cwfilmbuff: (movies)
39 movies seen in theaters.
80 DVDs watched.
18 books read.

I went to 21 fewer movies this year, and I can't even blame becoming a parent: by September of 2007 I'd already been to 48; I suspect being in school the first half of 2007 vs. working full-time in 2008 has more to do with it (although the fact that I've only seen three since the end of August can't be discounted).

I crunched the numbers the other day, and based on the number of DVDs I'm watching (especially the number that came in the mail vs. what was already on the shelf), I've determined that I'm spending more per movie going through Netflix than I would be renting at Blockbuster, so I'm canceling the one and getting a card for the other. Between that and watching more from my collection (which I'm likely to do without having a red envelope next to the TV creating a false sense of urgency) we should save a little money there.

I'd like to read more this year too. I have been since staying home - I'm more apt to crack a book during lunch (assuming I'm not eating one-handed with a baby in the other arm) now that I'm not eating at my desk to keep from having to take a lunch break.

Probably not going to track this stuff in 2009. Maybe that way I'll post more entries about my life rather than just what I've been watching.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
DVD 79: Brazil
I've got this theory that most people's favorite movies are first seen within a few years of each other. There's a time when their opinions are solidifying, and a few films seen in that period will stick with them as favorites. Brazil is one of those for me, and unlike some other titles at the top of my favorites list I doubt it would be if I'd seen it later in life. Watching it now I see all sorts of problems, especially in terms of continuity and pacing. That said, I still love this movie and its surreal satire of bureaucracy, and it remains one of my favorites despite its flaws.

DVD 80: How The Grinch Stole Christmas
There is a lot to love about this classic, and I've been watching it longer than I can remember so it's hard to say anything new, so I'll just say that it isn't Christmas without watching The Grinch at least once.

Book 17: Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
A while back I complained about a movie having nothing but "miserable people getting more miserable because of their own mistakes". This book runs the risk of having the same problem, but instead the author gets you so invested in the characters that you really feel for them when things go wrong. There are no heroes here - the title could apply to almost any of the characters - but reading it you want there to be so you can cheer for someone. Instead people just dig themselves deeper into their holes, most of them never seeing any other option as a woman in Japan's male-dominated society.

Book 18: Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Using economic principles to look at non-economic issues makes for some interesting results. What could have been a very dry read instead provided consistently interesting and unexpected links.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
DVD 68: El Orfanato
If more horror movies were like this, I might be a bigger fan of the genre. Instead of trying to startle or gross out the audience, the filmmakers made a compelling ghost movie that never sacrifices the quality of the story for cheap scares. Watching this, you are right there with the heroine, concerned for her sharing in her drive to find out what forces are at work in her home. What really impressed me as the pieces came together at the end was how some of the seemingly supernatural occurrences actually had mundane explanations, but when they occurred in the film there was enough else going on that there's every reason to suspect anything but the haunted orphanage is behind them.

DVD 69: Grave of the Fireflies
This is another of those movies that I've heard references to, but never knew much about beyond its reputation as a great film. I knew it took place during World War II, but until I pressed play on the DVD player that was the extent of my knowledge. So I had no idea that I was going to be sucked in by the story of a Japanese teen who is left to care for his little sister after they lose their home and get separated from their mother during a firebombing. The lengths they have to go to just to survive are tragic, but despite that there are beautiful moments of joy throughout the film. I would highly recommend this to anyone - it's one of the most moving animated films I've ever seen.

DVD 70: WALL-E (with Pixar "Geek Squad" commentary)
Since I've already posted twice this year about the movie itself (still in my number one spot for the year), so let's talk about the disc instead. The commentary track I watched was four people who worked on the movie (three animators and a producer, I think) talking about all the various science fiction references and in-jokes they'd worked into the movie. Although they had a tendency to go off on tangents (especially about Star Wars and Star Trek), it was still interesting and entertaining to hear their influences and banter. The other high point of the disc (at least what I've watched so far) is BURN-E, a hilarious short film about one of the other robots on the ship whose job is indirectly made much harder by WALL-E.

DVD 71: Dark City Director's cut
I already thought this was a great movie, but the improvements made in this director's cut are icing on the cake. Like other noir-influenced science fiction, the elimination of the opening voiceover is an immediate improvement; it gives the audience more time to figure out what's going on without having the answers given to them right off the bat. The other notable change is that William Hurt's detective is given more screen time, fleshing out his character and giving more insight to how the story looks to someone on the outside. Even in it's original state (both versions are included on the disc), I have trouble thinking of a more original science fiction film in the last decade.

Book 16: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
Although it starts off a little slow, once it picks up this is a welcome continuation of the Thursday Next series. As is expected in Fforde's books, there are a number of disparate problems thrown at Next, which intertwine in unexpected ways that sometimes help and more often further complicate things. Laced throughout are the usual literary references, social satire, and good bad puns. I don't think it would work as an introduction to the character, but if you've read the other Thursday Next books you should enjoy this one.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 37: Burn After Reading
A fairly funny comedy based on throwing a bunch of extreme personalities together and watching what happens. Lack of any really likable characters keeps this from being on par with the Coen’s best comedies, but it’s entertaining throughout, which makes it better than Intolerable Cruelty or Ladykillers.

DVD 59: The Third Man
Easy to see why this is considered a classic film noir, and why Orson Welles’ character is often named among cinema’s top villains. He’s not as menacing as some others, but his speech on the ferris wheel alone demonstrates a chilling indifference toward hunan life. Interestingly enough the movie starts like a lighthearted comedy, which makes it that much more effective when things start to go downhill.

Book 15: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
A very interesting take on the post-apocalyptic dystopia, in that no explanation is given for why civilization has collapsed. Instead we follow a man and his son as they struggle to survive, seeing how the inability to trust anyone else affects them. Bleak throughout, the combination of suspense and poignancy make this easily the best book I’ve read all year.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
DVD 50: Hard Boiled
I think I added this to my Netflix queue after seeing it pop up on a few lists of impressive tracking shots. It does have an impressive single-take action scene, covering several rooms on two different floors of a building without any cuts, but in the context of the rest of the film’s style that scene sticks out like a sore thumb. The rest of the movie is moderately good action sequences tied together with a weak story and a lot of flashy cuts with no real justification. Basically a few good ideas poorly executed.

DVD 51-56: Battlestar Galactica season 3
I know story-wise most of what happened over the course of these episodes, but I think it says something about the balance of quality that the only episodes that really stick out are the early ones set on New Caprica. The rest seemed to be a combination of reaction to those first episodes and preparation for the final season - not standing as well on their own.

DVD 57: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
What can I say, I just wanted to watch this last weekend. It remains a classic that makes me wish Newman and Redford had worked together more than just twice.

DVD 58: The Prestige
This was actually more fun to watch the second time around, seeing all the subtle clues leading up to the big reveals.

Book 14: The Portable Door by Tom Holt
A more cohesive story than the other Holt novel I’d read, which actually made it a little less interesting. That said, it was still entertaining and funny throughout, and I’m definitely going to pick up more by him.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 36: Tropic Thunder
It's uneven, but the funny parts are funny enough to make up for the parts that lag. As an industry parody it works largely because of people and companies willing to break type or self-deprecate.

DVD 49: The X-Files: Fight the Future
Satisfies on a few levels: It's entertaining, intricate enough to stay interesting after multiple viewings, and a big enough story to warrant a movie. The most satisfying thing though is that it helped get the taste of I Want to Believe out of my mouth and reminded me of why I liked the show.

Book 13: The Children of Men by P. D. James
An interesting read, especially after seeing the movie. It's a great example of very different takes on the same story that both work well for their respective mediums. Characters are switched around, the emphasis is on the main character's relationships (mostly with his cousin, who runs the country) rather than the action, and the pacing and endings are completely different, but neither is really better than the other, they both work wonderfully in their respective mediums.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 32: The X-Files: I Want to Believe
I really liked Fight the Future; it was entertaining, interesting, and had a big enough story to justify the transition to the big screen. I Want to Believe has none of those things. The story feels like a leftover script from an episode that never got made unnaturally expanded with repetitive scenes hashing over Mulder and Scully's involvement with the case and each other. There are brief moments of fun, but they are so rare as to actually seem out of place with the rest of the movie.

Book 12: Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
OK, I see why this is so popular. The alternate history is well-handled, the characters are interesting and well-developed, and the story is what people are talking about when they argue for the legitimacy of graphic novels.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 24: Get Smart
There are a few really good laughs, and the casting is as good as any TV to movie conversion I've seen, but in the end I'll take any episode of the show over this movie. It probably would have worked better with competent editing, but there are only so many pointless cutaways you can get away with, and this movie exceeds that number early on.

M25: The Fall
I like a movie that actively tells its audience not to worry about the story and just enjoy the visuals. There's nothing exceptional about the main story of a girl befriending a stunt man in a hospital, and the story he tells her to entertain her has little to no continuity because it's being told by someone who's making it up as he goes. But the look of that story within the story is incredible, and there are enough great ideas that the stories themselves are only there to support the design, and in that they serve their purpose.

M26: Wanted
I've been a fan of Timur Bekmambetov's Russian films, and he continues to impress as a director of stylized action spectacles. There's enough plot to hold the set pieces together, and the characters are more interesting than most mindless summer action films, in particular the protagonist's transformation from doormat to skilled assassin. Yes, the chases and shootouts are ridiculous and the reasoning behind them is paper-thin, but it all works.

I just scrolled through the other posts I've made this year, and it's official: WALL-E is the best film I've seen in 2008. It's a serious contender for best Pixar movie yet, and that's going up against a pretty impressive body of work. A lot is being made of the fact that the first act is almost entirely without dialogue, but the reason that works is what makes the entire film great: the animators are able to create fully-formed personalities and incredible emotion in these robots without relying on speech or traditional facial features. When the humans do enter the picture, we actually connect with them less than we do the robots. I cannot recommend seeing this movie enough; you'll be glad you did.

DVD 36: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Upon repeat viewing, the middle lags a bit when the movie gets caught up in the convoluted plot and forgets to be funny for a while. By the end it still hasn't gotten back to the level of its first act, but as a whole the self-referential humor makes it a fun watch.

D37: Persepolis
I was hoping for a more unified story, but even as a series of vignettes this provides an incredibly interesting look at life in Iran during the 70s and 80s.

D38: Shoot Em Up
You know the stylized action I was praising in Wanted? That's the kind of thing this movie is going for and failing completely. The characters are uninteresting, the dialog is terrible and not self-aware enough to be funny, and the stunts that should be impressive are too heavily edited to enjoy. It would mark a low point in the careers of some very talented actors if it weren't so forgettable that no one will remember it in a few years.

Book 11: Falling Sideways by Tom Holt
The title is a good description of how it feels reading this book about clones, witches, and super-intelligent alien frogs. It seems like every chapter completely changes the rules by saying, "You may have thought you knew what was going on, but this new bit of information changes everything!" This could easily hurt the book, but Holt manages it with enough skill that everything still makes sense and enough humor that even if it didn't you'd still be laughing. This has just become an author whose other work I'll have to seek out.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 21: Speed Racer
It’s absurd and mindless from start to finish, but the visuals are impressive enough that I’m glad I saw it on the big screen.

M22: The Incredible Hulk
I liked Ang Lee’s movie better. The main selling point of this one is that there’s less of that pesky story and character development between the action scenes, but some of us like to have a reason to care about the people involved.

M23: Kung Fu Panda
This was a lot better than I expected. I’d gotten so used to Dreamworks pumping out Shrek knock-offs that it was a nice surprise to see a story-driven action comedy that didn’t substitute pop culture references for humor. Plus, this had the best animated action sequences I’ve seen since The Incredibles.

DVD 30: Mystery Science Theater 3000: Godzilla vs Megalon
I’ve heard people complain about licensing costs holding up DVD releases of the Godzilla episodes of MST3K, but after seeing this I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. This is early on in the show before they really established their rhythm, so the humor is uneven and often repetitive.

D31-33: Battlestar Galactica season 2.0, discs 1-3
Not as strong as the first season, but it’s still keeping my interest. The political parallels got a little heavy-handed towards the end, but in doing so managed to introduce a new angle to the story without seeming contrived, so I’ll overlook it (along with the stupid “half season” trick, because I’m netflixing these and don’t have to wait while they try something weaker in the timeslot).

DVD 34: Meet the Robinsons
Not one I would have sought out, but I heard good things so I queued it up and was pleasantly surprised. The plot twists are predictable and it lags a little in the middle concentrating on how wacky the family is, but it’s funny enough throughout to stay entertaining.

DVD 35: Soylent Green
Too often this one gets boiled down to the ending, which is a shame because it really is a great movie from start to finish. Knowing where things are going doesn’t at all detract from the path the story takes getting there, and the dystopia is not only well-conceived but still fairly relevant 35 years later. Easily the best movie in this post.

Book 9: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
This was adapted to one of my favorite movies last year, very faithfully as it turns out. Everything I liked about the story of the film comes straight from the novel, which is well-written with interesting characters providing compelling points of view for the action. It actually weakened the movie a little for me, because some of the places where the film faltered (such as the clumsy transfer of emphasis from Llewelyn to Sheriff Bell) were handled more effectively in text than onscreen. He’s definitely an author I’ll want to read more of.

B10: Dust by Elizabeth Bear
The concept of a ship getting stranded in orbit for enough generations that it becomes a self-contained world is handled well, as is the story of manipulation and intrigue, but would have liked more time spent on the characters. It’s apparently the first in a series, so I may get that later on, but Bear’s other series-starters (Hammered especially) were much stronger when it came to characterization.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 16: Iron Man
Entertaining superhero movie with a strong cast. The climactic battle isn't as engaging as it could have been, but the rest of the film holds up well enough to make the whole experience worthwhile.

M17: Leatherheads
Apparently I'm part of this movie's target audience, which wasn't large enough to make it much money. It did a great job of mimicking the style of 1930s screwball comedies. There were a few weak points (i.e. the out-of-nowhere plot point thrown in to get the two main characters on opposite teams for the big game), but they are few enough to keep the movie fun.

M18: Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Not nearly the gem that the first movie was. There are some really funny bits, but they are weighed down by the rest of the film, which trades the subversive wit of its predecessor for blunt, obvious racial humor.

DVD 15: The Darjeeling Limited
This movie starts with Bill Murray, a Wes Anderson regular, running to catch the titular train and just missing it. For the next hour and a half I found myself thinking about how much better the movie would have been if he'd been on the train. Darjeeling lacks the depth, both of story and characters, of films like Rushmore and The Royal Tannenbaums.

D16: Ninja Scroll
I'd heard good things about this, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. It's a series of cliche-ridden battles without a strong story to hold them together. Amidst the bloodshed is a strong misogynistic streak that made the film that much less watchable for me.

D17: Southland Tales
There are a lot of interesting ideas here, and most of them don't make much sense. Granted, a good deal gets explained toward the end, but not enough to make the story work. Oddly enough, the narrator only tells us things that are obvious from the action - nothing that adds to the plot.

D18: Futurama the Movie: Bender's Big Score
There's a pretty easy litmus test for this one: if you like the series, you'll like the movie.

D19: Walk Hard
The musician biopic isn't really a large enough genre to warrant this kind of parody, and the whole thing plays as a sub-par Will Farrell movie that runs too long.

D20 & 21: The Muppet Show season 1, discs 3 & 4
Other than the episode with Twiggy, the series continues to be strong and funny.

D22-25: Battlestar Galactica season 1, discs 2-5
Honestly, while the story and characters are interesting and entertaining, what I'm really getting into with this series are the technical aspects. There's very clever use of camera work, lighting, and editing to enhance the verisimilitude and ground it in reality (as much as a sci-fi series can be).

Books 7 & 8: My Boys Can Swim by Ian Davis & The Caveman's Pregnancy Companion by David Port and John Ralston
Two guides for fathers-to-be written in a humorous style. Caveman's is more in-depth, but in the end they both give a basic outline of what to expect while constantly repeating one important piece of advice to the reader: "Be nice to the pregnant woman."
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 10: The Spiderwick Chronicles
Quasi-interesting story, but the CG effects didn’t blend with the filmed action, and there was never really enough investment to get me excited. When I am more entertained by one of the trailers before the movie than the movie itself, there’s a problem.

M11: Doomsday
I’m starting to like Neil Marshall. Sure, his movies aren’t great works of art, but they’re consistently fun and entertaining, and he tends to use women in leading roles that would normally default to men, without turning them into sex objects or having them be motivated by motherhood. The movie itself is a retread of Mad Max, Escape from New York, and other post-apocalyptic fare, and is utterly unapologetic about it. Plus, the Scottish setting is used in a clever divergence from other films in the genre.

M12: The Bank Job
This one’s being called a heist movie, but I’m not sure that fits. Sure, there’s a bank robbery, but the focus of the movie isn’t the ingenious way they pull it off. In fact, it’s a very basic plan that works more because of luck than skill. Where the movie gets interesting is after the robbery, when it seems like half of London is after the heroes because of what was in the safety deposit boxes they raided. The reason this movie works is that the criminals aren’t smooth professionals, they’re small-time crooks in way over their heads who are just trying to bluff and improvise their way through.

M13: Stop-Loss
Kimberly Peirce doesn’t make many movies (this is her first since Boys Don’t Cry nine years ago), but there’s something to be said for quality over quantity. Stop-Loss succeeds where a lot of Iraq movies have failed by not trying to condemn the entire war, but rather focusing on how one policy affects a few specific individuals. Strong performances throughout really make this movie, especially Ryan Phillippe, who makes it easy to understand the difficulty of his situation and the decisions he has to make concerning himself, his family, and his fellow soldiers.

DVD 9: Lust, Caution
Typical Ang Lee fare, which makes it one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. This story of WWII intrigue is what Paul Verhoven’s Black Book wished it could be. The lengths that the characters go to are incredible, and the payoff is incredibly moving. Unfortunately it didn’t get a very wide release due to its NC-17 rating. It deserved the rating (although the title card before the movie said it was just for sex, no mention of the graphic violence) - this was definitely a movie for adults, but not the stigma that goes with it. And to completely change gears, on a minor note, I wish I knew more about Mahjong. I’ve played it a couple times, just enough to realize the action in the games were reflections of the how the characters related to each other, but not enough to completely grasp the subtext.

D10: American Gangster
By-the-numbers mafia movie. A couple interesting twists, but not enough to elevate the movie to anything more than a typical gangster movie.

Book 5: Above the Line: Conversations about Movies by Lawrence Grobel
Transcripts of interviews with filmmakers in the mid-90s. The interviews are interesting in how they form a picture of the producers, directors, actors, and critics profiled, but the concentration was more on personality than profession for my taste. There is a certain amusement factor in reading a decade later how big a star Van Damme knew he was going to be, and seeing the very real spite between Siskel and Ebert is interesting, but things like that are the rare gems in an otherwise dry read.

B6: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
This would have made a good movie. Heck, if the WIll Smith film had just kept the ending of the novella it would have been exponentially better. As it is, the title story in this collection is the best in the book. The rest are hit-and-miss, often being more about the supernatural process than the characters involved - making for ideas that never really develop into stories.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
Movie 1: Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007)
I was a little skeptical watching the trailer that this was going to try too hard to be hip and as a result seem forced. And early on in the movie it does (I can’t tell you how grateful I was that Rainn WIlson was only on one scene - nothing against the actor, but his character grated on my nerves). Luckily the movie eventually starts concentrating on the characters more than their quirks, and turns out to have some real emotion by the end. The relationships all seem real, thanks to well written characters played by strong actors. Everyone here has done more noteworthy work, but there’s not a false note among the principle cast, who work together to make every interaction work. There was no shortage of 2007 movies about unplanned pregnancies, but this one goes on the top of that list for me.

M2: Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)
There have been and will continue to be comparisons to Blair Witch because of the shared technique of having the entire movie seen through the lens of a camera carried by one of the characters. But what this most reminded me of was amateur footage that ends up on the news when something happens that an average person happens to have a camera for. Reeves and his DP Michael Bonvillan did a great job of making the recording seem unplanned and unprofessional (something that’s a challenge to balance with making sure you get the shot you need), giving a real feeling of what average unsuspecting people go through when a monster attacks the city. Not a lot is explained because we only know what the characters experience, following their journey as ordinary people in the midst of something far bigger than them. The result is a very exciting movie that I look forward to picking up on DVD so I can see the making up features.

M3: There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
This looks and feels nothing like any other Anderson movie I’ve seen; it’s excellent for entirely different reasons. The main reason being Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as oil man Daniel Plainview. This is one of the most evil characters I’ve seen in recent film, largely because he’s so good at convincing people he’s working for their own good, all the while delighting in his profits and their misfortunes. In truth, the fact that this is playing in an election year is fitting, because his false promises and insincere grandstanding are reflective of the worst in politicians trying to gain public favor. Also worth noting is Paul Dano as Eli Sunday, a preacher who is in every way Plainview’s opposite. The scenes between these two actors are the best in the movie, especially their interaction at the film’s climax, where Plainview is at his worst, and enjoying every second of it.

Book 3: Election by Tom Perrotta
Short, funny book about a high school election that does a good job of capturing the dynamics of teenagers. Probably the best example of this is the election itself - it’s noted early on that the title of class president is meaningless, but the kids (and a few of the adults) involved all treat it like it’s the most important event in their lives. The narrative rotates between the characters, which allows the reader to get inside everyone’s head and often see conflicting views of the same events. A satisfying read.

B4: I Am America (And So Can You!), by Stephen Colbert
This really is his character from the show in book form. The subject matter is less topical than his show, but his attitudes on American life are just as absurd as those he spouts off about the day’s news. In short, if you like the show (especially “The WØrd,” which the margin notes are reminiscent of), than you will enjoy the book. Especially if you’re looking for something to hold you over until his writing staff returns.

DVD 3: Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007)
Another one I was skeptical about, because I thought Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, which also starred Viggo Mortensen, was very poorly executed. Luckily this one doesn’t suffer from the same pacing issues, and is actually an interesting and entertaining mob movie. I don’t think I’d add it to my library, but as a Netflix rental it was time well spent.
cwfilmbuff: (movies)
DVD 1: On Bloody Sunday (Christian Sesma, 2007)
Considering the relatively low budget, the weak acting and distracting camera work can be written off as the best the director could afford. The bad writing and terrible editing, however, both have his name attached (and are consistent with 6:30, his previous movie. There are a lot of unnecessarily flashy cuts and effects that smack of trying too hard to create an artificial sense of excitement, but end up distracting from what little plot there is. Although even if invisible edits had been used throughout, I doubt it would explain the leaps in logic or the absurd (yet still predictable) “surprise” ending. But the worst thing about this movie is that they didn’t credit some of their production assistants, who put in quite a bit of work for no more pay than cold In-n-Out burgers.

D2: Inside Man (Spike Lee, 2006)
Very refreshing after the previous movie. I saw this one in theaters, but the writing and execution are strong enough that knowing what’s coming only ads to the experience. The acting and directing are both solid throughout, but this is a movie where everyone involved is pretty much there to show of an excellent screenplay by first-time writer Russell Gewritz (his sophomore effort, Righteous Kill, is due out in April). This attitude is apparent in the DVD extras, where it’s clear everyone knew they had a good script and wanted to make it into a good movie. It’s especially interesting seeing Spike Lee be more or less apolitical in his comments - yes, he is still clearly concerned with racial equality, but more than that (on this film at least) he’s someone who loves movies and just wants to entertain his audience.

Book 1: The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
I don’t think the Nursery Crimes series is as strong as the Thursday Next books, but that doesn’t stop them from being entertaining from start to finish. The characters are likable, the story is interesting if far-fetched (for which Fforde is gleefully unapologetic), and the puns and meta-humor are plentiful. It’s easy to see how the concept of taking universally established characters and putting them in a noir story could be successfully mined for a few more books without losing its appeal.

B2: Un Lun Dun by China Miéville
It’s interesting to see Miéville’s writing style used for a younger audience. The mood is much lighter (although far from bright and sunny), but his habit of unexpectedly changing the direction of the story persists in ways that are often rather amusing. He takes a few of the staples of fantasy story-telling (prophesies, drawn-out quests, etc.)and breaks as many rules as he can. The result is something that is suitable for kids who are looking for something more challenging that Harry Potter, while still interesting enough to keep the interest of adults.
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