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?)