (Alicia Witt) falls in love with his family, only to discover that she wound up in the wrong house admiring stories of someone else’s son. 

Title
actors
date/company
rating:
Comments:
It's a Wonderful Movie Blog summary:

surprisingly good
not bad
pretty bad
never again



Friday, November 28, 2014

71. Generation Loss - Elizabeth Hand

#1 Cassandra Neary series
Read on my iPhone through Kindle
2007 Small Beer Press
265 pgs.
Adult .... Mystery/CRF
Finished Thanksgiving, 2014
Goodreads rating: 3.79
My rating:    3 (Liked It)
Setting:  Fictional Burnt Harbor, Maine (Downeast) and its outer islands

1st sentence/s:  "There's always a moment where everything changes.  A great photographer -- someone like Diane Arbus, or me during that fraction of a second when I was great -- she sees that moment coming, and presses the shutter release an instant before the change hits. If you don't see it coming, if you blink or you're drunk or just looking the other way -- well, everything changes anyway, it's not like things would have been different."

My comments:  There were parts of this book that were hard from me to imagine....because there are a lot of references to photography and processing film, that sort of thing. The setting, in downeast Maine in winter, I can imagine.  It's dreary, poor, bleak.  The protagonist, Cassandra Neary, is one of the most unlikable characters I've come across.  But that makes her incredibly interesting, actually.  I'm guessing she's around 40, friendless, a kleptomaniac, hardly eats, survives on Jim Beam and speed. A real downer.  This was quite a story, somewhat of a mystery, but more of a contemporary realistic fiction that skirts the edge of a really dark, somewhat bizarre (though real, unfortunately) world. (And I will go on to read another, because I liked it more than I didn't....)

Goodreads book summary:  Cass Neary made her name in the 1970s as a photographer embedded in the burgeoning punk movement in New York City. Her pictures of the musicians and hangers on, the infamous, the damned, and the dead, got her into art galleries and a book deal. But thirty years later she is adrift, on her way down, and almost out. Then an old acquaintance sends her on a mercy gig to interview a famously reclusive photographer who lives on an island in Maine. When she arrives Downeast, Cass stumbles across a decades-old mystery that is still claiming victims, and into one final shot at redemption.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

PICTURE BOOK - Here Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood

Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
2014 Dial Books for Young Readers
HC $16.99
88 pgs. - but minimal words and lots of priceless pictures to peruse - similar in text length )or shorter) than a 32-page picture book
Goodreads rating: 4.34
My rating: 4
Endpapers: red

My comments: Very, very cute!  Cat, being a cat, can't talk ... so he draws picture messages back and forth to the invisible, omnipotent speaker/owner/friend.  He'd like a Christmas gift from Santa - but has been naughty most of the year.  "Speaker" suggests that he do something nice, even if it's last minute - it's better than never.  The outcome is gently funny and fun.  I'd love to read this to my grandkids.

Goodreads:  Cat took on a bunny in Here Comes the Easter Cat, but now Christmas is coming, and Cat has a hunch he's not on Santa's "nice" list. Which means? No presents for Cat. So he tries to be good, but children, it seems, aren't wild for his brand of gift-giving. Still, Cat might surprise himself, and best of all, he may just get to meet the man in the red suit himself—and receive a holiday surprise of his own. Fans of Pete the Cat, Splat the Cat, and Bad Kitty will delight in this holiday treat.