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.