TV Review: Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

seriesofunfortunateevents_netflixThe first season of the new Netflix show, “Series of Unfortunate Events” was released! I will be reviewing the season as well as comparing it to the books, however I will let you know when I will delve into the spoiler sections.

Firstly, I would like to say that when I first heard that Neil Patrick Harris was going to play Count Olaf, I was a little nervous. Excitingly however, I think he did a great job portraying him, as he and the character are theatrical. Of the Baudelaire children I believe that Louis Hynes (the boy who plays Klaus) best portrays the character as it is in the book series, however I do like them all. The sets of Count Olaf’s house, Uncle Monty’s House, and Aunt Josephine’s house were all exactly how I had pictured them. Count Olaf’s troop characters including the Hook Handed Man and the Powder Face sisters were all there, as well as a few new characters that have added a more diverse dynamic. The format of doing two episodes to encompass each book worked out quite well. The base plot of the novels was consistent with the series, although there were minor changes and perspectives from other characters which was interesting to see. And as a fan of the books, I was delighted to see that Lemony Snicket’s narration of the series and character was included, as he has monologues directed towards the audience. I am happy to see that the creators did not shy away from the woeful darkness the story has, and embraced it instead.

This next section will be a SPOILER for the season, so if you haven’t watched it yet please go watch!

The biggest plot twist of the season, book fans didn’t expect this either, was the long running subplot of the Baudelaire parents trying to get home to their children. At first I was upset that the creators had the parents remain alive, but then came to terms with the notion that perhaps the creators would kill off the parents before the children ever knew they survived the fire. This concept was actually a theory of the book fans, in which the Baudelaire parents actually survived, but the children never knew, and they did not get reunited. However, as we know from the twist in the finale, the “parents” that were shown were not Baudelaires after all, but Quagmires. I loved that the creators made us believe they were the children’s parents, and in the end show us that they had never specified they were Baudelaires. This creates a smart introduction to the Quagmire twins/triplets, as we already know their backstory. It is a great use of the omniscient perspective that book readers didn’t get to see, creating exciting new details for book readers, without changing the plot. And lets not forget that ending musical scene! If someone had told me beforehand that they would be singing at the end, I would not be happy about it, but it really flowed in an odd and mystical sort of way.

So what did you guys think about the adaptation? Let me know!

-Ava K., 12th grade

Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz

welcometothedarkhouse_lauriestolarz“In my hefty elf sack, your nightmares now keep. Better think twice before falling asleep.” -The Nightmare Elf

This chilling, nightmare-filled story takes place when seven fans of the famous horror film director, Justin Blake, enter an online contest. They are required to write about their worst nightmare, and the winners get the chance to stay at his legendary B and B, Dark House, featured in his movies. The fans also get to meet the famous man and sneak a look at his upcoming movie. Delighted to find they have won, the horror hopefuls Ivy, Parker, Shayla, Frankie, Garth, Natalie, and Taylor set out to have the scare of their life. Spending a weekend in the Dark House appeals to most of them like a vacation home, filled with effects that make the house really seem haunted and mysterious. However, their fun and games take a twisted turn when they are taken to an abandoned amusement park. Embodying the spirit of Blake’s movies, the park is like his own movie set with his wildly creepy characters running around. The seven lucky winners discover they must face their worst nightmares and survive them if they want to be set free.

This book grabbed my attention right from the start. It’s description of horror and thrill left me wondering about my own nightmares. I knew I sure wouldn’t last one night in that house, not with its scare tactics and lonely halls. Stolarz uses her characters’ different perspectives to create this nail-biting world. As a big fan of horror stories, I was really anxious to see how the ending wrapped everything up. I have to say I was a little disappointed that I was left with so many unanswered questions, but overall the plot line was very intriguing.

I encourage readers who like to be scared to give this book a try. I know some horror stories are a gamble because it doesn’t end the way the readers hope. But Welcome to the Dark House is definitely one of my favorites and I would love to read it again.

-Sabrina C, 11th Grade

Corpse Bride (2005) vs Coraline (2009)

In the spirit of Halloween, I’ve decided have my two favorite spooky stop-motion animations compete for the titles of “Creepiest”, “Most Epic”, “Most Creative”, and “Most Fun”. So grab some candy corn and lets get started! (Warning: There will be a plot spoilers, so watch the movies first if you haven’t seen them yet :))

First in the category of creepiest, both films definitely have that aspect down. In Corpse Bride, the bride herself’s introduction and rise from the grave inciting major chills. The underworld layout of  dancing skeletons and insects, no matter how colorful and whimsical, can get creepy at times, especially with the worms crawling around inside Emily’s head. However, this title must go to Coraline. The thought itself of carving out eyeballs and sewing on buttons in its place is terrifying, let alone the actual images of button eyed parents. The “other mother’s” body shape towards the end of the movie had morphed into a contorted spider witch, and the lighting of this movie itself was more sinister than the jolly atmosphere of Corpse Bride‘s underworld. The sickly sweet nature of the “other world” was uncomfortable on its own, not to mention the mysterious and spooky tasks Coraline had to accomplish to save the day, including fighting a severed hand.

corpse-bride

Next, we have the most epic category, which gets a little more challenging. Again, both films were plenty epic. The scene in Corpse Bride with all of the dead people from the underworld going up to the living world was a grand moment indeed, along with the previously mentioned scene where Emily reaches up and drags Victor down with her to the underworld. And in Coraline, the several tasks that she had to get through were all filled with anticipation and close calls, especially when she manages to barely escape the “other world”. The winner for this category goes to Corpse Bride however, because for me, there were more people involved in the climax scenes, making it even more epic and there were more risks taken in general.

coralineThirdly, in the most creative category, it gets even MORE difficult to choose. Both films are incredible works of art with unique stories. Corpse Bride revolutionizes the idea that the world of the living is drab, and cold, while the underworld is full of parties, color, and joy. The accidental marriage between a human and a dead woman and their adventures is not something you see in an average movie. And in Coraline, you have an unhappy girl craving attention from her distracted parents, be taken in to an alternate universe where things are a little too perfect. Having button eyed people and a woman claiming to be your mother, wanting to suck your soul also isn’t your average blockbuster. Although this is a virtual tie, I must give this one to Coraline, especially because I became very fascinated by the fact that a voodoo doll that looked like Coraline showed up and lured her into a world of button eyed family and friends. Also, the characters such as the divination sisters and circus artist were quirky and unusual.

Lastly, we have the “Most Fun” category, choosing specifically which movie was the most enjoyable to watch. Coraline’s relatable character, intriguing plot, and eccentric characters were no doubt a lot of fun to watch. However I must give this title to Corpse Bride because the underworld itself was a huge party with dancing and singing. There was more comic relief in this movie and it provided multiple character perspectives on the several different dramatic plot lines going on. Coraline itself isn’t necessarily a “feel good” movie, whereas Corpse Bride in my opinion, can be very cheerful at times.

Well, there you have it folks, a Corpse Bride versus Coraline rundown. I hope this got you into the mood to watch some good old Halloween classics tonight, because it did for me! Happy Halloween!

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven

magnificent7Today, western cowboy films with their gun slinging and horse riding are largely regarded a past era. Magnificent Seven may just prove otherwise.

I recently had the opportunity to watch this movie in the famed Chinese Theater in Hollywood. (If you have a chance I recommending visiting the theater as it is truly “magnificent”) This movie is actually a remake of a 1960 of the same name, which in turn was based off of 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai. 

It is 1879, the mining town of Rose Creek has been taken over by the corrupt Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). He slaughters anyone in his way including Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) husband, who tries to stand up to him. Emma, in part for revenge and in part for justice, sets out with her friend, Teddy Q (Luke Grimes), to find someone to help their town. They meet, Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a bounty hunter, who agrees to help after knowing Bogue was involved. With Sam’s help, they assemble a crew of men from all parts of life: gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), knife-wielding assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), skilled tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) and notorious Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). With this rag-tag crew, they will attempt to drive out Bogue and defend Rose Creek.

Overall the can be considered to be average. The storyline does not stick after very long and the main focus of the film seem to be on the fight scenes. I personally felt that Magnificent Seven was underdeveloped in terms of character, but developed the characters enough not to harm the film. There is a large group of main actors and it become very difficult to catch each of their names, but it was help with the characters being very unique in personality. Emma Cullen is a  relatively strong female character, which was refreshing. The main cast was obviously an effort to represent diversity of the film but it lead to some parts of the movie seeming to farfetched.  Cinematography wise, it does feature the classical sweeping landscapes of western films.

This was a one time movie for me. It is great for those who want to see a western film but not so much for me. Note that it has a lot of fighting, and it can go on for a while. This is not recommended for a younger audience. Of course this is only by opinion of the movie, see it for yourself to truly decide.

-Sarah J., 11th Grade

Movie Review: Big Hero 6

Disney_BigHero6_Poster_BaymaxThis past weekend, I got a chance to see Big Hero 6, a Disney movie about a 13 year old robotics prodigy named Hiro, who, after his brother, Tadashi, dies in a freak accident, is left with Tadashi’s health care robot, Baymax. After Hiro’s microbots (little robots) are stolen, and it is discovered that they are being used to do evil, Hiro and Baymax, with the help of Tadashi’s college friends, set out to find the man responsible for Tadashi’s death and the microbots’ evil escapades.

At first, Big Hero 6 may seem like a basic kid’s movie- a battle between good and evil. However, Big Hero 6 carries some more subtle, deeper messages. One of the themes of the movie is the message of the power of friendship. Big Hero 6 shows that by working together, even the biggest of problems can be solved. The movie also leans away from gender bias. Two of Tadashi’s friends are girls, and they are equally important and smart as the boys in the movie. Big Hero 6 also sets up a diverse cast of characters, characters of different races and from different backgrounds.

Big Hero 6 shows that decisions made in the quest for revenge and in anger are never good. When Hiro tries to get revenge from the man who killed Tadashi by taking out Baymax’s health care chip and leaving in his fighting chip, things go wrong. The movie also supports the idea of innovation and robotics, two things that can help society.
The main message in the movie is that those who are loved can always be remembered. When Tadashi dies, Hiro does not think this way. However, Baymax shows him that loved ones can always be remembered. This causes Hiro to think differently about things.

This movie is great for people of all ages, go see it as soon as possible.

Two series of books that I recommend to those who liked this movie:

  • The Moomintroll series, by Tove Jansson. Although these books may be hard to find, the Moomintrolls have the same kind of cuddly appearance and personality as Baymax.
  • Alex Rider series, by Anthony Horowitz. Just like Big Hero 6, these book are packed full of action and adventure.

-Will R., 10th grade

Book vs. Movie: The Giver

giver_bookvmovieThe Giver is an award-winning book written by Lois Lowry about a futuristic dystopian community of “Sameness.” The book was written in 1993 – before the teen dystopian literature era took off so I guess you could say it was before its time in two ways!

Because most middle-schoolers end up reading The Giver as part of their curriculum, I don’t want to go into the novel or movie details. However, I will share that the novel was originally written by Ms. Lowry as a result of realizing her father was losing his memory. This sad, negative situation was developed into imagining a society that had lost its memory; that is, it had no past. Eliminating a “history” means that many ingredients making up that “history” must also be eliminated. The protagonist in The Giver is Jonas, an 11-year old who lives in this resulting community known as “Sameness,” a seemingly utopian society where everything is the same and everything is equal. Jonas, through a developing uniqueness, is able to see past this “sameness” and perceived utopia.

After 18-19 long years of hoping and trying to bring the novel to the big screen, Jeff Bridges, who plays The Giver in the movie, successfully premiered the movie on August 11th and opened it nationwide on August 15th. I have seen it twice: I attended a special showing on premiere night and then saw a regular showing about a week later. I had been anticipating the release of this movie since last August when I first learned that Taylor Swift was going to play a small, but important character role of “Rosemary.”   As a Swiftie and a lover of Lois Lowry’s Giver Quartet (of which The Giver is the first novel), my excitement was barely containable!

So because I saw the movie twice within one week, you probably think I LOVED the movie the first time and went back to enjoy it a second time. Not exactly . . .

I was actually disappointed when I saw The Giver movie the first time. I thought the beginning was very rushed. I was annoyed by the changes made in the movie. I sort of expected the movie to be a bit more accurate because I had read they kept writing, discarding, and rewriting the screenplay in those 18 or so years. And I was extremely “let down” that the anticipation of the movie was over.

When I saw it the second time, I went into it expecting to be disappointed again. (I had promised my friend to see it with her.) Surprisingly, I found I liked the movie this time. I really did!! So what changed?

Yes, compared to the book, the beginning is rushed. But you can’t fit a 200+ page book into a two-hour movie. So, I guess I’m okay with that. The “rushed beginning” still set the stage for the movie which was what it needed to do.

As for the changes in the screenplay . . .all the people involved, including Lois Lowry, agreed that the movie stayed true to the book’s storyline. So who am I to get upset with the changes? Yes, the movie is different than the book.   But that’s not necessarily a bad or negative thing.

And as for being “let down” . . . I left the movie the second time feeling more satisfied, happier, seeing the positives more, and appreciating the movie for its differences. I actually LIKE the movie and hope that the other Lois Lowry books in The Giver Quartet also find their way to the big screen!

-Danielle L., 7th grade

Book Review: The Giver, by Lois Lowry

giver_coverAuthor Lois Lowry does an amazing job in the unique, science-fiction novel The Giver. The highly-anticipated movie adaptation just released on August 15. Have you seen it?

In the novel, we are introduced to a boy named Jonas, who lives in a utopian society that has eradicated conflict, poverty, unemployment, divorce, injustice, and inequality. In the annual Ceremony, where every twelve-year-old gets a life assignment prearranged by the Elders, Jonas is selected to inherit the position of “Receiver of Memory.”

When Jonas spends more & more time with the Giver, he learns the power of wisdom. Even though the people in his community have been shielded from life’s many problems, Jonas realizes that they do not know about the things that give life meaning such as sunshine, color, music, and love.

Becoming wiser everyday, Jonas doesn’t want to bear all the memories, both joyful and painful, by himself. He wants to share the many freedoms with his community, even if it means disrupting the safe, current life of innocence and order. Together the Giver and Jonas formulate a plan that will have instant, severe outcome on the entire community, especially on Jonas himself.

Jonas, portrayed by Brenton Thwaites in the movie, is naïve in the story and I like how he matures during the course of the story. One main reason I liked this book is that it is unlike other dystopian novels I have read. The Giver is one of the books that I have read over and over again because it is so well written. This is truly Lois Lowry’s masterpiece and in my opinion she totally deserves the John Newbery Award for it. The ending of The Giver was not the best, but I have not read all the books in the Giver Quartet. It might make more sense in the latter books. I am especially excited to see the movie because I loved the book. It’s been hard waiting for the movie to be released, but I am going to see it for sure.

-Anmol K., 7th grade