Rent (2005) – Movie Review

Hello from a (way too) long hiatus, readers!

Life has been crazy, but hopefully we’ll get back to regular reviews soon – We’re gearing up for the Louisiana Book Festival here in October and have an amazing YA lineup so far, so I’ll be reading & reviewing like crazy in the upcoming months!

In the meantime, I just finished watching Rent (2005) and need to get some feels out – so here we go!

Rent, based off of the Broadway play of the same name by the late, great Jonathan Larson, is a 2005 film directed by Chris Columbus, written by Stephen Chbosky (who wrote the AMAZING The Perks of Being a Wallflower book and film screenplay, in addition to directing the film) and starring Anthony Rapp as Mark, Adam Pascal as Roger, Jesse L. Martin as Collins, Idina Menzel as Maureen, Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Angel, and Taye Diggs as Benny (all reprising their roles from the original Broadway play), along with Rent newcomers Rosario Dawson as Mimi and Tracie Thoms as Joanne (who went on to reprise her role in the final Broadway cast). The play (and subsequently, the movie), which is based on Puccini’s play La Boheme, centers around a Bohemian group of friends dealing with life, loss, love, and AIDS in the late 80’s/early 90’s East Village of New York City.

The only way I really can describe this movie is that it’s wonderful – the story is wonderful, the music is wonderful, the cast is wonderful – overall it’s a beautiful film. It’s emotional, powerful, gritty, raw… You can really feel what the characters are going through, especially throughout the musical numbers. I love the fact that most of the original cast reprised their roles, so I almost feel like I get to see the play in its original incarnation, although there’s obviously been some changes made for film. You can really tell that the actors love and understand their characters and therefore give their hearts and souls to their performances.

There’s so many great songs on the Rent movie soundtrack that it’s impossible to pick a favorite. Seasons of Love, Rent, Light My Candle, Out Tonight, La Vie Boheme, What You Own, No Day But Today… The soundtrack is so diverse with powerful rock anthems and softer ballads all blending seamlessly to create the perfect rock opera. It’s definitely worth buying the full 2-disc soundtrack as opposed to the 1-disc “selections from” album.

I’ve seen the film & listened to the soundtrack tons of times over the past 12 years, but both never cease to move me. I can’t help but sing along as I watch and the alternate ending to the film makes me cry every time I watch it in the deleted scenes.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go watch the “What You Own” scene again. I can’t help but make “aww” noises when Mark & Roger reunite and bro-hug it out.

Thank you, Jonathan Larson.

FINAL RATING: 5 Bohemian Sporks

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Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground – Movie Review

It’s no secret to people that know me that I have a fierce love of Hallmark Channel original movies. This holds especially true for Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ series Signed, Sealed, Delivered, written & produced by Martha Williamson (who also wrote & produced the CBS series Touched by an Angel).

Starting with a 2-hour pilot film and a 10-episode TV series before switching formats to a 2-hour film series, Signed, Sealed, Delivered is about 4 USPS employees who make up the team that work in the Dead Letter Office (DLO) department of the Denver, CO main branch. The team consists of section leader Oliver O’Toole (Eric Mabius), technophile Shane McInerney (Kristin Booth), postal history buff Norman Dorman (Geoff Gustafson), and Eidetiker Rita Haywith (Crystal Lowe), collectively known as the POstables (which is also the name of the fandom).

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground is the 8th film following the pilot & television series, and since each film frequently calls back to prior films & series episodes I highly recommend that one go back & watch them all in order, which is as follows:

Signed, Sealed, Delivered (2013) – Pilot episode

Signed, Sealed, Delivered (2014) – Television series

Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas (2014) – 1st film on the then-newly rebranded Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: From Paris with Love (2015)

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Truth Be Told (2015)

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: The Impossible Dream (2015)

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: From the Heart (2016)

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: One in a Million (2016)

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Lost Without You (2016)

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground (2017)

In Higher Ground the POstables find themselves in posession of a love letter written by a blues singer named Gabe, who was displaced from New Orleans during hurricane Katrina and relocated to Denver, to a woman named Hattie, the owner of a blues club in New Orleans.

Being from south Louisiana and actually having gone through Hurricane Katrina (although being an hour northwest of New Orleans I wasn’t involved in the levee breach & subsequent flooding there), I felt a personal attachment to Gabe’s story, both by actually being in New Orleans when evacuations started before Katrina hit and having gone through the Louisiana flooding in August of 2016.

Martha handles Gabe & Hattie’s story with such grace – showing what it truly was like for people who went through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans while still maintaining the humor and spirit that POstables around the world have come to expect from our favorite Hallmark series.

Of course, SSD is about way more than just the dead letter mysteries – while fun, the real beauty of the series is about the POstables themselves and the relationships between them. As of the beginning of Higher Ground Norman & Rita have been dating for a year (although they had carried torches for each other for a lot longer than that) and Shane & Oliver are on the verge of romance themselves. (Again, watch from the beginning to enjoy the progression of their relationships and the character growth!)

Without giving anything away (because you really do need to need to watch it for yourself), I will say that I was crying within the first 30 seconds and at various points throughout Higher Ground. The last 15 minutes were utter perfection and has been the culmination of years’ worth of work on part of Martha and the cast, and years’ worth of patience from POstables all over!

Luckily we get 3 more SSD films this year. I know this POstable is eagerly awaiting the next chapter!

Final rating for Higher Ground: 5 Sporks (that hopefully don’t get lost in the mail)

Follow Martha & the cast on Twitter @MarthaMoonwater@Eric_Mabius@kristintbooth@geoffgustafson, & @RealCrystalLowe, Tweet along using the hashtag #POstables, and for all things Signed, Sealed, Delivered check out the Alameda & Downing blog, which is run by Chandel Charles, the POstable fandom’s (un)official section leader!

Cryptid Creatures & The Others – Podcast Reviews

Holy buckets, 2 reviews in 2 days?!

Yep, looks like it!

While we’re on the subject of podcasts, I’d like to direct your attention to the Cryptid Creatures podcast, which is written, produced, and recorded by the multi-talented Jesse Haynes.

Cryptid Creatures is a 12-episode podcast (thus far) with each episode featuring a different American mythological (or ARE they mythological???) being.

Ranging from lesser-known creatures such as the Ozark Howler to the more widely famous Bigfoot, Haynes has definitely done his research on each creature, finding actual reports of sightings. My favorite of these reports comes from episode 11 – the Mothman. It literally gave me chills, although my favorite episode of all is episode 7 – there’s nothing more chilling than true tales of what one human being will do to another.

Season 2 promises to go international, so I’m looking forward to seeing which creatures are covered in future episodes. (I’m looking at you, chupacabra!)

Final rating on Cryptid Creatures: 4 Sporks

Next we have Haynes’ 2nd podcast, The Others

With the very first episode freshly dropped as of the time this review is being posted, The Others is an audio drama written and produced by Haynes and voiced by Ron Taylor.

When Aaron Winchell’s plane goes down and he is washed ashore on an uninhabited island, the quest for survival begins. The strange island offers challenges for a man on his own… and then even more challenges for a man who realizes he might not be alone, after all.

Sounds spooky, doesn’t it?

While I can’t judge the podcast on a whole based solely on 1 episode, I can say that episode 1 definitely left me awaiting episode 2. I hit the Subscribe button, and I think you should too.

Rating for The Others (thus far): 4 Sporks

You can find Cryptid Creatures online at http://www.cryptidcreaturespodcast.com, The Others online at http://www.theotherspodcast.com, or follow each podcast on Twitter at @cryptcreatures & @theotherspod, and subscribe via either iTunes or Android. For more information on Jesse Haynes, check out his website at http://www.jessehaynesauthor.com. (Yep, he’s a Young Adult author too, but that, dear readers, is a review for another day.)

The Alexandria Archives – Podcast Review

Pop in your earbuds and crank it up to 11, readers, because today we’re reviewing our first podcast – The Alexandria Archives, written & produced by Nicole Jorge, Aaron Redacted, and Uri Sacharow.

Self-billed as “The South’s answer to Miskatonic University”, the Alexandria Archives is a weekly podcast done in the form of a midnight radio show broadcast from the fictional Alexandria University – home of the Wendigos – and hosted by Morning Wood (voice of co-creator Nicole Jorge). Each episode begins with Morning Wood taking a few callers (all with their own special brand of crazy) or having a special guest in the studio.

(My personal favorite of these callers is a semi-regular named Gore. I won’t tell you why he’s my favorite, but luckily for you, he shows up in the very first episode.)

After taking a few callers, Morning Wood introduces a tale from the Alexandria Archives themselves – each ranging from the spookily macabre to the disturbingly macabre. (I’m side-eyeing you, episode 2.) While some of the stories from the Archives are better than others, the podcast overall is definitely worth hitting the Subscribe button.

If you’re a fan of horror podcasts such as Welcome to Night Vale, Lore, Limetown, or The Black Tapes, or are a fan of H.P. Lovecraft (ESPECIALLY The Re-Animator), then this one’s for you.

Final rating: 4 Sporks

You can find the Alexandria Archives online at http://www.alexandriaarchives.com, follow it on Twitter at @whausignal and @Whaumorningwood, and subscribe on on ITunes and in the Google Play store.

Ia, Ia, Wendigos!

Author Interview – Brooks Benjamin

Hello readers!

Today we have a special interview with Brooks Benjamin, author of My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights.

The Spork Review: Why write for middle-graders?

Brooks Benjamin: The twelve year old in me won’t let me write anything else. Maybe it’s because because he knows that age is such an important time in our lives–it’s when we begin to figure out stuff like who we’re going to be, who we’re going to like, what we’re going to enjoy, fear, and need. Or maybe it’s because he knows it’s the perfect mixture of being a kid and becoming a young adult that makes that age a wonderfully delicious emotional and behavioral soup. Or maybe it’s because he’s an immature little turd that won’t let go of the fact that he still giggles over fart jokes sometimes.

TSR: The main theme of My 7th Grade Life in Tights is “Find the moves that fit.” Why do you feel that it was important to tell Dillon’s story?

BB: Middle school is a jungle we’ve all explored but will always remain unconquered by human beings. There’s an air of incivility that surrounds it which makes those three years some of the worst years in many people’s lives. It wasn’t any different for me. I had an idea of who I wanted to be but was so scared to allow myself to become that person. So I wanted to write something that spoke to that and to any human who has ever felt that way. I wanted to tell every one of them that it’s fine to be scared and it’s fine to be worried but it’s not fine to let others tell you who or what you should be. “Find the moves that fit” is my dancetastic way of sharing that no matter who you are, there’s a style out there for you, even if you have to make it all up yourself.

TSR: Tell us a bit about your writing process.

It always starts with interesting characters. I hear them say something, I see them do something, I imagine their reaction to something. They’re nothing more than an idea at this point, but while I begin to throw out problems and stories and allow them to speak to it and about it, I learn who they are and who they want to be. Their personalities grow and deepen and the rose-colored glasses come off when I see their flaws. But they become very real to me after that. As I begin to write out their stories, there’s always a fear that I’m getting it wrong, but they always let me know if I am. And as their story progresses, I continue to learn things about them. There’s never a time when I know it all. The difference is that by the time that particular story is finished, I’ve grown to love each of them and appreciate their quirks, their worries, their problems, and their needs, about as much as I can appreciate my own.

TSR: Where is your favorite place to write?

My desk beside the big window that overlooks the woods. And when it’s raining outside I love it even more.

TSR: Can you tell us about what you are working on now?

BB: Sure! I’m working on another MG. This one’s about two friends, one who is very real and is trying to find a way to disappear and one who isn’t quite real and is trying to keep from vanishing altogether.

Lighting Round:

TSR: Favorite NKotB song?

BB: HANGIN’ TOUGH!

TSR: Favorite thing to do to relax?

BB: Play video games while eating pizza.

TSR: Salty or sweet?

BB: You mean salty AND sweet? Yes.
TSR: What is one thing you never leave home without?

BB: My underwear. If I ever have to sacrifice my pants to save someone’s life I want to do it with some dignity.

TSR: Any hidden talents?

BB: I can impersonate a ton of actors or characters from cartoons. When I was a kid, I wanted so badly to be someone else that I tried on different characters all the time. The result was a talent for sounding like, but never being anyone else but me. And that’s pretty cool, I think.

Thanks so much to Brooks for answering some questions for us! Your new book sounds great – I can’t wait to read it!

Radio Silence

In August of 2016, South Louisiana was devastated by an epic flood.  My house was one of the many that was affected, receiving between 2 1/2 & 3 feet of water.

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My cousins and I waded in to try to salvage some items.

 

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This was taken after the water had (mostly) receded to show the waterline.

4 long months later, I’m finally home!

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My bed has never looked so comfy.

Anyway, this is the reason for the lack of reviews lately.

For being so patient, the next post will be an author interview with Brooks Benjamin, author of My Seventh Grade Life in Tights!

Stay tuned!

My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin – Book Review

​Buenos Dias from sunny Progreso, Mexico, folks!

As part of my amazing job, I get the pleasure and privilege of selecting middle grade & young adult books to be featured at the Louisiana Book Festival every year. This past January,  while researching recently published and upcoming books for the 2016 LBF, I ran across a book called My Seventh Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin. Intrigued by the description, I added it to my list of books to check out.

A wonderful, moving story about being true to yourself, My Seventh Grade Life in Tights is about a boy named Dillon who is part of a dance crew called the Dizzee Freeks.  Unlike his two friends in his crew who have been classically trained in dance, Dilion has had no formal training. His dance style is what’s known among his friends as ‘ninja freestyle’, featuring a series of kicks and punches. (I can’t help but imagine he looks a bit like he’s having a seizure when he dances.)  Dillon is desperate to learn how to ‘properly’ dance so he discovers an opportunity to earn a scholarship to a prestigious dance academy. There’s just one small hitch – dance studios are for sell-outs, at least, according to the rest of his crew.  

Through an ingenious plan (cause you know those always work), Dillon’s crew hatches a plan for Dillon to try out for the scholarship, win, then tell the studio to stick their scholarship where the sun doesn’t shine.

Well you know that’s going to go off without a hitch, right? 😉

Very well-written and perfectly paced, My Seventh Grade Life in Tights  is an encouraging story about ‘finding the moves that fit’.  With a diverse set of characters (yay for diversity!), all with their own struggles and issues, this book will dance its way into the hearts of both kids and adults alike.

Final rating: 5 Sporks

PS: Stay tuned for another author interview!