Film Review: Veronica Mars

About this time last year, I posted about the Veronica Mars Kickstarter.

And now? Now, I’m happy to say I’ve been to see the movie and love it! I’ve actually seen it twice: once in the theater, and once at home.


I will keep the spoilers to a minimum. But there will be some.

The brief plot: Veronica Mars returns home to help out Logan, her high school boyfriend, who has been accused of murder.

I love character growth. I love watching a character mature.

Veronica “now” is a Veronica who didn’t just leave Neptune: she left who she was. That girl was a private investigator, who took cases, who dug into people’s nasty secrets. Oh, we see that Veronica is still smart and clever and won’t get pushed around. But, still, Veronica became just like many other smart college students: law school and New York City, and big firm life, at that.

That Veronica is not interviewing at anyplace even directly connected to her prior life is very telling about how far and fast she has run from her past. 

In Neptune she had a reputation, some of it warranted, and when given the chance to recreate her life, Veronica went for the type of life that on paper is “winning,” that is a “happy ever after. It’s the type of life that would sound very good on an alumni update. Even though she insists she doesn’t care about that type of thing. She’s done everything she can to not be “that” Veronica.

It’s not just Veronica’s growth; there is also Logan’s. There are mixed fan reactions to Logan, because of his “bad boy” actions. It can be tough to remember, when watching a television series where adults play teens, but Logan was, himself, a teen boy during during the years of his worst behavior. Not just any teen: one that was abused, neglected, and left alone. He had anger that was directed at others. He also had a personal code that valued loyalty to friends above anything else.

Where does Logan end up, years later? Let’s just say that just as Veronica was given the chance to get her act together, so, too, was Logan. And his choices make perfect sense for a teen who had no-one, but did have passion and a need to belong. A teen looking for direction; a teen looking to direct his energy; a teen who had a lot to prove, to show that he was more than his own past poor choices.

But Veronica Mars is not about the paths that Veronica and Logan have taken to leave their teen selves behind.

Rather, it’s about integrating your past and present selves.

On the surface, Veronica goes back home to help Logan. Veronica! Logan! LoVe!

But? That’s not why. It’s what she tells herself; it’s what the viewer believes, at first. (And remember — Veronica has always been a bit of an unreliable narrator.)

Veronica goes home because that’s what she wants.

Yes, nine years ago Veronica ran from her past, to her future, and now that she is in the present, back in her home town, she’s realizing that maybe she ran too far and too fast. That maybe the life she made for herself is a good life, and a life she can have, but is not the life she wants. And maybe it’s because I was a lawyer who left the law (though, obviously, not to be a private investigator), but I so “get” how Veronica may have fallen into law for the wrong reasons, and may be leaving them for the right ones.

I LOVE stories like this. Forget that this is Veronica Mars, based on a show I adore. I love “going home” stories, so the whole set up — the returning to a place that once was home, making choices about what one really wants — it’s like this plot was hand-crafted just for me.

Seriously, if you know of some good novels about people returning to their home towns after 10 or 20 years away? Leave the titles in the comments!

As for the ending . . . . who knows what will happen next. Given the various professional commitments of those who made the movie possible, I’m not sure if a return to a Veronica Mars series is even possible.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know I love British television, especially how their series work. A season isn’t as long as that in the US, which frees up the actors and others to pursue other professional opportunities, and I think that model would work best for Veronica Mars going forward.

So, what did you think? Of the movie, and of Veronica Mars’s future?


Film Review: Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies (2013), based on the book of the same name by Isaac Marion. Rated PG-13.

The Plot: Poor R. He’s having a bit of a crisis. Wanting to connect to those around him, but just not able to. It’s part of the problem of being a zombie.

Then he falls for Julie, a human girl. Yes, he’s a zombie who just ate her boyfriend’s brains, but will that really stand in the way between him?

Julie is horrified by R except he’s not like any zombie she’s ever seen. First, he’s not trying to kill her. Second, he can talk. Third, he has a pretty sweet record collection.

Can these two crazy kids make it work? Or, rather, can a zombie and a human make it work?

The Good: Such a good, funny movie!

It starts with a monologue by R that is just hysterical because all the angst he is talking about could easily be said by anyone. What he is going through is heightened by the fact that the reason he is wondering about his place in the world is he is dead. And a zombie. Who eats people.

What am I doing with my life? I’m so pale. I should get out more. I should eat better. My posture is terrible. I should stand up straighter. People would respect me more if I stood up straighter. What’s wrong with me? I just want to connect. Why can’t I connect with people? Oh, right, it’s because I’m dead. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I mean, we’re all dead. This girl is dead. That guy is dead. That guy in the corner is definitely dead. Jesus these guys look awful.” (Quote from the IMDB site for the film).

And then the funny turns to scary to remind us that R is a zombie by showing us an attack by the zombies on a group of humans; an attack on a group of scavengers led by Julie and her boyfriend Perry. R kills Perry and eats his brains.

And this is where Warm Bodies adds not one but two interesting things to zombie lore. First is R’s hanging onto his humanity, and his gradual reclamation of his humanity, both mentally and physically. Second, when R eats someone’s brains, he experiences that person’s memories. Part of his connection with Julie, the connection that saves Julie’s life as well as pushes R even farther towards becoming more human, is based in part on his experiencing Perry’s memories of loving Julie. That’s sick and funny and I loved it.

As you can probably tell from the names, Warm Bodies is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. It’s a love story between star-crossed lovers. And it’s a zombie movie with a twist: is it possible to save those zombies with, well, love and acceptance? And less you think that makes this movie tame, Warm Bodies also introduces super-zombies called Bonies, who are little more than skeletons and muscle, with no shred of humanity left. Let’s just say that even the zombies fear the Bonies.

For a bit more serious look at zombies being cured and returning to living with humans, check out BBC America’s In The Flesh.


Film Review: Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures (2013) (PG 13), based on the novel Beautiful Creatures (2009) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl; my review of the book.

The Plot: Ethan is having strange dreams featuring a girl whose face he cannot quite see, beneath her swirling brown hair. When he sees new-girl Lena at school, he is attracted to her because she’s different and because she looks just like the girl in his dreams.

Lena’s family is the one that is whispered about and talked about: rich, reclusive, odd — and Ethan is about to find out there is truth to some of those rumors.

The one about being witches, for example. Or, as Lena explains, Casters. As a female Caster, on her sixteenth birthday she’ll come of age and be either of the light or of the dark. The number on her hand isn’t a tattoo, it’s a count down to that birthday.

Ethan, then, hasn’t met just any Caster: he’s met someone on the brink of knowing whether she’s going to be light or dark. Their relationship and growing love just complicates matters; as does a curse going back generations, that seems to condemn Lena to the dark.

Can Lena and Ethan find a way to beat destiny and allow Lena a choice in what happens to her? And can their love survive it?

The Good: The problem I had with writing up the plot synopsis was all the back-story and information I had to include: Casters, the light and dark, their love. I almost edited to add the “Southern” part but then decided not to, to show just how hard it was to include everything in a short plot of the movie. I point this out because, in a way, the movie faced the same challenge I did: how to include all the information and world-building from the book, in one movie, and have it make sense to people who hadn’t read the books.

Beautiful Creatures seamlessly shares all that information, naturally, while the movie unfolds: we learn about Lena as Ethan does, and, also, learns some things he doesn’t, when the action shifts to Macon and others.

I read the book over three years ago; and it was just long enough ago that I had forgotten details and could just sit back and enjoy the movie as the movie-version of the story. So, yes, there are scenes and even characters that are missing, but guess what? To make the movie-version of the story make sense (and be a movie, not a twenty-hour miniseries) those changes has to happen.

What I enjoyed: Lena and Ethan’s growing relationship; Macon (I mean, Jeremy Irons. JEREMY IRONS); the way Ethan kept finding out about things he didn’t know about, such as the Casters, secret underground passages, and other supernatural happenings around town; Amma, a family friend who has her own secrets; and the settings! From Macon’s house to Ethan’s home to the secret Caster library, I just fell in love with all the details, whether it was Macon’s floating staircase or Ethan’s map of places he wants to go based on books he loves.

I saw this with a twelve year old and a ten year old. Both loved it; the twelve year old’s favorite part? All of Lena’s powers. The ten year old’s favorite part? What happened when Ethan and his best friend were Civil War reenactors. And we are all looking forward to the next film! And me, now I’m inspired to reread the first two volumes of the series and read the last two volumes.

Other Reviews: School Library Journal; New York Times; Los Angeles Times.




Movie Review: The Avengers

The Avengers. 3D. PG 13. 2012. Marvel. Directed by Joss Whedon; from a story by Zak Penn and Joss Whedon; screenplay by Joss Whedon.

The Plot: When Loki steals the Tesseract and threatens to take over Earth, Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. has only one option. Assemble a group of super heroes to defeat Loki and recover the Tesseract. The problem is, most of those he wants to recruit for “the Avengers” don’t play well with others. “The Avengers” have to become  a real team, which may be almost as difficult as beating Loki.

The Avengers, all who have been introduced in other movies, are (in alphabetical order): Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff); Captain America (Steve Rogers); Hawkeye (Clint Barton); The Incredible Hulk (Dr. Bruce Banner); Iron Man (Tony Stark); Thor. For those keeping score at home, this includes two super talented humans (Black Widow and Hawkeye) and three humans with enhanced superhuman powers (Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man) and one alien god (Thor).

The Good: When I took my eleven year old niece to see The Hunger Games, I promised my nine year old nephew that his movie treat would be The Avengers. He’s already watched most of the other films in the Marvel franchise — Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man and Thor have all had at least one film bearing their name; humans Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury have made appearances in those films. The nephew thought I was being a good aunt, taking him to a movie he says should be rated “E for Everyone”. Little did he know that I wanted Robert Downey Jr.’s snark as Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth’s blue eyes (are those really Thor’s eyes or CGI?), and, most importantly, Joss Whedon.

Those of you who know that the origins of my blog name are from a line in Buffy the Vampire Slayer understand just how much I adore Whedon’s work. I won’t go into all of Whedons’ credentials; check out the articles in Entertainment Weekly, among others.

One of the toughest things about a film like The Avengers is a huge cast; and, not just a huge cast, but a cast made up of fan favorites so that no one person can be left out. To make matters that much more complicated, these characters are played by actors, who have their own egos and insecurities, just, in their own ways, as each one of the Avengers has egos and insecurities. Whedon’s previous work has always included large groups of actors; one of his particular talents, in my humble opinion, is how he can quickly establish characters while advancing the plot. Oh, yes, all of these characters were already introduced in comic books; and there are, as mentioned above, the other films that preceded The Avengers. Fanboys and fangirls don’t “need” that introduction. Then there are people like my nine year old nephew, who don’t have decades of familiarity with Marvel comics; or people like me, who missed a film or two (Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk) so didn’t quite know some of the people. Whedon did a stellar job of assembling the Avengers.

The Tesseract  — I’ll be honest. I didn’t really care what the Tesseract was or what it did. It’s a bit of a MacGuffin, existing to provide a reason for the Avengers to form. I’m fine with that; what I wanted from this film was seeing how the characters were physically brought together, then how they put aside their differences to create a team, and, finally, how that team worked together. I also wanted a great villain, and Loki delivers! Loki is the brother of Thor, and suffers from “everyone loves my brother more than me so I’m going to become an evil dictator to feel better about myself” syndrome. If only someone loved Loki best!

Were there some areas where I wished there were more? Yes; I want to know more about Hawkeye, for example. As it is, though, the movie is almost two and a half hours long. And yes, if you don’t sit through the whole end credits you miss not one, but two bonus scenes. I wouldn’t have cut a minute!

YALSA’s The Hub has put together The Avengers Reading List, asking the always fun question of what would a fictional character read? Good Comics for Kids here at SLJ has a number of posts about the Avengers comics. Also at SLJ, Watch and Read: The Avengers Assemble.

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games. Lions Gate. Color Force. 2012. Saw in theatre; paid for my ticket.

Please, do I even have to give a plot description for this film?

Is there someone reading this blog who doesn’t know what The Hunger Games is about? I can understand not having read it; I can understand not seeing the film; but at this point, with all the news coverage etc., the basic plot is standard knowledge.

In a dystopia future, Katniss Everdeen, 16, volunteers to be a tribute to the “Hunger Games.” She does so to save her twelve year old sister. Twelve districts send two children between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight in the Arena.  It’s a punishment inflicted by the powerful Capital for a rebellion that happened over 70 years before.

Twenty four go into the Arena; there is only one survivor. It’s kill or be killed. Katniss has promised her sister she will return, but does she have what it takes to survive the Hunger Games?

Let’s cut to the chase: I LOVED this movie. Love, love, love. Here, in no particular order, are some of the things I loved, loved, loved, and at this point, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.

It’s been years since I read the book. I like to go into films based on books with as much distance as possible between me and the source material. That way, I’m not playing the “but they left out this scene/character” game; it also allows me to appreciate the visual storytelling.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence portrays Katniss perfectly, particularly the mix of fierceness and protectiveness. She zeroes in on the fact that Katniss’s concern for others in not a weakness, but is what makes Katniss a fighter.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark. Hutcherson sold me on a Peeta who knows he’s not physically tough enough to survive the Arena, so he’s going to use what he can: his brains. As with the book, I was uncertain of whether Peeta “loved” Katniss or if it was a game played for the crowds. Peeta’s ability to strategize, to read people, and to manipulate them is why I have a “Team Peeta” T-shirt. It has nothing to do with who I think Katniss should be with.

Katniss and Peeta’s chemistry fit that “are they or aren’t they” perfectly. They had to be careful not to have too much sparkage because of the “play acting” part of what was going on. Other readers may disagree, but I don’t think that type of chemistry happens until the later books. Theirs is a love born of shared experiences and they are not at that point, not yet. Also? They have no time for lust-sparkage.

I also loved just how strong Katniss was shown to be, over and over. Do I have to say how much I love that Peeta didn’t save her, but that she saved him?

Liam Hemsworth as Gale made me understand all the “Team Gale” members. The friendship — the trust — the easy way between Katniss and Gale? Loved. The way Gale said he’d take of her family? Loved. And knowing that what will happen will separate them in more ways than one broke my heart.

Woody Harrelson as Haymitch captured the drunk and the former victor. I loved the scene were we saw Haymitch “working the sponsors” on behalf of Katniss and Peeta. I also loved the little moments when Haymitch realized that he had two tributes who would not be among the first to die; two who had a chance.

Elizabeth Banks as Effie. Let’s just say this: having watched the film, I now want to find Haymitch/Effie fanfiction. That is all.

Lenny Kravitz as Cinna — with a movie already at over two hours, I understand why there wasn’t more Cinna. More so than in the book, I saw that Cinna stood for the fact that not all citizens were Effies. I hope that the DVD has some bonus footage!

The muttations? I screamed and jumped out of my seat, even though I knew they were coming.

I cried twice: during the reaping, and when Rue died.

I cannot wait for Catching Fire; I cannot wait for Mockingjay.

Film Review: Arranged

 Arranged. Cicala Filmworks. 2007. Not rated.

The Plot: Rochel and Nasira are two beginning teachers at a New York City public school. Rochel is an Orthodox Jew; Nasira, a Muslim. Slowly, the realize how much they share: traditional lifestyles, modest dress, close families, and arranged marriages.

The Good: Such a sweet, lovely film! An excellent film for library or class discussions. It’s about concentrating on what people share and have in common rather than focusing only on how people are different or “other.” It also shows how “arranged marriage” has many meanings, the motivation behind it, and what it can mean for two different women. It’s about friendship and family.

Both Nasira and Rochel dress “modestly”, but in different ways. Nasira covers her hair; Rochel wears long skirts. Both live at home with their parents and siblings. Both are from cultures where arranged marriages is the norm, just in different ways. For Nasira, it means her father looking for a husband and the two meeting and getting to know each other under the gaze of their families. For Rochel, it means a local matchmaker has a file of possible men for Rochel and she arranges a sequence of first dates where the young man comes over, the two meet and go on a date hoping for something. It’s funny to see the two women compare how the arranged marriages are put together, the differences and similarities. Both Rochel’s and Nasira’s parents also had arranged marriages, and both marriages are shown as loving and supportive.

Their principal doesn’t understand them, sees only the clothes and assumes neither woman has any choice in how they live their life. Rochel’s choice, that has one, is illustrated when she visits a cousin who has left Orthodox Judaism. At first things seem not to be working out for Rochel, and the resolution is warmly satisfying and respectful to how people choose to live their lives.