Thoughts on The Lego Movie

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I'll tell you now, this review is long and has spoilers, but I really want to get into why this movie struck home for me. And why you should watch it, even if you don't have any kids.

It's been 5 days, but I'm still thinking about The Lego Movie. It hadn't even been my first or second choice for Valentine's Day. But since date night night turning into family night due to sick auntie meant we didn't want to see our first choice of The Monuments Men, and then Frozen no longer being available in the evening except as the Sing-a-long version, that left The Lego Movie.

I thought, it's probably going to be totally cheesy like Lego: The Adventures of Clutch Powers, but oh well. It's at least something our son can watch with us. Even as the movie started, it had all the signs of a silly adventure movie: Lego archvillain trying to make the world behave his way, prophesy-speaking wizard warning that one day The Special would come to stop his plans, followed by lots of Lego people all singing "EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! EVERYTHING IS COOL WHEN YOU'RE PART OF A TEAM!" Yeah, I meant that to be all caps. (They were rather enthusiastic about it.)

And through the song, we meet this ordinary Lego construction guy named Emmet. All he wants to do is follow the rules and fit in with everyone else. He prides himself in being part of the team and building buildings everyday according to the directions. If we were to label him, we'd probably call him a follower. Certainly we'd never think of him as a leader. Nothing stands out about him. Even his coworkers later on describe him as without anything special, nothing to make him distinctive from everyone else. They could hardly remember anything about him at all, as though he was so ordinary that he wasn't worth getting to know. Excuse me, I need a tissue. *bwaaat*

Right, so anyway Emmet finishes at the construction site at the end of the day, rebuffed but unfazed by his attempt to be part of the group after work, he spots this oddly dressed young woman hanging around, looking for something, rather athletically actually. Lots of jumps to different parts of half built section. He warns her that she's not supposed to be there; it's against the rules. In trying to find out why she's there, he ends up falling down a very long (and crooked) shaft in typical Lego style: bounce, pong, ping, crunch, bounce some more, bang, bop, flop. Very silly.

But then he finds the thing of prophesy (not that he knew it at the time), the item that will stop President Business from gluing the world together forever with the Kragle. (The thing gets stuck to his back while he's having a high speed vision of sorts.) And in so doing, all of a sudden he's now The Special of prophesy: a felon in the eyes of the law and the long waited for extra special Master Builder by the other rebels. But he has no idea what to do or how to do it. He'd never even heard of the prophesy until Wildstyle, the girl he'd seen before he fell, tells him about it. The only thing he's ever constructed was a bunk bed style sofa so "everyone can hang out and watch tv together." And Every. Single. Person. who brings up the sofa treats it like a worthless idea.

When the other rebels find out he's no Master Builder and just an ordinary guy who happens to have this thing stuck on his back, they think the prophesy has failed. They dismiss him. But it turns out, his specialness is knowing how to work as a team. The other Master Builders such as Batman, Wonder Woman, Gandalf, Dumbledore, and all the others don't know how to build according to the rules or do anything cohesively together. And that is their weakness.

Despite everyone telling him he's a nobody, and even half believing it himself, he takes a more active role because nobody else can do what he can do. He's the one who comes up with the plan to get into the tower to deactivate the Kragle and save all the Lego worlds. He's the one who knows how to blend in so they can carry it out. And when everything looks bleakest,  he takes a plunge that frees all the captive Master Builders, though he's sacrificing himself to do it. He even tells Lucy (Wildstyle's real name), that she needs to be the hero now.

And here is where the story takes a deeper turn. We're almost to the climax, yet, this is the part when you will most want those tissues. I have allergies, so I had some on me, thankfully, but the rest of you, this is your warning to get some now.

Emmet falls from the tower, but into a sort of vortex which leads out into the real world. There we find out the story is both Emmet's world and that of a boy playing with the Legos. He had made his dad, the real owner of the Legos and the one who'd constructed all the sets in the first place, into President Business. His dad had apparently forbidden him from playing with them 'because he was messing things up.' His dad comes down and catches the boy and, seeing the carnage of the rebellion in full force, yells at him. "These are mine." But the box says ages 8-14, replies the boy. They are toys. Not the way I'm using them, answers the dad angrily. (Will Ferrell does a great job in the role.)

The dad then starts using Krazy Glue, aka the Kragle, to glue the pieces together so they can not come apart again. In Lego World Wildstyle/Lucy is leading all the ordinary people in full revolt, but all over the place people and things are snatched up by the President's robots and glued in place. It looks hopeless, the boy unable to convince his dad that creativity is more than following directions, that creativity is a good thing. In Lego world Emmet is facing off with the villain in front of the Kragle and holding the cap to the Krazy Glue.

The boy is standing there in real world time so sad and seeing the fun sucked away. But then the dad finds President Business in the tower and realizes it's himself and he's been cast as the villain, a total reality check as a parent that maybe he's been doing something wrong in his response to his son. His whole demeanor softens in true Will Ferrell fashion. You can see in his face the revelation that has struck him. He kneels and holds out Emmet and President Business to his son. In a much gentler voice, he asks what Emmet would say to President Business.

Straight from the heart comes the answer, that anyone can be The Special, to be the hero. Back near the beginning when Emmet had been his prisoner right after finding the Thing, President Business had been sneering at him for being ordinary. "Nobody ever told ME that I was special. What makes you so special?" So, this response is both Emmet and the boy to the President and the father. (I warned you about needing the tissues.) In Lego World, Emmet holds out the cap to President Business who takes it, completely disarmed in that moment, and puts on the cap himself, becoming the hero and thus saving Lego World from the Kragle. In real world the father and son hug and start using a solvent to remove the Krazy Glue from the pieces. Just a moment, I'm getting teary again remembering it. *sniff* Okay, I'm good.

Not only has there been this fabulous theme about what it means to be special, but the real world part really drives home about the value of creativity and exploring new possibilities. The rules and directions should be a springboard, not a prison. Watching this movie, I felt it both as the boy and the father, because I see myself in both. It's easy to say this is the way things should be done, but we also need to listen to the part of us that says there might be another way.

And gosh darn it, I love the whole thing about ordinary being so incredibly awesome. We don't have to be amazingly talented to bring out our awesomeness. Everyone can be awesome. You, me, the kid down the street, the woman in the supermarket, the man walking the dog, everyone. And it's even better when we bring our various awesomenesses together as a team. So go watch the movie if you haven't yet and join me in one more cheer. With fists in the air, sing it to the sky.


The Last Dragonslayer

Monday, October 28, 2013

Quick ROW80 update:
Goals: hahahaha Yeah, I didn't really do my goals too well this week. I'm not changing them, because they really had been doable. It was all me. At least I managed the book review, and it was nice to see so many people stopped by to read it, if only to also check out my ROW80 goals. I wrote on my story one day last week, and I commented on 2 or 3 people's goal posts, though I read a few additional ones beyond that. On to this week now and better self-discipline...

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

The cover art and title make the book sound like a serious sort of book, despite the fact that I found it in the MG section of my library. Think about it. The last dragonslayer. And the cover is this antique gold color with a green scaled tail wrapping around from front to back. And resting on the tail is the front shot of a red Volkswagen Beetle. And there are dim copper swirls and stars around the title and edges of the cover....Okay, maybe not totally serious, but still, I wasn't expecting the whimsical zaniness of the story. Didn't matter though; I was hooked with the jacket description and first few pages.

In the good old days, magic was indispensable; it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain.

But now magic is fading. Drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets have been reduced to pizza delivery. Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an employment agency for magicians--but it's hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world's last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer. If that's true, everything will change for Kazam--and for Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as...Big Magic.

The writing reminded me a little of Floors, which I reviewed back in April, and a bit like Diana Wynne Jones' books. Jennifer herself is the strong-willed and mature acting manager of Kazam for all that she's only 2 weeks shy of her 16th birthday and technically an indentured servant to the Great Zambini until she's 18. But since he disappeared about 6 months ago, she's been running the business for him until he returns. She's rather good at her job and firmly believes that behind every great wizard in history, there'd been a talented agent.

She's the sort of girl I'd have loved to have as a friend or to be myself. She's loyal, caring, and determined, and those prove to be among her greatest strengths. Her friends and allies would agree with me. Fellow foundling Tiger, newly arrived at Kazam to help Jenny, becomes fiercely loyal to her, even taking on the wrath of Lady Mawgon, one of the residential wizards on contract with Kazam, over an ethical dispute in order to protect Jenny's position the way a younger brother might for an admired older sister.

I highly recommend this story for MG readers, and I plan to share it with my son. It's similar enough in style to some of the other books he's enjoyed with me, so I think he'll like it.

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar

Monday, October 21, 2013

Before I start the review, sorry for being gone so long. However, I'm getting back onto the ROW80 challenge again. This round started a couple weeks ago, but who's counting, right? The idea is to make progress in writing, and that's what I have time to do again. The past few months have been challenging since I finally started getting signups for my crochet classes, working to finish my certification for teaching crochet (now completed and certificate received--Yay!), prepping for our semi-annual Open House at work (got 7 class signups from it, which is 7 more than the last one), and helping plan and run our Baha'i district's annual convention. My brain was a bit too swamped to think much about writing, though I did a bit here and there. Now that the big things are done and past, I can read, write, and craft (for myself) again. Whew!

So anyway, my goals to start with:
to write for at least an hour 4 days a week
read 1 new book a week and write a review for it
visit and comment on 5 ROWers' blogs a week

This should be easy enough to get me warmed up and back into the swing of it. I've already taken care of goal 2 with this post, and I spent at least an hour yesterday on writing, so that's a good start on goal 1 as well. Cheers to whatever goals you are working on yourselves, whether writing related or otherwise. Now on to the review.

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross

In New York City, 1897, life has never been more thrilling--or dangerous.

Sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne and her 'straynge band of mysfits' have journeyed from London to America to rescue their friend Jasper, hauled off by bounty hunters. But Jasper is in the clutches of a devious former friend demanding a trade--the dangerous device Jasper stole from him...for the life of the girl Jasper loves.

One false move from Jasper and the strange clockwork collar around Mei's neck tightens. And tightens.

From the rough streets of lower Manhattan to elegant Fifth Avenue, the motley crew of teens with supernatural abilities is on Jasper's elusive trail. And they're about to discover how far they'll go for friendship.

More than ever, Finley Jayne will rely on powerful English duke Griffin King to balance her dark magic with her good side. Yet Griffin is at war with himself over his secret attraction to Finley...and will risk his life and reputation to save her. Sam, more machine than man, finds his moody heart tested by Irish lass Emily--whose own special abilities are no match for the darkness she discovers on the streets.

Now, to help those she's come to care for so deeply, Finley Jayne must infiltrate a criminal gang. Only problem is, she might like the dark side a little too much...

I didn't realize until after I'd started reading that there was a book before this one. The strong references to something that had recently happened, especially the residual effects from facing off with some villain, tipped me off. However, it didn't affect the plot of this book other than how the characters felt about each other because of it. The previous book is essentially treated like backstory, and very well done. Though I plan to go back and read The Girl in the Steel Corset anyway, just to satisfy my curiosity.

Jayne is rather feisty, and she was a lot of fun to follow. Trying to figure out how to balance different aspects of your persona can be tricky enough, but for Jayne, her sides were drastically contrasted. From what I understand, they were actually separate enough that it was like she was two people. Now she's fused into one persona but she still can choose which side she prefers. Not so easy when she likes fighting and flirting with danger, despite her good qualities. However, I can respect a girl who has such loyalty to her friends and works to see justice done.

Jasper and Griffin also get some POV time, and their parts help round out what all is going on in the story. I could really feel for Griffin's desperation in dealing with one particularly determined young heiress after his title, as well as his growing affection for Jayne, and Jasper's desire to get himself and Mei free from Dalton's control. Though Sam and Emily didn't have their own POV parts, their connections with each other and the others were filled in just fine through Jayne and Griffin.

In some ways this book reminds me of Soulless by Gail Carriger mixed with The Society of Steam: The Falling Machine by Andrew P. Mayer. Shouldn't be terribly surprising considering the genre and the time period they are all set. The Falling Machine is set in 1880 and Soulless is Victorian England. But I enjoyed all three, and if you like any of the other ones, you will probably dig into this one, too. I can't wait to read more by Cross now, and her author bio reminds me of a couple of my friends. She's now on my list of authors I want to meet.

The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff

Let me just start by saying I ended the book with a chuckle and an "Oh, that was good."

I had a hard time deciding how many stars to give it. When I started the book, I was probably around a 3, because the first scene in chapter one didn't sound like it had anything to do with the back-cover blurb. The characters weren't any of the ones named on the cover. I was expecting to start off hearing about Allie or Charlie. After all, they're the ones mentioned on the back cover. But it didn't take me all that long to figure out how Amelia Carson and her associates were involved.

Skipping the first paragraph due to library barcode covering part, and it's mostly a background on the Gale family anyway:

The Gale Aunties rule the family, or they think they do. And cousins Allie and Charlie have often found themselves beset by too many Aunties trying to control them. Now that Allie has settled down and has her own Gale circle in Calgary, the Aunties are focusing even more attention on Charlie. She wishes they'd just leave her alone. After all, she has a steady job with an up and coming country and western band and a great home in Calgary.

But the truth is Charlie Gale is a Wild Power and there's nothing wild about the life she's living. So she ditches it to join a Celtic Rock band on the summer festival circuit. All Charlie wants to do is play music and have a good time. She has no plans to get involved in a local fight against offshore drilling...fought by an extended family of Selkies against an oil company willing to employ the most horrific means to get what they want. They've hired one of the Gale Aunties to steal the Selkies' sealskins.

To return the skins to their rightful owners and stop a potential environmental disaster, Charlie will have to face off with Auntie Catherine, another Wild Power. To have any hope of winning, Charlie will have to learn what born to be Wild means in the Gale family--then teach it to Jack, a Dragon Prince trying to be a real boy--all while attempting corporate espionage with a seal-wife who won't stop crying.

Oh, Jack. Now there's a fascinating character. While he's just briefly mentioned in the synopsis, he plays more of a direct role in this book than Allie. Straddling two worlds, he is trying to learn how to be a Gale boy and fumbling because many of the Gale Aunties don't trust him. After all, he's a bit Wild Power-esque like Charlie since he's a really a dragon. And being a teenager means he doesn't have full maturity yet. (Though it buys him some leeway with the distrustful Aunties.) It's a tough situation. But his secondary arc fits well with Charlie's primary arc, and together they figure out how to deal with Auntie Catherine.

Speaking of Auntie Catherine, she kept me guessing throughout the book. Amelia is the obvious villain of the story, but even though Auntie Catherine is working with her, her goals are clearly not the same. Her motivations are hidden; even Amelia doesn't understand why Auntie Catherine is involved. Auntie Catherine goads Charlie here and there, almost like she wants Charlie to face her, but not out of malice. It's not until halfway through the last chapter that everything falls into place about Auntie Catherine's true goals. And no, I won't spoil it for you. It was a fantastic payoff.

Charlie herself was fun for me to follow, though I had this parallel to Bedlam's Bard by Lackey in the back of my head for part of the book. However, BB didn't hold my interest that well, and this one did. I loved the setting and characters, even the antagonists (well, loved how they were done, not necessarily themselves). They weren't black and white. Amelia was a real person with real-person goals I could understand, even though her methods and intents are still ones I'd oppose. She wasn't particularly nice either, but I could understand her drive.

All in all, I hope you give this book a shot. After considering everything, I gave it 4 stars, though it finished more like a 4.5. I'll also be looking for book one, The Enchanted Emporium, because I just found out this is actually a book 2, and I never noticed it by the way the story arc unfolds. It's complete by itself. Have fun, and don't mind the Selkies who've stopped by. They're just hoping you read it, too.

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher

Monday, June 3, 2013

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville

If Howard Morton and Freddie the Frog Killer were trying to hold you down so that Mary Lou Hutton could kiss you, you might run as fast as Jeremy Thatcher did the day he stumbled into Mr. Elives's Magic Shop.

And if you stumbled into that strange shop, you too might be asked to make a choice. What would you buy? The Chinese rings? The Skull of Truth? Or the dragon's egg? And if you did buy the dragon's egg, what would you do when you found you were supposed to hatch it?

This wasn't the first book I'd read by Coville. That would be My Teacher Is an Alien, followed by My Teacher Glows in the Dark, My Teacher Fried My Brains, My Teacher Flunked the Planet, and Aliens Ate My Homework. As you can see, I'd already formed a fondness for his stories. This was the first for me of his fantasies though. (But not the last)

Jeremy loves to draw, but his art teacher seems to hate him. Nothing he does ever seems to be good enough. It doesn't help that Mr. Kravitz read the embarrassing note Mary Lou had left for Jeremy out loud to the class but didn't punish her in any way. Majorly unfair.

In trying to get away from Mary Lou after school, Jeremy ends up in a strange magic shop he doesn't remember ever seeing before. While wandering around, he notices several curious objects, including a multi-colored ball with changing hues. Mr. Elives allows him to buy it for a quarter, saying that it had chosen him. Whatever that means.

When he gets home and reads the folded paper Mr. Elives had given him with it, he finds out. It's instructions for hatching an egg. That is only the beginning of it all, too. He's expected to care for it. It isn't easy to hide a baby dragon in his house, even with a multitude of pets around since his dad is the town vet. And what is he going to do when it gets bigger? How big can it grow?

One of the things I find so appealing about this story is that Jeremy's issues are anchored in the real world. He's an ordinary 6th grader who has to balance his normal issues with that of dragon caretaker. Any of us could have found ourselves in Jeremy's shoes. And let me tell you, I'd wanted a dragon like his so bad even though I would've had to go through the same heartache he did when the dragon was old enough to go her home world.

It's well worth reading.

H is for The Hobbit

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
Bilbo Baggins was a hobbit who wanted to be left alone in quiet comfort. But the wizard Gandalf came along with a band of homeless dwarves. Soon Bilbo was drawn into their quest facing evil orcs, savage wolves, giant spiders, and worse unknown dangers. Finally, it was Bilbo--alone and unaided--who had to confront the great dragon Smaug, the terror of an entire countryside!

I've known the story of Bilbo for years. Even before I picked up the novel, I had the picture book and read along cassette of his meeting with the goblins and Gollum, not to mention my dad playing the record album (yes, that nearly forgotten disc of black vinyl) featuring the section dealing with Smaug. I can still vaguely remember the sound of the dragon's voice and Bilbo doing his best to be brave.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien is such a classic. I think I would have still been a fan of fantasy without it, but it has enriched me in so many ways. Even the smallest of persons can make a difference in the world. It doesn't matter if others believe in you. It doesn't even matter if you believe in you at first. When you step out your door and do something you've never done, you'll learn so much more about what you're capable of than you would have ever thought. Bilbo was completely unprepared for anything; he even forgot his handkerchief. But along the way, he proves his worth to the dwarves and himself.

I also finally watched part one of the new movie (since it hit DVD). And while there are some changes, it was still well done. I was worried that there was going to be a bunch of padding just to draw things out in order to justify breaking the story into 3 parts. LotR was three books, three movies. The Hobbit as 1 book, three movies? Really? But considering how much of the tone of The Hobbit (and LotR) is the travel aspect, the scenery and so forth, that I didn't mind any of the sweeping camera views that technically weren't needed for plot. They helped carry the feel of the book.

I didn't even mind the dwarves being made a little more sympathetic than they were in the book. (Ahhh, Thorin *swoon*) They still didn't think Bilbo was going to be much use. So when my husband and I got to the part when they flee into the trees to escape the orcs and wargs, I was on the edge of my seat. And what Thorin said to Bilbo after they'd been rescued by the eagles made me cry. All the changes I might have muttered about in mild annoyance paid off right there. I didn't care anymore at that point. So now I'm really looking forward to part 2 in a way I hadn't had for part 1 after so long a wait since LotR.

I'm dropping the A-to-Z challenge with this post. Too many things going on, and this one has to go before I get overly stressed. I'll try to keep up with reading other people's posts, though. After all, with not having to read and then write about quite so many books all at once, that will be easier. I'll still be posting this month, but only 2-3 times a week. Best wishes to those of you still doing the challenge. I'll see you around.

G is for Goblin Secrets

Monday, April 8, 2013

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

Rownie is the youngest in a hodgepodge household of stray children collected by Graba the witch. His older brother, Rowan, has vanished after performing in a secret play, and Rownie feels lost without him. Acting is illegal in the city of Zombay. No one may wear a mask and pretend to be someone else. Only goblins may legally perform, for they are the Changed--neither human nor other, belonging nowhere.

Rownie meets a traveling troupe of goblins who promise to teach him the secrets of mask-craft and entice him with the hope of finding Rowan. But Graba does not give up her own easily and hunts for them both. As Rownie searches for his brother, the true power of the masks--and those who wear them--is revealed. Are the goblins what they seem to be? What fateful magic lies hidden in the heart of Zombay?

Mystery and adventure are woven through with charm and humor in this beguiling exploration of family, love, identity, and the power of words to shape what is real.

Oh my. This book is now on my to-buy list. It's not a high intensity action book, but there's something very endearing about Rownie's search for his brother and finding his place. There's danger from Graba as she tries very hard to get him back in her control, especially to keep him away from the goblin acting troupe. There's also the danger to him if the Guard catches him, an unChanged boy performing with masks, highly illegal. But the goblins are not what everyone has said about them.

I can't really say any more than that about the story, but I give it 5 stars. I should also mention that as far as Zombay itself goes, think gears and mechanicals in a medieval fantasy with witchcraft. That is all; carry on and find yourself a copy of the book. Well worth reading with kids you know. Words are very important.