Monday, January 28, 2013

All Jane Austen, All the Time

Exactly 200 years ago, a book was published that would later become a standard for romantic relationships. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, though analyzing relationships between men and women, is not entirely a girly book. Instead, it is more a historical narrative of the problems women faced with marriage during Regency era. However, the romantic nature of the book and Austen’s other works tend to dissuade males from reading them.

The most interesting aspect of the book is the title and how it relates to the two main characters. Mr. Darcy (immortalized by Colin Firth *humunahumuna* in the BBC version) and Miss Elizabeth Bennet begin the story very much hating each other. And what makes their eventual romance so interesting is that it is entirely about wits. Both characters are smart and the whole dynamic of their relationship is that she proves she is smart enough to be his equal and he sees this, and thus treats her as an equal. But since romance is never immediate, and as I mentioned the two hate each other at the beginning, it becomes a question of which character is proud and which is prejudiced. In turns, they both portray each vice. But the two eventually work things out and fall madly in love.

I grew up watching the BBC miniseries of Pride & Prejudice and became enthralled with her literary works. Since today was the 200th anniversary, I knew my day off would be dedicated to watching the five and a half hour BBC epic, which leaves no detail behind. My darling cousin Colette shares my history with the miniseries and spent her day watching with me. After dinner, we were still in an Austen mood, so we put in Jane Austen Book Club to watch. This movie not only analyzes the main six novels published by Austen, but hits on many of the central themes that appear in each book and in Austen’s style.

And because my cousin and I were still craving Austen, we have decided to read all the novels. We have created our own order, instead of following the style of the film. I know I might end up publishing another Austen blog, because you can never get enough Austen. And Jane Austen Book Club has the perfect quote to explain.

“All Jane Austen, all the time. It’s the perfect antidote.”
“To what?”
“To life.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Movie Review Madness #26-31

While procrastination is something I enjoy immensely when it comes to uploading my blog, watching movies is something I try not to procrastinate about. Because c'mon, those movies aren't going to watch themselves! So while I have been watching films recently (or in the case of some going all the way back to this summer), I just haven't been writing about these movie experiences. Thus creating a lovely backlog on my blogging. So here's the most recent movie info I can share.

26: Wanderlust
Wanderlust is described as strong desire or impulse to travel somewhere new and exciting. In this case of this film, it is a husband and wife (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) who fall on hard economic times and have to give up their lush life in the city for a commune in the countryside, where free love is eagerly exercised. The movie follows the two as they adjust to this new life and try to maintain their marriage. I give the movie a 7.5. The cast was stand out for me including Alan Alda as the commune's leader, Justin Theroux as a sexual magnet on the women of the commune, and Ken Marino as Paul Rudd's annoying brother. While it brings to mind what a marriage can go through and must try and survive, the title seemed better suited for a different kind of film.

27: What to Expect When You're Expecting
Based on the book women have used for ages when preparing for pregnancy, the movie pulls tons of great actors together for the stories of various couples and their roads to being parents. The movie covers the topic of adoption, miscarriage, and most importantly what a woman goes through making life inside her. Featuring Elizabeth Banks, Dennis Quaid, Anna Kendrick, Chase Crawford, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, and Chris Rock to name some, the cast works well together and doesn't force the film. Star studded movies like Valentine's Day and the follow up New Year's Eve tanked, but What to Expect When You're Expecting was more like Love Actually in the way the stories flowed. I give it an 8 out of 10. The movie had me in stitches at times, and holding back tears at others. A great film for a night with the girls.

28: Safe House
Add together Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, and action? Seems like a concoction for a pretty sweet flick. The movie follows Ryan Reynolds as a CIA safe house operator that gets little (basically no) action. When suddenly Denzel is mixed in as a CIA turncoat who needs to be brought in for questioning. Things go horribly wrong, and Reynolds and Washington are on the run together. I give the movie a 5 out of 10. What could have been an amazing film, instead was lackluster and predictable. The action was acceptable and the only part that was redeeming was the cast. Side characters including Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, and Sam Shepherd. It is a bland version of Enemy of the State.

29: Breaking Dawn 2
The epically awaited end of the Twilight series finally arrived. Bella wakes up as a vampire and gets to live happily for a while, when suddenly mayhem ensues. Someone is mistaken and doesn't bother to check their facts before going to the vampire high counsel. The counsel then seeks out to deal with the issue and the Cullen family has to gather people to their side. As with every other Twilight film, the surrounding cast is what makes the film great. Not to mention, Kristen Stewart's infidelity with her Snow White and the Huntsman director left a tainted cloud around the final film. I give it a 7 out of 10. Mainly because now the series is finally done, so there is no more awkward acting between Rob and Kristen. The music was great and the supporting cast is what made the film. The director's twist on what is a dull finish in the book was a bit extreme in my opinion. It would have flowed better in my opinion if instead of a huge fight scene just having flashes. Because the entire theater was screaming obscenities during that part, and it basically made me wish the book had just ended that way. In my opinion, not the best film of the series but certainly not the worst.

30: The Hobbit
When I heard that the Hobbit was being made into a film, I was ecstatic. Being one of my favorite novels growing up (I have read it over a dozen times) I was intrigued on how Peter Jackson would do justice to the book the way he did with the Lord of the Rings. I was not disappointed. Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo, a hobbit living cozily and without any adventure in his life. Ian McKellen reprises as Gandalf and spurs the young hobbit off on the trip of his life in the company of several dwarves who are attempting to reclaim their home from the claws of Smaug the dragon. I give the movie an 8.5 out of 10. Jackson is intending on spreading the story into three films, and that to me is a bit excessive. Two movies would suffice to tell the story easily. But the action is great, specifically some dealings with a goblin king, and the dwarf cast is amazing (particularly Thorin, Fili, and Kili who are quite attractive). The back story of the white orc was not mentioned in the book, but constituted a decent portion of the film's story. Having not read all of Tolkein's work I don't know if it is featured elsewhere or entirely the creation of Jackson. It didn't detract from the story, but still seemed unnecessary. Overall, I enjoyed the film and cannot wait for the next installment, which I will of course see even if I disapprove.

31: Django Unchained
Since Quentin Tarantino is one of my favorite directors, I was quite thrilled that he had something coming out. The story is of a slave Django (Jamie Foxx) who is assisted by a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) in rescuing his wife (Kerry Washington) from the grips of a gruesome slave owner (Leo DiCaprio). I give the film an 8.5 out of 10. As with Tarantino's films, it was incredibly violent, and at times made me cover my eyes. The violence itself was not bad but in context with the story, it was a lot to handle. The cast was phenomenal. Stand out for me was Leo as the slave owner. He just keeps proving his talent again and again. I enjoyed Waltz, but have to say I prefer him as the bad guy (i.e. Inglorious Basterds). Overall, standard Taratino fare with a little extra uncomfortable on the side.

It might be a while before I can see another film, but may your popcorn always be buttery and your slushie unmelted!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Club: January

Since moving to Birmingham in June, I have been swept up with new friends, a new job, and continuing my Master’s. All of these things have kept me busy, but also left me missing something. While I adore the new girls I met and the AMAZING times we’ve had, I had nothing that was solely for myself. Being the introvert that I am, meeting people can be overwhelming but also completely rewarding. With things in my life finally reaching a decent homeostasis (thank heavens) I knew I wanted to do something for myself that would be intellectually rewarding as well as push my boundaries a bit.

Enter: Book Club.

Just before I left Birmingham to go home for Christmas, I decided to find a book club. The first one I looked at was the Hoover Public Library. I knew that it would not be far from home. But with my odd schedule (working security can really bite sometimes) I would need to find one to fit my weird schedule. The first one I looked at was the first Thursday of every month, and that seemed good except I would have to go to the meeting the day after driving 12 hours back to B’ham. I was not having that. But there was also a second Thursday of every month, so I decided to investigate that further. When I noticed that the Great Gatsby was on the reading list, I was sold.

This past Thursday was the very first meeting. I had ordered the book on Amazon and couldn’t wait for it to arrive. And then once I did, I found myself procrastinating doing other things (no shock there). But being the avid and quick reader that I am, I was able to get it read on one of my days off and finish it the evening before book club.

The novel is the first published by Michel (pronounced Michelle) Stone. She had previously had several short stories published and never considered writing a novel until attending a writer’s conference. The novel, the Iguana Tree, follows the experience of Hector and Lilia, a couple with an infant, as they come into the United States illegally. The two have very different experiences when they cross separately including the abduction of their young daughter Alejandra.

Stone’s perception of immigration came from a nonpolitical place. The story of Hector and Lilia is instead a tale weaved out of the experiences of real people who made the journey into America for a better life. When asked about her political ideas or solution for the issues, Stone deflects and maintains that she is an author setting out to tell a story, not harbor political undertones.

To me, the book’s main message is that when deciding to follow your dreams, step carefully. There is good and evil everywhere in the world, and if you do not watch your step someone could find a way to take advantage of you.

I’ve decided not to delve further into book details, instead leaving it up to you to decided to read the book and see Hector and Lilia’s fate for themselves. What I can do is go on more about book club and the lovely Michel Stone.

So I get to book club, not really knowing what to expect. In the room is around 20 women. Of varying ages, mainly older. Not many young people are available on a Thursday morning from 10 am to noon! But we sit down and begin discussing the book, and to my joy and wonderment, we are actually going to skype the author! We divvy up questions to ask her to further discussion as well as any questions we want to pose ourselves. I was besotted.

So we skyped the lovely Michel and got to hear about her experiences in writing the book and what she plans on doing next (very excited for her next novel). I was able to approach her from the standpoint of a fellow writer and ask how to get my procrastinating butt (common theme in the novel that is my life) moving and how to develop a good writing process for myself. I even found a compatriot next to me who is also a writer and we exchanged information in the hopes of setting a time to write together, making it less likely to procrastinate when you have a comrade with you in the trenches. I left book club with a huge smile on my face, and then called my mom to gush about the wonderful experience. The gushing went on for around 20 minutes! Needless to say, I am very excited about tackling the next book, although it will have to wait while I tackle some of my unread books currently overwhelming my bookcase.