Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Anna Karenina 2012 Movie Review



I was supposed to go see Anna Karenina on Saturday, but it turns out my school life has overflowed even into my weekends. Instead, I found myself with a monday evening rather clear of homework, and I begged my parents to embrace these few hours of freedom and come see the movie with me. So there I sat, the only teenager in a scantly populated movie theater, with a parent on either side of me...neither of which has ever even read a page of Anna Karenina. Still, I was brimming over with excitement. On top of that, I had to repress squeals when I saw the Great Gatsby and Les Miserables previews while waiting for the movie to start.

I wasn't quite sure what I was looking for from this movie, considering Anna Karenina has never been (and probably never will be) one of my favorite novels. I didn't imagine my expectations were too high--I suppose I was just there to see how well it was done. I wanted to see if it would sink or swim. I wanted to see how some of my favorite actors would do their jobs trying a hand at these literary characters. I wanted to know if my predictions were correct. 

And I came out with some answers. Beware--spoilers will be bountiful.

Casting:

As my regular viewers and followers know, I predicted a kind of crash and burn for Keira Knightley in the role of the titular character, Anna Karenina. Not only did I mention that her thin physique is completely unlike that of the character, but I also expressed a weariness of Knightley's position as Joe Wright's predictable go-to girl. Keira didn't crash and burn, though. I wouldn't go far enough to say that she turned in a spectacular performance. It won't get her nominated for the Oscar she's long been in search of. It was simply better than I expected. But, let's not start getting optimistic too soon. The performance was still incredibly lacking in my personal opinion. There were moments when Keira was underacting when she should have been doing more and overacting when she should have been subtle. Overall, she struck me as unbalanced and inconsistent. I'm not completely sure whether this opinion rises from her actual performance or from my general dislike of Anna Karenina's character to begin with. I can only end by saying that I've seen other adaptations of Anna Karenina, and Keira did nothing more or less than the actresses before her have done. And it was simply wrong to cast her after she's already played Elizabeth Bennet and Cecilia Tallis under Joe Wright's direction. Now the wow factor is starting to wear off and it seems as though Wright is taking a good thing too far. 

Jude Law as Alexei was flawless. For the first time, I was actually able to view Karenin as a sympathetic figure who only wants to prevent Anna from destroying herself and making others miserable. In this adaptation, Law sells Alexei as a more relatable character. There's nothing truly wrong with his marriage. Grant it, there are moments when he's a little demanding, and he does have to use the 19th century equivalent of Viagra before he goes to bed every night (I'm not kidding, he keeps it in a box), but he strikes the audience as a concerned and dutiful husband nonetheless. That's much more sympathetic than the heartless, domineering, and blatantly chauvinistic Alexei other movies have portrayed. I felt Alexei's heartbreak and got to understand the character more through Law's performance--Karenin has built a comfortable life around his career and family, and all of a sudden he is blindsided by his wife's infidelity when he feels like he has never asked much of her. 

Vronsky is portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. There's not much to say about that. Vronsky is a "rich, good-looking calvary officer with nothing better to do than make love to every woman he sees." It wasn't hard for Taylor-Johnson to nail that. His chemistry with Knightley is good though. He pales in comparison to the rest of the fine portrayals in the film. 

By far, the person who really stole the spotlight was Domhnall Gleeson as Levin. The shameful thing is the audience doesn't see him nearly enough considering that Levin's story occupies half of the novel. Still, whenever Gleeson is on the screen, he is amazing. His portrayal of the character infuses life into the film and creates the perfect contrast to Vronsky. It's a wonder to me how Domhnall does all of this with so little time to work with. I would have loved to see more of him, because he's a game changer and the kind of actor that illuminates the character. I could write paragraphs upon paragraphs about it, but you could only really know what I'm saying if you go see the movie. 

As for the more minor characters....Stiva is played by Matthew McFadyen, who injects just the right amount of comic relief into the morbid story and accomplishes his purpose. Kelly MacDonald is his wife, Dolly, and has a relatively minor part. Alicia Vikander is the pretty and ever-so-sweet Princess Kitty. One more observation--I just found it slightly awkward that Keira and Matthew played passionate lovers as Lizzy and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, and then turned around to play a brother-sister relationship in this movie. It was messing with my mind a little bit, which is why I am starting to stand in adamant opposition of using the same actors over and over in literary adaptations. *cough cough* Just a little note for Joe Wright in case he's reading. 

Screenplay/Cinematography/Soundtrack/Costumes:

Screenplay: I enjoyed it. At first, I must admit that I was wary of the idea of having the entire movie take place on a stage. I understand that it's representative of the superficiality of imperial Russian society, but at times it's a little too literal for my liking. It took a little getting used to, but I settled in soon enough and as the film progressed I actually found myself appreciating the originality. As for the faithfulness of the dialogue, I truly cannot say. I haven't read the book in so long. From what I remember, however, all the main events are included. I give kudos to the screenwriter. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to piece a screenplay together from a 700 page book and still manage to be so inventive. That's really what it is...inventive. 
Cinematography: I think one of the primary reasons why the screenplay and setting works as well as it does is because the cinematography was done extremely well. Even though the entire movie basically takes place in an opera house, the camera captures everything as if it were as natural as walking through the streets of Russia. The shift from scene to scene in different parts of the theater is intriguing to the eye, and yet natural enough that I didn't feel overwhelmed or confused. 
Soundtrack: One track sounded strikingly similar to a piece in the 2011 Jane Eyre. Of course, I wasn't surprised to see Dario Marianelli's name on the end credits. I'll admit, the soundtrack isn't nearly as stunning as his work on previous movies, but Anna Karenina isn't really made for an all-star soundtrack. What Dario Marianelli needed to achieve was subtlety in the face of such a visually unique film. 

Costumes: Beautiful. I'm not quite sure if they match up perfectly with the time period, but they're certainly enjoyable to look at. I'm sure there's an Oscar coming for the designer (who also collaborated with Wright on Atonement and Pride and Prejudice). It is obvious that a lot of thought and detail was put into the costume design, and it made the movie even more visually aesthetic. Everything is so sensual.  

Conclusion

It is interesting. I doubt you're going to exit feeling ecstatic or blown away, but rather intrigued. This film gives one a lot to think about, and more than anything, it makes you want to go back to the book and read with a little more vigor. I'm sincerely pondering watching it again just to see exactly what I think of it. It's strange that the movie is called Anna Karenina and yet I find myself less captured by Keira Knightley's portrayal and Anna's struggle and more by Levin's relationship and the technical aspects of the movie. But then again, that's exactly how I felt about the book. Oh well. I definitely recommend you try it for yourself. And, of course, tell me what you think. 
P.S I miss you guys. It feels good to get back to lit loving. Oh, and it is a miracle that the makeup artists made Jude Law look unattractive. Just to remind you how much of a god he actually is. How is it possible that he is so beautiful?


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sigh of Exasperation

Sabbatical.

I really am sorry for neglecting you guys, and I miss you terribly. In fact, I miss reading and writing for fun more than anything. The problem is that I have absolutely no time. 

I spend eight hours of the day at school, and every hour I have left is dedicated to mounds of homework, college applications, or scholarships. Even my weekends are all consumed by the stressfulness of having to meet this deadline or that due date. I've pushed everything else out of my system, and unfortunately, that includes blogging. 

Fear not, however. I will be back in a few months after I emerge from my black hole. And I am going to see Anna Karenina tonight to give myself a much needed break. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Les Miserables 2012

A few years ago, when I was in eighth grade, a friend of my mother's called me on my cell phone. She was wondering if I'd like to go see a play with her. I immediately said yes. I'd always loved plays, and though I wasn't a serious theatre-goer I appreciated the art form and loved watching things being acted out on stage. She picked me up from the house and I asked her what we were going to see.

"It's called Les Miserables," she explained. "You'll love it, I promise."

At the time I had never heard of Les Mis in my life. It's seems slightly ridiculous that I had called myself a lit lover and yet, I had neither read nor heard of the novel or been aware of the play.

Of course, I exited the theatre completely in love, bought the book, and finished it in record time. But now I'm returned to my initial state of embarrassment. How could I have been completely ignorant of the fact that there's a Les Mis film hitting theaters in December? Where in the world have I been? What's worse is that it stars all of my favorite actors. Hugh Jackman? Eddie Redmayne? How could I not have known this? 

It's going to be amazing though! I'm about as excited as you can get right about now. Anna Karenina is coming soon, The Great Gatsby right after, and then Les Miserable?? These are going to be a good few months for a lit lover.

Anyway, I'm just writing to express my dismay at not having known. I would write some in depth analysis of my initial thoughts, but they're quite simple. This movie is going to be absolutely breathtaking, and if it's otherwise then I will be vastly disappointed. The casting is perfect, the director had his name on another favorite of mine, The King's Speech, and it seems as thought the filmmakers have really gone to the furthest extent to translate the emotion of Les Mis and make it as realistic as possible. Gosh, I can't wait!!


P.S I know I've been misspelling it, there's supposed to be an accent mark over the "e" in "Miserables", but I've forgotten how to do that on a keyboard.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Can't take my nose out of it.

This is my way of telling you that I'm not dead, I've just been on my fall break drowning in a book and haven't had any inclination to get around to writing that film review of Atonement I promised you guys. It's coming though! 

Monday, October 8, 2012

"Atonement" by Ian McEwan Review

I've reached an epiphany.

There's a reason why this blog has experienced a period of apathy, neglect, and lonesomeness. And despite all my humblest apologies blaming my tedious workload, the college application process, the search for scholarships, and the demands of everyday life for my absence, there is a far deeper reason for the solitary state of a blog once inhabited by an active blogger. 

I haven't been reading. Not for myself, anyway. I've been stuffed full of coming-of-age short stories, poems, and novels in my AP Lit class, breezed through Their Eyes Were Watching God, and will soon be waltzing straight into Hamlet. But it's been forever since I've stepped into a Barnes and Noble, walked leisurely through the shelves, plucked off a book of my own choice, and actually read it for enjoyment. 

I could just as easily review a book that I've already read, but where's the fun in that? The joy of blogging comes from the inspiration of having just finished a brand new book, and feeling the urgent and slightly neurotic need to tell the world that you've read it and explain just how awful or amazing it is. 

Obviously, I've just finished reading Atonement for the first time, and it has renewed my blogging spirit and set my fingers to mercilessly tapping against the keyboard. 

The novel was amazing. I would trouble myself with establishing protocol with a plot summary, but it's just too good to hold off the praise for later. Atonement is an undeniable literary masterpiece in every identifiable aspect. Ian McEwan captures in engrossing richness the three perspectives of Briony Tallis, her older sister, Cecilia, and the charlady's son, Robbie, woven together by the thread of a series of events that alters the the lives of the characters and pinpoints the essentiality of perception in any story. At thirteen, Briony is struggling with her passage from a juvenile writer into a real novelist. Her problem lies in her lack of understanding of the world. While pondering on this, Briony happens to look out the window and witness an exchange between Cecilia and Robbie, and her misperception of the encounter, combined with the acts that follow, lead to a story with a depth that Briony would never have dreamed of. 

McEwan is genius. Everything about Atonement is sensual and alive--there is life in every object and emotional layering behind each passing observation. Nothing in Atonement is written for the mere purpose of being written, however. Even in the midst of such gripping description, the reader never feels overwhelmed because it is understood that every detail is essential. There isn't any tedium. 

It has also been awhile since I've been so completely pulled into the fictional world and felt as if I was seeing through the eyes of the character, or serving as an invisible presence in their little world that witnesses everything. Atonement did just that, however, literally yanking me out of reality and into the pages. I finished the book in two days, I was so engrossed. 

The syntactical and dictional vivacity of Atonement is magnificent, but all this would be nothing without McEwan's perfect feel for character development, especially in regards to the three main pieces of the puzzle. Briony, Cecilia, and Robbie each have a separate stream of consciousness that is distinct and filled with individuality. Their thoughts and emotions are all on display, and McEwan makes sure to give them each their own psyches. This is the greatest glory of the novel--the way it completely masters playing with perspectives. Everything--the setting, the plot, the supporting characters, and the main characters--is seen through three different lenses (there is a fourth, but only for a little while). It's truly magical, and provides for the best emotional response from the reader. The use of the different viewpoints jerks every heartstring and gives rise to conflicting emotions (which I personally love to have when reading a novel). It also better captures the dynamics of relationships, which are absolutely key in the novel. The relationships between people and the nature of those connections are the driving force behind what makes the novel so captivating, and it is Briony's misunderstanding of them that sets everything into motion. 

The complexities of Atonement and its near perfection are given no justice by my unorganized review. It's simply too hard to explain how brilliant the novel is and what exactly makes it so outstanding. It just provokes that "feeling"--the sense of contentment you feel when you just know you're reading something special. I know that it sounds like a bunch of nonsense now just because of my inability to articulate it, but just read it and I'm sure you'll understand afterwards. 

--Ari 

P.S: Yes, I know there's a movie. And yes, I have watched it. And YES there will be a review following shortly. Watch out for me :) And keep the comments coming. Even when I'm not posting, I always keep an eye on comments and make a point to respond. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

More Anna Karenina Clips




Hello there! Haven't forgotten about you. In fact, I've actually written about four different drafts that just haven't been posted yet.

But this is important news to my American followers. My UK ones are probably rolling their eyes at my tardiness, seeing that the movie is already rolling through theaters across the Atlantic.

I just wanted to give you a little taste of what we'll be seeing in Anna Karenina and share the information I've gleaned from UK sites as to what we can expect. These aren't all the available clips, but they are perhaps the most revealing I would think.

Ok, so time for another round of Ari's random thoughts:

  • When I said "Oh no, they turned Anna Karenina into a musical" I wasn't exactly right, but I was getting extremely warm. The fact is that apparently the entire movie takes place within an opera house, serving as both a cost efficient way of avoiding replicating Russia and an overt symbol of the artificiality of Anna's world. 
  • ^^ With that said...hmmm. I'm not sure how it will play out at all. I guess I'll just have to wait and see. 
  • The more I see of sneak peaks and clips, the more I'm convinced of the certainty that Keira Knightley was miscast. It simply makes no sense. Not because she's not a good actor, but because she's just NOT Anna Karenina, and there's nothing she could do that could possibly better mold her to fit the part. Anna is such a hard character to play because she's dynamic to the highest degree. She enters the novel as the figurehead of all things elegant and composed and takes her exit as an incredibly weak and slightly neurotic character. I don't think that's necessarily a part made for Keira, who is better in the role of more sarcastic and witty characters. I could go on forever about the mistake, but you get my point. Oh, and she doesn't deliver good acting here. 
  • I'm beyond certain that Jude Law will be fabulous. He makes Karenin seem human, and it's intriguing to watch because few readers bother to wonder if the character has a heart or not. Karenin is supposed to be symbolic of everything Anna is longing to get away from, but in this movie he's seemingly made into a multifaceted character. His sense of possession over Anna isn't just because of the sake of appearances, but because he honestly seems to care about her moral wellbeing and the practical consequences of her ill-fated passion. It seems like he's trying to save her as best as he knows how. Now, I don't remember if that's what the character in the novel was trying to do (I haven't read it in a while), but if not, then it's a great artistic license taken. 
  • I've completely neglected to address Domhnall Gleeson, which is a serious mistake because he, along with Jude Law, seems to be a major bright spot. He's the perfect fit for Levin in so many ways. He's not the most entrancing hero in literature, and he's socially awkward and slightly arrogant at times, but underneath he's a true romantic. I expect an underrated performance from Gleeson, which will fit the character perfectly. Levin is a major character in the novel, and yet readers and filmmakers are often so quick to forget about him in the face of Anna's conflict. 
  • Aaron Johnson...Well, for now all I see is a pretty boy trying to act. It's lacking substance right now. He's rather doll-like. 
As usual, comments are appreciated. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

"Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale-Hurston Review

I'm still alive, just to let you guys know ha. Senior year began last week, and for me it feels like my summer had already ended a month ago when I drowned myself in summer work, rereading Frankenstein, annotating Frankenstein, writing novel notes for Frankenstein, making presentations for Frankenstein, and then dedicating the last week to reading books about the intricacies of the American government and brushing up on my rusty knowledge of its constitution. 

In a nutshell, the workload is already pretty heavy. In a few weeks, college essays and applications will be another source of stress. In the midst of it all, I almost thought about giving up blogging for good, or just announcing a sabbatical of some sort. Then I got a sweet little comment from Lady Disdain and realized that blogging is more imperative now than ever. Because I miss you guys, and when I'm constantly writing about the things that my teachers and college admissions officers want to see me write, it takes away some of the joy. That's why I need Lit Lovers & Corset Laces. Nothing I write here is graded. I'm not given some kind of prompt. My grammar, diction, and content isn't being weighed. Here, I write what I want. 

With Frankenstein out the way, my new English teacher decided to move back into the realm of American literature--more specifically African-American literature. While British Literature has always been my most beloved genre, I've always been the type of girl to read whatever I can get my hands on, so other genres tend to speak to me as well. As an African-American girl who is actually quite in touch with her culture, black lit speaks to me in a very personal way. When my English teacher announced that we were delving into Their Eyes Were Watching God, I couldn't even contain my excitement. 

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale-Hurston follows the story of one Janie Crawford. Janie is a beautiful mixed-raced girl with long, dark hair, an innately sexual figure, and a wild spirit. At the age of sixteen, she sits in the yard of her grandmother's home and observes the nuances of spring, taking particular note of the perfect marriage of nature when a bee pollinates a pear tree. Then and there, Janie decides that true love should resemble that moment, and a seed is planted within her to seek that kind of love. 

Her dream seems doomed to death when she is basically auctioned off in marriage to Mr. Logan Killicks by her grandmother, who explains that giving Janie to the old farmer is the twisted, maternal way of protecting her and seeing that she wants for nothing. Thus, Janie is married at sixteen. Logan Killicks worships her at first, but after receiving no encouragement, he subjects her to the role of a "farmer's wife." Janie is miserable until she makes the acquaintance of Joe Starks, who she meets on his way to Florida. 

The ambitious Joe is seeking to construct a town of black people, where he may prove to be a big and valuable voice in the world. Janie is attracted to his big dreams, and he insists that she run away from her husband and marry him so he can treat her like the lady she was born to be. Janie eagerly complies, and true to his word Joe creates a town from the dust and becomes mayor, but he places Janie on the shelf as a trophy-wife. Janie progressively finds herself more miserable as he degrades her intelligence and makes her feel unimportant. She stays married to him, however, until his death. 

By this time, Janie is near forty and feels as if the best days of life have passed her by. She relishes her independence, however, as Joe left her a large amount of money and she now has the capacity to live as she chooses. She insists that she will not marry, but soon after Joe's death she meets Tea Cake, a young and insanely handsome drifter. Tea Cake is twelve years Janie's junior, and her friends insist that he is only after her money, but in him Janie finds the physical and emotional love that resembles the pollinated pear tree from her past. She runs away with him and begins life all over again as the woman she's always wanted to be, but the forces of nature and the god that controls Janie's fate prove to have other plans. 

The thing about Their Eyes Were Watching God is that it isn't some weary story about the struggling souls of black folk like most Harlem Renaissance novels of the time. Instead, Zora Neale-Hurston strays away from all of that and makes things simple. The life of the black farmer isn't placed under a social microscope and deemed hopeless and destitute. Rather,  the simplicity of southern black life is painted as it truly was at the time. Blacks were poor, uneducated, and on the low end of the social spectrum, but they had ambitious spirits, kind hearts, and happy souls. They did not spend their time worrying about the problems in society, but rather enjoying what they had and seeking what there was to gain. 

With the social connotations of the black struggle milked out, the novel really focuses on one girl's metamorphosis as she discovers herself. The most obvious theme in the novel is her relationship with men, but at the story's essence there is so much to behold in her relationship with nature and its forces as well as the world. Hurston breaks genre barriers by creating Their Eyes Were Watching God with a masterful blend of feminism, cultural richness, and "coming of age" ideals. Janie finds herself by rejecting all the notions of who her family, race, and gender think she should be and becoming a real woman. Her relationship with Tea Cake not only symbolizes her success in finding a love that mirrors the the bee and the pear tree, but the victory of her ability to live a life always reminiscent of that moment of natural perfection. 

Super long review, I know. But comment please! There's also a movie. 

Miss you guys, and hope to be back asap. 

--Ari 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Anna Karenina 2012 Clip



Just thought I might share.

I, for one, am absolutely perplexed. First off, after a few minutes of deep deliberation and raiding my mind for any existing knowledge of the book, which I read two years ago, I still have yet to understand the purpose of the seemingly melodramatic fireworks/dance scene at the beginning. My first reaction when watching was, "Oh God, they turned Anna Karenina into a musical." Thank Heaven that seems not to be true.

Perhaps sharing my thoughts on the clip so soon after having watched it is not exactly the wisest thing to do. I'm still grappling with my thoughts. So, instead of attempting to write a post with any kind of dictional or syntactical dignity, I'll instead list the foremost thoughts in my mind. These thoughts might be random and none of them really take precedence over the other. They might be minute observations or argumentative opinions. At this point, however, they're really all I can give.


  • Kiera Knightley is miscast. I'm sorry, I just don't see Anna Karenina. She was much more suited to her role in Pride and Prejudice. Her performance in Atonement  was beyond reproach. Now, however, I'm almost tired of seeing her as Joe Wright's go-to girl. Was she cast because it was an expectation? Was she honestly the best woman for the role? I don't know. 
  • The clothes don't fit her right. Wasn't the latter half of the 19th century all about voluptuousness and curves? 
  • The firework/musical thing...ummm. ??? The jury is still deliberating on that one. 
  • Vronsky could be a hit or miss. I'm not quite sure yet. 
  • I do appreciate, however, that a director has finally decided to cast the leads remembering the age differences between the novel's characters. Karenin is much older than Anna, and Jude Law looks it thanks to a pretty stellar makeup job. Anna is older than Vronsky. You can detect these age differences much better than in other adaptions. Side note: Why does hollywood have such a problem dealing with the ages of the characters? Will Cathy and Heathcliff ever look like teenagers? Will Rochester ever be played by a 38 year old man alongside an 18 year old Jane? 
  • Jude Law is going to be amazing. In the midst of this discombobulating blur of a clip, he is the constant deliverer. I can see something fantastic coming from him, and it is that which has me ready to see just how this movie will turn out. 
  • I think every minute Jude wasn't in the clip was stale and slightly awkward. 

Please comment! I love to respond. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Weekly Lit Quote 7/30/12-7/36/12

"For echo is the soul of the voice exciting itself in hollow places"
                                                                                 --Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Jane Eyre 1952 and 1957

There are 10 basic English adaptations of Jane Eyre that are widely available to the world, stretching all the way back to the first talkie version in 1934. From various sources, I had heard that there was a 1952 and 1957 TV adaptation, but after snooping around the internet for any chance to watch it or even buy it, I fell short and was resigned to keeping the two adaptions out of conversation.

It didn't stop me from being a little curious, however, so last night I tried again and this time I didn't come out empty handed. In fact, I found the proposal scenes of both. I thought some of you JE enthusiasts might be interested, so I took the liberty of sharing.

Jane Eyre 1952

Jane Eyre 1957


Ok, so they're absolutely horrible. If I had to rearrange all of the previous comparisons and rankings of Jane Eyre adaptations I've done in the past, you might find that the 1934 has moved from it's perpetual spot in last place. I could give some bit of credit to the '52 because it was surprisingly true to the source material (however horribly the lines were delivered and disregarding the fact that you can barely see anything because of the screen quality), but the '57 was ridiculously unfaithful and altogether so strange that all I could do was laugh.

Suffice it to say that I understand why these two adaptions were hidden in obscurity for so long. They weren't worth the trouble of going to find. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Weekly Lit Quote July 23 - 29 2012

This weeks two quotes (I couldn't choose between them) are from the 1995 adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, directed by Alfonso Cuaran. 

"Magic has to be believed. That's the only way it's real." --Captain Crewe (Liam Cunningham)
"I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rags. Even if they aren't pretty, or smart, or young. They're still princesses. All of us." --Sara Crewe (Liesel Matthews)

This film is truly inspirational. If you're looking for something uplifting, I would really advise you give it a watch because there is so much you may learn from this film.

Friday, July 20, 2012

"Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley Review

Why haven't I read Frankenstein sooner?

Sometimes I feel this overwhelming apathy when it comes to picking up books I know I should have read by now. I read books on my own terms, whether every self-proclaimed lit lover has read them or not. For some reason, I just never had a sense of urgency when it came to digging my face into Frankenstein. I think it had something to do with the fact that it's used as in allusion in so many other books/movies/etc that the novel itself almost screams "cliche."

But the day did come when I felt that overwhelming motivation to read Frankenstein, and it came yesterday morning when I looked at the calendar, noted when school started, and hyperventilated because I was incredibly behind on my summer reading. Nothing works as potently as the fire of procrastinated summer reading under the butt.

Yesterday, I journeyed via two planes and a four-hour drive back to my home from a college tour in St. Louis, and knowing that I had to get a good head start on the book in order to keep reading, I delved straight into it on plane #1 while the lady next to me indulged her fantasy in Fifty Shades of Grey. By the end of the first flight, I was a third of the way through. I finished the second third on the next flight, and the last bit I read on the drive home. So mission accomplished, summer reading back on track, and Ari the lit lover is supremely happy.

For all of you who aren't acquainted with the specifics of Frankenstein and have only the stigma of a monster with a crowbar through his neck that the average human has, let me first address a common misconception: Frankenstein is not the monster. I've heard the monster called "Monster Frankenstein", but I don't remember seeing him being called such in the novel, so I'm not sure that's correct. The named Frankenstein is the narrator, who begins his story in the most seamless and normal of ways; a history of his mother and father.

Victor Frankenstein comes from the noble roots of a loving family. His father is a doting husband and daddy, his mother is a fragilely beautiful woman with the tenderest compassion, and he is the first child to whom all love and caresses are given. As he grows up, his family becomes larger. His parents adopt a strikingly beautiful and well-tempered little girl to bring up as Frankenstein's sister and potential wife, and afterwards more children follow. Frankenstein matures happily and normally, but one hitch in his character is revealed plainly from the start.

Frankenstein is allured by the source of life and the natural philosophy and chemistry behind how Adam came into being from nothing. Captured by the works of discredited ancient scientists, he keeps within him this inborn desire to change the world by finding the key to life and becoming a creator. As he studiously proves himself the best scientist in his college, he begins fashioning a human that might change the face of science. Driven by some kind of animalistic obsession for glory, knowledge, and success, he finishes his creature and jump starts it to life, only to regret that he created such an ugly thing and rue the fact that he breached the limits of scientific knowledge. The monster escapes, and initially Frankenstein's guilt seems almost dissolved until the thing he created comes charging back into his life causing misery wherever his creator goes.

The audience finds that the monster is not the illiterate, unintelligent brute that movies and allusions paint him to be, but rather an articulate and eloquent user of words. He insists that he is not bad by nature. In fact, he aspires to be a noble and loving creature like the people the world smiles upon. He is lonely, however. His vile appearances make him incapable of receiving human sympathy, even when his heart is loving and his deeds are good. He turns to Frankenstein, the creator that hates him, for one last plea for happiness by asking the scientist to fashion him a mate that might love him and provide him company since humanity has determined to spurn him and the creator who was supposed to love him has turned his back on him.

There is, however, a certain hitch to his proposal. The monster insists that if he is given a companion to act as a source of love and similitude, he will peacefully resign to the deepest jungles of South America and never be heard from again or cause any harm or grief to any living creature. But if Frankenstein chooses not to give him a mate, the monster swears to avenge himself by terrorizing him and everyone connected with him so that Frankenstein might feel the wretched loneliness that the creature himself has been fated to live with forever. The conflicted Frankenstein must choose to either perform a revolted task in order to save his family and friends from what he created (while potentially releasing another danger into the world) or not comply with the brute's request and see those he loves plagued by the freak of nature to which he gave life.

This novel is a breath of fresh air for anyone in search of a short and invigorating read. I wouldn't rank it amongst my favorite pieces of literature, but I would happily read it again if the opportunity presented itself.

The thing about Frankenstein is that it was one of the first. It is the sci-fi/horror novel that set the standard for the genre. It's the stuff of legend. But, when you strip away that piece of overwhelming information and just read it for what it is--a book--it is solid, but rather unspectacular in my opinion. The plot is enticing, but predictable. The literary elements are all there where they should be. The protagonist has all the components of the average dynamic main character. Mechanically, it is just a good book. But there is nothing that ups the ante and makes it the incredibly conflictual and paralyzing tale that everyone paints it to be.

On the other hand, I don't mean to say that I didn't like the novel or didn't appreciate it. I found the underlying content to be very interesting and quite thought-provoking. Frankenstein's creature provides an outside view of humanity and asks basic questions that we all ask ourselves throughout many points in life. How can humans be so filled with nobility, goodness, and kindness, and then at times prove to be the most barbarous and unfeeling species? The monster's relationship with his creator also has a strange resemblance to the conflicting sentiments humans feel in relation to a God or what they believe to be the spring of life. Frankenstein causes one to reexamine the basic questions of life and revel in thought. But perhaps, as Frankenstein himself asserts, that is the potential danger. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Under Construction

There are obviously some facelifting experiments being conducted on the blog right now. I figured that it was time for change, so I'm just dabbling with this and that until I find something that sticks. The basic white background will stay the same. It'll be mostly the header and the font coloring that I'll be messing with. Sorry to those who don't like the white, it just makes everything seem spacious and simplistic. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Jane Eyre 2006 Review

I had a feeling after posting my new poll that this would win out. I'm happy though, because I've been itching to review this for a while. All I needed was the proper excuse to put my lazy fingers (and brain) to work and pull myself out of this horrible writing lull into which I've fallen. Nothing excites me more than Jane Eyre reviews.

So, to commence my usual off-topic and slightly longwinded preamble, I'll start by saying that this is the first adaption of the novel that I ever saw. Ever. And when I found out that countless others existed, I was about as excited as a little kid overdosed on caffeine (to say the least). The miniseries was running late on the BBC during a sleepless night and I feasted my eyes gladly. I watched the first portion one Sunday, the second part the next, and then immediately ordered the DVD. I'm well versed on every detail of this adaptation. After all, before the 2011 version came and stole my heart, this is what satisfied me most.

                                                                                                        Casting: 

Jane: Ruth Wilson is a perfect choice for various reasons. The duck-like lips, lightly freckled cheeks, and darting eyes are all separate facets of the Jane that I personally visualize. Wilson possesses a unique and "sharp" beauty by which the Jane in my imagination is defined. Her ability to naturally imbue the character with that innate sense of self-respect and autonomy while also managing to capture the vulnerability and loneliness of the character when demanded is, without a doubt, stunning. Her imperfections only arise in the technicalities. She's obviously too mature to pull off being eighteen, too tall to earn the "little" description, and sometimes from certain angles even too extraordinarily stunning to merit the "plain" illustration. But then again, if we Jane Eyre fanatics pay too much attention to Jane's physical attributes then we'll never like an adaptation. Ruth Wilson does, however, do a great credit to the mental and emotional aspects of the character. Her Jane is composed, visually strong, and unafraid of those who try to intimidate her. She maintains all these essences of the character while also managing to make Jane a person that modern women can somehow relate to. The only downside I could find--and perhaps this is just me being picky--is that sometimes Ruth appears much too comfortable with Rochester in their first few conversations. I'm very particular about the first conversations between the two characters in an adaptation because they essentially set the groundwork for the rest of the film or miniseries. Jane is not supposed to be timid, but at the same time I wouldn't describe her as a person completely at ease. She and Rochester are both extremely guarded; jaded by their previous knowledge of a cruel world. By the second conversation I think Ruth's Jane is already getting too familiar with Rochester.

Rochester:
       Like Timothy Dalton and Michael Fassbender, Toby Stephens is much too sexy. Even beneath those brown hair extensions and 19th century muttonchops he is decidedly swoon-worthy. Once again, I make allowances for that. Who doesn't like a little extra sex appeal in a Rochester?
       Toby Stephens is great. He is the "bad boy" Rochester; the actor that reminds the audience again and again that Rochester's record is not squeaky clean. He plays the world-weary cynic perfectly (with extra help from lines like "I've been all over the world, Miss Eyre, and it's vastly overrated"). Toby isn't afraid to dive straight into the character and emphasize aspects of Rochester that other actors chose to gloss over in the majority of other JE adaptations. He boldly signals to the audience that Rochester isn't the image of some morally upright Romantic hero. He takes care to bring the defects of the character to light; his shameful sexual rap sheet, his spoiled and all too flattered ego, and his suave way of manipulating Jane's emotions (seen when Blanche comes to town). I love this projection of Rochester because it creates a stark comparison to the man he gradually becomes when Jane enters his life and alters things. That take captures one of the essential keys of his love for Jane. On the other hand, Stephens' portrayal of Rochester could be taken by some critics as not nearly as deep as it should be. If you don't look at it the way I just described, from the surface all you might see is a natural "pretty boy" persona that over-romanticizes the character. So from the same performance you might gather two completely polarizing viewpoints. This isn't a statement to take away from Toby's portrayal,  but merely a warning not to rely completely on what I've said here.

St. John: 
      Boy, did I love Andrew Buchanan as St. John! He is hands down my favorite portrayal of the character; perhaps because he adds an element to St. John that actually resembles a human being. After all, that is what St. John is. He's a cold, chauvinistic, "holier than thou" human being, but a man nonetheless. Every other actor who has portrayed St. John (to me) has either had about as much personality as driftwood or is cold enough to freeze over the Sahara. And St. John isn't cold. Quite the contrary. "He has a heart; [Jane has] seen it overflowing with passion...he just keeps it buried in stone with a tenacious willpower." Buchanan is that description manifested in reality. When St. John professes his love for Rosamund Oliver, everyone sees that flash of passion and the proof that he is capable of great warmth. In another second, however, he is back to the unbendingly pious antagonist we all love to hate. Great performance.

Others:
    Adele: Annoying. Didn't like this one at all.
    Fairfax: Solid performance. Not my favorite, but very close. A very nice maternal figure.
    Mrs. Reed: Tara Fitzgerald's bitterness permanently marked her as evil in my mind. Great.

Screenplay/Cinematography/Soundtrack/Costumes: 
     This is where the words of praise begin to see a decline. The screenplay is my major qualm about this adaptation. The dialogue is just not faithful enough to the novel. It's much too modernized, and because of the absence of the original language, that extra spark that could have been failed to ignite in this version. Then there's the problem of missing and fabricated scenes. For example, the conversation after Mason's injury, which isn't exactly integral but is definitely something worth keeping, is gone. Then there's the highly controversial leaving scene, which has been moved to Jane's bedroom, stripped of all Bronte's dialogue, and converted to a steamy kissing scene completely unlike the novel. Of course, I love seeing the physical chemistry between Toby and Ruth, but it doesn't do Jane's character justice and artistic license shouldn't go as far to alter such an essential part of the novel in that way. It's especially disappointing to feel so harshly about the screenplay because I enjoyed Sandy Welch's script from the 2004 BBC North and South miniseries and I had my hopes set high.
     There isn't much to say about the cinematography. It isn't very good, but then who really expects it to be? It's a BBC miniseries. Then again, it still could have been better. I did like how the director and camera crew made great use of the landscape surrounding Haddon Hall.
    Soundtrack. I didn't really notice it that much, but once I actually took the time to listen to it I didn't like it. Much too dainty for a gothic novel such as Jane Eyre. However, there are various sound samples during some particularly gothic scenes that change the tone and add an extra scary edge to the miniseries. This is the first adaptation to really take a peak into the "horror story" side of the novel since the 1944 and the 2011 film followed suit.
     Costumes: Ok. Not amazing. Not bad. Once again, were we really expecting much from a low budget miniseries?


     I believe I've already voiced them beneath the individual categories, but just to clarify, my only major problem with this adaption is the screenplay. That's a major letdown, but despite that, the 2006 JE is a solid adaptation. It has, debatably, the largest following of any adaption. A lot of that has to do with placing. This miniseries was released in the prime of a younger generation of Jane Eyre lovers. For lit lovers my age that were too young to appreciate the '96 and '97, the '06 came at a time when we needed it. I'm not the only one who's able to credit the '06 for pointing me to prior adaptions. This is, overall, the JE that ushers to a younger crowd. Toby and Ruth have a raw and realistic emotional chemistry that speaks to everyday people and makes this particular version of the novel one that reminds readers that 19th century literature can still connect to the modern world. Yes, it sacrificed some of the beautiful language in order to prove that point, but it is nonetheless endearing. Like any other adaptation, you have to learn to appreciate it for its strengths.

Please Comment and it's great to be back again. Love, Ari.

P.S: Just for our mutual viewing pleasure...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Anna Karenina 2012 Trailer Released

I love the moments when coincidental thoughts become reality.

Since the moment I first heard that Joe Wright (one of my favorite directors) was working on a new adaptation of Anna Karenina, I've been excited-- even despite the fact that I could never define my opinion on the novel. I was--and still am--however, certain that whatever novel Wright touches turns to cinematographic gold and is always a distinct pleasure to watch. The project was announced ages ago and I periodically checked up on it, always delighted to find the occasional new screen cap or newest update. 

For a while I let the film drift to the corners of my crowded mind until literally two days ago when I was pondering what I wanted to post for you guys. Anna Karenina came to mind for a fleeting second, reminding me that a trailer for the new film was just about due. Two days later, here it was. 


First thoughts? Once again, Kiera Knightley seems to be a physical miscast. But then again, she wasn't the ideal physical representation of Elizabeth Bennet or Sabina Spielrein either. The only movie in which I believe she was the perfect representation of the character was Atonement. However, as is usually the case with Miss Knightley, she does have the potential to alter my previous preconceptions of the character through her performance. 

The person that I'm really interested in is Jude Law. Just from the trailer alone, I can already feel a superb performance brimming over. Perhaps it's just the nip-tuck trailer job that makes Karenin seem more capable of receiving human sympathy, but I have a great notion that Jude Law will finally make Karenin seem like a true rival to Vronsky. Not a sexual rival--he was never meant to be that--nor even a romantic rival, but the kind of character that reminds us why Anna was so torn in the novel. I've seen countless adaptations of the book and no one has yet to do it. It's always been easier for filmmakers to characterize him as a cold and unsympathetic husband who pushes Anna out the door and makes it painfully clear to the audience why she entered an affair. I've personally always believe that there is more to Karenin than that. 

Vronsky...ehh. He seems ok. He's perhaps the most overrated romantic "hero" in literature, so I don't really like talking about him. 

The costume design will be perfect. The only thing left to wonder is if Dario Marianelli will find his way onto the soundtrack.

Oh, and I love Matthew McFadyen's mustache! (Don't act like you didn't notice it). 

Feel free to comment!


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hello there!

I'm back after taking perhaps the longest blogging hiatus in my comparatively short blogging career. In fact, I remained silent through my first blogging anniversary! It's a shame, I know, and I feel horrible because I promised myself that I would never neglect blogging in the face of academic adversity, but til now I hadn't even seen what "academic adversity" looks like. Through April and May I found myself hopelessly entrapped within the confines of piles of homework that barred me from the internet for weeks at a time. Add that to the fact that I rarely spent time at home unless it was to shower and sleep. My life had uprooted itself from the comfort of my bedroom to the unpleasantly decorated walls of my high school, where I was constantly running from one classroom to another preparing for either AP exams, end of year exams, SATs, or ACTs.

I was writing all the time. The keyboard was always at my fingertips, and when it wasn't the pencil was undoubtedly in my hand. I never thought this would happen to me, but it's true. After writing becomes compulsory, the joy of doing it for fun fades. My brain was working at full capacity, my fingers were always in movement. By the time I got home, the last thing I wanted to do was blog. I couldn't even read. I just wanted to sleep.

Lit Lovers & Corset Laces has been barren for these last few months; distressingly so. But the sun of my Junior year has set, and now I am hovering in that two month night before the rise of the radiant sun that signals my last year of high school. This little resting period will be filled with countless adventures to share with you guys. My family is embarking on a college tour around the country to various destinations that I've expressed interest in. And where there is travel, there is always time to read and write. Reviews will be coming again, as I've already gotten back into my comfortable role as a bookworm. I just finished a quick reread of The English Patient yesterday and have moved on to Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. After that, my summer reading list demands that revisit Frankenstein and brush up on my Wuthering Heights. Hopefully, there will be a lot to keep you guys entertained in the months to come.

I'm really glad to be writing to you all again. I don't think I realized just how much I missed you.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Jane Eyre 2011 Anniversary Review

Preamble...A very long preamble. 
I know I promised this weeks ago, but I never got around to writing this review because last-minute schedule changes left me with absolutely no time on my hands. I didn't forget, though, and now with the third quarter behind me and the ability to utter a large sigh of relief, I feel much better equipped to write a thorough review.

Perhaps it seems borderline insane to write two reviews on the exact same movie, but I'm determined to make it a tradition on this blog because Jane Eyre 2011 was essentially the catalyst of a major life change for me. (Yes, I know it sounds melodramatic.) A year ago, my family took the trip to Charlotte, North Carolina to celebrate my grandfather's birthday. After doing some cinema research, I was able to ascertain that the (then) new version of Jane Eyre would be premiering at a local art house theatre the very night we came into town, and I desperately begged my parents to let me see it. They sacrificed crashing in their beds after four hours of travel to watch it with me, and for two hours I was mesmerized by Cary Fukunaga's adaptation of Jane Eyre. During the car ride home, I was silent for almost ten minutes straight before an effusive flow of words began gushing out of my mouth.

"It was amazing!"

"Wow!"

"The look he gave her!"

"'Awaken then!'"

After countless exclamations, I paused, expecting some kind of profound remark from one of my parents. All I got was, "I'm glad you liked it." And from my mother: "I liked the other one better. But that beard was hideous."

I had to face it then that my parents would never quite understand the depth of what I saw in Jane Eyre; would never fully be able to comprehend the way reading a piece of English literature was such an indescribable thrill to me; would never be able to hold enthusiastic discourse about the different facets of Rochester and the true significance of St. John.

No one really shared my passion for the novel, or for English literature at all. Yet, I felt the urge to tell someone or find some place where I satisfy my enthusiasm, so I came to Blogger. One of my first posts was a review of the movie, and it set an enriching and cathartic journey in motion that began with only two followers and thirty seven views and has now grown to thirty followers and 2,000 views a month. So by reviewing the film again, I'm not trying to be obsessive (even though that does have a minor hand in it), but rather I'm attempting to show my gratitude for the film, the experience, and to you guys.

Casting: 
Jane: I've revisited this movie several times since that day I wrote that first review, and each time I watch it I'm progressively more convinced of Mia Wasikowska's suitability for the role. I was in love with her then, and left completely awestruck by her ability to infuse outward subtlety into a character so rich with emotion and yet still be able to portray the burning fires beneath the skin. To this day, critics continue to call Mia's performance wooden, but there are just as many who recognize the skill she displays and many were disappointed by her Oscar snubbing. When walking into the theatre last year, I was afraid that I might not be able to see Mia as Jane. Her previous roles in Alice in Wonderland and The Kids are All Right struck me with the fear that I would be scarred by my prior knowledge of her. I was proved wrong, though, and quickly discovered that Mia inhabited the role of Jane Eyre. She becomes the character, and it resonates through every flicker of the eye, gesture of the hand, and movement of her body. Her age makes the casting accurate; her maturity makes it true to the character, and her overall respect for the sanctity of the novel and its protagonist (voiced numerous times in her interviews) adds something that an average actress would not have been able to capture. Jane Eyre really becomes relatable, and even though her performance is remarkable because of its sublime undercurrents, the audience can feel every fluctuation of her emotions.

Rochester: I hadn't been previously acquainted with Michael Fassbender before the announcement that he was slated to play Rochester, so I plunged into weeks of copious research, watching other films he had appeared in and listening to the interviews he gave about his approach to the character. At first, I was ambivalent about the decision to cast someone so attractive in the role, but after seeing the movie I realized why Cary Fukunaga selected him. Fassbender is morphed into a slightly unattractive Rochester, but as the film progresses he becomes more handsome, as if the audience is witnessing his transformation the same way Jane is. Fassbender encompasses many of Rochester's facets: the changeableness, the outright rudeness, the aggression but also the tenderness, the passion, and the flirtatious charm. I'm not saying that he's perfect, however. Fassbender takes Rochester's polar extremes and incorporates each into his performance with moderation. He's not as aggressive, rude, and changeable as the "real" Rochester. Somehow, I preferred this approach to those of previous actors, though. The actors before him tended to focus themselves on one aspect of the character. Orson Welles was the commanding Rochester, George C. Scott was the fatherly Rochester. Michael Jayston was the eccentric one, Tim Dalton was aggressive, and Toby Stephens was sensual. Fassbender didnt execute each of these to the extent the others did, but he balanced them all better than the previous men.

St. John: Even though I loved the way Jamie Bell actually made St. John seem human rather than just an icy clergyman who does nothing to rival Rochester, outwardly, he didn't fit the "Grecian profile" image I might have imagined. Appearances aside, I enjoyed him. Jane once described St. John as not necessarily heartless, but too intent on burying his emotions. I could detect the manifestation of that description in areas of Jamie's performance. In a scene of particularly intimate conversation, he speaks briefly about having fallen in love. His voice becomes soft, his countenance a bit vulnerable. But he turns it off quickly, and follows with the words, "I scorned this weakness. I fought hard against it and I won." My regret is not seeing Jamie enough. St. John's part didn't have much time to develop.

Others: Dame Judi nails Mrs. Fairfax in an underrated performance that got absolutely no attention. But then again, a stellar performance is almost expected from Judi Dench at this point in her spectacular career. Sally Hawkins was lovely (well, as lovely as Miss Reed can be) in the short time she graced the screen. Little Adele was so cute! The Rivers sisters couldn't be more perfectly cast. The only qualm I have is regarding Imogen Poots as Blanche Ingram. Her appearances fit the part without a doubt; she's absolutely stunning. There was still something lacking, however, and it might simply be because the audience didn't see nearly enough of her to recognize her as a real rival for Rochester's affections.

Screenplay/ Cinematography/Soundtrack/Costumes: 
Screenplay: Moira Buffini did not disappoint me. There were some obvious deviations from the book (as is common in every adaptation) but what I appreciated most was how Moira made sure to preserve the dialogue, unlike the 2006. There were a few people with gripes about how she chopped out the gypsy scene and condensed the leaving scene, but if you look at the numerous other adaptations of the novel, you'll realize that none of them really ever incorporated those scenes except for the 4 hour BBC productions. There's also a lot in Moira's script that didn't make it into the final production of the movie because of time constraints. (The movie already pushes two hours as is). For anyone interested in really seeing the genius of Buffini's script, you can purchase the movie tie-in version on kindle or kindle software here. The screenplay is located at the end of the novel. Buffini succeeded in preserving the aspects of the source material that most fans love, but she also added some original ideas that I would have loved to see come to fruition on the screen. What didn't wasn't her fault.

Cinematography: Absolutely breathtaking. This adaptation truly makes cinematography an art that requires adherence to the source material as well. The atmosphere created by the lighting and camera work is realistic and truly visceral. Cary Fukunaga said in multiple interviews that most of the time throughout the movie, no artificial light was used. The cinematographers worked with the shadows and darkness by filming by the light of the fire and candelabras on set. In a film with no voiceovers to give the viewer a clear insight into Jane's thoughts, the filmmakers used her environment as an external manifestation of her feelings. Outdoors, the landscaping is filmed with an artistic but realistic hand that emphasizes Jane's isolation. There is no romantic sweeping camera like that in Pride in Prejudice, but the film work is just as breathtakingly beautiful.

Soundtrack: What can I say? Dario Marianelli is a genius. I bought the entire soundtrack and still listen to it on a regular basis. It's one of my favorites from him. The key to providing music for this film was to mirror Jane's thoughts without overpowering or romanticizing the world she lives in. Marianelli was the perfect person to bring in for the job. You can give all the tracks a listen on Youtube. My favorites were "Awaken", "In Jest or Earnest", and "The Wedding Dress."

Costumes: Nominated for an Academy Award, so obviously they must be good. But one must really take the time to notice the detail to appreciate the artistry.

Negatives:
The one thing that takes away from the film is the swiftness with which it progresses. Grant it, two hours is not a lot to work with when you're condensing a five hundred-page novel. I would have liked to see more time spent on the brutality of Jane's childhood and a little more emphasis placed on her visit back to Gateshead. Two scenes were left out (of the movie, not the script) that were really instrumental in the pacing of Jane and Rochester's relationship. The first was that garden scene in which Rochester gives us some insight into his past with Adele's mother (it's included in the deleted scenes of the DVD). The second was the tearing of the veil, which was also thrown into the deleted scenes package. These clips are both on Youtube as well.


Despite these quirks, this adaptation continues to be my favorite because of how balanced it was. Every aspect of the film worked together in perfect unison. The characters each had perfect chemistry and did great jobs with their parts. The cinematography added an extra aspect to the movie that echoed their performances. The costumes and soundtrack fit flawlessly into the story. Which Jane Eyre adaptation a person likes will always variate based on the personality of the individual, of course. Before I came across this movie, I had submitted to calling the BBC 1983 and 2006 my favorites; the 1983 because of its adherence to the source material, the 2006 because of the chemistry between characters. But when this version came out, I realized what I had always wanted in a Jane Eyre adaptation that none of the others ever had--artistry. This was an adaptation where just as much effort was put into being true to the book's description of Jane's surroundings and the tones in her environment as it was into the dialogue and the characters. That's really important, because so great a portion of the novel is dedicated to these details. Fukunaga, Buffini, Goldman, and Marianelli took Jane Eyre and made it a visual piece of art, and I as an intense fan of the novel I appreciated that tremendously. You can say what you want about the actors or the infidelities of the screenplay, but no one can question the visceral quality of the music and the cinematography and its connection to the original story. Whenever I watch this movie again, I always rediscover why I loved it so much since that first night I saw it a year ago.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fresh Memories


Video I made in honor of my "Seeing Jane Eyre 2011 Anniversary." Just a little treat to prepare you from my upcoming anniversary review of the film. Enjoy! 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Oh, so many things to catch up on...

I've been horribly busy. My apologies.

Most of the time, even when I am drowned by tests, homework, and life in general, I still have time to respond to your comments but I've really taken a break from the whole concept of blogger. It's not because I like neglecting you guys though, it's really because I know that if I come back then I'll be moved to write a post and use precious time that could be dedicated to the hideous and intimidating mountains of homework on my desk.

A review will be coming soon, don't worry. It'll actually be coming tomorrow. For now, I just want to take a deep breath and tell you that I've missed you guys and tomorrow I'll be writing another review of Jane Eyre 2011 in honor of its belated anniversary in the US. It doesn't seem like a big deal to you, but it is by far an important thing to me because this movie essentially brought me to blogging. In some ways, if I hadn't seen it then I might not be typing this post right now. After seeing the film I was so enthusiastic and teeming with things to say (and no one to say it to) that I came to Blogger. The review was one of my first posts. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Little Princess (1995) Review

Hi there! I'm back from another long absence, but (as usual) there has been a lot going on. My birthday just passed, and lately I've been continuously struck by the epiphany that I am indeed growing up! For the longest time it's seemed like it hasn't been happening fast enough, and now that I'm at the doorsteps of college and a future on my own I've realized that everything has gone by much too quick. The past few weeks have been very nostalgic ones, and as a result I've been revisiting a lot of my favorite childhood books, movies, etc. I find it somehow therapeutic to take time and revisit the comfortable solace of the past before I plunge headfirst into the uncertain future.

A Little Princess is common book for any little girl to read. It's the novel your mother shoves in your face to help convince you that you are special, loved, and important. It's the book that holds the lesson of learning how to value yourself and your own creativity even when others around you try to discourage you. Despite these great lessons, however, the book never had any real staying power with me. The movie was quite a different story, though. Of course there are a few problems with the movie. It's not true to the source material whatsoever as far as the setting, and the ending is quite different from the novel's, but stripped down to the bare basics it is essentially the same story with the same timeless moral. I've watched this movie about three times in the past week and continue to cry, and I'm determined that it's an underrated film that I will attempt to pass down to my children.

Casting: 


Of course, the majority of the characters are children so I wouldn't really expect you to find a name you recognize in this mix. In fact, the majority of the actors are very subtle and under-the-radar. They are all phenomenal, however. Liesel Matthews plays the main character, little Sara Crewe who has been sent to a school for young ladies while her father goes to fight for the British in World War I (a huge diversion from the story, but it still works). Liesel is perfect for the part. Often times when you have movies in which children play the dominant role, there is a large risk of being cheesy and melodramatic because very few child actors have been properly trained in the art of subtlety. Liesel, however, has pure talent and she plays her role better than many hollywood adult actors have played theirs. She truly embodies Sara Crewe in both looks and spirit. Her character is relatable to children and adults. Sara Crewe is a hard character to nail because she is so very imaginative and dreamy, but she also has an innate wisdom beyond her years that allows her to rival the intellect of the adults that insist on discouraging her. She's also forced to grow up at a very early age when she's informed of her father's death. Matthews didn't balance, but rather intertwined the character's maturity and youthfulness.

Vanessa Lee Chester plays Becky, the second largest role in the film and also the role in which the most liberties were taken. In the book, Becky is nothing more than a poor cockney girl working as a scullery maid. Alfonso Cuaron (the director) took a large step by casting a black girl to play Becky, who in this film is portrayed as an orphaned servant and is ostracized not only because of her station but her race as well. Even though this might throw you off, Chester more than atones for the lack of physical faithfulness through her performance. She is another child actor who really mastered that art of believability, and together she and Liesel Matthews cement a chemistry that captures the audience's heart and forges a great onscreen bond. Chester portrays Becky as a much more sensible character than I remember her being in the book. When the audience first meets her, she's resigned to accept the life she's been subjected to and mentally shakes her head at Sara, who she seems to view as an escapist. Slowly, however, we see her begin to find hope through the stories Sara tells, and through their friendship she gains the confidence to imagine things for herself.

 Liam Cunningham plays Captain Crewe, Sarah's rich father who instills in her the fundamental belief that she, and all girls, are real princess as long as she believes. Cunningham isn't really present for the majority of the film (he is, after all, reported dead by the army), but from what the audience does see, he too has a lovely chemistry with Matthews and the two nail the perfect portrayal of a father and daughter. Cunningham knocked my socks off with this role. There is such a genuine, raw sense of emotion in his portrayal that one might actually think he really is Liesel Matthews' father. I can't say much more without dishing out a few spoilers, but he is the person you really want to watch in this film. There is no other actor on earth who could have played this role the way he did. Eleanor Bron plays Mrs. Minchin and does it well. From the beginning, all you can do is hate her. However, Cuaron does allow the audience to sympathize with her for a moment and develops much more depth in her character than the novel does. In this film, I see something in Miss Minchin that envies her not only for her money, but also for the independence and emotional fortitude she's been instilled with, which it seems Miss Minchin had not had in her childhood.

Screenplay/Cinematography/Soundtrack/Costume Design: 


Screenplay: There are a great many diversions from the original novel, but I don't believe the screenplay was written with any intent of being like the book. The greatest way to approach this movie is acting like you never read the source material. I'm not saying this to scare you away, however. Most of the seemingly insane risks paid off tenfold in my opinion. Cuaron's version of A Little Princess captures more than just a girl's relationship to herself. It highlights various aspects of different relationships: relationships between races, relationships between social classes, relationships between parents and their children. There is more variety in this film then there ever was in the novel. The film also places much more emphasis on the culture from which Sarah came. She was moved from India to Victorian England in the novel (I believe, I don't quite recollect) while her father went to the mines. In the film, the time period is shifted to World War I where Sarah is taken from India to New York while her father fights in the war. The contrast between the two settings brings more attention the rich Indian culture that became essential to Sarah's present self awareness and wisdom. There are many differences, but I promise there is nothing that you won't like. Or at least, there was nothing I didn't like. Even though I'm normally a huge stickler for loyalty to the source material, this film never really bothered me. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I watched this movie years before I was even able to read. By the time I laid my eyes on the book, the movie had already found such a dear place in my heart that I couldn't criticize it in the slightest way.

Cinematography: Absolutely stunning. I have know idea who filmed the movie, but the artistry involved was beautiful. The movie was all about subtlety in acting, and the cinematography really captured that well. Nothing was overdone, but sometimes I was just awed by the beauty of the way the camera hit something in just the right way. There was also a huge emphasis on using different angles, which worked well in the film. I also loved the use of a kind of color scheme, even though I'm not sure that has to do with cinematography. The contrast between the richness of India's whites, oranges, and bright yellows and the dullness of New York's green and black color tinge is actually quite symbolic, as are other aspects of the film, such as wind and the story that Sara narrates throughout.

Soundtrack: Perfect. I mentally applaud Patrick Doyle. The album has a place with my other favorite soundtracks on my ipod.  The music is very culturally rich and influenced by the sound and sensuality of India. The main theme, "Kindle My Heart", floats throughout the entire soundtrack. The song really has staying power, which you don't even realize until you find yourself humming it in the days after you've watched the film.

Costume Design: Like everything else, very subtle but very stunning and also VERY cultural. The rich oranges, creamy whites, and colorfulness of Sarah's clothes in India and Ram Das's native garbs provide a noticeable and intentional contrast to the dull greens of the girls' uniforms and the dingy blackness of Sarah's dress later on. I might have already mentioned this, but it is really worth noticing so just read it over again.

Negatives: 


The only thing that halfway bothered me was that Sarah's father is British and she was raised by Indians, and yet she has an American accent. But other than that, the accents were all fine. I guess you can't train a child actor to do everything perfectly.

Conclusion: 


It was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. This movie slipped hideously under the radar when it came out in theaters, but it actually ended up being nominated for an Academy Award. Unfortunately, most people will never know about the beauty of the film, which is a shame because I personally believe that it's a movie everyone deserves the honor of watching even if they aren't familiar with the novel. Everything about this movie was breathtaking and its message still resonates with me and anyone else who once watched it as a child. Not only that, but A Little Princess is so visually and musically aesthetic that once you've watched it and let that timeless message and everything surrounding it sink in, you will never forget it.  I recommend that if you ever find the chance that you give it a try. It never fails to make me shed a few tears, and I'm sure that even those who don't like it will still find something to cherish.

Five stars out of five. Without a doubt. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

"Tess of the D'urbervilles" by Thomas Hardy Review

Somewhere in the countryside of rural England, John Durbeyfield, a common man, is walking home. The local clergyman passes by and addresses him cordially as "Sir John" and he is thereafter informed of his connection to an extinct aristocracy. Meanwhile, his eldest daughter Tess Durbeyfield is on her way to a local village dance dressed in her best white attire. By chance, three young men (brothers) happen to be passing through. The elder two are practical, pragmatic, and dry, but the youngest is bright with youth and insists on stopping to dance. He takes the first girl he sees as a partner, and just as he is about to take his turn with the gorgeous Tess, he is called away for the sake of time. Tess returns to her impoverished home (complete with a large family of children) and learns of the "joyous" news: her father is a d'Urberville.

Despite this newly discovered connection, Tess insists that the family move on as usual but when their horse and only source of income dies, she reluctantly follows her mother's advice and undertakes the journey to search out the only other living (and conveniently wealthy) d'Urbervilles left. She arrives at a magnificent house, where she comes in contact with her handsome and strangely charming "cousin" Alec d'Urberville. He arranges for her to receive a job at the mansion, all the while keeping an eager eye on her. Inexperienced, vulnerable, and completely unused to the world beyond her little village, Tess resists his strange attraction to her having no idea where his motives really lay. She's unable to recognize the signs around her that point to trouble and is soon lured by Alec into a trap and raped by him.

Tess returns home distraught, confused, and ashamed after refusing any financial help from Alec because of her disgust. She eventually gives birth to his child, who dies during infancy and is unable to be properly baptized or buried because of its illegitimacy. Deeply hurt and depressed, Tess leaves her home again to make a fresh start and earn money as a milkmaid. It is there that she meets the young and handsome Angel Clare, who she immediately remembers as the boy she almost danced with a long time ago. The two form an immediate bond and Tess falls in love with him despite all her attempts to resist him. In a society where virtue, purity, and morality are the pillars of desirability in a woman, Tess is a haunted victim of her past. Now she faces losing the man she truly loves by risking the truth, and she must discover whether the future can hold happiness for someone so plagued by the misery of the past.

I read this book two years ago and after finishing it I was immediately convinced that I would despise it forever. The book is bleak and dark; not in the twisted and cruel way Wuthering Heights was but in a pensively sorrowful way. Somehow I felt like Tess was not a good heroine. I mentally accused her of being weak and essentially brainless. Even then, however, I wasn't able to put it down. I left it alone for a few years, but recently reread it and realized just how beautiful a novel it really was. Yes, it is frustrating to read. Every reader wants to place the blame on someone. The bleakness that permeates Tess's existence makes the audience despise humanity; women for being so easily led and men for being heartless and manipulative creatures. Yet, this is exactly what was intended.

Thomas Hardy reversed the gender roles during a time period in which women were the lustful and tempting seed of evil and men were the pure, entrapped lambs. Tess's life is filled with contradictions and complexities that create controversy in her views of happiness and morality. She is hard pressed from all sides. On one hand, her mother scolds her for being too open and truthful and on the other she is being tormented for hiding her past. Tess is the perfect protagonist; a complex character who evolves as the novel unravels with each page. By the end, the reader finds that the more corrupt Tess becomes by worldly standards, the more virtuous we hold her in our minds.

It is the complexity of the characters in the novel that creates the intrigue. Tess is not the only person to analyze; every major and minor character is multi-faceted and essential to the telling of her story. Nothing is coincidental. In the midst of this strange "love story", the reader discovers a poignant social commentary by Thomas Hardy that will turn the wheels of your mind. It is absolutely captivating.

Oh, and there is also an AMAZING BBC adaptation to accompany it for anyone interested. Absolutely breathtaking. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wuthering Heights 2011 (or 2012?) Review

Preamble: 


I've finally seen it! For years now, the newest adaptation of Wuthering Heights has been disappearing, resurfacing, and then disappearing again. However, around the time I found out that Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre would be released in 2011, I also discovered that Wuthering Heights was back in business, being directed by none other than Andrea Arnold. I awaited the films release with curious anticipation, wondering what Arnold would bring to a novel that has been relentlessly adapted on screen for decades.

As an avid Jane Eyre loyalist, I'll be the first to admit that Wuthering Heights never was and probably never will be my cup of tea. I've read the book many times and have yet to discover why so many exalt it so highly, but that hasn't stopped me from seeing a few adaptations and enjoying them. The '39 was the first one I was ever acquainted it, and I liked it well enough. The '09 was my favorite. The "Ralph Fiennes" was acceptable because Ralph Fiennes was Heathcliff (and who wouldn't love that?). The rest  either went unwatched or were too miserable to really mention.

From the moment of its announcement, the filmmakers succeeded in shadowing the 2011 adaptation in a veil of mystery. Facts about the plot and the characters remained evasive and no one really knew how the movie would end up; we merely prayed for dear life that it wouldn't be butchered. We were, however, presented with three bold facts. Andrea Arnold would be the director. Kaya Scoledario would become Cathy Earnshaw/Linton. But perhaps the greatest and most controversial decision the filmmakers made was deciding to cast an unknown black actor (James Howson) as Heathcliff, the leading man. With so many questions surrounding the project, my interest was heightened. I was merely disappointed, however, when it was announced that the film wouldn't be released in the US until 2012. In fact, it's been months since its release in Europe and yet the United States has only seen Arnold's Wuthering Heights at a few film festivals here and there.

The official US release date is still relatively unknown. Most likely the film won't be going to mega-movie theaters, but I'm sure it'll sneak its way onto a few art house limited release screens. My impatience will always get the best of me, however, and so I've managed to see the movie ahead of time. This is going to be a long review containing a fair amount of spoilers, so beware.

                                                                                                                         Casting:


The casting of the movie was perhaps the most debatable aspect in everyone's eyes. I think everyone wondered if Arnold really knew what she was doing. What might throw a dutiful Wuthering Heights purist off initially is the fact that the larger portion of the film is devoted to Cathy and Heathcliff's adolescent years. Newcomers Shannon Beer (Cathy) and Solomon Glave (Heathcliff) are really the stars of the show because, in essence, it is their movie. It's strange really, seeing young Cathy and Heathcliff for most of the movie, and I'll be the first to admit that I never really got quite used to that hitch in the plot, but the fourteen-year-old actors were the highlight of the film. Beer and Glave both delivered superb performances for such young actors. The audience really comes to terms with the fact that there was chemistry between Cathy and Heathcliff from childhood.

Soon enough Kaya and James Howson (the unknown black actor) stepped in to play the adult Cathy and Heathcliff after Cathy marries Edgar Linton and Heathcliff comes back from his mysterious and long travels. From subsequent research, I ought to warn you that Heathcliff's voice was not actually Howson's. According to various reports and interviews with Howson himself, he was voiced over by someone else and he merely lent his looks for the part. Other problems also arise with the casting of the two adult leads, namely the fact that they seem completely unrelated to the actors who played the adolescents. Scodelario looks and acts like a person wholly unconnected to Beer's Cathy, and the same thing may be said for Howson and Glave. Assessed individually, the acting wasn't bad at all, but collectively there was something missing.

I know what most of you are thinking. "What is your opinion on the black Heathcliff deal?" In all honesty, it really didn't bother me. In fact, it was almost natural. I personally don't understand what all the hoopla was about in the first place. Of course, most people don't necessarily envision a black Heathcliff when they're reading the novel, but it's rare in any adaptation that the "envisioned" actor gets casted.

Screenplay/Cinematography/Soundtrack: 


Screenplay: This is the area in which I have my biggest qualms. The screenplay was practically nonexistent in this film. Words were extremely few. When imagining an adaptation of Wuthering Heights, anyone who has read the novel will immediately picture, "I am Heathcliff" and "I cannot live without my soul", and yet most of the lines that every fan looks for are nowhere to be found in this adaptation. There's little verbal conversation between the characters, but there is a lot of eye contact and sensuality which kind of serves as its own tangible screenplay. It doesn't take the audience long to realize that this isn't an omniscient approach to the novel, but rather a version of Wuthering Heights seen completely through the eyes of Heathcliff. <-- That was something I wasn't prepared for, and in the end I'm not sure whether it doomed or benefited the film.

Cinematography: The camerawork was without a doubt the film's greatest strength. With Andrea Arnold running the show, I knew that this version of Wuthering Heights would be all about appealing to visual emotion. The dark, mysterious, gloomy, and yet strangely beautiful English moors are the real main character in the movie. In fact, the scenery gets more screen time than anything. We see wind whistling through sultry wildflowers, tall grass being swept by enormous gusts, and lots of nature, bugs, and mud. There is a strange but refreshing kind of tangibility that pulls the audience into the film and expresses the emotions of the characters.

Soundtrack: There isn't one. At the end of the movie you get a minute song from Mumford & Sons (it's a good song) and that's it.

Negatives:


Unfortunately, there are a lot of those. Overall, I found the movie too quiet. There was no dialogue, and as much as I enjoy subtlety, too much of it can quickly shift the audience into a state of boredom (which was the case with me). As sensual as the cinematography was, there was no physical sensuality between the characters, save one moment when Heathcliff and Cathy wrestle in the mud. There is no kissing, there is no reckless passion. There are merely plants and animals and shots of humans in between. If their was one word I could use to sum up the two hour film, it would be "nostalgic."



Could this version really be called Wuthering Heights? Not really. It's merely a film that shares a few circumstantial similarities with a novel of the same name. If you're looking for faithfulness, you won't really find it. But if you're looking for raw cinematography, or just rawness period, then this might be the version you've been searching for. If you're a true purist, I would almost bet that you won't like it.

The one redeeming thing I can say about this adaptation, however, is the fact that it reached me in a way no other adaptation was able to do. For years, all I've only been able to visualize Wuthering Heights as an unrealistically harsh tale about the twisted love between two strangely narcissistic characters. I was always Heathcliff's severest critic because I was never able to understand how someone who supposedly loved so deeply could be so corroded by brutality. Through the raw, realistic, and untamed wildness of Arnold's cinematography and the blatant glances of cruelty seen in this version, I was able to understand what draws readers en masse to Wuthering Heights. In a world so eaten away with gloominess, pain, and bitterness, the fact that such a solemn and lasting passion could grow between Cathy and Heathcliff is the sole thing worth reading for. Sure, their love is dirtied by the outside forces of the world in which they live, but Heathcliff and Cathy have literally only one another.

Therefore, I can say that some obvious good came out of this adaptation in my personal experience. I have no idea what it will do for the rest of you.