I'm a mom of 3 kids, and I love to read and watch movies, and I'm picky about what my kids read and watch.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

TV SERIES: Mr. Bean (1990-1995)

Mr. Bean
starring Rowan Atkinson

If you haven't been introduced to the joys of "Mr. Bean," then go to YouTube and watch any (or all) of the clips of Mr. Bean episodes. You can't help laughing. And your kids will too. You gotta love anything that's funny and clean and that the whole family can watch together.
We purchased this DVD set, "The Whole Bean" which my kids love.  We also enjoyed "Mr. Bean's Holiday." By the way, don't bother with the "Mr. Bean Animated Series." It's just not that funny. You have to see Rowan Atkinson doing his stuff.

Friday, April 29, 2011

BOOK: Austenland

by Shannon Hale

Dear "Pride and Prejudice" Fan,

Yes, you. You know who you are.  And I'm not talking about the book. 

If you love the BBC mini-series (or even if you like the 2005 film with Kiera Knightley which is utterly inferior, but for some reason people like it) and you haven't read Shannon Hale's "Austenland" then you are in for a treat. I read it in practically one sitting, which isn't a tremendous feat considering it's less than 200 pages long, and is a delightful and easy read.   I absolutely giggled my way through the book. If you are a Jane Austen fan, you won't be disappointed.... how could you not love a book that begins with a dedication reading, "For Colin Firth: You're a really great guy, but I'm married, so I think we should just be friends."

However, if you are an Austen-purist, you should probably stay away.  This book is pure silly fun.

[Shannon Hale is an excellent writer.  Her youth and young adult books are wonderful.  This was her first adult novel and the first one I read.  Since I was pleased with it I eagerly read "The Actor and the Housewife."  Ugh!  I'm not going to waste my time telling you all the things wrong with it.  It was disturbing on so many levels.]

Thursday, April 28, 2011

TV SERIES: Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)

Pushing Daisies (TV-PG)
starring Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Kristin Chenoweth

I was totally smitten with this show while it lasted, which, unfortunately, was only 2 seasons. It is the perfect blend of funny/quirky, sweet/romantic, with a little drama and action to boot. I also love that the creators aren't afraid to throw in cheesy musical numbers, ala "Grease" and "They Might Be Giants." No one can blame them. After all, with the hilarious and talented Kristin Chenoweth among the fabulous cast, how could they help it? Not to mention "the" Prince Charming himself, Lee Pace, and the absolutely darling Anna Friel. Add to that the eye-popping sets and "Chuck's" gorgeous wardrobe, and there is enough eye-candy to last until the next episode. Even Jay likes it.   And that's saying something.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

FILM: Departures (2008)

Departures (PG-13)
in Japanese with English Subtitles

I usually enjoy foreign films and I really liked this one, called "Okuribito" ("Departures" in English).  It is rated PG-13, mostly due to thematic material. An unemployed cellist finds himself accidentally accepting a very unusual job, and learns some profound lessons through his journey. It's at times very funny, sometimes awkward, and occasionally sad, but quite good. It's very different from most American films, cinematically (I think that's a word) as well as culturally. Jay and I really enjoyed it.

I am interested to know what other people thought of it. Did you see it?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

BOOK: Dive (series)

Dive (series)
by Gordon Korman
Book One:  The Discovery
Book Two:  The Deep
Book Three:  The Danger

I have enjoyed what I have read by Gordon Korman so far, including this series.  It's exciting and well-written.  The narration switches between the main characters, but it isn't distracting.  There are also flashbacks to the 1600's which add to the mystery and enhance the story about four teenagers' adventures during a summer diving internship in the Caribbean.  There are some pretty intense scenes and a bit of violence (not graphic), so I wouldn't recommend this series to younger children.

I do have one criticism.  Considering the reading level and subject matter, I'm surprised that each book is only around 150 pages (in larger type with wide margins), which makes each book appear to be geared more toward lower grades.  I suppose it was a publishing/marketing/sales strategy to make this a 3 book series when it would have made more sense to combine this into one longer novel (which would probably end of being around 300 pages with normal margins and type).  Oh well.

Age recommendation:  10 years and up

Friday, April 15, 2011

BOOK: Cody Unplugged

Cody Unplugged
by Betsy Duffey

A cute chapter book about a boy who goes away to summer camp for the first time and learns to survive without electronics, makes friends, learns a lot about himself and how to have fun without "technology," and comes to appreciate his family and the life he has.

Nothing offensive other than a few harmless summer camp pranks and a bit of mild teasing.

Age recommendation:  7-10

Thursday, April 14, 2011

BOOK: The Year My Parents Ruined My Life

The Year My Parents Ruined My Life
by Martha Freeman

Actually, I didn't finish reading this book.  I got halfway through and decided it was garbage and it would be a waste of my time to finish it.  I was the second parent to review this for our school library, and the first person rejected it with a solid "no."  Now I know why.  Shall I enlighten you?

1)  It's poorly written.  It's written from a third-person limited perspective, with the narration relating to the thoughts of the 6th-grade protagonist.  However, it reads like it's actually first-person and written by a 6th grader.  It's awful.  The characters and motivations are ridiculously unbelievable. 

2)  The protagonist is a spoiled brat who cares nothing for her family or their happiness, and is only lost in thoughts of the boyfriend she leaves behind (she is only in 6th grade, for heaven sake!) when the family moves, and wishes only to sabotage everything and run away (which was does, apparently, though I didn't get that far). 

3)  Can you say "loose morals?"  The mother's normal attire is (her own daughter's description) tight mini skirts which she wears to work.  Huh?  Not to mention the kids at the elementary school regularly smoke in the bathroom and no one makes a fuss about it as if it's normal, and the main character "makes-out" with her much older boyfriend who she is worried will "cheat on her" (what does "cheating" mean to her, one wonders).  I could go on but I'm too disgusted.

It's just not appropriate for elementary school children... or any children, for that matter.  This book belongs in the trash, and certainly not in our school library.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

BOOK: The Westing Game (Ellen Raskin)

The Westing Game
by Ellen Raskin

I think this is one of my favorite books for children.  It's a great mystery that even had me guessing.  Because it was a kids' book, I thought I had it all figured out early on, but I was wrong.  It's a very fun read, and it's well-written, with a wide variety of delightful characters and plot twists.  The story is actually quite complex.... my daughter read it in 3rd grade (when she was 8) and loved it, but she was confused at a couple of places so I had to help her out.  I would probably recommend it for those who are at least 9 and are very good readers.  However, this is also a great read for teens... and their moms too.  :)  It's quite clever.

I don't remember anything offensive other than maybe a phrase or two such as "shut up," and a girl kicking someone in the shins.

Age recommendation:  9 - 99

Monday, April 11, 2011

TV SERIES: Monk (2002-2009)

Monk (TV-PG)
(Seasons 1 & 2)
starring Tony Shalhoub, Bitty Shram, Ted Levine

My sister turned me on to this brilliant series.  (Thanks Liz!  You were right... Jay and I both love it!)  I've watched the first 2 seasons so far, and I'm looking forward to more.

Adrian Monk is a brilliant nut-case former police officer-turned-freelance detective with severe OCD.  He is sadly hilarious and yet utterly believable.  (Either Tony Shalhoub suffers from OCD in real-life, or he is a brilliant actor.)  He makes you laugh, but you feel sorry for him.  He is so lovable that you just want to give him a big hug (though that would absolutely freak him out), and at the same time ring his neck.  I laugh all the more because I have a few OCD tendencies myself.  (Shh!)

Sharona, Monk's long-suffering assistant, is hilarious in her own way.  She is a divorced single-mother who dresses like a hooker much of the time, yet she is very likable and you can't help rooting for her.  The police captain and his first right-hand-man are fun characters too.... they are not actually buffoons, but often seem so when the brilliant Monk frequently outwits them.  There is plenty in this show to laugh about.

The cases Monk solves are often crazy, but he always put the pieces together somehow.  Naturally, since the subject is murder, this is not a kids' show, though, thankfully, there is usually very little violence or gore (it mostly occurs off camera), and only the occasional mild profanity (after all, many of the characters are hardened police detectives and murderers)

TV SERIES: Lark Rise to Candleford (2008-2011)

Lark Rise to Candleford
Based on the memoirs of Flora Thompson
(Seasons 1 & 2)

This is the perfect costume-drama/period-series... it just ended its fourth and final (sadly) season.  I devoured season 1 and I'm half-way through season 2 and I'm addicted!  You can't ask for more than this; a wonderful cast of colorful characters, great acting, delightful stories, sweet romances, and plenty of humor.... AND it's clean!

Yes, it's silly that I feel like I know these people personally and I'm so interested in their lives.  I root for them.  I get wrapped up in their sorrows and joys.  And I can't wait to find out what happens next.

FILM: The Great Buck Howard (2008)

The Great Buck Howard (PG)
starring Colin Hanks, John Malkovich, Emily Blunt

I stumbled upon this delightfully quirky film on Netflix (sounds familiar).  Colin Hanks, Tom's son, does a great job... and reminds me of his dad a bit.  (Tom Hanks has a bit part playing the screen-dad of his real-life son.)  John Malkovich is larger than life (perfect for this role) and Emily Blunt is charming as ever.  I laughed out loud once or twice and found myself smiling through most of the movie.  Jay said he was going to bed but ended up staying up and watching it.  It's that kind of movie.  Not award material, just fun and enjoyable.  Also, it's relatively clean....a few mild profanities and one scene where it is assumed that a couple sleeps together.

BOOK: Just Juice

Just Juice
by Karen Hesse

This book is written at a 3rd grade level, and the narrator is 9-years-old, so I'm assuming that is the audience.  However, the themes in the book are much too mature for 8 and 9-year-old children. 

This story about an extremely poor "backwoods" family struggling to survive is touching, and in some ways inspiring for it's family loyalty and warmth.  I enjoyed it for the most part, but was rather shocked when near the end of the book the 9-year-old narrator describes being required to unexpectedly deliver her mother's baby in an emergency situation.  I admire the girl's courage, but not her description of seeing her mother's "private parts."  I wouldn't want my 9-year-old daughter reading that.  I think she would be traumatized.  (She knows some basics, but we haven't had the full-fledged "talk" yet... that's coming this summer.)  Call me old-fashioned.  I am. 

Poor grammar pervades this novel since the narrator and other characters are poorly educated.  This can be confusing to a 3rd grader who would not understand that this is not "acceptable" or "normal."  Overall, the book is simply too mature for it's intended audience.  The subject matter would be more appropriate for junior high school, but the reading level is too low, and the main character would not be interesting to young teens.  Unfortunately, that leaves this book in no-man's-land, which is unfortunate because it is a nice story. 

Age recommendation:  9 and up ONLY if read aloud to the child by a parent and discussed thoroughly.

Friday, April 8, 2011

FILM: Sweet Land (2005)

Sweet Land (PG)

I really enjoyed this sweet film about love, prejudice, friendship, loyalty, family, and faith.  I stumbled upon it by accident on Netflix, and I'm very glad I did.  I highly recommend it.

There is no "language" that I recall, and no sex or violence.  There is a very brief scene of partial nudity, but it is not sexual in any way (bathing). 

FILM: An Education (2009)

An Education (PG-13)
starring Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams

This is a well-made coming-of-age story.... it's well-told, well-acted and it leaves you feeling positive about the main character's future, rather than depressed.  Carey Mulligan is lovely and talented and has become quite a star, and Peter Sarsgaard is very charming and convincing in this role.  Alfred Molina is always excellent, and have I mentioned what I think of Olivia Williams?  Yes, she is fantastic, though her role is relatively small.

And yes, it's PG-13... what do you expect from a "coming-of-age" film?  The rating comes primarily from prevalent smoking ("everyone" smoked in the 60's) and some discussions of adult topics, which, frankly, should be limited to adults, not the 14, 15 and 16-year-olds who technically would be welcome.  There is a "nude scene" but you nothing but a bare back, and only one or two instances of mild profanity.  I don't think teens are much of an audience for this film anyway.  Adults will be much more interested.