Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tears for Books

Yesterday, I was at a Barnes & Noble that will closing on the last day of the year. This was the closest major bookstore to where I lived much of the time growing up; my family was very excited when it opened, though it was still about forty-five minutes away. I wanted to visit it to "pay my last respects" before the closing. It was positively depressing to walk through isles of empty shelves and to hear the workers talking about how they wanted to be the ones to race to buy the last book (as opposed to the usual race to buy a store's first book). The sad thing, too, is that there really aren't any other bookstores in the area. At least I know that the Barnes & Noble next to where I now live is in no danger of closing.

But I know that more and more people are now buying eBooks or getting them off of Amazon (where they are usually less expensive). I imagine this is why there are more novelty kinds of items at bookstores, like leather journals and the beautiful leather-bound classics Barnes & Noble sells; even if you don't use them, they're nice to look at. It's all understandable, but I much prefer physical books.

I just can't wrap my head around a digital book as well. It doesn't sit in my mind properly. Plus, physical books are easier to flip through; I know that you can do all sorts of word or quote searches with digital material, but there is something nice about having to do the searching work yourself. It keeps the mind actively engaged and makes you remember things in a different way. I'm not opposed to digital books, but they just don't work for me.

I also take so much pride in my book collection. A big starter for it (apart from the picture books my brother and I had when we were young) was Little House on the Prairie. I slowly collected that series, setting them in a neat stack by my bed. A couple of classics like Little Women and Black Beauty followed, along with Ann Rinaldi books and eventually Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Today, I love the variety my stuffed shelves offer; there are many genres and time periods represented, all decked out in their different covers. It's a beautiful collaboration they make, one that little icons on a Kindle or iPad wouldn't be able to replace for me.

So fare thee well, Barnes & Noble. I shall lament thy loss.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


We all remember the characters in literature who sold their hair for needed money . . . Jo from Little Women is the only one I read, and I could sympathize with her loss. It was around this time that I was a little obsessed with the 1800's, wishing I had been born then; while I still like that century, I've learned that I was born in the century I need to be in. But back then, the idea of long skirts and hair down to the ankles was somehow appealing; in fact, I think this was when I started to grow my hair out longer. Currently, the longest layer is just reaching my waist. For the past four years at least, I have only been getting my hair cut enough to keep it clean-looking; consequently, it's able to grow longer each time. But being a short person, I wonder each time I get it cut if I should be getting it shorter so that my hair (which is quite voluminous already) doesn't overpower me. I always decide to let it keep growing just a little longer. I tell myself that I might as well enjoy long hair while I'm young.

But now I'm reconsidering the question, and also considering what my mom and I once talked about. Some people donate blood; some donate money. I don't really have a job yet, so the last one is out, and I don't even weigh enough to donate blood (let me post the reminder again that I'm short). But hair, I definitely have the hair to donate. Now I learn that my cousin's first grader daughter just donated her hair, all on her own idea. She is happy to do it, but I hesitate? My, my, the things we can learn from children.

I hesitate, though, when I read that you need ten inches in order to donate. Though that would still leave my hair just below the shoulders, that's a lot to cut off. I was looking at my hair (which is wavy from the braid I wore today) in the mirror, and the thought of having it "short" (though this would be a length I once thought was long) again was very sad. What a lot of love for her family Jo must have had to cut off feet of hair instead of inches, especially during a time when women's hair was expected to be long. Today, if I cut my hair, I am the only one who will feel the loss; I could leave myself with only three inches and still blend in with the crowd.

How concepts of appearance change over time; the humanity, though, does not.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Hobbit is Coming

In case you haven't seen the new trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, you can take a look at it here.

I was a little startled this morning when I when on to check for news; it had been a while wince I visited the site, and I was reminded to only because I had seen a movie poster on someone's Tumblr for the first time. Instead of seeing more movie posters, of course, I found the trailer that came out yesterday. Seeing it one day isn't bad, but my, did that make me feel behind in news.

Initial thoughts on the trailer are positive, though there is still plenty we haven't seen. The dwarves look strangely unlike dwarves at times, but then, they are in Bilbo's small house most of the time. The use of the song for the trailer was nice: it adds that unique touch that standard-type trailer music wouldn't give. And I love the placement of Gollum at the end: I think we're all curious how Gollum is going to look this time around, and the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter is a favorite in the book. That also seems to show that the movie will, in fact, split quickly after that scene; tonally, this should be a good spot.

I had to smirk at the shot showing Gandalf and Galadriel together; were they hoping that casual filmgoers wouldn't notice so much who the characters are, but would instead think there's a love story involved in the movie?

Especially in the first half of the trailer, I can sense the lighter mood that The Hobbit has in general versus The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo also seems to have that same itchy kind of energy he had in the trilogy.

Hmm, the more I think about this, the more I realize that much indeed is kept from us in this trailer. Sure, it's only for the first half, but we still have no glimpse of the trolls or the goblins/orcs or really much at all from the travels outside of Rivendell (Edit: I was wrong about this--we do see a little of the trolls). I imagine that not only do they want to keep some things secret for now, but these are also the scenes that need heavy CG work, so I'm sure they're not ready to be viewed yet. I'm expecting all the computer work to be polished, polished, polished.

It'll be curious to see how the rest of the marketing material works out in the next year. This trailer gave something of a sense of going back for a little visit to the place you loved, implying a degree of familiarity but also newness and lightheartedness but also with depth of its own.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December Favorites

I don't know if I will ever do any more Favorites posts, but I want to now, so I shall. These are completely random things I have been enjoying, complete with links to buy them.

1) I mentioned my new love for Revlon's Just Bitten Lipstain (I have it in Passion and in Twilight) and Burt's Bee's Tinted Lip Balm (which I have in Pink Blossom). Add to the list Tarte's lip colors. Last month, my mom and I split a set of them (which is basically five for the price of one); I ended up with the Lip Lusters in Glitzy and Flashy. If I were choosing individually, I would go for the Matte Tints instead; as it is, I like these two for when I'm not wearing very visible eyeshadow (or maybe none at all). They have a nice feel, the packaging is pretty, Tarte is a fairly natural brand, and you can layer on either more or less color as best suits the moment. Of course, the more you add, the longer it will last.

2) My new Aldo boots, a sort of pre-Christmas gift. They're black leather, a couple inches or so above the ankle, accented with Victorian-esque details, and have black laces. I love that this is a shoe that is very "in" and is also one that speaks to me personally (I do love the Victorian things); it's also very comfortable since its heel is very tiny. This is a very wearable shoe: I can put it with jeans, tucked in or out, or add it to dresses or skirts. Wonderful.

3) A week ago, I got Starship by StarKid on DVD. I know I can just watch the musical on their YouTube channel, but it just seems so much nicer to have the DVD (and I know it helps them when people purchase merch). I was also thinking about that newish TV of my parents; almost as soon as I got to their house, there I was, putting in my new DVD and finally seeing the StarKids on a real screen. I may have to watch it again before I leave.

4) I just learned how to curl my hair with a straightener. I am in awe. What also amazes me is that the look reminds me more of what you get when you roll your hair up into little bunches overnight; it has that almost old-fashioned type of look. I was never able to experiment with this before because my straightener was several years old and therefore of the thicker variety; now, however, I have this very nerdy one. Let me assure you that I only bought it because I had been wanting a new straightener and this one was half the price of the others I would consider getting. Anyway, I would rather have a hair straightener that only I see that says "Twilight" on it than a T-Shirt that I wear outside where everyone can see it. (Not that I wear T-Shirts, anyway, really.)

5) I have been a fan of Blondfire for some time now; they recently released a new single called "Where the Kids Are" that has been getting a lot of attention. It has an airy sound, a little more like Metric than some of their previous songs. A full album is coming soon, too, and I'm quite glad because, while their music has great replayability, I have now heard their songs so many times over the years that it'll be nice to have some new things.

6) I got very behind on reading Vogue this fall, so I have been catching up on issues instead of reading other books (I'll have enough reading once the semester starts again--for now, I just need a break). I finally finished with October, now it's on to November; I hope to also finished the December issue before December is actually over.

7) The color green. Need I say more?

8) Gingerbread cookies. Every year, I make a couple batches of these, enough for the family and enough to share. Everyone always loves them, though I can take no credit for inventing the recipe: I Googled it years ago and chose one of the first things that came up. But it's a great recipe because it's sweet and rich enough, also being the right amount of soft instead of crunchy. Gingerbread cookies can be hard enough to find at all in stores; when you do find them, they usually tend to be the crunchy kind, which I don't find as nice. Yet most people don't seem to make them themselves, so I have the advantage of uniqueness there.

9) The stars. Ah, I adore being able to see more than a few from my parents' house versus in the Phoenix area. I hate not being able to look up at the sky at night and see stars; I hate it so much that whenever I'm here, I go to peer out the window in the kitchen every night before going to bed. I think I have to assure myself that the stars really are there, waiting to be seen by me.

10) I'm not one of those people who like school. Don't get me wrong, I like what I'm studying and I'm grateful, but school stresses me out. It's good to have my mind occupied, but I like a little quiet time, too. That, I feel, gives me more space to feel other, more positive emotions. I have time to stare out the window or to go outside and enjoy the tableau of the surrounding mountains. And I can think about the people who inhabit this land that I love. It's a lovely place we live in, and so is the word "we" because of the unity it stands for.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Darth Hamlet

I quite like Star Wars. I grew up with the original trilogy, so it was so familiar to me that it was a while before I could sit back and say, wait, I do like these movies simply for themselves not jut because I have watched them so much. One of my good related memories is from when my brother and I were in elementary school; we turned on Return of the Jedi and sat in front of the TV with legos out, building the scenes as they showed up on the screen. That two and a half hours passed by quickly, I can tell you. Can you imagine the creativity we must have had? There was no spare moment to think about what we were doing; we just had to keep going to not miss anything. Ah, the things children are capable of doing.

I'm now at my parents' house for the holidays, and Star Wars was playing on TV. Even though we own all but Episodes II and III, I had to watch an hour or two just because of the crispness of the image quality. The TV is new (they just bought it this summer), and the difference between VHS quality and HD quality is, well, like the difference between not wearing my glasses and wearing them. As I was watching and gloating over how wonderfully literary Darth Vader's character is (which I certainly didn't notice when I was in elementary school), another of my comparisons occurred to me.

I was thinking about how Anakin made his decision to kill the Emperor a couple decades late. If he had killed him years ago, Padme wouldn't have died and the Republic wouldn't have fallen. But, no, it is only years later that he finally pulls himself together enough to make the right choice (and realize what "right choices" are). That sounds a lot like Hamlet to me.

Hamlet also delays action. He wants to gather all the information first, he tells himself, so he plays with all the characters and doesn't kill his uncle until the very end when it is almost too late. Like Anakin, he loses Ophelia and his own life in the entire process. Both of them have trouble knowing how to deal with relationships and how to jump into the right actions (since Anakin certainly acts, though not in the right ways).

How utterly tragic these two are.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Breaking Dawn (Finally)

(Note that this isn't a review of the movie, just my thoughts on it--my random thoughts, like it says in my profile.)

Back when New Moon came out in theatres, it was my first semester of college and also my first time in quite a while actually living close to a theatre (I don't count the tiny local one). As a result, I went to see that movie a few times total because if I was coming home from class feeling a little unhappy (what with the whole adjusting thing) and getting rained on (as the weather is also doing this year), I would console myself by going to watch this movie again, glad that I could do so. It seemed like I would always watch the movie when it was rainy and I was in a bad mood. It was something of a tradition.

Yesterday, I had my last final for the semester, so I celebrated by some final bits of Christmas shopping . . . and it was also raining. I scowled at the rain and thought of a Harkins gift card in my wallet, finally finding myself at the 1:00 showing of Breaking Dawn. It took me a month to go and see this movie again after my first viewing on opening day.

As I give my thoughts on the movie, I must admit in all fairness that out of the four books, Breaking Dawn probably isn't my favorite; Twilight is, and its adaptation is also my favorite. I would pass this off as coincidence, but is it, really?

The problem I have is that, in my opinion, it seems like everything that could have gone wrong with splitting Breaking Dawn into two movies did. Sure, you can spend half hour on the wedding, but is it necessary to? Etc. And as I watched the second time, it seemed to me that the splitting caused a change in the primary "problem" of the story. The main problem of the book is the threat of the Volturi, but it seems that that problem has been pushed over to Part 2. The problem in place of it for Part 1 is the pregnancy . . . and, yes, it is still a conflict in the book, but not in the same way. What happened to Edward (and all the Cullens, for that matter) trying not to upset Bella or show how much he is hurt by what's happening to her? The added scene in Carlisle's office/hospital set up may show some of what the characters are thinking, but having Edward yell at Bella and then simply walk away from her? That's very out of character, only adding "movie conflict."

And I wasn't very happy with the changes made to the conflict with the wolves. They're subtle changes, perhaps, that have to do mostly with timing. Yet I find them unnecessary. The only purpose they seem to serve is to add bits of action, especially with that final fight sequence. But let me ask, was action necessary in this moment, coming just after the birth scene? Though I like a little of it, I don't watch Twilight for the action; that's for other movies to focus on, in my eyes.

I'm also wondering from whose perspective the infamous birth scene actually is. I know Bill Condon decided to shoot it, physically, from Bella's perspective, but watching that scene, I don't get the sense I get from reading that chapter as Bella tells it. Nor even as Jacob does, for the most part. Bella is essentially passed out, living in her own world of pain and blackness as she tries to remember the people she loves that she must stay alive for. And as Edward and Jacob work to keep Bella alive, Jacob is feeling the loss of his attachment to her--because, as we come to realize, his attachment has transferred itself to Renesmee. Those things aren't really what I get from that scene in the movie.

I also really missed seeing the slowly burgeoning friendship between Edward and Jacob, starting with their "deal" that the latter will kill the former when/if Bella dies. They develop a camaraderie of sorts over their attention to Bella, which sets us up for their relationship to each other in the second half of the book. If the book was split into two movies, I don't feel like something like this should have been left out.

I know, I broke my pledge not to dwell overly on pessimism. But the thing I have realized is that I like the books, and I like the first movie; after that, my interest begins slowly to dwindle. All the same, here are some things I did like.

I like what we have seen of Renesmee so far. Renesmee has to be right since she is the wonderful thing that makes all of the weird plot points seem not to matter so much. I'm looking forward to seeing more of her next year. Also along the lines of CGI, Bella's transformation was interesting to see; this is an example of something we don't really see in the book that the movie is able to show, and did show well.

The wedding speeches were funny, but watching the second time, I felt that they were more like deleted scenes material. Doesn't the fact that new bits like this needed to be added to the movie show that it wasn't necessary to split the book in two?

I know one critic complained that the movie is so dragged out that we even see Bella cooking at one point, but I liked seeing her cook for the first time. Bella is constantly in the kitchen in the books, whether it's making enchiladas to get her mind off of Edward in Twilight or washing dishes while talking to Jacob in Eclipse. I feel like this is a major character point. Around the same movie scene, I was thrilled to see Edward's handwriting for the first time, as well--the script is very similar to the font that the books use for his writing.

The inclusion of "Flightless Bird, American Mouth" at the wedding was a nice touch, although I wish that I hadn't known beforehand to expect it. I liked Kaure in the movie, although I do wish that her conversation with Edward hadn't been translated since it isn't in the book.

I think that's about it. I could certainly keep talking, but I don't want to make any more complaints--that would be ungrateful. And by the way, The Hillywood Show has met their fundraiser goal for their parody of the movie--I'm curious what angle they decide to use.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Waiting for Forever

The other night, I watched Waiting for Forever on Netflix not because either the movie image or summary interested me in any particular way, but because a standard romantic comedy just seemed like the right thing for the moment. I didn't care whether or not I liked the movie much. But one of those moments happened: I had randomly chosen a movie that I ended up connecting with.

Some aspects of this movie reminded me of Benny and Joon, but carried out in a way I felt closer to. I won't give plot specifics, but will just talk in a more general way.

I really liked Will's character, and not just because I'm a "romantic" (maybe I am in some ways, but it's more than that). It's the literary idea. It's the concept of ideals. It's the image of how much a single thing in a person's life means, of how everything is important and makes an impact -- and some people see this impact more. Proof (I think) that I'm not just looking at this movie in the regular "romantic" way is that I don't think it necessarily had to end the way it did. I liked the ending, but it could have ended in many ways. Part of the point for me is that the ending doesn't matter so much as the how. It matters what Will thinks and feels and decides, not so much what the other characters do or how their actions affect his situation. It's his story, and the most important thing for his character is the emotion itself, not what accompanies it.

A nice movie (quite funny at times, too, if you click with the sense of humor). Some people will call it slow, but may I ask why you would want to only watch movies that pound and pound the adrenaline scenes as they catapult toward the ending? Movies can achieve on such a variety of levels.

(To further my idea that even romantic comedies can have variety, here are two other movies I've watched recently. The Yellow Handkerchief, with all its indie goodness, was silly and sweet and entertaining. Love and Mary I absolutely hated; there aren't too many movies I'll say this about, but I didn't even feel like finishing this one. So there it is: one movie I hated, one I loved, and one I was on middle ground about.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Support The Hillywood Show

I've realized that I don't talk about The Hillywood Show often enough, so I have decided to make it a point to talk about major news from them, whether this is a new parody, a new still from a parody, behind-the-scenes, or a fundraiser.

The latter is what is new right now. After how well their fundraiser for Harry Potter went, they have now started one for Breaking Dawn. Donations will go directly into the parody (except for 10%, of course, that goes to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital). And depending on how much you donate, you can also get products like wristbands, t-shirts, and props; everyone gets their name listed in the credits of the parody.

You can donate here.

One last note on the Breaking Dawn movie itself. As you can see, I have been putting off talking about it. If I posted immediately after watching it, I knew I would have more negative than positive things to say. Now it feels like it has been so long that I likewise know I need to see it again before I give my commentary. But I'm not really in any hurry to do that. So, yes, I will post on the movie eventually, but not today.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


What do I do when I don't want to write a paper? Blog about nothing. Consider this my attempt at Post-Modernism, if you will.

I have written an amazing one and a half pages out of a total of about five and a half. The bad thing is that it is 5:42 in the evening and this paper is due tomorrow morning. In my defense (since of course I must make a justification) is that tomorrow I have this paper due along with two final projects and their written defenses. The first of the final project pairs is done; the second project is almost done, with its written defense on my agenda for tomorrow. But I still have four more pages to write tonight about Paradise Lost.

I had meant to hang around campus for at least a couple of hours after class today, writing away. But it was cloudy today and the wind and the cold were growing, so I came home and wrapped the first Christmas present to go under the tree instead. Wrapping presents is much more fun than writing papers.

Now I sit at my desk and still find reasons to get up. Oh, it's time to turn on the light. Oh, I have to go get my power cord. My, but my fingers are cold. How am I supposed to type if my fingers are cold? So I go get my blue "Bella" jacket (yes, it is the jacket), deciding that ought to cheer me up. I pause to choose new music. I decide I can take the time to look up synonyms for words. I double check something on the assignment. I spend more time than necessary looking through my notes and secondary sources. I take another sip of the strange writing drink I have this time, Mayesa's Cacao Mint (which is rather good).

Then I write a couple of sentences. Then I check what length I'm at and recalculate how much I have left.

Then I wish that I could just extend my fingers at the laptop screen, hum, and see my thoughts all perfectly typed out. I have an outline, so why can't it just write itself?

I decide that looking up what percentage of my class grade this paper is worth might give me some motivation. It's 20%. Oh, that's not that much, I say to myself. I guess that didn't work.

But it's okay. I have six hours left before I go to bed: that's plenty of time to write four pages.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Countdown Part 4: The Book

View my outline for this "countdown" here, Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

Aren't you so proud of me? In between reading Paradise Lost, Moll Flanders, Ken Brosky's Grendel (which is positively depressing), The Jungle Books, Mrs. Dalloway, and some James Joyce, I still managed to read the first half of Breaking Dawn. That is, I read Books One and Two and the first chapter of Book Three; this is what I expect the first movie will cover. (I'm going to finish the rest, but this was all I could get through before the movie.)

Now I have the daunting task of deciding what I think the movie must include. The thing is, as a whole, Breaking Dawn isn't really my favorite book--Twilight probably is. So I know that the movie must give proper attention to the wedding and the honeymoon, etc., but those aren't exactly things I'm looking forward to seeing in, er, so much detail. (Things like feathers make me glad I'm planning to see the movie alone the first time--that'll give me a chance to get over my embarrassment. These books are just so personal . . . which is what I like about them, but that complicates things when you bring the plot onscreen. To me, at least.) So Part 1 should include these two things, plus the pregnancy, the wolf-pack politics, and the birth scene. Interesting.

But let me get into themes here. One of the entertaining things about Book Two is the friendship that slowly develops between Edward and Jacob; that needs to be in the movie because it sets things up for Book Three/Part 2. This is very vague-sounding, but we also need to understand everyone's perspectives to what is happening. By this point, three books have established who the couple dozen main characters are: now we see application of their different natures. Bella keeps Renesmee because of her ability to make strong attachments. Edward doesn't want to do the same at first because he is too caught up in his worry about Bella. Rosalie helps Bella because she still mourns what she lost with her own life. Sam calls for the attack on the Cullens because his foremost priority is protecting his people. Seth joins Jacob because he has developed a friendship with the Cullens (which the last movie didn't get a chance to show). Leah joins Jacob to be free from Sam. It goes on, going into more detail. My point is that the plot of this book in particular seems very dependent on the individual perspectives of these groups of characters: understanding them is crucial to understanding the plot properly.

The books also draw connections between characters who belong to different groups. Alice is something like Jessica and also like Jane. Carlisle and Sam share similarities. Emmett and Felix. Rosalie and Leah. Emily and Esme. Some of these, especially Rosalie and Leah, come in most in Breaking Dawn. They help us understand the characters as individuals and also to move toward the final book moment when everyone is able to draw together on one side, realizing that their differences aren't so very great.

Some concerns I have about the movie are, of course, about how it will deal with the "mind" thing. More than any of the previous books, Breaking Dawn includes many conversations that take place either half or fully in the mind. You can present a little of this onscreen very simply with voiceover, but too much voiceover would be weird; unless they found a different way to convey it, I can't see that the movie will be able to keep these conversations quite the same. And that would take away from the tone a bit, I think.

Now a note on the Part 1/Part 2 thing. I think it's slightly awkward to split up a book like this. But I guess I should just be glad there's a market to do this for this book; the only other books that usually get a similar treatment are the classics BBC makes into miniseries. Indeed, my favorite version of Jane Eyre is in two parts, each a full movie length; yet I always watch both together as one movie. I felt there was some incongruity with the first of all these Part 1/Part 2 movies floating around right now: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The Hillywood Show did a good job of expressing this in their parody. Part 1 was done well, but didn't really have the moments most people were looking forward to. Part 2 did, but it ended up being almost a whole movie devoted to a finale. That's great when you're a fan, but it gets hard to watch and rewatch. Will Breaking Dawn be similar? In Part 1, will we just be looking forward to Bella waking up to her new life, to our favorites from the piles of characters that will come in Part 2, to seeing the Volturi in action again? In Part 2, will we just get to see the events leading up to the final confrontation?

Even as I write these things, I begin to feel that the splitting won't be much of a problem. The book is already divided into three parts, with a more distinct division at the halfway point. It reminds me of The Lord of the Rings: with all this movie-splitting that's going on, I love to think about how there could have easily been six of those movies instead of three given enough time, money, and energy to do so. Because Breaking Dawn, as I think I mentioned before, is something like the sequel to the trilogy of the first three books; it is separate in its plot and its themes. Even whether or not it was necessary to make two movies out of it, it should work.

These are very random thoughts. I don't think I even addressed very specifically what the movie should include. But sometimes it's better to be more vague, isn't it? If I say, for instance, that I really want the quote on page 284 to be in the movie, I'll just be setting myself up for disappointment. You can't get your way with all the details, so you have to remember what is most important.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Countdown Part 3: The Parodies

View my outline for this "countdown" here, Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

I've mentioned how much I like The Hillywood Show. If you don't believe me, here is a picture of the corner where my desk is:

Yes, above my shelves of textbooks and notebooks, to the left of my stickie notes of Latin grammar leftover from the last two years, and to the right of my calendar (yes, it says October: this picture was taken a month ago) are three autographed Hillywood Show pictures and an autographed prop (Ron's sling from their Harry Potter Friday Parody). I just love to support them.

The focus of this post is on their three Twilight parodies. Though each one is around ten minutes long, I like it when I can take the time to watch all three in one sitting. This was a big time for The Hillywood Show: Twilight Parody was the first of their videos to reach a million hits. This was also the time that they made major headway in makeup, costumes, and locations (not that these weren't always good: they just got even better). I remember all the excitement waiting for New Moon Parody: it was as much as for the movie itself, some people even said they were more excited for the parody than the movie. By the time Eclipse Parody came (along with a helpful new HD camera), their work truly (if anyone had any doubts before) moved into the realm of professional (what does professional even mean?).

Does any of that story sound familiar? Isn't that a lot like what happened with the movies? Catherine Hardwicke liked the story of Twilight and made sure it got made and was as good as she could make it; this ultimately led to the indie movie's mainstream attention. New Moon, then, had a great deal of hype set up around it--and a more reasonable budget to work with. For Eclipse, people began to forget that these ever were supposed to be small movies.

But there is more than that. When The Hillywood Show parodies, they really get into the tone of the movie and what makes it what it is. So while there are already significant stylistic differences between the Twilight parodies and the Harry Potter or Vampire Dairies videos, the three individual ones are also unique. Twilight Parody is light-hearted and fun, relying on blue and white colors. New Moon Parody is rather pretty: you notice such things as cinematography and warm colors. Eclipse Parody is sleek, with flawless hair and makeup, going a little edgier. These all reflect the movies on which they are based.

There are even unconscious, probably coincidental things. Twilight Parody has something almost impromptu in its feel that matches the movie. New Moon Parody has potential pacing issues: it's the longest of the three and can start to drag slightly three fourths or so in; similarly, I think the movie does have pacing issues, including some rough cuts between scenes. And while Eclipse Parody is, well, sleek, it doesn't feel like it offers much we haven't seem before (I'm thinking about how MTV called this video a little predictable, as compared to New Moon Parody, which they praised highly). So very interesting!

But let me say it again: I love The Hillywood Show. I love that I found out about them through Twilight. I love their work, and I love their style.

Now the only thing left in my countdown is to read Breaking Dawn again. I'm disappointed I haven't been able to start it yet. But somehow I shall find the time.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Countdown Part 2: The Soundtracks

View my outline for this "countdown" here and Part 1 here.

I have really enjoyed what the Twilight movies have done with their soundtracks. The first one allowed me a way to get back into the mood of the movie while I waited for the DVD--it's impossible to listen to a song like "Flightless Bird, American Mouth," for instance, without picturing the scene it's featured in. Now, I know that listening to a movie score can do the same sort of thing, but it's different to listen to a score than a soundtrack. When you listen to a score, you are hearing point per point (or note per note, as the base may be) what you hear when you watch the movie. That helps to picture the movie, but I think it can also ultimately take away from the affect the score has on you when you actually are watching the movie. You start to get used to the music, so to speak, and it no longer can so powerfully set the tone of the scene. But with the songs on the soundtrack, you never hear the whole song in the movie; the only time you may hear the whole thing will be in the credits. So if you listen to that song over and over, you're not really spoiling the affect it has on you in the movie.

But besides this ramble, I love that these soundtracks have gotten me to listen to new music. I was introduced to Paramore through "Decode" and Florence + the Machine through "Heavy in Your Arms." Even for some of the artists whose other albums I have not bought, I still love what they bring to the soundtrack. Sia's "My Love," Blue Foundation's "Eyes on Fire," and Sea Wolf's "The Violet Hour" are some of the songs that come to mind as ones that I simply like listening to. I like that, in general, the three soundtracks mix classical music, pop music, and indie music--not only does that mean that there are favorites for everyone, but also that it gives us a chance to listen to things we might not have approached on our own.

To me, the Twilight soundtrack is raw--you can feel all of what it's bringing. New Moon gave a more somber tone, as fits the subject matter; as a whole, I think it is my favorite of the first three. Frankly, the songs in Eclipse start to drag after a while and not to distinguish themselves enough from each other, in my view.

The way that Twilight incorporated the songs into the movie was interesting: sometimes you didn't even realize these were separate songs instead of just parts of the score. The bit of "Eyes on Fire" that we hear in the movie doesn't include any lyrics, so you have to hear the whole song by itself to recognize it in the scene. This works to an advantage: the movie doesn't get weighed down by too many songs in addition to what the score brings.

New Moon has some of my favorite song moments (even while it has some very iffy score moments). "Slow Life" and "Hearing Damage" are two notable ones: they make their scenes perfect.

For Eclipse, I felt like the soundtrack was trying too hard. It seemed like we were constantly getting two seconds of a song just so that it could be in the movie just so that it could be in the soundtrack, like the bit that plays when Edward drops Bella off with Jacob. That isn't to say there weren't moments I did like; "My Love" and "Rolling in on a Burning Tire" I did. Could it also be that this soundtrack had less of an indie feel than the other two? I don't listen to a huge amount of popular music, so I hesitate to consider this too much. But if it's true, maybe that's why I feel a little lukewarm about this soundtrack.

Anyway, Breaking Dawn has the chance to include aspects of all the previous three soundtracks. There are joyful moments like in Twilight, sad moments like in New Moon, and tense moments like in Eclipse.  From my two listens (which I already feel is too much before seeing the movie), it seems like these are all there. It's hard to resist, while listening, guessing about which scene everything will go in. In fact, it doesn't seem too hard to do: all the songs have a definite tone. It seems like there is a varied mix in the type of song, as well. And listening to the new version of "Flightless Bird, American Mouth" and the song from Carter Burwell's score was emotional: it's good to have some hearkening back to the beginnings. The movies really aren't, up to now, very musically linked; that's regretful to me. So I'm excited to see what Carter Burwell does with the rest of the score.

And that's really all I have to say for now: the Breaking Dawn soundtrack proves to be at least on par with the others, with the songs seeming as fit for particular scenes as they have been previously.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Countdown Part 1: The Movies

As previously outlined, I will now proceed with Part 1 of my countdown to Breaking Dawn and briefly talk about the first three movies. Note that I am not reviewing them; I am only giving random thoughts about them as a pre-Breaking Dawn exercise.

Each of these three movies is very different, and each one scores in different ways. As much as I would love to have all the positives put together and to have everything work perfectly in one movie instead of just some things, that is asking much for any book to movie adaptation. What I am slowly learning is that movies can only score so much for deep fans of the books from which they derive. So with Twilight, I have tried to sit back and enjoy the different pieces each movie brings for each segment of the series: if one doesn't give me something I want, at least I know that another probably does. And we all know that Summit did a pretty good job of assigning directors to the right movies. Catherine Hardwicke was the one to launch the project and to prove what it could be. Chris Weitz was willing to take the story where it needed to go, despite what critics would (and did) say. David Slade let us enjoy the action bits and just have fun with it before the story gets heavy again.

What I loved about this latest movie viewing of mine (I watched Twilight Tuesday night, New Moon Wednesday night, and Eclipse tonight) were the reminders of the good things in these movies. When I write posts on them, I try not to dwell on the negatives: is there any real point in doing so? I am never writing professional critiques of them and no one of import is reading my thoughts (meaning someone who would consider my opinions and apply them to the making of the next movies). Focusing on the negatives would only frustrate me, and I don't want to associate frustration with something I like (although I do feel the need to say that, yes, this is a situation where I would say I like the movies because I like the books first).

Watching Twilight, I was reminded of how much the tone of that movie matches the book. Although it probably isn't the closest adaptation, the tone is what I enjoy most in the books, so it is one of the most important things for the movies to get right. I can't thank Catherine Hardwicke enough for what she brought to this series.

New Moon has cinematography that is sheer perfection, isn't it? There are the shots we're meant to notice, like the ones of Victoria running or Sam cliff-diving. But even in the "normal" shots, there is such a coherency and artistry. This is a lovely movie to watch. And I always thought it evident how much Kristen Stewart put into her performance for this one; she doesn't care what she looks like, but what Bella is thinking. The score, though pretty, I felt from the start sets the wrong tone most of the time, yet there are wonderful moments with the soundtrack. But I'm supposed to have a separate post about soundtracks, right?

Eclipse is the most removed from Bella's mind and the most like a standard, Hollywood movie (which makes it easier for some people who are most used to standard, Hollywood movies). I have a hard time moving away from Bella's perspective (which is, again, one of the important parts of the story for me), yet I enjoy the scenes with Riley and Victoria in Seattle. I also love the three flashback scenes with Jasper, Rosalie, and the Quileutes. The action bits are fun, though I wonder if it isn't emphasized too much sometimes--if it's only action I crave, there are other places I can go besides Twilight.

Where does that leave us for Breaking Dawn? Cautious.

I like to assign these personal journey stages to the four books, respectively: innocence, initiation, chaos, and resolution. Since Breaking Dawn is like its own sequel to a trilogy, it manages to contain all the stages clearly inside of itself, even if resolution is the main one. Twilight's focus on the falling in love certainly fits in with the innocence side. New Moon's expression of sadness does initiation justice, and the action bits and such in Eclipse showcase chaos well enough. But Breaking Dawn will be in two parts, thus tearing its emotional journey apart into two pieces. I will talk more of my thoughts on this popular trend of splitting later, but for now I'll say that I wonder to what degree we can keep the theme of resolution when only telling the first half of the story.

I haven't been watching interviews or reading much more than headlines, for fear of spoilers. Rather than getting pieces one at a time, I prefer to wait to see everything in its proper place and put together as it is meant to be watched. But there are two things I have heard about Breaking Dawn that are worth noting. Robert Pattinson said that it returns to the tone of the first movie, about which he is glad--if there is one thing I could ask for this movie to do, that's it. I'm trying to not get to excited over this, though, lest I set up expectations. The other thing comes from the Twilight Lexicon's supposedly "spoiler free" review, which I just read minutes after watching Eclipse tonight, of an early screening. To call it the best book adaptation of the four is very big. It leaves me with hope.

It would be wonderful if Breaking Dawn could take all the best parts from the previous three movies: the tone of Twilight, the artistry and boldness of New Moon, and the appeal and polish of Eclipse. Honestly, I don't think it is too much to ask.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Movies & the Countdown Plan

My thoughts on a few movies I've seen recently:

1) Five Weeks in a Balloon - A little boring at times, especially considering that Jules Verne (on whose book it is based) wrote adventure stories. Not so bad, but not leaving me without much to remember it by. And you know I only watched it in the first place because Barbara Eden is in it.

2) Inkheart - This one was like a play arena, a setting for all the goodness of stories that we love to take in. And I didn't even realize Andy Serkis was in it, so getting to see him in a non-CGI (Gollum) role was nice. So escapism, heart, all of that sort of thing are in here in a very non-heavy way.

3) X-Men: First Class - About time I watched this one; it seemed like I had been waiting to forever. I don't know if you can go wrong what with having James McAvoy play a younger Patrick Stewart: now that was entertaining. The plot itself didn't draw me in much; it was much getting to see these characters at an earlier stage and the start of the school that was fun. But, then, I'm not sure majority of people do care more about the plot than the characters in any of the X-Men movies.

4) Nosferatu - I watched this one on Halloween. Unfortunately, though, I started it late at night when I was already more tired than usual, so I couldn't take it in as much as I wanted to. Watching a 1929 silent movie (it had a music score, but that's different) when you're falling asleep isn't the best idea. But it drew me in when I could keep my eyes open. There is something amazing about watching how acting, cinematography, and all were so different eighty years ago. Dracula/Nosferatu himself was that combination of creepy and funny you get from watching a full-blown out horror movie from decades ago.

5) Season of the Witch - Now this is the movie I ought to have watched on Halloween if I wanted to get scared (which I didn't--that's why I just watched what I did). I'm not exactly sure what made me want to watch this movie in the first place, but there it suddenly was in my Netflix instant queue, so I turned it on one night. I thought the "action movie" thing about it would be a comfortable way to spend my evening. I recalled that the trailer seemed a little creepy, but since it was only PG-13, it couldn't be that bad, right? But the thing is, I'm terrible about the scary elements, even too heavy suspense. So at some point during this movie, I asked myself why I was watching it or why I hadn't at least had the sense to watch it during daylight instead of alone in the dark in the middle of the night. But I had to see it through to its end, lest the monsters be allowed to live, so to speak. When it was finished, I went off and watched a couple of videos by The Hillywood Show to clear my mind before going to bed. The verdict on the movie? It's that combination of historical, supernatural, action, horror, not-exactly-spiritual thing. It was okay, I guess. It probably could have been a little better; I certainly don't think I'd be interested enough to see it again.

And now for my plan to countdown to "that movie" that is coming out in less than two weeks. In order to prepare for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 I will be posting on the following:

1) Sometime in the coming week, I will watch the first three movies again. Then I'll talk in general about their successes and shortcomings, in terms of what I think the latest movie will or should do.

2) The soundtrack comes out on Tuesday, which I just pre-ordered. Although I did have a chance to listen to it once when it was on the official Facebook page a couple weeks ago, I will listen to it again, just once more. I'll then compare it to the others, guessing at what these differences/similarities mean for the final movie.

3) I will watch all three Twilight parodies by The Hillywood Show. I think the differences among these three coincide with the differences among the three movies, so I will expand on this idea.

4) I will reread Breaking Dawn. I don't expect to have the time to read the whole thing (please give me a break--we're reading Pardise Lost in one of my classes: I just don't have the time or energy to do too much reading of my own), so I will set my goal at the first two sections. Everyone seems to think that's where this movie will stop, anyway. Like I did for the last two movies, I will make up my little list of what I think the movie will need to do.

Until then.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Twilight the Graphic Novel: Volume 2

Last year, I commented on the first volume of the graphic novel version of Twilight, saying that the format was rather intriguing, even if I would only turn to it for something like this that I already like. I'm not out to read other graphic novels, but I did pick up volume two when it came out this month (okay, so I pre-ordered it on Amazon, but with a list price of $19.99, you didn't expect me to buy it in-store, did you?). Once I had the book, the best part may have been finally being able to do this with the two volumes:

Because the graphic novel format wasn't so new to me this time, I wasn't quite as impressed by the workings and artistry of it. However, it was still a nice way to spend a couple of afternoons. Some of my favorite visual renderings were the Bella's lullaby scene, a wonderful and hilarious shot (to go along with Edward's line about fabricating evidence for Bella's "fall" in Phoenix) of Alice leaping through a window, and the final prom bits. Carlisle's background was also creatively portrayed, and I loved seeing an image of the Cullen house much to closer to how the book describes it than how the movie shows it.

On the negatives, I was a little disappointed by the "Angel" scene. A page or two before, I suddenly realizing that one of my favorite chapters (from the book, that is--the graphic novel doesn't have chapters) was coming up, and I used that brief bit of time to build up some high expectations. It just wasn't the same. The part after they discover the bite was fine, but before that, I wanted more of that dreamy, woozy, other-worldy feeling of pain and contentment (which sounds very odd, I realize). And still, there are pieces of dialogue mixed up or placed in different scenes, so the graphic novels by no means replace the books. But they're interesting and done well, therefore being worth picking up if you either like graphic novels or can't get enough Twilight material.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Barbara Eden's Jeannie Out of the Bottle

Question. Am I reading more non-fiction these days? I hardly used to read any before. My theory on this observation is that most people tend to read non-fiction (versus fiction) because it is about something that interests them, and when you're younger, you're still figuring out what you like. In my teens, I read movie companions for movies I liked, but most of the non-fiction books I bought I never finished, if I even started them. Now when I buy one, I actually do read it, saying that it's because it's by such-and-such or it's about such-and-such. Because, that is, I am genuinely interested.

This spring, Barbara Eden published her autobiography, Jeannie Out of the Bottle, which I just finished reading tonight. What perfect timing for this book to come out, not so long after my "discovery" of I Dream of Jeannie. (This is the second Jeannie book I have read--the other was Dreaming of Jeannie: TV's Prime Time in a Bottle, which I don't believe I ever commented on here.) I was glad to get this book (which I seem to be saying often lately--am I that emotionally involved?), though it's worth noting that as an autobiography, I Dream of Jeannie is not its only subject matter. But I liked everything else, too, from learning about Barbara Eden's youth, her entrance into show-business, and her encounters with various big names. The Lucille Ball bit was interesting (one does love to hear about intersections between people from two shows one loves), if also sad. If you're wondering, Barbara Eden appears in the I Love Lucy episode "Country Club Dance," which I just watched this summer knowing for the first time that it was she in the role.

A couple of sentences caught my particular attention. Now, I knew that most everybody involved in the show (I Dream of Jeannie, that is) had been against the wedding in the fifth season. But I didn't realize this: "After all, I Dream of Jeannie's abiding theme was Jeannie's unrequited love for Major Nelson, his belief that she was just a figment of his imagination, and her stubborn insistence that she was real" (Barbara Eden, Jeannie Out of the Bottle, 2011). The first time I read that, I probably took it a little further than it actually is, but still. I don't know if I interpreted the show quite in that way. I always took delight in the fact that Jeannie and Tony adore each other, but often don't show it in the usual, obvious ways. Because, honestly, I don't see it as such a bad thing that they got married in the end. Although I don't think Barbara made any mention of this in her book, I've heard elsewhere (from more than one place) that the show was already under threat of cancellation; if that's the case, the wedding didn't change anything from that perspective. But it does allow for a kind of "happy ending" sense to the show; to me, it makes it so that it didn't really just end, it concluded.

Anyway, I must go and stow away another good book on my shelves. And, yes, that will be a feat in itself: there is hardly any spare space left, I have so many books.

Friday, October 14, 2011

I'm Not a Very Good Rebel

As soon as I caught up from my "I'm more behind in reading than I've ever been" state, I had two midterms (for which I would actually have to study, though I usually do fine without much studying) and two papers within eight days. The last paper was due tonight, so the plan was to write half of it yesterday and the second half today. But I was just so exhausted yesterday that when I sat down (more than once) to write, I just couldn't. It just wasn't working.

So I decided to rebel--I departed from my desk and watched Netflix while lying on my bed instead. I called it "recovering" and promised that I would work diligently on the paper the next day (today).

But when I got home today around one, I still didn't want to work on that paper. So I took the time to slowly finish a movie I had started, have lunch, and then watch some YouTube. I believe I was mentally making faces at the paper, thinking I was better than it because I was refusing to work on it. I didn't get out my notes to begin until about five o'clock. But I told myself that was okay: I could take an hour per page and still finish with two hours to spare before the due time.

I wasn't finished pretending to be rebellious, though. I made some coffee, poured it with a flourish into a teacup, served a square of almond toffee on a dessert plate, and started brushing on lipgloss at random, often intervals (I don't really wear this gloss much anymore--I never much liked lipgloss and now that I have discovered the superior Revlon Just Bitten lipstain and Burt's Bee's tinted lip balm, the couple of glosses I have sitting around have been officially neglected). I used these three elements as my "inspiration" to begin. Then lo, and behold, I finished the paper in less than three hours.

The verdict? That twenty-four hour time that I took off must have allowed the ideas to properly stew in my mind. And slight distractions actually aid in writing. I've talked a little before about either eating or drinking (as in coffee or tea or hot chocolate or acai juice, of course, nothing other) while writing, or listening to music. It's quite true, as well. Instead of actually distracting, I find that little things like this help me focus, ironic as that may be.

Oh, yes, and I've learned that I am a terrible rebel. Seriously, coffee, toffee, lipgloss, and Netflix? (And it was even black coffee, not some sugary concoction.)

Friday, October 7, 2011


I have been a fan of Hayley Westenra for what, five years now? Perhaps six. It was her album Pure that I first heard and fell in love with; her voice is absolutely wonderful to the ear. Her newest album, Paradiso, has finally been released in the US, and it leaves me satisfied.

What I love about Hayley (well, one of the things) is that even though she started out as a young artist and even though she has a background with classical crossover, she has made it a point to only keep on working harder. Her ability to control her voice has only improved over the years--because she has kept improving herself. She has not let herself be a part of a fad or a phase; she is here to stay.

Paradiso is a beautiful album, showing off her voice rather well. The background music is never too much to counter her, but adds an artful presence to the songs. May I say it again? Hayley has grown so much. This album reminds me of Pure in many ways, but reinterpreted with more knowledge and experience (I hate that phrasing; it sounds as if I am calling Pure immature, which I most certainly am not; I simply mean that Hayley has built up her career even more since then). There is a nice mix of languages, as well. English, Italian, Portuguese, etc. It is much more a straight classical album than Hayley has previously released, I would say, yet those who have enjoyed her work (even if for its crossover sense) will stay enjoy it. It's exceedingly balanced and well-produced.

"La califfa" and "Metti una sera a cena" are two of my favorites, but the one that most awakens my mind is "Amalia por amor." That song is stunning. It takes me places. . . I think I have created a whole emotional story around it. And it's great to hear Hayley singing in Portuguese; that's new and fun. (Did I just use the word "fun?")

Anyway, a fabulous album for fans of Hayley Westenra, of classical music, and of a calming yet absolutely clear voice.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fear of Hobbits

A most turbulent weekend I have had, though it has nearly all been spent chained to my desk: it is of the turbulence of words that I speak. Yesterday, I read The Tower of Beowulf for a good deal of the day, interrupted by fifty pages from The Book of Margery Kempe and the watching of the 1977 animated The Hobbit. This morning, I read the last twenty-four pages of The Book of Margery Kempe, following with some extra material for and the first third of the text of Peter Pan, then the last section of The Tower of Beowulf. After taking a break just now, I will return to read as much of Dracula as I can--I have only read seventy pages of it, but need to have it finished by Tuesday. Having so many intersecting stories is very emotionally draining--I don't know how English Lit. majors aren't any stranger than we already are.

But that's not what I want to talk about. I was spurred on by that 1977 movie to put into words what are my fears or concerns about the upcoming two-part version of The Hobbit by Peter Jackson.

You see, I have never had an over-abundant love for The Hobbit; it is in The Lord of the Rings that my true liking lies, and so I have never spent as much time in the pages of The Hobbit. But this semester, I read the annotated version of the book (for the same class that I watched the movie, of course). That was an absolutely great experience, highly recommended for Tolkien admirers. The brief study of this book also made me appreciate certain elements in it, like its heavy Anglo-Saxon inspiration. Now my concerns about the movie are still there, but perhaps different than before.

Before, I was filled with opposing things. The Hobbit has a definite "children's story feel" at most times, and I had trouble seeing this translate onscreen. I worried to see just a water-down Lord of the Rings landscape that didn't stand well as much on its own. But then I also thought that maybe an adaptation that drifted from the book would also drift from what I found less interesting in the book. Maybe, in other words, if it was not so much like the book, I would like the movie more.

I also had (and still have) concern over the two movie thing. There is such a trend of Part 1/Part 2's going on right now. The first installment of them with Deathly Hallows showed to me what can be problematic in this splitting. The first movie of that pair felt, to me, like it was lacking something; the second was mostly just one big finale. That doesn't mean they were terrible; it just means that their stand-alone, withstanding-time, rewatchability value changes. I have become convinced that the similar splitting of Breaking Dawn will not be the best thing, either.

I'd like to say the same for The Hobbit. HOWEVER, I have finally noticed that there is a definite change in tone halfway through this book. . . this will perhaps lend itself to the two-part format. But still, how will that work? Will we have a slight "children's story feel" Part 1 and a hearkening to The Lord of the Rings Part 2? Will the movies be very different or simply continuations of each other?

The Hobbit is, after all, probably very hard to adapt, as most good children's stories tend to be, in fact. There are so many balances to get right. I admit that I shuddered during most of the 1977 movie. Bilbo's eyes were disturbingly too large, the wood elves looked like some strange cross between apes and bugs (not to mention the king's constantly changing accent), and the music all sounded like the same seventies lilt, despite the setting. I say with a sigh (and I may have to force myself to remember this later) that whatever I end up thinking about it, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit should be the best adaptation so far. At least it should do justice to the original, treat it with some respect and understanding.

But the more appreciation I gain for the original book, the more I fear that it can never appear onscreen in quite the same way that it does on page.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

In Need of a Break?

I confess that I have never been so behind in schoolwork as I am this week.

I am hundreds of pages behind in reading.

I had only read half the assigned reading for class yesterday, yet I still passed the pass or fail quiz.

I think I must resign myself to spending my whole weekend catching up--though I usually need to take a part of the weekend to get started on work for the coming week, not for the previous one.

Even, however, in times like these, there must be pauses. Enter my friend Netflix. (Let's not talk about the plan/price changes--even with them, it's still a great deal.) Although I sometimes end up giving more praise to the movies that affect me more and make me think more, sometimes I also turn to movies to allow me to pause. It was for this reason that I watched Dear Lemon Lima last week and rejoiced in its complete simplicity and the knowledge that I would never find the need to ponder this movie. It was for this reason that I clicked on the Switched at Birth pilot last month, finding myself watching the entire ten episodes in the days that followed. Sometimes I just need to watch simple things.

And sometimes I add many movies to my Instant Queue, more than I can watch; when they are about to expire from streaming, I finally watch them, even if they are not quite what I was looking for that day. So tonight, even though I am so behind in pages of reading and nearly bewildered by so many stories already, I watched In the Time of the Butterflies because this was the last day that it was streaming. That was just a bit more thought-provoking of a movie than I would have chosen for tonight and a bit more emotionally draining than perhaps I needed today.

Stories. My mind is filled with stories. This movie reminded me of the martyrdom in "The Life of St. Margaret," which I read this afternoon for one of my classes. It even reminds me of the themes of home in The Wind in the Willows, which I finished earlier in the week for another class.

Do the themes never cease to converge?

It would not be our world if they did cease.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Glamorously Unglamorous Life

On Saturday, I received my copy in the mail of Julia Albain's self-published book A Glamorously Unglamorous Life. Julia is also associated with Starkid--you'll recognize her as Crabbe and Percy in the Potter musicals and Specs in Starship. I got the book in a similar way to how I got The Bully Book: because I had to if I profess to like any of Starkid's works.

I started reading it that night, not wanting to do schoolwork but also not feeling like watching a movie or anything. I wanted to finish it right then, but saved the second half for the morning. The book is about a hundred pages, composed half of journals from Julia's year in New York and half in reflections back on the time. It's filled with moments of self-doubt, of desire to achieve dreams, or loneliness and friends. Which, all put together, made it the perfect book for me to read two weeks after turning twenty, when I am halfway through college and still not sure of what I am going to "do" afterwards.

This book was inspirational for me; it held encouragement and entertainment both. I don't read a lot of nonfiction, but I do like to hear artists' own voices, and Julia's was no exception. As I read over her concerns, it was hard not to feel or know that despite them, she will achieve her artistic aims (and has already begun to--the timing of the book is about two years ago). I would definitely, then, recommend this to other fans of Starkid: it gives you an appreciation of what kinds of experiences go into their work. (How can you not see the extra depth, anyway, in simple songs like "To Have a Home" and "Days of Summer," performed when the friends were coming back together after time apart?)

Also from a general perspective, this book succeeds. Probably it will be particularly appealing to those with artistic interest of some kind, but it also speaks to the life's struggles we all share--and how we can overcome them. I set it on my bookshelf in between Hayley Westenra's autobiography (for the autobiography side) and A Walk Between Heaven and Earth (for that wonderful, self-searching, expressive quality). Setting it next to the latter book is a high compliment from me, as that is one of the books I list as having had a great impact on me.

Mixed Feelings: Jane Eyre (2011)

I finally today watched the 2011 version of Jane Eyre, with Mia Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Rochester. I have a hard time deciding my full thoughts on it, so I will go point by point.

I didn't like the changing of timing the movie experimented with, putting Jane's departure from Thornfield (which it seems filmmakers like messing with) as the opening scene. It turned out okay overall, but I found it unnecessary to edit it together like this.

It begins to seem to me that the casting directors also have fun casting Helen--this Helen also had that "look" that makes her Helen. It was nice (I know, this sounds bad, but you know what I mean) to see the scene where Helen is beaten--this is a moment that shows simultaneously the harshness/cruelty of the school and Helen's attitude/life philosophy/humility.

Basically the only thing I had heard before watching the movie was that the filmmakers wanted to express the Gothic element of the book, which is great to hear after finding that element so lacking in the 1996 version. But it was there in the 2006, so I can't say I was overly impressed by it in here. But it wasn't bad.

I didn't like Adele. I just didn't like her. I didn't like the look of the girl cast (for the role, I mean, of course), and I didn't like that she always spoke in French that was always captioned in English. I did, however, find the scenes of Jane with Adele rather interesting, the way Jane talks to her. It was also a nice introduction to the gytrash when Jane was telling Adele the story soon before the first encounter with Rochester.

And, ah, yes, Rochester. I have some comments on him. I didn't like him much. Mostly, he just seemed like a bad casting choice. First, I thought he seemed too young, with not enough lines in his face (Rochester, has both years and troubles to add lines to his face); looking his age up after the movie, I found that I was right in judging him too young (I don't want to be too strict, but no one would want to cast a thirty year old as Jane, right?--age matters to a degree). He also didn't give the right complement to Jane. Michael and Mia had chemistry onscreen, but it was not of the Jane and Rochester sort. Rochester wasn't the old, teasing grump he tends to be--he seemed too flat to me.

But I must say that I got ridiculously happy in the first formal meeting between the two, when Rochester says that Jane must have been waiting for "her people" when she scared his horse--this moment has both the fairy element and the teasing element, yet I have never seen it in film. Wonderful to finally.

And now on to Mia. I had seen her, like everyone else, in Alice in Wonderland. But I so thoroughly dislike that movie. I find it boring and uninteresting. Well-done by certain accounts, but also so lacking. And the character Mia plays there is, well, the blank canvas on which everything else happens. I was so scared to see a blank Jane next.

The opening scenes with the Rivers family didn't show me much, but once we got on to Thornfield, oh, I found myself so surprised and rather amazed at times. She combined traits from both of the other performance I've seen: the reigned-in sense and a more emotional side under the surface. She, I think, conveyed the sense that she remains composed because she has to in the roles she is in--governesses are not supposed to speak too much. Not to say I found her performance perfect, no, but she did quite well.

I wasn't satisfied by the way the engagement scene played out; it just happened. It didn't go right emotionally.

Bertha wasn't conveyed right. I don't mean in the moment we actually see her: that was fine. But I didn't get the sense of the way Rochester is constantly running from his house that she is in. Nor so much of Jane's reaction.

I have to give a note on St. John. He was interesting to me from the start, and I'm still not sure exactly why. Maybe because he was different from how I've seen him before. I just wish, I think, that we could have had a little more time to develop points in his character--his sense that he acts as he should for God's will, but also the sense that he goes too far ascetically. And where was Miss Oliver? Her presence means so much, surely she could've had a brief appearance, even if it's just so that we can all laugh at St. John's reaction to her.

In the final scene, there wasn't quite enough conversation between Jane and Rochester. In fact, there was hardly any. And it was all in one place, just one meeting and then the end of the movie. That didn't feel like enough. I didn't feel like they had grown. It was just as if their outer circumstances were finally letting them get together. Where was the depth of it? When a movie doesn't end as you like, that can give a bad coloring to the whole thing. I find myself feeling similar to the 2006: the middle section was better, but as the movie went on, my interest started to dwindle.

Oh, and I wasn't a big fan of the music. It at least had some uniqueness, but I still didn't feel like it set the right tone. It was too yellow, not emotionally trembling enough.

I fear I have so many negative thoughts on this movie. But it was good; really, they did get things right, probably more than some of the other versions I'll be getting to next. But my first adaptation love is still my favorite: to the 2006 I will still give my greatest loyalty.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Novelty of a Teacup

You can tell that I am evading doing something else merely by that title. The thing I am evading is an essay, which, even though it is only a short three pages, I am not feeling particularly inclined to write. So I am pretending that writing a blog post will serve as a sort of warm-up.

After spending half an hour reading the assignment, then wandering aimlessly through my email inbox, I decided that perhaps some tea would help me focus. I often find that eating and drinking can aid writing; I'm not talking about a whole meal here, just something like tea or gummy bears or maybe some sticky caramels that you can contemplate as you contemplate the words you write.

The tea option has become even more attractive since I got a few actual teacups and saucers this summer. They're an off-white color, with a pattern of leaves and flowers in brown, blue, green, yellow, and reddish pink. I used to always drink tea from a large Disney mug: it is no surprise, then, that I find the experience quite different when using a pretty teacup and saucer. The clink of the cup when you lift it up and then set if down again, the need to refill the small space, and even the place to put the tea bag are all so much nicer than the less personal, bulk performance of a mug.

I am tempted to drag this out longer, but I really think I ought to force myself to do that paper now (which happens to be on "The Knight's Tale," which is out of The Canterbury Tales, and "Sir Orfeo"). But first let me pour another cup of tea.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Bully Book and Grendel

Have I mentioned that I'm taking four English classes this semester (that's out of a total of five classes)? So I'm always reading so many things at once that they all start to (inevitably, just like everyone describes) merge together and express the same sorts of ideas. But I wasn't expecting my little aside book I was reading to align so closely with a book for ENG 320: Medieval Monsters and Modern Night-Stalkers.

The former book is The Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale, of Starkid connections (maybe someday I will write about my late discovery of Starkid). I had been wanting this book (which is available only digitally, either from iTunes or in Kindle edition) for some time and finally downloaded it Tuesday morning. I was especially curious about it because of its connection to Little White Lie. So I started reading during my commute to school . . . then stayed up late (well, not that late for me, I guess) reading (for a long enough time, though, that my tiny iPhone screen was starting to bother my eyes). Wednesday I was sad because I only had time for a few minutes' reading in the morning (I was just so busy doing schoolwork right up to midnight). Finally, I was able to finish today (yes, three days is a long time--this is a short book that begs you to turn the digital pages).

Now, I must agree with some of the reviews of the book--there are too many typos in it. Typos that seem to be explaining why it is "only a digital book." But hopefully there will be future editions of the book to remedy this (and take the chance for extra improvements to the text, too, right?).

But I liked this book overall. The main premise is that there is a book a fifth grader developed teaching future generations/years how to put themselves at the top of the social ladder . . . and someone else at the bottom. Half the book is in journals from a boy who is, in his year, placed at the bottom. So The Bully Book takes on all these issues of social adjustment and changes that happen in school, why people bully others, and how it feels to be at the different "levels." Rather concisely and acutely, too, I might add (which makes for a definite value in this book).

The connection I was referring to has to do with John Gardner's book Grendel, which is of course inspired by Beowulf. This book, from Grendel's perspective, explores what it means to be a social outcast and what you may be driven to do based on that. Sound familiar? Eric Haskins (from The Bully Book) and Grendel have a few things in common. Except for the fact that Grendel has inherent "strange" qualities, and Eric's fault (the reason he is chosen to be the bottom rung) is that he is completely "normal." And that Eric tries to put himself back in his places, while Grendel "knows" he cannot and therefore doesn't try. But, really, reading these two books at the same time was almost disturbing because of the degree that they overlapped. I would expect the books in different classes to do this, but a random little somebody's-first-book expressing the same ideas as a book based on a piece of classic literature?

Now that's what I call the wonderfulness of books.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Missing Jane's Complexity

I just finished watching the 1996 version of Jane Eyre. Much as I proclaim my love for Charlotte Bronte, I have only seen the 2006 two-part BBC miniseries; I thought it was about time that I start moving through all the previous adaptations, as well. I have put this off because I very much like the 2006 version, and I have been afraid to watch any others for fear of tainting that love or, even worse, losing my love for this story.

I don't think either of those things have happened. I may be wrong to write down my thoughts so instantly after seeing the movie, but I can hardly help it. So here is my take on the 1996 movie.

The opening bit didn't make me feel like I knew Jane well enough, though I did like that the red room was actually a room with red furnishings (versus the weird red light the 2006 one projected onto the room). Anna Paquin did a good job as young Jane, and I rather liked the girl they chose for Helen Burns (although I didn't feel like she was so much a mentor to Jane as in the book). It was nice to see Miss Temple (who is missing from the 2006) in Lowood. But at about this time, I began to think that the theme of faith wasn't put in enough, and that surely we should be seeing more into Jane's imaginative nature. Instead, Jane does her drawings--with the insinuation seeming to be that she does them rather well; yet she only does (in canon) them as a way of expressing all of that great imagination and passion she has inside her mind, not because she has a particular talent at art.

And when she goes to Thornfield, there did not seem to be enough emphasis on the strange, out-of-the-ordinary act of independence her advertising to get the job was--it's more like it was just the next step for her to take.

Now let's talk about Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane. I've grown to rather like Ruth Wilson as Jane, so Charlotte took a little getting used to, but honestly, much of her portrayal is probably more like how I imagined Jane would look (I mean, in her expressions and such) in her daily life. When I first saw Ruth, I thought she sometimes showed a bit too much emotion on her face. Don't get me wrong, Jane feels very much emotion, but she usually tries to hide a lot of it. Even when she is saying bold things. So Charlotte had a way of keeping her face from being too emotionally expressing. But sometimes it was a bit much. And I don't know if this was her fault or the director's. I tend to think the latter. Because the thing is, it's okay if we have a Jane who isn't wearing her features on her face so much, as long as we are always aware of how acutely she does feel. That can be expressed in many ways in a movie. Music is one way; I love the music in the 2006, but the music in this one hardly ever set the right tone. At least, it didn't act as the agent for engaging the audience in the emotion that it could (or should) have been.

Because there is one more point related to this: this movie doesn't seem like it was, after all, meant to be so much from Jane's perspective. We see a couple of scenes where Jane is not present (like Rochester and Adele together, wishing she would come back from visiting the dying Mrs. Reed), and there are some transitions where she suddenly pops up without us knowing exactly how she got there. So it's almost like we're outsiders looking in on the story. This doesn't have to be a bad thing, I suppose, if it's done right, but no, it wasn't. It just felt like a connection was missing.

I guess I'm obligated to say something on William Hurt as Rochester. He also took getting used to. I think my conclusion is that I would like his take on the character more if I was not familiar with the book: I liked the way he played his character and I could sympathize with him, but he was missing a key Rochester characteristic or two. Again, this could also be because certain kinds of lines are missing from the script given to the actor. Like the teasing that takes place between Jane and Rochester. There is a bit of it, but not nearly enough: it's almost what their relationship is first built on, isn't it? You can't just go and take it out.

Oh, what else? Adele didn't always sound French enough to me. Why on earth was the Rivers family introduced earlier in the story, only to come back again for so brief a bit? Why was Adele at school when Jane and Rochester were supposed to get married the first time? Where was the wonderful epiphany (there was the "Jane! Jane!" call, but it can hardly be called an epiphany--I was never thrilled at the 2006 version of it, and this was worse) that leads Jane back to Thornfield in the end? Which leads to . . .

Where was the spiritual element that is such a huge part of the book? It started off okay with young Jane, but then disappeared entirely. Where was the fantasy? Sure, Rochester says a thing or two about Jane's fairy element, but there's hardly much basis for it in the movie. Where, even, was the Gothic? Grace Poole looked wonderfully vampirish (seriously, I loved her look), but the Gothic was not strong enough.

This movie felt too much like just a period movie. Like an Oliver Twist story. (I've nothing against Twist--it has some good stuff, but it isn't the same stuff Jane Eyre has.) Here's poor, unloved Jane sent to a cruel school until she goes to teach at Thornfield, eventually finding an inheritance from a long lost relative and her perfect love. Too many of the fibers of the story are missing that make the expression of this plot-line unique.

My final statement is this: I generally liked this movie. It makes for a quaint love story. But it ends there. And the absolute beauty about the book on which it is based is that there are so many layers. The quaint love story is only the topmost one, the one I loved when I was twelve. Underneath, there is what I now love eight years later: Jane's entire journey of self-discovery and self-independence and dependence on God--the relationship with Rochester is just the outer situation that is the vehicle for all of these other discoveries and expressions about who Jane is and what she does on her life's journey. I can't get all this from the 1996 movie.

As always, I find I must return to the book.

Miraculous, No?

I have lately taken to riding my bike to classes. Because I am a newcomer to biking and because it is very much still summer in this place where I dwell, I only ride halfway, taking the bus for the second half. It sounds rather too complicated, but it's beginning to suit me. I have the chance to get a little exercise in during my daily routine (and spend some time outdoors) and it doesn't take an extraordinary amount of time to get to campus.

But here is the thing about spending time outside in Phoenix: you sweat. No matter if you're just sitting outside and you're not even uncomfortable, if the temperature is over a hundred, you will sweat. It's inevitable. It just happens. So if you're riding your bike, even for just fifteen minutes (although I must add that my route does have a bit of slope to it, as well), you will sweat just a bit more. And the thing is, I like to wear makeup. In summer, I have to be conscious of what makeup I am wearing. For one thing, blush and bronzer are out of the question: your face gains enough color on its own. I worry about my eyeshadow not sticking, but thanks to the wondrous Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion, no matter how much I am outside, my eyeshadow will stay on from dawn to dusk. Eyeliner is a little more iffy, I always feel. I usually carry my eyeliner with me in case I need a touch-up.

But I hardly ever do. It's almost like sweat acts as another primer, glueing the eyeliner in place. I get to campus and glance in a mirror cautiously, but the makeup is still on. I get home and do the same, and though my face be reddened from the afternoon sun, there sits the eyeliner not so different from how it was in the morning. Amazing, no?

(All of this rambling is simply my way of putting off writing my first paper for the semester. I have finished practically all my other work for the week, so I don't have too many more reasons to put off the paper. But it can at least wait until after lunch, right?)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Darth Snape

So I was one of those people who had neither read nor watched Harry Potter (unless you count my fourth grade teacher reading the first book to the class). This year, I felt finally that I wanted to be able to have an opinion on the series. So I watched the first six movies. And I realized I was only getting part of the story. So I read all the books in three weeks (quite a feat considering it was in the middle of the spring semester). Then I watched the movies again, finishing with the seventh. That enabled me, two months later, to actually see the final one in theatres.

My opinion of these books is complicated and I won’t go into it here (for now) since I have been over it in my head and in conversation so much already. But I will say this: I enjoyed a few months’ immersion in the series, but I’m definitely not one of the huge fans—even still, I do find interest, like so many other readers before me, in one particular character’s plotline. Naturally, I am referring to Snape. Now, I was also watching Star Wars again this summer, when I found someone with a ridiculous similarity to Snape.

So here is my case for the Darth Vader and Severus Snape comparison.

1) Storyline: George Lucas said that he had envisioned the original series as Darth Vader's story. This is not unlike how many readers consider the book series Snape's story, more so than Harry's.

2) Background: We are first introduced to both characters in a "present" time, before we launch backwards to learn about their real motives. 

3) Love: Enter those real motives. Vader/Anakin, of course, loved Padme, and Snape loved Lily. Both characters could not ever really move past these first, early loves. In fact, both relationships took place at about the same time--ages ten-ish on. The tragic difference is that while Padme did choose Anakin, Lily did not choose Snape. Which leads us to . . . 

4) Power: As a Slytherin, we know Snape has interest in power. Anakin has serious issues with power and control, which ultimately cause him to be taken in by the Emperor; he essentially sacrifices Padme in his very attempt to keep her safe. After this, it seems like he loses his will to maintain any goodness in himself. Now Snape is a little different. His interest in power also led to his interest in a dark force, Voldemort, but at an earlier stage than for Anakin. Snape's choice to follow Voldemort was, it seems, what led Lily not to choose him. So when Snape's actions lead to Lily's death, he, too, is in that awful position of despair. Only he takes quicker action than Vader does.

5) Overthrowing the Evil Guy: It turns out that Darth Vader's character arc really is kind of cool: in the end, he is convinced by his son's unwavering belief in the Good to turn from the life he has been leading and finally overthrow the Emperor. One does wish he could have had this glorious revelation, say, twenty years earlier, but, hey, better late than never. Snape, however, turned to Dumbledore as soon as he knew Lily was in danger, which put him on the "good side" from much earlier on. I will admit that you can argue that this is exactly what Anakin did when he listened to the Emperor's words and did as he instructed just to keep Padme safe, but, no, I still think that Anakin was more unstable than Snape. Neither one has the best concept of Good/Evil, it is true, but Anakin's a little more scatterbrained and less focused than Snape, I think.

6) Visually: We can't leave out the fact that both these characters wander around in black robes/capes that billow out behind them. Both make imposing figures, in their own way. And you might just be able to say that the literal mask Vader wears is akin to the figurative mask Snape wears when he goes about his day as a double agent.

7) The Others: Let's not forget to match up the characters that surround them. I've already said that Padme is to Lily and the Emperor is to Voldemort. You can add in Obi Wan to Dumbledore, as well. And don't forget Luke to Harry--although Harry is not actually Snape's son, there is just as much of a connection there (if not more) as between Luke and Anakin. James Potter gets left out entirely, unless you say that he shares traits with Obi Wan (think Anakin's jealousy of him). The trio of Luke, Leia, and Han Solo is not entirely different from that of Harry, Hermione, and Ron--at least you can say that both trios include the hero and the two buddies who end up "together." Let's see, then there's Jabba the Hut to Mundungus Fletcher and R2D2 to Dobby and Chewbacca to Lavender Brown . . . maybe I should stop now, eh?