Feature Presentation: Moana

uk_moanaMoana starring the voices of Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel Hall, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, and Alan Tudyk

Walt Disney Animation Studios, 2016. Rated PG.

Synopsis: Moana Waialiki is a sea voyaging enthusiast and the only daughter of a chief in a long line of navigators. When her island’s fishermen can’t catch any fish and the crops fail, she learns that the demigod Maui caused the blight by stealing the heart of the goddess, Te Fiti. The only way to heal the island is to persuade Maui to return Te Fiti’s heart, so Moana sets off on an epic journey across the Pacific. The film is based on stories from Polynesian mythology. – from IMDB

I’m always a fan of ancient cultures and myths being woven into our more modern tapestry. In a lot of ways, I feel like this puts us more in touch with the world at large and gives insight into where we came from, and perhaps more importantly, where we will go. There’s also something to be said about the message that while it might be uncomfortable to leave home/safe spaces/the familiar, we can achieve even more both personally and culturally when we stray off a beaten path. I’m reminded of the Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quote, “Well-behaved women seldom make history”. In many respects, Moana is a well-behaved young lady: she desires to do what is best for her people and to follow the path that has been determined for her. And yet, she is still plagued by the classic dilemma of doing what is right by her family and doing what she feels is right for her, to help her become the woman she wants to be. Clearly her desire to get in touch with her voyager roots and venture beyond the island reef wins out, or this would have been a short movie. And like the Disney heroines before her, there’s a couple of musical numbers that assert her confidence in her decision to venture out on the ocean and the uncertainty of the success her journey may or may not bring. She still has moments of despair, but it is her stubbornness and quick wit that help her push through the obstacles that hinder her voyage. Despite the range of reactions to Moana, I feel like the film did a credit to the Polynesian culture and made it come even more alive for the viewer. I liked that native dialects were used in some of the songs and that the animators made trips through the islands in the South Pacific to do their research. It’s a coming-of-age story that encourages us once again to discover who we are inside and how we can share our purpose and passions with the world around us.

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Bad Machinery, Volume 5: The Case of the Fire Inside

Bad-Machinery-5Bad Machinery, Volume 5: The Case of the Fire Inside by John Allison

Oni Press, 2016.  978-62010-297-8

Synopsis: Love seems to be in the air for Mildred and Sonny. He’s fallen for a girl that seems to have literally stepped out of the ocean and she’s developed a crush on a boy she met in Saturday detention. On the other side of the equation, Linton and Jack want to do is play video games with their mate while Lottie and Shauna are offering Mildred different opinions about what to do and say to Lee. And who exactly is the wild man in a fur cloak and what does he want with Sonny’s dream girl?

Why I picked it up: I’m totally, utterly, and completely addicted to this series.

Why I finished it: I’ve noticed that the last few volumes that Allison has been branching out and featuring different members of the mystery-solving sextet, this one shining a spotlight on cousins Mildred and Sonny. What was most amusing to me was the difference in the family dynamics in the Haversham/Craven households versus that of the Wickle, Finch, and Grote homes. Mildred’s parents are activists that seem to buy into just about every sort of ‘necessary’ lifestyle change (Mildred isn’t allowed to play video games, she needs to observe a strict vegan/vegetarian diet) and sheltering their daughter from the world around her. Sonny’s parents appear to be more laiez-faire in their parenting style, allowing their son to spend an afternoon at a local swim park with his friends by themselves. And though all teens think their parents are on the weird side, it’s easy to see that their motives are driven by love. This volume is perhaps more angst-y in its portrayal of teenage love exuding a sort of Romeo and Juliet motif – it’s not tragic, per se, but both Mildred and Sonny’s relationships do seem to have some element of fate attached to them, particularly in relation to Ellen (Sonny’s mystery girl) and Lee’s sort-of ex-girlfriend Sasha. Allison also adds a mythical element to the story by playing on the legend of the Selkie, a creature most commonly found in Scottish folklore. As an American reader, the Selkie legend was somewhat foreign to me, but fortunately it’s easy to grasp (unlike trying to figure out the family trees of Greek and Roman gods – that’s a mental work out….) and Allison does a superb job of intertwining the tragedy of the Selkie legend with that of the exploration of teenage love.  Those readers who are already fans of the series will likely eat up this novel as eagerly as the previous four; it’s a quick-witted, fun, fantastical, and sometimes dark look at how we are shaped by the world around us.

Other related materials: Bad Machinery, Volume 1: The Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 2: The Case of the Good Boy by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 3: The Case of the Simple Soul by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 4: The Case of the Lonely One by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 6: The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 7: The Case of the Forked Road by John Allison; Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O’Malley; The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks; The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen; Adventure Time comics by Ryan North, illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb; Adventure Time Volume 1: Playing with Fire by Danielle Corsetto; Adventure Time: Marceline & The Scream Queens by Meredith Gran; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, illustrated by Hope Larson; Lumberjanes comics by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, and Grace Ellis

 

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Bad Machinery, Volume 4: The Case of the Lonely One Review

Bad-Machinery-4Bad Machinery, Volume 4: The Case of the Lonely One by John Allison

Oni Press, 2015. 978-1620102121

Synopsis: A new school year brings a new classmate to Griswald’s Grammar School! But he’s a bit strange, and he really, really likes onions. When the whole school suddenly becomes best friends with him, Shauna seems to be the only one left out. It’s up to her to peel back the mystery, one onion layer at a time. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I was giddy when I found it on the shelf of my local library, since this has totally become one of my favorite comics.

Why I finished it: I don’t know if it’s really right to play favorites with these characters, but Shauna’s been my girl since volume 1 so I was excited to see her get fleshed out a little bit more and have to work something out on her own. It’s also a little strange to see a character working more or less independently on a case, but it presented itself also as an opportunity to introduce secondary characters so that the town of Tackleford fills out a little bit more as well. For example, the reader learns more about the farms on the outer limits of the town and that Tackleford apparently has some pretty swanky mansions in the midst of the other middle class neighborhoods. I was also amused to see Shauna impressing the role players with her unexpectedly nerdy prowess and the way she is able to get them to help her after most of the school has turned into onion-loving zombies. Between new teachers and new students, the reader has a lot to follow in this latest installment. It continues to show the characters trying to balance school and home life, recreation and homework with a little bit more of the slice-of-life-in-a-small-town along with a kooky science fiction element.

Other related materials: Bad Machinery, Volume 1: The Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 2: The Case of the Good Boy by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 3: The Case of the Simple Soul by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 5: The Case of the Fire Inside by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 6: The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 7: The Case of the Forked Road by John Allison; Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O’Malley; The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks; The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen; Adventure Time comics by Ryan North, illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb; Adventure Time Volume 1: Playing with Fire by Danielle Corsetto; Adventure Time: Marceline & The Scream Queens by Meredith Gran; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, illustrated by Hope Larson; Lumberjanes comics by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, and Grace Ellis

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Agent Q, or The Smell of Danger! Review

agent_q_or_the_smell_of_dangerAgent Q, or The Smell of Danger! (A Pals in Peril Tale) by M.T. Anderson; illustrations by Kurt Cyrus

Beach Lane Books, 2010. 978-1416986409

Synopsis: Now that the monks of Vbngoom have been saved and their monastery relocated (see Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware), Lily, Katie, and Jasper are eager to get home. But the Awful and Adorable Autarch of Dagsboro and his agents at the Ministry of Silence have other ideas, and they will do anything to detain both the children and the monks. Including hiding in glove boxes and disguising themselves as furniture in order to apprehend the fugitive travelers!

Why I picked it up: I always enjoy a bit of light reading after a long, arduous week of work.

Why I finished it: It’s been a while since I read Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware, so picking up this book had me a little bit lost. I guess I had gotten lucky and picked up the ‘stand-alone’ books in this series (Whales on Stilts!, He Laughed With His Other Mouths), so it wasn’t necessarily important for me to have remembered an entire book. Then again, this is what I get for reading series books out of order. So don’t be like me: read them in order. Okay, PSA over. Turns out it’s just as hard to get out of Delaware as it is to get in, maybe even harder since the Ministry of Silence is always watching you. Except when they lose track of you. Which isn’t often. Because these guys and gals are good. So good there’s even a whole TV series devoted to the best of the best of the Awful and Adorable Autarch of Dagsboro’s spies in which they expose themselves and their dastardly deeds before a live studio audience…of spies! The story is part spy thriller, part after school special, combining the derring-do heroics of an action-packed thriller with the ridiculousness of our favorite Saturday morning cartoons (they still have those, right?). I love that Anderson is able to take the time within the text of the story and in footnotes to give the reader hilarious commentary about some of the more over-the-top elements of the story. There is a bit with sentient lobsters about half-way through the book that the author points out would be totally ridiculous in almost any other story…except this one, in which there are sentient lobsters…that are actually an important bit of the plot. It’s a fun and engaging mystery/thriller that will have readers eager for more of Jasper, Katie, and Lily’s adventures.

Other related materials: Whales on Stilts! (A Pals in Peril Tale) by M.T. Anderson, illustrations by Kurt Cyrus; The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen (A Pals in Peril Tale) by M.T. Anderson, illustrations by Kurt Cyrus; Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware (A Pals in Peril Tale) by M.T. Anderson, illustrations by Kurt Cyrus; Zombie Mommy (A Pals in Peril Tale) by M.T. Anderson, illustrations by Kurt Cyrus; He Laughed With His Other Mouths (A Pals in Peril Tale) by M.T. Anderson, illustrations by Kurt Cyrus; The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron; Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist books by Jim Benton; Cardboard by Doug TenNapel; The Wild Robot by Peter Brown; Ungifted by Gordon Korman

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Kid Beowulf: The Song of Roland Review

kid_beowulf_2Kid Beowulf: The Song of Roland by Alexis E. Fajardo

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017. 978-1449475901

Synopsis: Banished from their homeland, Beowulf, his brother Grendel, and the magic pig Hama journey south to the Frankish Empire to find their uncle Holger, a knight in the service of Charlemagne. But all is not well in Francia: the king lies ill and his steward has decided that capital gain in more important for the country than keeping its citizens happy, and the hero Roland could use a little help setting things right….

Why I picked it up: It’s epic poetry in a more digestible form for a younger audience.

Why I finished it: Fajardo has managed to faithfully adapt The Song of Roland while still maintaining the integrity of the original manuscript (of which, he notes in the afterward, there are several variations) and present the reader with a story that is easy to follow. We are engaged from the get-go with a broad synopsis of the original Song of Roland to help set the stage for the reader. The story then branches off in two directions, intertwining the past with the present as Beowulf and Grendel read the letters Holger wrote to their father about his journey to Francia. And once the pair (and Hama) reach Francia, they find that Daneland is not the only state in which things are rotten. There is an uneasy peace between the Christian Franks and the Muslim Spanish that is on the verge of being overturned thanks to the traitorous acts of Roland’s stepfather Ganelon. Ganelon is willing to help Spain take over the Frankish Empire as an act of revenge against Charlemagne and Roland, and we are distressed to learn that perhaps the plan is working. A good amount of hilarity ensues as Charlemagne’s banished knights attempt to reunite and work out a plan to get the country ready to fight against the army of Spanish invaders using the makings of Ro-Land, a theme park built to celebrate Francia’s greatest hero. Fajardo juxtaposes the darkness of the story with the use of bright colors and some off-beat humor that makes sure the reader is still following along. There’s also a few character cameos that fans of other middle grades comics will find fun as well. It’s another fantastically epic ride through history that will engage readers of all ages.

Other related materials: Kid Beowulf: The Blood-Bound Oath by Alexis E. Fajardo; Kid Beowulf: The Rise of El Cid by Alexis E. Fajardo; Kid Beowulf Eddas: Shild and the Dragon by Alexis E. Fajardo; Bone series by Jeff Smith; Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard books by Rick Riordan; Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan; Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling; Avatar: The Last Airbender series by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Gurihiru, and Bryan Koneitzko

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Bad Machinery Vol. 3: The Case of the Simple Soul Review

bad-machinery-3Bad Machinery, Volume 3: The Case of the Simple Soul by John Allison

Oni Press, 2014. 978-1620101933

Synopsis: The Tackleford gang is back with a new case that demands solving! When Tackleford’s derelict barns begin going up in flames, Linton and Sonny are on the case with a moderately mysterious new friend. Paths cross, however, when Lottie and Mildred meet a terrifying yet misunderstood creature living beneath a bridge! Throw in an overly enthusiastic Fire Brigade, a transforming skate ramp, and a new French teacher and you’ve got the kind of charming genius that can only be found in John Allison’s BAD MACHINERY. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: This was a splurge purchase at a book sale after trying (and failing) to remember the name of the comic.

Why I finished it: I was hard pressed to find the actual mystery in this installment of the series. The mysterious barn fires start out as a prevalent plot point, but it sort of fades into the background behind the other plotlines. Granted, the case does get solved in the end, but it doesn’t seem like our sleuths really have much interest in solving the case that they seem to have happened upon. Mildred, Charlotte, Linton, and Sonny all spend a significant amount of time trying to fill the void left in their groups by Shauna and Jack, who are now dating (and they are totally my OTP of this series). So in that aspect, Simple Soul is more about transitions than it is about finding an arsonist. Allison has found a different rhythm for his characters this time around, showcasing their struggles with the end of the year at a new school, changing friendships, new romances, and the general angst that comes from being an almost teenager. Yet, the comedic timing and the offbeat humor continue to shine through which is what makes the comic so likable. The volume also includes another edition of Charlotte’s explanations of British Idioms and a collection of hand-drawn husbands by Charlotte and Mildred. Overall, it’s a great, fun read that continues to see our characters growing up and learning more about life – which, it turns out may or may not be hazardous to your health.

Other related materials: Bad Machinery, Volume 1: The Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 2: The Case of the Good Boy by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 4: The Case of the Lonely One by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 5: The Case of the Fire Inside by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 6: The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 7: The Case of the Forked Road by John Allison; Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O’Malley; The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks; The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen; Adventure Time comics by Ryan North, illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb; Adventure Time Volume 1: Playing with Fire by Danielle Corsetto; Adventure Time: Marceline & The Scream Queens by Meredith Gran; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, illustrated by Hope Larson; Lumberjanes comics by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, and Grace Ellis

 

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Feature Presentation: The Lego Batman Movie Review

legobatmanonesheetThe Lego Batman Movie starring the voices of Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, and Jenny Slate

DC Entertainment/Warner Bros./Warner Bros. Animation/Vertigo Entertainment, 2017. Rated PG

Synopsis: When Gotham’s bad guys surrender themselves, it looks like Batman might be out of his post as vigilante crime fighter. Once heralded for his heroics and bravery, he’s even more broody than usual now that there’s no criminals wreaking havoc. Plus, there’s this kid he adopted at a city gala for the police commissioner’s retirement that he isn’t sure what to do with that he’s maybe sort of hoping he can send back to the orphanage. So when Joker hatches a plan to break the city apart (literally), it’s going to be up to Batman, Alfred, Robin, and Barbara Gordon to save the day.

I love that Will Arnett is reprising his role as Batman because he is able to bring a distinct humor to a traditionally much darker character. Granted, this is  family movie, but it’s still refreshing to see Batman’s more childish side – something that is prevalent throughout Lego Batman. The film makes reference to all of Batman’s previous movie and television appearances: Alfred makes note of Batman’s many ‘phases’ and there is a bit at the end in which words like “Bam!”, “Pow!”, and “Biff!” appear in the air as Batman and Robin are fighting (spoiler: it’s a reference to the 1960s Batman television series with Adam West). These may go over the heads of younger viewers, but for those of us that have followed Batman in his many incarnations will get a kick. Viewers will also be amused to note that Siri (the iPhone personal assistant) is the voice of Batman’s computer and she seems to have developed a little bit of a personality to offset Batman’s sarcasm. I also loved Michael Cera’s Robin/Dick Grayson because he is such an innocent overachiever. He, like Batman, wants love and attention, but since Batman seems to be afraid of having a family and letting people in, Robin is there to show him some unconditional love. Alfred is still the most awesome butler ever and his ability to ‘handle’ his adopted son/employer is a bit of a running gag as well. But I think what really sold me at the end was the element of friendship and friends being the family we choose – there’s even a catchy pop song to that effect at the end to rival “Everything is Awesome”. It’s sure to entertain viewers of all ages.

 

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