Friday, November 27, 2009

Movie Review - Christmas Story (Joulutarina)

From Finland comes the somber, touching and memorable origin story of Saint Nicholas.  We know Santa to be a character of great generosity and love, but we generally don't think about his possible childhood.  Christmas Story or Joulutarina does a masterful job in spinning this tale. 

Hundreds of years ago, Nicholas is orphaned and cared for by many in his northern village. He changes homes once a year on Christmas Day.  Eventually he begins sending homemade toys to the children of the families who have cared for him over the years.  At age 13 he's taken in by a grumpy outsider named Isaac, who seems to have no love or compassion in his heart for children.

Under Isaac's care Nicholas becomes quite the carpenter, and they eventually become as close as kin. He continues giving gifts to children around the village, all the while doing it anonymously.  Then the year comes when he begins sharing toys with children from outside his village. He has a desire to bless children not only in his village, but far beyond.

There are other touching plot details that give this story depth and meaning never seen before in the Santa mythology.  I've omitted these details so that you may enjoy them as I did.

In addition to the excellent writing, the film features beautiful cinematography and an excellent soundtrack.  Although filmed in a Scandinavian language, the voices have been dubbed over in English. Some of the English-language voice actors are John Turturro (Transformers), Michael Badalucco (The Practice) and Noah Emmerich (Cellular).  If you’re like me and you also enjoy captions, none are available on the DVD.  However, I was able to engage the Closed Captioning feature on my TV.

Parents:  This film has been approved by The Coalition for Quality Children’s Media and The Dove Foundation for quality family entertainment.  The content does not include any sex, nudity, gore or profanity.  There’s not really any violence, although the Isaac character does shove young Nicholas’ head down onto a dusty table in one scene.  He also names him “Brat” at the beginning of their relationship. Those initial scenes with Isaac might be a bit disturbing for very young children, as he’s a bit harsh with Nicholas. The element of dishonesty when it comes to Santa’s identity is also a minor issue.  Pairing these and a few other intense (but not terrible) thematic elements with very few incidents of smoking, and the movie has earned a ‘PG’ rating. 

The running time of the film is about 70 minutes, and there is a 20 minute featurette in the Special Feature section.  This piece is not overdubbed and you’ll need to read the subtitles.

While there aren’t many moments of levity in this film, I would not characterize it as depressing.  It’s a rich tale, one that should have been told years ago.  The power of love, compassion and sharing is evident, transforming the lives of those in Nicholas’ life.  Hopefully many will emulate Nicholas, loving the unlovable and even sharing blessings with those who haven’t been a blessing.  Truly, the message of unconditional, grace-filled love is at the very core of the true meaning of Christmas.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Update on Giveaways - Win Some Great Books!

Same entry from a few days ago, but with new info!

There are lots of great giveaways going on in the blogosphere these days, and I thought I'd take some time to remind you of a few in particular:

  •  TJ at Book Love Affair is giving away a copy of Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan. Contest ends 12/4.
Here's the link:

  • Jessica at A Booklover's Diary is hosting a big giveaway, with lots of books to choose from and an gift card!  Contest ends 11/30.
Here's the link:

  • Jessica at Book Bound is celebrating her 100 followers (I was #102!) by hosting a contest to give away free books from The Book Depository.  Contest ends 12/18.
Here's the link:

  • The Bookologist is hosting a Putnam Palooza, giving away three books to one winner! Contest ends 12/17.
Here's the link:

  • Robby at Running for Fiction is hosting a contest for the YA book of your choice.  Contest ends 12/1.
Here's the link:

  • Tanya at Starry Eyed Surprise has a giveaway for Decoding the Lost Symbol.  The contest ends 12/1.
Here's the link:

  • Alessandra at Out of the Blue has a giveaway for the Book Depository book of your choice, up to €12 ($17.77) in value.  Contest ends 12/6.
Here's the link:

  • Life After Jane has a collection of books up for adoption.  Enter to give these books a good home: 
    Here's the link:

    Don't forget to check out my sidebar giveaway section as well.  It's down the page on the left.  Others are ending soon, so enter while you can.

    Good luck!

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    Book Review: Winter's Child by Cameron Dokey

     From the back cover:

    Free-spirited Grace and serious Kai are the best of friends. They grew up together listening to magical tales spun by Kai's grandmother and sharing in each other's secrets. But when they turn sixteen and Kai declares his love for Grace, everything changes. Grace yearns for freedom and slowly begins to push Kai -- and their friendship -- away.

    Dejected Kai dreams of a dazzling Snow Queen, who entices him to leave home and wander to faraway lands. When Grace discovers Kai is gone, she learns how much she has lost and sets out on a mystical journey to find Kai...and discover herself. 

    Although I'm familiar with many of Hans Christian Andersen's stories, I've never been acquainted with "The Snow Queen".  I've loved many of his fairy tales, from "The Little Mermaid" to "The Emperor's New Clothes." Unfortunately, Cameron Dokey doesn't give me much motivation to pursue the Snow Queen story in her retelling, "Winter's Child".

    Using many, but not all of Andersen's original elements, Dokey didn't draw me into this fictional world very well.  Never once did I find myself getting lost in the story.  It was difficult to get immersed in the world of the Winter Child, especially when the story kept shifting it's perspective between the three main characters. This may have been a writing device that Andersen used, but it doesn't work well here. Cameron's writing is quite weak and forgettable. If I needed to put the book down, upon returning to it I frequently forgot where I was in the story.

    I understand this is a YA book, designed for 9-12 year olds, but this 38 year-old has read many YA's in recent years that are of much higher quality than this one. It's a small paperback, printed on cheap paper that hearkens back to fluffy romance novels, without all the tawdry romance. The story is harmless and sweet, but if you have other quality novels on hand, don't waste your time with this one.

    This book was provided by the Vine reviewers program.  You can also find my review on their website.

    Find this and other review links on:     CymLowell

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    Winners! Prizes coming your way!

    And now, here are the winners of my first two giveaways on The Calico Critic, chosen by

    The winner of the Hunger Games T-shirt and commemorative Mockingjay pin is:

    Heidi of The Black Cell!

    The winner of The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview is:

    CelticLady of Blog O' The Irish!

    Ladies, I'll email you and will look for your mailing information soon.  Congratulations!

    Thanks to everyone who entered the contests.  This was my first time doing these, and it was really enjoyable.  I look forward to doing more reviews in the future.  Coming up soon:  A $10 gift card giveaway-- don't forget to vote for your favorite in the sidebar!

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    Kreativ Blogger Award!

    I'm so excited! The Calico Critic has received its first award, presented to me by Katy Freeland of A Few More Pages, who has been enjoying the blog.  And according to her blog post, I'm to list 7 of my favorite things and also pass this award on to seven deserving bloggers.  So here are seven of my favorite things (not people), keeping in mind that they're in no particular order and I haven't listed ALL of my favorite things in life (including THE favorite thing, which will remain unpublished).

    1.  The sound of my 4 year-old's laugh
    2. Chocolate chip cookies
    3. A really good book that's hard to put down!
    4. The book-blogging community
    5. My local public library - it's wonderful!
    6. Sunday afternoon naps
    7. Music that carries me away

    And here are some of the bloggers that I've been enjoying lately (among others!):

    Laurel Ann @ Austenprose
    Bridget @ Readaholic

    Katy, thanks so much for giving this award to me-- you made my day!

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    Book Review and Giveaway: The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview

    Okay, I have to admit it.  I'll read just about any novel that's Jane Austen themed. But this one had me particularly intrigued, because I love the Darcy character and in addition to that, I loved the cover art. If only all good books could be determined by the quality of the cover art-- it would make things so much easier!

    Monica Fairview's The Other Mr. Darcy is a Pride and Prejudice sequel, speculating on the days following the marriage of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.  As we recall in the first story, Charles Bingley's sister Caroline had eyes for the dashing and well-bred Darcy.  Despite her flattery and hopes, the man of her dreams chooses to wed Elizabeth, a woman for whom she has held no high esteem.

    Enter Mr. Robert Darcy, Fitzwilliam's American cousin.  In town to attend the wedding, he accidentally witnesses the presumed private meltdown of Caroline, distraught over her shattered dreams to wed Darcy.  Embarrassed that he witnessed her in such a vulnerable moment, she quickly comes to resent him.  It's very reminiscent of a moment between Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind.  And so begins the dance that is their relationship, culminating in an ending that Caroline herself never would have thought possible.

    The Other Mr. Darcy was very enjoyable to read.  Monica's style of writing is elegant and true to the culture of the times.  I gained some new vocabulary words in the reading of this novel! Yet at the same time, it was unstilted and entertaining.  There's humor, suspense and of course, romance.  While some of the plot choices made some of the outcomes obvious, it was still a fun ride, seeing where Ms. Fairview would take the characters.

    It did take me some time to accept this particular incarnation of the Caroline character, though.  She was so haughty in Pride and Prejudice, and there were times in this story when I found some of her amiability to be a bit unbelievable.  But the benefit of this comes in the redemption of the character, for whom most Prejudice fans have held contempt.  In anycase, Her sister Louisa does a great job of handling the haughty attitude for her.

    I highly enjoyed the character of Robert, for he had all the traits of a Darcy without the stiffness of Fitzwilliam.  With his dark, wavy hair and blue eyes, I imagined Patrick Dempsey as an actor who could portray him.  He was earnest and dashing, while still retaining the airs of a proper Bostonian gentleman. 

    And on a philosophical note, a line near the end of the book really touched my heart. To paraphrase it without giving anything away, Robert says, "We cannot know where the eye of God lies, but if we stood where He stands, things that seem to be lop-sided to us would be absolutely perfect."  An excellent message to take away after reading a highly enjoyable book.  Thank you, Monica.

    Thanks also to Sourcebooks and Grace at Books Like Breathing for hosting the initial giveaway for this book.  I enjoyed it very much, but now I'm going to pass it on to another lucky reader!  Don't worry, I've handled it with care and it's in good condition.

    Giveaway Rules

    • One winner only
    • US addresses only, will be shipped Media Mail
    • Become a follower of the blog (or remind me of your current follwer status)
    • Leave a comment below, including your email where I can contact you should you win.
    • Entries accepted until 11:59pm on Saturday, November 14th
    • I will email the winner, and if I haven't heard from you in 48 hours, I will pick another winner.

    For bonus entries now that you're a follower... be sure to mention the ones you've completed in your comment:
    • Tweet about the giveaway, and be sure to give me your @Name where you posted the Tweet
    • Follow me on Twitter:  @LHartness
    • Post or sidebar about the giveaway on your blog
    • Follow the blog on Networked Blogs

    Good Luck!

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    Movie Review - Every Little Step

    When I was a young schoolgirl in the 70s, I attended a touring performance of A Chorus Line in Atlanta. I marveled at the glitz, glamour and choreography of the show.  Thankfully, most of the adult issues flew right over my head. Not too long ago I watched the movie A Chorus Line with Michael Douglas, so the story was once again fresh in my mind.  Tonight I watched the documentary Every Little Step, which chronicles the history of A Chorus Line and it's revival to the Broadway stage a few years ago.

    For the first part of the film, the focus alternates between a retrospective of the show's creation and the current audition process for the new live performance.  We learn about the drafting of the script from tapes of an actual meeting of Broadway performers.  We meet some of the new candidates and learn a bit of their backgrounds. The tedious and sometimes agonizing process that the casting directors go through to make their choices is revealed. Original cast mates share their stories of struggle and joy.

    As the film goes on, more of the focus is trained upon the current actors and their stressful audition process.  Every one of these performers is incredibly talented; it's hard to see some of them get cut.  And sometimes it's surprising to see who's finally chosen for certain parts. It all finally culminates with the finale, with the ultimate cast choices on stage in their golden glory.  The film is A Chorus Line brought to life.  The original was drawn from experiences now almost 40 years in the past, and this new documentary shows that the story still holds.  Very enjoyable.


    On a side note, for parents:  This documentary was rated PG-13 because of the content and language.  The F-bomb is dropped several times, more than is usually allowed in a PG-13 movie.  These moments are mostly due to the Chorus Line script that the candidates are quoting. And of course there's the T&A song Dance: Ten; Looks: Three with some colorful content.  I think if my parents had known about this content when I was a kid, they never would have let me go.  But somehow I came out unscathed!  Still, it's worth waiting until your child is ready to show this one.

    But certainly for all you Broadway and A Chorus Line fans, this is a must-see.  It would also make for educational viewing for those who are even considering a run at the Great White Way.   It's all worth it if you've got the chops, can do the work and make the cut!


    Related Posts with Thumbnails