July 1, 2016 - Russell Newquist

Archive Daily Archives: July 1, 2016

Hail Caesar! – MOVIE REVIEW

Hail Caesar!

Hail Caesar!

I promise I won’t let this blog turn into a review blog. This will be the last one for the week. Not only have I gotten a lot of reading done lately, I’ve also gotten the chance to watch a few things.

Hail Caesar! is the latest movie from the Coen brothers. If you’re a fan of their work, that alone is probably enough to convince you to see it. If their typical off-beat quirkiness isn’t your thing, you won’t like this film, either. This movie is more than a little weird – but you expected that when I said “Coen brothers.” If you don’t get that particular style of weird, you just won’t get it.

It currently has a three star rating on Amazon. After watching it last night, I suspected bifurcated reviews: half four and five stars, half one stars. I was partially right. 36% of the reviews are one star reviews. The rest are nearly evenly distributed between two, three, four, and five stars.

This is pretty fair, actually. It represents the fact that this movie honestly isn’t quite as good as the typical Coen brothers film. Also, I’m convinced that it’s getting slightly lower than normal reviews because of the way it depicts communism. The film accurately shows its communists as idiots. It also accurately depicts the way that communists – with Russian sponsorship – really did infiltrate Hollywood in the 1950s. There are a lot of ideologues – and specifically some SJWs – out there who want to pretend that the Communist infiltration was all invented by Joseph McCarthy. They conveniently ignore the fact that KGB records released in the 1990s proved that McCarthy was right about Hollywood Communists.

But I digress. The film itself is fun. The film portrays life in a simpler age. I particularly enjoyed Hobie Doyle, the “aw, shucks” cowboy-turned-drama-actor. I’m a firm believer that “simple” is not the same thing as “stupid,” and I really enjoy it on the rare occasion that you see simple characters portrayed very well. The film is about life inside an old-school Hollywood studio, so Doyle is working on a new film. I especially liked the way they had to alter his scenes to accommodate his acting style – and the fact that it turned out to actually be far better for it.

As I said, though, this isn’t quite as good as some of the Coen brothers’ other films. O Brother, Where Art Thou? it is not. Still, I’d easily sit through it again. And I’d definitely recommend it if you’re just looking for some fun. I give it four out of five stars.

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin – BOOK REVIEW

"The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin" by L. Jagi Lamplighter

“The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin” by L. Jagi Lamplighter

I’ve put up a lot of book reviews this week. In Wednesday’s review of Gorilla Mindset I mentioned that it’s not so much that I’ve read a lot recently as that I’ve finished a lot all at once. The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is the exception.

I started the book earlier this week and finished it very quickly. It was a very fast read for two reasons. First, it’s a young adult book. The language is simple, the story is not overly complex, and it’s an easy read. Second, the book is thoroughly engaging. Once I started it, I didn’t want to put it down.

I’m not a particular fan of young adult books. I have, of course, read my fair share of them – probably hundreds of them. I also graduated past them pretty quickly: I read Tolkien in the fourth grade and Asimov, Herbert, Clancy, and Crichton only a year or two later. Of course, I still devoured a ton of YA books at that age. But even then it wasn’t because I preferred the genre. I simply read whatever I could get my hands on out of sheer boredom.

My young adult reading since high school mostly consists of the Harry Potter series. So you can imagine that I didn’t particularly seek out this series. Furthermore, while I have been interested in reading Ms. Lamplighter’s works for some time, I’ve also eyed them with some trepidation. You see, I know her better as Mrs. John C. Wright, and her husband may well be my favorite still-living-and-writing author. To be fair, I would never expect any author to live up to that. How could they? Yet it still puts an unfair burden on Ms. Lamplighter.

Thankfully, I can report that this work is excellent. The setting and the world borrow very liberally from Harry Potter. If you’re a fan of J.K. Rowling’s, you will enjoy this book. And as you might expect from knowing that and seeing the cover, the book can be somewhat fairly described as “Harry Potter with a girl as the main character.” Some people will be interested in the book purely for that, and that’s fine. If that sounds great to you, skip the rest of my review and just go read the book. It won’t disappoint you.

But the great thing is that the book very quickly establishes itself as far more than that. Not that I’m implying that it’s better than Harry Potter – it isn’t, if I may risk offending Ms. Lamplighter, although it is definitely worthy of Harry Potter. But it’s definitely not just a Harry Potter ripoff that happens to be about a girl. The story involves something akin to our modern world, with a hidden world of magic thriving within it. The witches and wizards of this world send their children to magical boarding schools. Evil wizards attack one of these schools. Sound familiar?

The similarities pretty much end there, however. The story is radically different from any of Ms. Rowling’s. The characters are very different. A danger of writing about thirteen year old girls is that so many of them are just annoying. Rachel, on the other hand, is quite endearing. She’s earnest without being a brown noser, bright without becoming a know-it-all, and feisty without becoming obnoxious. Her friends are just as interesting. I particularly enjoyed Sigfried, the orphan who wants nothing more than to be a valiant knight, and Gaius, the man apart from the group. Yet all of the characters are fun and enjoyable.

I give the book four stars out of five for adults, but I’d give it five out of five if recommending it to a younger reader (which is, in fact, it’s target audience). My oldest son is not yet reading well enough for a book this complex, but in a few years he will be. When he reaches that point, this book will be on his reading list right next to the Narnia and Harry Potter books. If you loved either, but especially if you love the latter, you should take a look at this book.