August 2010: In Brief

The Boyfriend List, by E. Lockhart (****) – [2006] Fifteen-year-old Ruby Oliver never thought of herself as the type of person who might have panic attacks or need to see a shrink. Now here she is writing a list of all the boys she’s ever dated, kissed, or thought about, trying to figure out what they have to do with the unfortunate events of the spring dance that led to her first panic attack.

This is another of my favorite YA books.  Ruby Oliver is a charming–but very real– teenage girl trying to figure out how to navigate the tricky path of dating and friendship in high school while also learning to voice her own true feelings.  Audiobook reader Mandy Siegfried’s talent for teen speak makes this audiobook an especially good choice.  [Young Adult Fiction for ages 12 and up]

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan (****) – is an utterly charming book about two very different high school boys –each named Will Grayson– who meet by chance in downtown Chicago.  Their story is told in alternating chapters.  One Will Grayson is reconsidering his rule about not caring too much about anything, while the other Will Grayson is starting to admit he’s gay and cares so much about what others think it’s destroying him.  Add to the mix their new mutual friend, the very gay and proud of it, Tiny Cooper, the football team’s best offensive linesman and the author/composer/star of the new high school musical, "Tiny Dance" and you have one very fun story.

This was an especially good book to listen to in audio form.  The two different narrators make each Will Grayson easy to identify, plus one of them does an excellent separate voice for Tiny Cooper, which is great for the musical scenes.  [2010] [Young Adult Fiction for ages 14 and up]

My Bodyguard (*** 1/2) – [1980] A clever teen in a rough high school tries to enlist the school’s loner to be his body guard.  Somehow I missed seeing this film when it came out 30 years ago.  It was fun spotting well-known actors in their first movie roles.  Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Chuck) plays the loner, Matt Dillon is the school bully, and Joan Cusack plays a friendly classmate.  Jennifer Beals is even in the film with a non-speaking role as another classmate. [Watched on Netflix Instant]

Kamikaze Girls (***) – [2005] A colorful, quirky movie about the unlikely friendship between two eccentric teen girls, biker chick Ichigo and dainty Momoko, a girl who wears frilly dresses and dreams of living in 18th century France. [Watched on DVD from Netflix in Japanese with English subtitles]

Mad Men (season 4) – I think this is my favorite season of Mad Men, so far.

Online Language Learning:
Mi Vida Loca – BBC online has an excellent foreign language webpageMi Vida Loca is their latest and most ambitious program.  It’s a 22-episode beginning online Spanish program with videos and interactive lessons, for free.

It uses a story format with you, the viewer, as one of the characters.  You’re a British student on holiday to visit your friend Theresa in Madrid.  Unfortunately, Theresa can’t make the trip at the last minute, so you’re on your own, staying in Theresa’s flat in Madrid with her friendly, but busy, journalist sister, Merche.  Merche’s dangerous story investigation ends up adding a lot of excitement — and Spanish practice — to your trip.

Mi Vida Loca is a fantastic free Spanish program that’s well worth checking out.  There’s enough meat that even intermediate Spanish students will learn new vocabulary, but still introductory enough for beginners.  (As an added bonus you’ll pick up some British vocabulary too.)

August 2009: In Brief, Part 3

The Rowena Eureka Mega World Tour of Cinematic Armchair Travel – The Movie Portion

(Sweden) Slim Susie (*** 1/2) – Erik comes back to the rural Swedish town where he grew up in search of of his missing younger sister Susie. He meets up with a cast of eccentric characters and the tale of Susie becomes increasingly more tangled and dark. No one should be likable in this movie but for some reason they are. It’s the blackest of comedies but quite a fun movie if you like your comedy dark. It’s also interesting to see how much influence American movies have on the Swedes, as the movie borrows from and references American movies from Pulp Fiction to Star Wars and beyond. [Saw on Netflix Instant Viewing, also available on DVD through Netflix]

(Norway) Buddy (***) – A simple romantic comedy about a twenty-four year old billboard hanger whose girlfriend just broke up with him. When his video lands in the hands of a reality show producer, his reality show star life becomes more complicated with his housemates than he imagined.

There’s nothing really special about this plot but it’s a fun way for an American viewer to get a sense of twenty-something life in Norway– both the similarities and the differences. My favorite bit of trivia? Hearing the English phrases that would pop up in their Norwegian conversations, like "okay" and "I’m sorry". I realized "okay" has become pretty international, but I had no idea the phrase "I’m sorry" was used anywhere but English speaking countries. [Watched on Netflix Instant; also available on DVD]

(Italy/ Greece) Ginger & Cinnamon (***) – A fifteen-year-old Italian girl decides it’s time she lose her virginity and see the world. So she runs away from her school field trip and convinces her 30-year-old Aunt to take her on a trip to Greece instead. The Aunt, recovering from a painful recent breakup, relunctantly agrees. Neither aunt nor niece really fits into the party-like international twenty-some island experience. The niece is a bit too young and the aunt, who acts likes she’s already 50, is a bit too old. But both come to understand themselves better and figure out why their current lives aren’t working for them.

While I ended up liking this movie, the aunt and the niece did drive me crazy at times. Both main characters talked non-stop and seemed to lack any self-awareness at the beginning of the film. But their relationship was kind of sweet and the Greek island scene was interesting. [Watched on Netflix Instant; also available on DVD]

(NYC) Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (****) – Two seventeen-years-olds, each nursing broken hearts, meet at a Lower East Side club and are drafted by their friends to turn their encounter into a nightlong first date. This is one of my favorite books so I was pleasantly surprised how well the movie captured the book’s spirit.

It’s true that Michael Cera isn’t the actor I imagined for Nick and Cera plays basically the same character he’s played in Arrested Development, Superbad, and Juno. Still, it’s a likable character and it works for NIck. Also, Nick’s ex-girlfriend Tris is more nuanced and realistic in the book, while in the movie she’s a cliched mean girl. Kat Dennings is absolutely perfect as Norah though and the movie offers a fun adventure with lots of music and a bit of physical comedy. The language and sexual content is much cleaner and family friendly in the movie, though there is a brief sex scene that we only hear, not see. [Saw on Netflix Instant Viewing, also available on DVD through Netflix]

(Kingdom of Andalasia/ NYC)
Enchanted (*** 1/2) – They day before Princess Giselle’s wedding–in the cartoon Kingdom of Andalasia–wicked Queen Narissa banishes the princess down a well that just happens to lead straight to Manhattan. I started this movie with low expectations as I’m not terribly fond of princess movies, Disney, or Patrick Demspy. I was pleasantly surprised how enjoyable it was to watch though. Somehow this movie manages to pay homage to the Disney princess movies while gently mocking them and tells a story that kids will enjoy while entertaining adults. Patrick Dempsey is likable and Amy Adams is spot-on as Princess Giselle. A fun movie for mixed-aged audiences. [Watched on DVD]

(Germany) Hilfe (*** 1/2) – This could have been just a German version of those Freaky Friday body-switching type movies. The nuanced characters and respectful tone make this movie deeper and more enchanting than the usual glossy Disney-like story though. (Parent Note: While this movie is made to be suitable for kids, there is more cursing and mild sexual innuendo in this movie than some American family movies.) [Watched on Netflix Instant; also available on DVD]