The Shack (2017 movie)

Image result for the shack movieYou’re never as alone as you think.

So like, yesterday, I posted my book review for this story.  Now it’s the movie’s turn.

Again, just to recap the story, it’s about Mack, a father dealing with the horrific tragedy of having his daughter kidnapped and murdered.  When he gets a letter from “God” to come to the shack where his daughter was murdered, he goes against his better judgment.  And finds something spectacular.

If you’d like to know more about my thoughts on this story, please see the book review.  For this, I’m going to focus on the theatrical elements of how this story plays out/compares to the book.

I want to start by saying that I think the casting was very well done.  Obviously, Octavia Spencer is a BOSS, but even Sam Worthington and Tim McGraw rock their parts.  But of all of them, I think Sam Worthington was really the one who stepped up to the plate and slammed this out of the park.

Mack is an easy character to empathize with.  Under no fault of his own, his daughter was kidnapped on his watch (I’m not explaining why this wasn’t his fault–you need to see/read it) and he blames himself for what happened.  It’s heartbreaking.  But that doesn’t mean he’s an easy character to portray.  Because he’s suffering so much, Mack tends to be very closed off, depressed, and cold to others.  And being able to play that while still making him someone to empathize with takes skill.

But again, Worthington takes it all the way home.  (Apparently I’m stuck on baseball metaphors.  Oh well; at least I’m not mixing my metaphors.)  He brings a level of emotion to Mack that I was missing in the book.  I wrote yesterday about how I thought the emotions felt forced/patronizing at times and this movie completely softens that.  You can see the turmoil in Mack when he doesn’t know what to do rather than reading how he’s conflicted and it just makes all the difference.

Surprisingly, the movie is nearly identical to the book.  I mean, scene for scene identical.  Do you know how rare that is when it comes to book-to-movie productions?  In a way, that was fantastic.  It was faithful to the book in almost every way.  (There are some changes, but they’re little things like changing the number of kids he has and how long after Missy’s death he gets the letter to the shack.)  The only downside to it being that faithful is that I saw the movie first, so reading the book was kind of boring when I knew exactly what would happen next.  Literally.

The message in this movie is (obviously) very much the same as the book.  However, for whatever reason, this one feels more accessible of the two.  It’s not as “over my head” as the book was at times.  It’s less philosophical speech-making and more of a demonstration of how it all works.  I liked that.

Some of the scenes are just magical.  They look so much more stunning on screen than any mental picture you could come up with.  So graphically, it was phenomenal.  It just helps on so many ways to see how out of his depth Mack is.

I really like this movie.  Yes, you will probably be crying by the end.  (If you don’t, I assume you lack tear ducts.)  Keep some tissues handy!

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The Shack

Image result for the shack bookFirst Lines: Who wouldn’t be skeptical when a man claims to have spent an entire weekend with God, in a shack no less?  And this was the shack.

If it hadn’t been for the Great American Read, I wouldn’t have probably read this.  Or at the very least, I wouldn’t have read this this summer.  Of course, I’d heard about this and even saw the movie (which I will be reviewing very soon!!) so it wasn’t like I didn’t know exactly what it was about.  But…I was still interested.

Mackenzie “Mack” Philips’s daughter Missy was abducted and murdered during a weekend vacation, her body found in an abandoned shack in the Oregon wilderness.  Four years later, while still suffering from guilt, Mack receives a letter apparently from God, inviting him to return to the shack for the weekend.  Against his better judgment, Mack goes to the shack to face his darkest nightmare once more.  What he finds there changes Mack forever.

Look, I’m the first person to tell you that I’m not exactly “religious”. My problem stems mostly from the organizations of religion rather than religion itself and this book–surprisingly–supported my thoughts on this topic. It’s not often I find a religion-based book that doesn’t make me roll my eyes or want to immediately put it down for all of the condescension.  (Hello, Catholicism, my old frenemy.)

Mack is suffering from a horrific trauma that no parent should have to go through (but unfortunately, some do). He’s a bit bitter, he’s lost, and he’s stuck in his life. He’s completely relateable. There’s a lot of empathy we as readers feel for him. We get it. We would probably feel the same way in his place.

But of course the real interesting characters are Papa, Jesus, and Saranyu. I don’t want to say too much if you truly don’t know what this story is about, but just suffice it to say they steal most scenes they’re in, especially when more than one of them are in the same scene.

The story is bittersweet, which is exactly what I was expecting. I was looking for a story about someone moving on from a tragedy. That in itself is always going to be bittersweet.

I do have two minor complaints about the book. The first is that no matter how many times I read certain passages, I just didn’t get them. It’s a lot of philosophy and sometimes, it just went way over my head. But that seemed to be what the characters (and by extension, the author) were going for. The other is that the emotions didn’t always feel real.  There were times in the book that felt a little…patronizing? At the very least, there was something awkward or forced about the emotions in just a couple of scenes. It just seemed awkward at times. Like I said, these are just minor complaints and really didn’t detract from my overall reading experience.

I do think it’s the kind of book that everyone should try once because there’s a lot of wisdom in it, even if you are’t particularly religious.  At its core (well, besides the religious core), it’s the story of a man dealing with an unimaginable loss and growing as a person.  This is also the kind of book I think I’ll be pulling out again from time to time when I’m at a crossroads. It’s just that kind of book.

The Last Kingdom, Season 1

Image result for the last kingdomHey!  So I mentioned this in Friday’s Weekly Obsessions and I just recently finished season 1.  So, since this is based on a book series, I thought I’d share my thoughts.  Especially since I’m going to be reading the book soon.

In this show, we follow Uhtred son of Uhtred.  Kidnapped by the Danes (we know them as Vikings) following a battle that killed his father, Uhtred was raised by the Danes.  By his 20s, he even starts believing himself to be one of them.  But when his new family is attacked, Uhtred decides it’s time to take back what is his.  The only problem is that to get back his land, he must help King Alfred defeat the Danes and secure England, not just from the Danes but from internal fighting.  Uhtred will need to pull on all of his Danish experiences and cleverness to keep himself alive in this war field and in this court.

First of all, I’ll admit that I’m a massive fan of early English history.  (Usually not this early, but I know quite a bit about the early Norman invaders.  Not that this is not utterly fascinating.)  I’m saying this to say that I genuinely watched this for the history, among other things.  And the history hits all the right marks.  Sure, there are the occasional moments that I’m not totally sure are true to the times, but those are rare and far between.  Generally speaking, the history (particularly the early Christian culture of Saxon England, the pagan culture of the Britons, and the Viking culture clashes) were so fascinating.  I truly enjoyed seeing the characters act and live within this time period.

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Uhtred, son of Uhtred, with the fabulous hair

Speaking of characters, let’s start in with some of our main characters and why I like them (without, hopefully, losing sight of the point).  Uhtred is our main character.  He’s not exactly a “protagonist” in the strongest sense of the word because there are many times he acts more like a villain.  Part of this has to do with the culture clashes I previously mentioned.  His Danish values, particularly related to warfare and justice, are anathema to those of his Christian friends.  But I really liked seeing these dual sides play out.  Because Uhtred does (usually) want to do the right thing.  He just sees “right” as different from everyone around him.  But we understand his reasons.

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King Alfred

For supporting male characters, there are many fascinating ones.  Leofric is a fellow warrior and fast friend/supporter of Uhtred with an equally questionable moral compass.  Father Beocca tries to be the moral compass for Uhtred, with mixed results.  But having known Uhtred before his kidnapping, Beocca is sometimes one of the few Uhtred will actually listen to.  (Update: I HAVE JUST LEARNED THE ACTOR PLAYING BEOCCA WAS PROFESSOR QUIRRELL IN HARRY POTTER.  I’VE BEEN WATCHING THIS FOR OVER A WEEK AND NEVER PICKED UP ON THAT.)  There’s also the incredibly clever but not always warrior-like Alfred, the manipulative but stupid Aethelwold (who believes he should have been king), and Ragnar the Younger, Uhtred’s adoptive brother and one who often finds himself across from Uhtred in battle.

There are so many more interesting male characters (typically in the villain role, which they play very well), but I want to move on to the females.

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Brida, whose hair is equally fabulous

In their own ways, the women kind of rule this show.  Even given the limited role of women at the time (and their relatively short screen time, due to battles and seeing the story through Uhtred’s eyes), these women are able to make men crumble.  The most obvious of these are Brida, who was kidnapped by the Danes at the same time as Uhtred and finds herself as more of a Dane than even Uhtred does, and Queen Aelswith, Alfred’s strong and merciless wife.  These two alone are fierce, stubborn, and forces to be reckoned with.  It was fantastic to see these strong females in this time period.

But let’s not forget that even the “meek” girls could hold their own.  Mildrith is the goddaughter of a rich lord and becomes a political pawn–but she finds her own ways of fighting back.  As does Hild, a nun that we meet in probably the worst moment of her life.

It was just great to see all of them.  I mean, we tend to think of women at this time as being timid and docile, but historically speaking, that just wasn’t the case.  Women had to be fierce to survive.  And these are.

The last thing that I’ll really comment on is the plot.  From the first episode, this show had me.  (There was one false start, though, when I made the mistake of thinking this was a show I could knit to.  It’s not.  It demands your full attention.)

The plot moves in alternating paces.  The first episode, everything happens very quickly.  It was a struggle to figure out who anyone was besides Uhtred, which was only clear because we saw everything through his eyes.  Some of the other episodes move a little slower, but that usually just means there is betrayal happening, or we need to be watching for foreshadowing.  Everything in this show happens for a reason.  It’s brilliant writing.

Because of the time period, there are a lot of battle scenes, murders, and gruesome deaths.  We don’t necessarily see all of these in detail, but there are times that I have to look away from the TV for a moment because it’s so disgusting.  But to be fair, I have seen much worse.  So it’s something to keep in mind, but not necessarily a reason to not watch the show.

Also, don’t let the names slow you down.  Every episode, it seemed, I was learning names of characters who had been in basically all of the previous episodes but I’d never caught there names.  I didn’t learn Beocca’s name until like episode 4.  I didn’t learn Leofric’s until 8.  And even then, I was looking at IMDb this whole post to make sure I spelled names correctly.  (And learning that I’d pronounced them wrong the whole time as well.  I thought Leofric was something like Lara-fritch.)  I know it’s super intimidating, but even if you don’t know their names, the characters are fantastic.  Stick with it.

I’m very excited to start the next season and see what happens!  If you’re also a fan of this show, please let me know!  No one I know watches it!

(If you’re interested, it is a BBC show, but at least in the United States, it is currently on Netflix as well.  At least seasons 1 & 2 are.  I guess there’s supposed to be a 3rd season at some point?  Maybe?  I hope?)

 

Weekly Obsessions #2

Hey everybody!  We’re back for a 2nd installment of “What did I find interesting this week?”  And as usual, even I rarely know where this is going to go.  I just like to find weird stuff and share it with you guys.

The Tony Awards

As a total Broadway buff, the Tonys are the pinnacle of excitement.  I’ve been excited for months to see Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles tackle this.  Because I love them both separately and I wanted to see what they would be able to do together.

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And truly, I thought it was pretty funny.  Their opening song (which is usually incredibly theatrical because this is, after all, theatre) was a bit mellow but really funny.  I liked their humor and the couple of times they used improv, you could tell that it worked (that was almost always Groban, who is so quick on his feet).

Like always, the rest of the show was entertaining as well.  I always like seeing who’s been doing Broadway shows lately because I’m usually like, “Oh yeah, I haven’t heard about them in a hot minute.  So that’s where they’ve been.”  And we’re talking big names.  Denzel Washington, Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane, Tina Fey, etc.

But my favorite part is always watching the musicals perform a song.  It gives me a taste of their show to see if I want to listen to the soundtracks or not.  (Mean Girls, yes, Spongebob, no.)  It’s just fun.

Tequila by Dan + Shay

I’m a country girl at heart, even though I’m not “southern”.  (I get a lot of flack for this because growing up, no one around me liked country.  I was the one idiot at dances who didn’t know any of the songs played because I wasn’t listening to that stuff.  And they never played country.)

Anyway, Dan + Shay is one of my favorite duos and I just love the video for this song.  It’s brilliant storytelling and acting, it’s heartfelt and touching.  And if you’re thinking, “Oh great, another twangy country song,” then you’ve clearly never listened to Dan + Shay.  Modern country isn’t twangy.  Just give this a listen.

Beautiful, right?  I love the ASL!  Now I desperately want to learn it.  This is the curse of being me–see something you don’t know how to do and instantly want to conquer it.

Dead Like Me

If you’ve been with me on this blog for a long time, you may remember me watching and reviewing this show.  I watched it in college and just fell in love with it.

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So anyway, I started watching this in 2012 and every now and then, I feel nostalgic to rewatch it.  On a recent trip to Half-Priced Books (a dangerous mission I undertook to get rid of some of my old books), I found this complete series on DVD and bought it.

Now here’s what’s funny.  My mother is very anti-supernatural stuff (which is pretty much my wheelhouse, right?) and she kept making weird faces at this.  So I pushed her to watch the first episode.  I could tell she got into it by the end, but whether or not that was enough to make her want to watch more, I wasn’t sure.  So I let it drop.  The next day, she was like, “When do you want to watch more?”

I GOT MY MOM HOOKED ON A SHOW ABOUT REAPERS, Y’ALL.

So now we watch it basically every night (#SummerBreak).  I think the real reason she’s ok with this show is that she can knit while she watches it and she’s not missing much.  But that’s ok because I’m usually knitting too.

Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)

Image result for seraphina rachel hartmanFirst Lines: I remember being born.  In fact, I remember a time before that.  There was no light, but there was music: joints creaking, blood rushing, the heart’s staccato lullaby, a rich symphony of indigestion.  Sound enfolded me, and I was safe.

When I was at the library (as part of that random grab-athon I had recently), I saw a different book in this series that caught my attention.  Well, like any respectable reader, I had to start at the beginning, didn’t I?

Four decades of peace has not eased the tensions between humankind and dragons.  Able to fold themselves into human form, the dragons are able to become ambassadors, walk the streets, and generally become invisible among humans–a fact that infuriates many of the humans who wish the treaty didn’t exist.  Seraphina must fear both sides.  As a talented musician, she joins the royal court just as one of the royal family members is killed in a suspicious manner.  Seraphina is drawn into the investigation to help Prince Lucian Kiggs, captain of the Queen’s Guard.  As they begin to unravel the sinister plot, Seraphina must hope she’s smart enough to keep the astute Prince from unraveling her secrets…secrets that could get her killed.

This was different. I read a lot of fantasy, but very few of them involve dragons anymore. And the fact that they could take human forms was really different. Their rules about their human form were fascinating.

The world building for this story was pretty well done. There are some plot holes that maybe get filled in in later books, but for right now they bother me. Anyway, I digress. The world, the rules, the royal family, the wars, all of it is pretty well fleshed out. It was easy to understand that world.

I ended up liking the characters quite a bit too. Mostly Orma and Kiggs and Selda, but there were others. Interestingly, I was kind of indifferent to our heroine, Seraphina. Something about the way she’s written just made her come across in a way that seemed emotionless. I don’t know why, but I had a lot of trouble connecting with her even though I got her. I was missing emotions. She always tried to tamp down everything and that made it difficult.

The plot starts off pretty slow. There were a couple of times within the first half of the book where I was truly starting to question why I was still reading this. But I’d read another chapter and put it down for a little while before reading another chapter just to keep things moving. Part of that was because the world building/Seraphina’s backstory took forever. There’s a mystery we’re introduced to from the very beginning, but that’s just sort of left to rot for a little while before anyone gets back to it. Once the mystery really got rolling, the story was fine. But I just needed something to be happening.

Maybe I’ll go on to read more in this series, but at this point, I’m not really feeling inclined to.  Not that it was bad, but there are so many other books I’d rather be reading.

Lies We Tell Ourselves

Image result for lies we tell ourselvesFirst Lines: The white people are waiting for us.  Chuck sees them first.  He’s gone out ahead of our group to peer around the corner by the hardware store.  From there you can see all of Jefferson High.

I bought this book from Scholastic, but it was something I’d wanted to read for a while.  It focuses on school integration in Virginia (which wasn’t nearly as famous as say, Little Rock), but it’s such a dark–but weirdly unacknowledged–part of American history.  It’s almost like because it was only like 60 years ago, it doesn’t count or something.

In this story, it’s 1959.  Sarah is to be one of the first to integrate Jefferson High.  As an honors student at her old school, she’s prepared for the rigor, only to find out she’s been placed in remedial classes because of her race.  She spit on and tormented daily by the other students who don’t want her there.  Linda Hairston is one of those students.  Raised by a vocal opponent of integration, Linda truly believes that “separate but equal” is the way things should be.  But when Sarah and Linda are forced to work together on a class project, they are forced to confront their issues.

I liked that this was going to be balanced by looking through the perspective of Sarah, an African American integrator and Linda, a white girl who opposes integration.  It really does let each girl have their significant chunk of the book.

That balanced perspective was excellent for showing how both of them changed throughout the story. It showed the emotions of both sides, of how frustrating it was to be Sarah and having to not say anything about the spitballs and violence in the hallways. But it also showed the culture shock from Linda’s perspective, how everything she’d been taught up to that point was being disproved. And that’s a harsh reality as well. (Disclaimer: this does not excuse the actions of those who incited violence and racism, nor is it supposed to minimize the legitimate trauma of those like Sarah. I’m simply pointing out that Linda was working through a seismic shift of her own.)

The thing was, I really liked both of the main characters. Sarah is smart and typically quite humble, but she has an inner strength. Linda is desperate to escape an awful home life and while she’s not the smartest in school, she’s observant. She sees things and is able to put into words how those events connect to others. Both are clever and quick witted. Both are fiercely protective, and that’s where they butt heads.

There is a twist in the story that was unexpected (and I certainly won’t spoil it). Suffice to say that at first I was really excited about it, but the second half of the book was so slow for me that I started to give up on that twist. I just wanted something to happen but instead it was all internal conflict and triple- and quadruple-guessing everything. It got old.

In all, I thought it was well-written and covered a topic that needs more coverage.

Top Ten Great American Read Books I Don’t Like

Hey guys!  So whenever there’s a list of books that comes out purportedly being the Best Books of All Time, well, there are always a few that we tend to disagree with.  And there are certainly a number of these that I did not like, whether I was forced to read them in school or because I just didn’t like them.  So I thought I would share this list with you, just for kicks.

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Top Ten Great American Read Books I Don’t Like (or Recommend)

1. 1984 by George Orwell

My dad recommended this to me in high school and I hated it.  It’s not that I don’t see how it’s relevant to the world and all that, but it’s so depressing.  I can’t stand books that start at their happiest and just spiral down from there.

2. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

This was required reading in high school before my senior year.  And truth be told, there were parts of it that I genuinely liked.  But Rand tries so hard to push her political ideas through it that there’s one part that like 20 pages of this long speech about it all.  It’s ridiculous.  If I could just keep the parts I liked, this 1000+ page monster would be more like maybe 200.

3. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Yes, I get that it’s been quite a game changer in the romance world, but the writing is absolutely horrible.  I just want to go all Gordon Ramsey on this and filet it.  I also can’t stand the sexism and abuse that the first book in particular has in it.  It bothers me.

4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Ugh, of all the books on this list, this is the only one I didn’t actually finish.  It was a freshman year of high school required read.  It was horrible.  Dickens is incredibly wordy, especially when he doesn’t have to be.  (If I remember correctly, Dickens was paid by the word count for his serialized stories, which explains that.)  Couldn’t they have put A Tale of Two Cities on this list?  That, at least, was far more entertaining.

5. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

I had to read this 2-3 times in college for different classes because it showed colonization in Africa, specifically the Congo.  But dear God, it’s so racist.  Yes, that was the time period, yadda yadda yadda.  But that doesn’t mean I want to read it now.

6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Believe it or not, I never really cared for this.  This was required reading my junior year of high school and while I sort of got into it, I never bought into it.  The characters felt like caricatures.  Gatsby is so disingenuous that it’s hard to see why I’m supposed to like him.

7. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

This was a pick of my own in high school because I’d found quotes by Douglas Adams and they were hilarious.  But as far as creating a story?  I didn’t care for it.  But I still like finding his quotes.  They are so entertaining.  His writing in that respect is brilliant.

8. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

This was required reading in college for one of my English classes.  I could almost see the appeal of this story at times, but the characters were so unlikable.  Some people say that’s the point, but characters make or break a story for me.  This one broke.

9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

This was required reading in the same class I had to read Heart of Darkness.  Honestly, I don’t even really remember this story at all.  But when I think back on it, I don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about it, and my Goodreads account says I gave it a 3 in a time when I hated giving negative reviews, so it was probably more like a 2.  That’s enough for me to know I didn’t like it.

10. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This was a choice of my own.  I picked it up once to see what everyone was talking about.  Catherine and Heathcliff were so annoying.  They did everything to destroy themselves.  I don’t understand people like that.  And I don’t see the appeal of reading stories like that when you can literally see the same thing every day just by watching the news.  I’m reading to escape that.