Random Books and Movies

There is no cohesive theme this week; I'm just going to talk about a couple of movies and books I've read or seen recently and one I'm looking forward to that opens on the second of July. I'll leave it to you to figure out which one made me ask the important question "Can a novel be considered Southern Gothic if a character calls the Civil War the War Between the States instead of the War of Northern Aggression?"

Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest
The cover of Four and Twenty Blackbirds caught my eye a couple of years before I read the book. It's done by John Jude Palencar and is intriguing and mysterious. But once I walked away from the image I forgot the name of the book, the author and the artist and didn't find it again until publisher Tor dropped a copy into my inbox. The book tells the story of Eden, a girl with a mysterious past who is haunted by the ghosts of three women. Another figure that recurs throughout her life, starting when she is a young child, is a murderous relative who is convinced she is the incarnation of a man too evil to live. Eden manages to fend off his first few attempts to kill her but when her beloved aunt is endangered, Eden must tear away the shrouds of mystery and discover her family secrets. This Southern Gothic novel has many of my favorite elements, including a crumbling, abandoned insane asylum and at its best reminded me a little of Joe Hill's brilliant Heart Shaped Box. You can read an excerpt here.

Bend it Like Beckham

I finally got around to seeing Bend it Like Beckham, the latest in the string of girls who play soccer/football movies I've been watching. This one is about Jess (Parminder Nagra), a young British girl of Indian descent who is an excellent soccer player. Her very traditional family has reluctantly let her play but now that her older sister is preparing for marriage it's time for Jess to settle down and learn proper womanly pursuits. But instead Jess meets Jules (Keira Knightley) who convinces Jess to try out for the local girl's team. Jess makes the team but complications ensue as she goes against her parents' wishes and has trouble juggling her friendship with Jules and her growing attraction to their coach, Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). This is a thoroughly enjoyable film with a nice combination of drama and humor. Jess is very likable and it's easy to root for her as she struggles to find herself and still stay true to her roots, her relations and friends. The ensemble cast is wonderful and it was particularly interesting to see so many familiar faces from before their current megastar status.

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
Ginny Blackstone thinks her life, and she herself, are dull and uninteresting. Aunt Peg, the one person responsible for livening things up, disappeared three years ago, turning up in Europe some time later, leaving Ginny to cope with her adolescence with no guidance or excitement. But when Ginny gets a set of thirteen envelopes and a thousand dollars, her life changes. Each envelope contains instructions that must be followed precisely before the next one is opened with the promise of enlightenment waiting in the thirteenth. Taking only what she can carry in her backpack Ginny starts a journey that that will require courage, faith and flexibility. Maureen Johnson writes with her usual flair and humor and this poignant story is a treasure. You can browse inside the book here.

An upcoming film that's got terrific trailers is the Will Smith project Hancock, which is about a superhero who may get his man but leaves such a path of destruction that his reputation is in the gutter. But when he saves the life of Jason Bateman as PR executive Ray Embrey, he has a chance to change his image for the better. I'm intrigued by this film for a number of reasons; it looks funny, I like Will Smith, and it's nice to see someone address the ridiculous cost of the damage that goes on in so many thrillers or action films. I saw one the other day where Our Hero ended up safe but several people were killed in a car accident caused by his reckless driving. Back when I was a teenager my mother swore to never watch another James Bond film because of the destruction in every film. It just wasn't worth it she said, and she had been a fan for ages. I'm curious to see if a comedy can address this issue and still be funny and entertaining. My biggest concern about this film is the number of writers it has had. Originally scripted by Vy Vincent Ngo, it sat in production hell for some time and was eventually rewritten by Vince Gilligan of X-Files fame. While these two are the only ones to get official credit, rumor has it that other writers had a go at the script, including some of the producers. We all know the expression about too many cooks spoiling the broth but this may be a case of the cooks not even being sure what it is they're trying to make. Take a look at this website talking about the film back in 2005 when it was going by the awful name of Tonight, He Comes. To learn more about the current state of the film you can visit the official website, watch the trailer, estimate the cost of Hancock's rescues and even enter a contest to pay off your mortgage.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from idk, who saw a new animated film starring Jack Black. He says, "Kung Fu Panda - I was not expecting that much, but I was happily surprised by how awesome it was. Casual humor wins the day." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at mailto:feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.