Sunday Sum-Up, or The Best Laid Plans of Mice

This week was an example of best plaid plans going somewhat awry. Not awry in a terrible way. More like, “I planned to do this, but I guess I’m going to do this other thing instead”. Part of it was due to the weather, which went mad with storms on Thursday and Friday, with Friday’s storm throwing hail, heavy rains, wind gusts of up to 88mph (100mph in Omaha, where several houses were destroyed), and a small tornado that touched down just three blocks from my apartment! Three blocks! And the tornado sirens didn’t go off!

Luckily, it was a very small tornado and touched down in an open field that belongs to the University’s agricultural college, so there was no damage. Around town, a lot of trees, tree branches, and power lines were downed and a lot of people lost electricity. It was not as bad as it could have been, though. No one was injured, even though this was a huge storm system that swept across the entire eastern section of the state.

Yesterday was thunderstorm-free, though it was cloudy all day and started raining off and on again. I had made plans to see the Flatwater Shakespeare Company’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor at a park near where I work, but I decided not to because of the rain. It’s an outdoor production, so lousy weather is definitely a factor. Fortunately, it’s running for another couple of weeks, so I have more chances to see it.

Hence, ‘the best laid plans of mice’:

 

I went to the theater to see two movies this week! That’s more than I usually see in a month! First off was A Quiet Passion starring Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle.

imagesThis was an odd movie. It had a stellar cast and beautiful locations, but it was presented and shot very strangely. The actors spoke in turn without interrupting each other, even when they were angry, like they were in a play instead of a film. And while the language was period appropriate and went right along with the costumes and sets, it sounded strange coming out of their mouths. So while it was good overall, I don’t think I’d recommend A Quiet Passion unless you are a die-hard Emily Dickinson fan.

 

 

I had to take my car in for a lengthy repair on my day off, and because Panera prefers to refrigerate their customers, I decided not to stick around and read like I had planned to do. Fortunately, there was  a movie theater nearby, so I decided to go see a movie instead of slowly freezing to death while reading at Panera.

The movie I saw:

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Let me start by saying that I hadn’t intended to see this when it came out. When they announced it way back, I thought, “Oh. Another superhero movie. Great”.  I was going to let it pass me by, when I saw a post about it online regarding the fact that it stars a woman and is directed by a woman (and also, the screenwriter is a gay guy). The commenter stated that seeing Wonder Woman was like having the scales fall off her eyes regarding superhero movies. Finally, she said, there’s a superhero who isn’t being portrayed specifically for the male gaze. It’s not all T&A, or stick-thin actresses in corsets and stiletto heels. Here, the Amazons are powerful women with a range of skin color and body types, all of them with actual muscles, looking like they could wade into a battle and kick everyone’s ass. And who was leading them? Hippolyta, played by Robin Wright, a 51 year old woman in an action role in Hollywood where women are considered ‘old’ when they hit 30.

And can we talk about Gal Gadot as Diana? Another woman with muscles! And she’s not a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl with an All-American accent. She’s obviously from ‘somewhere else’ (aka Themyscira), and that’s the way it should be. She’s an Amazon warrior. She shouldn’t sound like she’s from Iowa. Her armor, too, fits the character. The short skirt and sleeveless top don’t seem like they’re meant to show off her body so much as to mimic the armor of ancient Greek warriors. You know, like the Spartans who held off the massive Persian army long enough to let the rest of the Greek city-states gather to defend their homeland. And maybe there were a couple of missteps in the film, but they weren’t enough to bother me. I loved Wonder Woman.

Something else notable…  the battle scenes- with the Amazons on the beach of Themyscira, and later with Diana charging the German forces by herself- honestly made me cry. Not because some syrupy emotional element had been added in, or because I was scared that Diana was going to die or anything like that. It was because- finally– there is a portrayal of a woman warrior who can lead the charge, wield a weapon as well as any man, and fight for what she believes in without needing a man to speak for her or defend her. I didn’t realize how much that would mean to me, or how it really has been lacking in Hollywood. Historically, women have been warriors. Viking, Anglo-Saxon, Sarmatian, and other cultures I can’t think of right now have graves of warrior women that have been found, and more will be revealed as archaeologists and historians go back and test the DNA of the bones found in previously unearthed graves.

Diana, Princess of Themyscira, might have been an anomaly when she was first dreamed up, but history is coming to show that she is not such a lonely figure after all.

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Now, onto books! I finished Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe, Roshani Chokhi’s The Star-Touched Queen, and Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. The Glass Universe brings many women scientists out of obscurity and describes how their work- often derided as mere drudgery- was truly revolutionary and in many ways laid down the foundations of modern astronomy. Thanks to Edward Pickering, who hired the first women at his observatory at Harvard, many women were able to get their start and contribute to the study of the stars.

Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything is pretty much that. He discusses nearly every branch of science, goes into their history and talks about the various scientists (and their oddities) who contributed to their fields, and discusses the field itself. Physics, quantum physics, biology, chemistry, geology and others all get their say in this book, which is written with the same sort of wry humor as the other books I’ve read by Bryson.

 

I’m still working on Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, which I had to put aside for a bit so I could finish up A Short History of Nearly Everything before it was due back at the library. I’m looking forward to delving further into The Bear and the Nightingale! I haven’t gotten any further into Glen Cook’s The Black Company. I’ll try to get through more of it this week.


My pottery class is going well. It helps that we all have a background in art and have done at least some work on the potter’s wheel, so the teacher isn’t have to start with the “What is clay?” lecture. We dove right in, and the technique mostly came back, even though it’s been years since I had a lump of clay in my hands. The next class is tomorrow night, where we’ll learn about trimming pots.

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Proof that we are, indeed making things and not just eating cake and drinking beer (though we’re doing all three).

April Summary and May Preview

April was full of ups and downs, with stressful weeks and a few relaxing days thrown in for good measure.  Warm weather, then cold again, with a lot of reading getting done. I’ve been doing more street photography since I bought my new camera, and so I’ve been spending more time in coffee shops. This demands patience as you wait for for something interesting to happen, so I bring a book along and hope I’ve sat down in the right place. Usually, I’ll see something that catches my interest, no matter where I go.

I finished fourteen books in April, though I started the first three in March or earlier:

  1. Locke and Key, Vol. 2: Head Games– Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  2. The Year of Living Danishly– Helen Russell
  3. Rejected Princesses– Jason Porath
  4. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck– Mark Manson
  5. Walking the Nile– Levison Wood
  6. The Remains of the Day– Kazuo Ishiguro
  7. Stories of Your Life and Others– Ted Chiang
  8. Trollhunters– Guillermo del Toro
  9. The Snow Leopard– Peter Matthiessen
  10. The Club Dumas– Arturo Pérez-Reverte
  11. I’m a Stranger Here Myself– Bill Bryson
  12. 10% Happier– Dan Harris
  13. The War of Art– Steven Pressfield
  14. The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye– A.S. Byatt

I’m currently reading The Blue Sky by Galsan Tschinag and The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien.

7717338I started The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick, but it is going to the “Did Not Finish” category. The story is about Queen Emma of England who came from Normandy to marry King Æthelred in 1002. It is a tumultuous time and Æthelred is not the best of kings, so Emma must step up and do her part to save England. If Hollick had stuck to Emma’s point of view, I probably would have stuck with the book. The prose is passable, but Hollick keeps switching from one character’s point of view to another, sometimes for only a paragraph or two, and usually without pointing out which character the reader is with. She also has a tendency to go into the back story of the characters whose POV we’ve suddenly jumped into, whether or not that back story is necessary. Hollick also hasn’t figured out how to deal with the issues of the different languages that the characters speak. For example, Æthelred will be talking to Emma, and you’ll get the entirety of what he’s said, but then Hollick will half-heartedly point out that, because Emma doesn’t speak English, she only understood a word or two.  The Forever Queen comes in at 635 pages and was a bestseller when it came out, so a lot of people like it. But I am not one of them.

Coraline_posterI’ve been enjoying several of Netflix’s new, streaming animated offerings. I saw Coraline, based on Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name when it came out in the theaters, but hadn’t watched it since. It’s streaming again, so I put it on the other night and enjoyed it just as much as the first time around. I also watched the collection of Disney’s animated short films that’s streaming. It included “Paper Man”, “The Little Matchstick Girl”, “The Ballad of Nessie”, the super cute “Feast” which is from the point of view of a dog, and two shorts based on  Tangled and Frozen, among others. I missed seeing Kubo and the Two Strings when it came out last year, but it’s streaming now and on my list to watch soon. 

 

My May To Read List:

  1. The Stone Raft– José Saramago
  2. The Fabric of the Cosmos– Brian Greene
  3. Little Black Book of Stories- A.S. Byatt
  4. Falls the Shadow– Sharon Kay Penman
  5. Istanbul: Memories and the City– Orhan Parmuk

Back in January, I thought I’d make a lot of reading selections based on Pop Sugar’s 2017 Reading Challenge. That has not been the case, and I keep forgetting that I have the whole list written out in the front of this year’s bullet journal. Oh well. I’m still reading a lot.

 

 

Trollhunters

TROLLHUNTERS-UK-coverFrom Goodreads: In San Bernardino, California, children are going missing.

The townspeople don’t believe the rumours of trolls, but fifteen-year-old Jim Jr knows that they’re a very real threat. At night, is anyone safe?

TROLLHUNTERS is a funny, gruesome and undeniably del Toro-esque adventure perfect for teen readers and fans of Pan’s Labyrinth.


 

I have to admit- watched the Netflix show of the same name before I read Guillermo Del Toro’s book on which it was based, and while the book is entertaining, I liked the show more.

But anyway.

Trollhunters is similar to a lot of other fantasy novels, what with the insurmountable-seeming foe, the Chosen One hero, the plucky sidekick, and a gruff mentor who teaches the Chosen One what he needs to know in order to defeat the Insurmountable-Seeming Foe. There’s also the Girl Everyone Is In Love With, the kooky new friends, along with the awful jock, a must-pass math test, and a trimmed-down version of Romeo and Juliet happening during halftime of the most important football game of the year.

And, oh yeah. Trolls. Lots of trolls.

And a lot of grossness.

Suffice it to say that Trollhunters reads like it was intended for thirteen year old boys- gross sounds, gross smells, a teenaged boy who goes from total dweeb to sword-wielding Hero in a week. The ingredients are all there, though I feel like we could do with about half as much of the gross factor. I mean, I get that you need to burn certain parts of troll guts to make sure the troll stays dead, but I don’t really need so many descriptions of the  sounds and smells to go along with it, thanks.

That said, Trollhunters is a fun and quick read, with a lot of clever quips, action, and weird beasts against a background of dire peril. Kids are going missing in a hurry, and Jim only has a week to learn the necessary trollhunting skills before disaster befalls San Bernadino.

No pressure or anything.

In my opinion, though, it’s the show based upon the book that really shines.

With the Hellboy movies, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, and Crimson Peak among others under his belt, Guillermo del Toro’s imaginative worlds are second to few and it’s hard to beat his ability to bring a fantastical world to life.

Enter the Dreamworks animated series on Netflix:

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The elements of the book are all there: The Chosen One, the Snarky Best Friend, the Wise Mentor, the Girl Everyone is in Love With, and the Insurmountable-Seeming Foe. Because this is a television show with a full season of twenty-six episodes, though, the elements have been spread out and built upon, and several new characters have been added into the mix.

The gross factor has been diminished, too. I mean, they don’t avoid the fact that the trolls live underground and in sewers and eat trash, but you don’t have to read constant descriptions of sliced up troll guts. I’m okay with that. In the show, the haven of Trollmarket is a shining place filled with oddball characters not unlike the Faerie city of del Toro’s movie Hellboy 2. The Fae world as a whole features more in the show, too, with the inclusion of pixies, goblins, gnomes, magic, and a greater emphasis on Changelings- a kind of faerie creature that was put in place of a real baby so the creature could grow up in the baby’s place and influence the world for the advancement of evil troll causes.

Along with the show’s wider world of faeries, there’s a bright spark of life that isn’t so present in the book. With the book, Jim Sturges’s life is sad and colorless. His father won’t let him out after dark, he’s picked on by everyone, is short, unathletic, and not very good at anything until he becomes a Trollhunter. While Jim Lake Jr (from the show) has a similar life, he’s not just schlepping through life and just trying to get by. Jim Lake has a hope for the future that Jim Sturges doesn’t have.

trollhunters-trailer-1-320x180The enemies that Jim Lake faces are more interesting, too. Because the show tells a longer, more complex story than the book does, the enemies can be more interesting, too. Gunmar is present in both, but in the book he’s more like a final boss in a Dungeons and Dragons game, while Gunmar in the show is a looming danger, but not the most pressing one. There are multiple enemies- such as Gunmar’s son Bular- for Jim Lake to deal with, and some of them straddle the line between friend and foe. The story of Trollhunters the television show is more complicated- and more fun- than the book.

So it is that I find myself favoring another show or movie more than the book it’s based on. Trollhunters, season one is available on Netflix. Each of the twenty-six episodes is about twenty-five minutes long, and while they’re short, you’ll want to pay attention. A lot of story gets told in those short episodes, and you won’t want to miss the interactions between Jim and Toby. Or, really, between any of the characters. Trollhunters is a smart, beautifully produced show meant for teenagers and adults alike.

Sadly, it may be a while before season two premiers. Jim Lake was voiced by Anton Yelchin, who was tragically killed in a car accident last summer. I haven’t seen any information about who will be voicing Jim in the future, but it will be hard to replace Yelchin. He did a fantastic job and will be sorely missed in future seasons.

 

Book to Movie III: Return of the Bard

Shakespeare gets part three entirely to himself.

 

Hamlet (1996)

520179-5This star-studded, gloriously produced version of Hamlet, starring Kenneth Branagh among others, was my first real foray into Shakespeare. Sure, we’d read Romeo and Juliet in school, but it’s hard to fall in love with a play that’s being read aloud in a classroom by a bunch of bored fifteen year-olds. Enter Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet, Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Judie Dench, Jack Lemon, Billy Crystal, and pretty much everyone else on stage or screen. The scale and drama of this production made me fall in love with Shakespeare. It didn’t bother me that the script sounded funny at times and tended to dance around the subject, where a modern on would get right to the point. There were all sorts of jokes and references I didn’t get at sixteen, but that didn’t matter.

MSDHAML EC008Shakespeare was awesome. And relevant. And full of gorgeous poetry. Kenneth Branagh got me hooked on Hamlet, and I’ve seen several versions since then, including one starring David Tennant, the National Theater’s production starring Benedict Cumberbatch, a terrible version starting Ethan Hawke, and one or two others I can’t remember at the moment.

The full version of Branagh’s Hamlet is something like three and a half hours long or longer, so it’s probably not something you’ll plop down on the couch to watch on a Friday night. Or maybe it will be. I suppose it depends on how much of a Shakespeare nerd you are. I’ve done it more than once.

 

 

The Tempest (2010)

mv5bmtc4mzeyndg1ov5bml5banbnxkftztcwmtk4ndy3mw-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_The first time I saw a gender-bent version of Shakespeare was a local college’s production of The Tempest. I’m sure they had grand intentions about exploring the nature of gender in Shakespeare or something like that, but it ended up feeling like they didn’t have enough people show up for auditions, and so they cast the first bunch of people who happened to wander by.

Julie Taymor’s version of The Tempest, starring Helen Mirren in the gender-bent role of Prospera is nothing like that terrible college production. Instead of exploring the father/daughter relationship between Prospero and Miranda, we see a very different (and almost more plausible under the circumstances) relationship between a mother and daughter. Prospera the mother has just as much desire to protect her daughter as a father would, but for very different reasons. A father might be reluctant to give up his daughter to marriage, and thus loose his child. A mother would be reluctant to see her daughter give up her independence for the sake of a man.

The movie was shot in a remote and barren part of Hawaii, and the landscape lends the play a frightening yet ethereal atmosphere heightened by the presence of Ben Whishaw’s ghostly Ariel and Djimon Hounsou’s raging Caliban.

Helen Mirren in THE TEMPEST

 

MacBeth (2015)

11202249_oriWhen I visited Scotland in 2015, I spent most of my time there in the very region where MacBeth takes place, although I didn’t have a chance to visit Cawdor Castle. During one of my many train rides, I spent a good deal of time looking out the window and imagining the various battles and events from the books and novels I’d read about Scotland. With that trip freshly in my mind, watching MacBeth, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard made me want to get right back on the plane and go back to the Highlands.

This is not your grandma’s production of MacBeth. The battles are visceral and bloody, and shot so that time runs strangely through them. The witches appear and disappear out of the ever-present mists, and instead of being the naked old crones from previous films, they appear as a chorus of women from multiple generations- women you could spend a lifetime searching for, but never find unless they want to be found. MacBeth himself is portrayed as a skilled warrior suffering from PTSD, a situation that makes perfect sense when explained in the commentary, and Cotillard’s Lady MacBeth is far more than just the scheming, power hungry woman she’s often shown as. This Lady has just lost a child, and has spent her public life around court politics, and her private life dealing with MacBeth’s psychological ailments.

The Scottish landscape accentuates the bleakness of the tale, while the mists highlight the strangeness of the people and their way of life. MacBeth is an old, old story, and the culture has changed so much between then and now that it’s nearly foreign to us. Yet Fassbender, Cotillard, and the rest of this stellar cast are able to build a bridge between the strangeness of the characters’ ways and their essential humanity.

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Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

mv5bmtgxnjq0mjawml5bml5banbnxkftztcwnji1ndeyoq-_v1_uy268_cr90182268_al_Shakespeare isn’t all gloom and doom. Sometimes he is effervescent and fun. I was excited to hear that Joss Whedon was doing a production of Much Ado About Nothing. The fact that it was filmed in his home, in black and white, with a cast made of up actors from his other projects was a side benefit. I laughed aloud in the theater, and I think I had a tear or two in my eye at certain points, and it was certainly worth the expense of seeing it in the indie theater in town (the only venue showing it).

I didn’t watch Angel, and so I wasn’t familiar with the relationship between Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof’s characters in the TV series. But the chemistry between the two was obvious from the beginning, even when they claimed to hate each other. Seeing Sean Maher as a villain was a fun change from his role as Simon on Firefly, and I whole-heartedly agree with Linda Holmes from NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour: Nathan Fillion should spend the rest of his career playing bumbling police officers. His part was a highlight in a film filled with highlights.

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Honorable Mentions:

Hamlet: Again! I’m lucky enough to live in a city with a theater that has showings of productions by the National Theater in London, and so I get to watch these amazing theatrical productions without having to get on a plane and fly for ten hours to get to England.  One of the productions I saw in 2015 had Benedict Cumberbatch starring as Hamlet, and while Kenneth Branagh’s version edges it out as my favorite, it’s a close thing.

Coriolanus: This was another National Theater event I got to see at the local theater. It stars Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus, and is a play I was completely unfamiliar with going into it. I was gobsmacked by the end. The theater the play happened in is an old banana factory, and the staging was minimal- some chairs and a ladder on a concrete stage, if I remember correctly. What they could do with those chairs was amazing, though. Most of the actors played multiple characters and used different accents to portray the differing characters. That worked, too. I’m torn about seeing any other versions of this play. I like seeing different interpretations, but would they live up to the quality of the National Theater’s production?

 

Book to Movie II: Revenge of the Classics

I was initially going to make one big post about my favorite movies based on books, but then I realized it was going to be a reaaaalllly long post, so I’m breaking it up into parts.

Here in part two, I’m going to talk about the films I love that are based on classic novels.

 

Pride & Prejudice (2005)

movieposterI’m sure I’m going to catch a lot of hell for this. I’ve already endured a spirited conversation at book club, where I was assured that I was dead wrong, but here it is: the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley and Matthew McFadyen is my favorite, far above the 1995 mini-series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.

Go ahead and throw your fits in my general direction. I’ll just wait over here.

All done? Okay. Why do I prefer the 2005 version? Several reasons, many of them involving Matthew McFadyen. And Keira Knightley. Also, the Bennet sisters who feel like real people making up a real family, all with their individual personalities and hopes. The sisters from the 1995 mini-series felt more like caricatures to me, like they were one-dimensional and only served to act as foils to Lizzie, rather than being human beings in their own right. The mini-series also suffers from that very even, boring lighting I associate with 1990s films. As a photography nut, the lighting drives me nuts. It takes away the dimensionality of the environment and strips the cinematographer of a key element of storytelling. Joe Wright is not afraid to let things get a little dark (light wise) now and then, or let it get bright and sunny when needs be.

Lizzie and Mr. Darcy’s journeys from the beginning of the film to the end are clear all the way through, and the changes they undergo are wonderfully naturalistic. In this version, Charlotte lets Lizzie know when she’s being a judgmental jerk (even when Charlotte really has made a bad decision to marry Mr. Collins), and you can see the change that occurs in Lizzie when she realizes that she has misjudged Mr. Darcy and his intentions. That’s not to say that Mr. Darcy isn’t flawed, but he, like Lizzie, manage to overcome those flaws to find each other in the end.

And that ending, where the sun is rising and Mr. Darcy is striding up the hill to meet Lizzie…  Fairy tales don’t have such gorgeous endings. It makes me happy.

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Jane Eyre (2011)

6327192Like Pride and PrejudiceJane Eyre is another novel that took a while to grow on me. When I was younger, I didn’t understand how Jane could be such a passionate soul when she was little more than a plain-faced governess who didn’t stand up for herself in company and was content to let her talents and imagination go unused while dealing with Mr. Rivers. I thought it was about a mousy girl who fell in love with her employer, even as he was hiding his insane wife up in the attic. The appeal was lost on 20-year old me.

Little did the younger me understand.

There is a lot of subtlety in Jane Eyre’s little, plain self. And also a lot of courage. How many governesses would stand up to their hot-tempered employers and declare her own humanity, and that she has an independent spirit that is equal to his? Not many. Confined as she was by custom and geography, Jane still found a way to let her spirit soar.

rehost%2f2016%2f12%2f13%2f784dace5-ad65-447d-a90c-2589489b9eadThe 2011 film version starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender is directed by Cary Fukugawa. It is pared down to the essentials, and is sometimes as bleak as the landscape Thornfield Hall is set in. The cinematography and soundtrack reflect the moods of the film, whether they’re dark and lonely or sweepingly romantic. Wasikowska’s Jane is a superb foil to Fassbender’s Mr. Rochester

 

Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)

far-from-the-madding-crowd-poster-carey-mulligan-matthias-schoenaertsI saw the film before I read the book. I know, I know. It’s bad form. But after reading Jude the Obscure, I had it in my head that Thomas Hardy’s novels ended tragically. Shows what I know.

This film entranced me within the first few minutes with the cinematography, costumes, and music. And then Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts showed up and started talking, had their fortunes reversed, found each other again, and were kept apart by a string of circumstances that nearly kept them apart forever. They were falling in love, but simply could not admit it to each other or act upon it. And it nearly cost them everything.

I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I walked into the theater, and I’m kinda glad for that. I got a copy of the book soon after watching the movie, and so I was better able to imagine the world and the characters in my mind, as well as having a better understanding of the missteps and mistakes that characters like Fanny Robbin made. I recently re-watched Far from the Madding Crowd,  and was just as swept up as before.

I mean, how can you not like a 19th century heroine like Bathsheba Everdeen, who outright says, “I’d hate to be some man’s property. I shouldn’t mind being a bride at a wedding if I could be one without getting a husband!”

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Atonement (2007)

mv5bmtm0odc2mzg1nl5bml5banbnxkftztcwmtg4mdu1mq-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_This is another movie I watched before reading the book, and once again I have no regrets about it. Knowing the structure and the truth of the story from the film allowed me to understand the nature of the book and the story that Briony Tallis tells. Reading the book later also gave me a greater appreciation for how Joe Wright brought the story to life on the screen, as I think this is the most faithful translation from book to film that I have ever seen. I can remember one major change, and that was done because the circumstances- easily explainable in a book- would have been tedious to explain in a film.

The camera work in Atonement is brilliant, focusing on tiny details that seem like artsy elements at first until they’re revealed as being critical to the story and to how events fall apart and drastically affect the lives of Cecily Tallis and her love, Robbie Turner. A thirteen year old Briony (Cecily’s little sister) sees things happen between Cecily and Robbie. She thinks she understands what she’s seen, but she doesn’t. She’s too young. And so, when a crime happens later that night, Briony lies about what she saw and spends the rest of her life trying to atone for what she’s done.

3ec7bcf628648bc80a83565b2a803764I cried at the end of this movie, and I don’t cry at very many movies. The detail and adherence to the book were astounding, and I still can’t get over that amazing green dress Cecily wears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honorable Mention:

Anna Karenina – It took me years- literally years- to finish this book. I got it for Christmas when I was in high school, ambitiously started it over the holiday break, and stalled out around page 55. I’d start again and get a little further, but it wasn’t until I was out of college that I made a concerted effort to finish the book. It didn’t help that there is so much farming. So. Much. Farming. I grew up in a farming community, so the descriptions of farm life being this idyllic existence read a little like Marxist propaganda to me (“ah, yes. The life of a farmer, so beautiful in its simplicity..). And there were times during the romance between Anna and Vronksy that grew dull, too. But I kept pushing through and eventually made it to the end. The Joe Wright/Keira Knightley match-up (there’s a trend going on here..) was a stylized, simplified version of the book that mostly kept up the tangled relationships, and even managed to make farming look good. (2012)

 

Book to Movie

The Oscars are tonight, and in their honor I thought I’d write about a few of my favorite book-to-movie features. I know a lot of people dislike adaptations (as well as the book editions that come out featuring stills from the films, if my Pinterest feed is any sign). Characters and events get left out, plot lines are changed or deleted, or maybe the appearance of main characters is changed from how they’re described in the book. I get that. In too many films it’s like the director glanced at a synopsis and based the film on that and it feels as though the only thing that book and movie have in common is the title.

Other times the director gets it right, simplifies the story without sacrificing plot, character, or tone and creates a work of art that doesn’t feel unfamiliar when you go back to read the book.

I’m always willing to give a book adaptation a chance, even if a lot of things have been changed. Certain things have to change to maintain a cohesive narrative in the confines of a two hour-ish film. Books are generally packed with detail that simply can’t be included in a movie without bogging it down. Often, some details can be overlooked and not affect the story. I mean, does anyone remember that book-Legolas has brown hair, while movie-Legolas is blond? Did that particular change really matter?

So in no particular order, here are some of my favorite book-to-movie adaptations.

The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

the_lord_of_the_rings_the_fellowship_of_the_ring_2001_theatrical_posterIf you knew me during the autumn of 2001, you couldn’t help but notice how excited (and obsessed) I was about this movie. It was all I could do to contain myself whenever I saw the trailer, and I’m still a little amazed that I passed my finals, seeing as how frantic I was for December 19th to arrive. Think of how excited the Hobbits were regarding Bilbo’s birthday party, then double it. That was me.

argonathI’d been in love with the trilogy for about a decade when the movies started coming out, and I was not disappointed. Not in the least. I didn’t miss Tom Bombadil, the Barrow Downs, or the Old Forest, and while I wish they would have included Glorfindel, I was not upset about Arwen taking his place. The Nazgul were as creepy as I could have hoped for, Aragorn’s nobility showed itself in the proper places, and Boromir’s fall and redemption rang true. The sets of Hobbiton, Rivendell, Moria, and Lothlorien were better than I had imagined them. All the wonderful details were spot on, and the soundtrack and cinematography were just perfect.

 

The Two Towers (2002)

lord_of_the_rings_-_the_two_towersThe second film in the trilogy gets a lot of guff for being the metaphorical red-headed stepchild. Being in the middle, it lacks a real beginning and a real ending, and Faramir endures a lot of changes, though he maintains his true character in the end. Elves show up at Helm’s Deep, Saruman is serving Sauron instead of trying to become a rival, and the Ents initially decide not to join the war. But to my mind, the heart of the story and the psychological conflict between Smeagol/Gollum and Frodo drive the film as strongly as it does in the book.

eowyn-swordSeeing the expanse of Rohan and the splendor of Edoras and Meduseld were the highlights of The Two Towers. Because I was a horse-crazy kid when I first read the books, I quickly connected to the people of Rohan- especially to Eowyn, the first shield maiden I ever encountered in literature.

 

 

 

The Return of the King (2003)

the_lord_of_the_rings_the_return_of_the_kingWhat a finale. Do fantasy films get any better than this?

The first time I saw it in the theater on opening day, during the scene where Shelob is stalking Frodo and the camera pans up to reveal the giant spider waiting above the unsuspecting Hobbit, a little girl in the front row called out, “Look out, Frodo!”

And then Sam had the one line- the only line- I required from the book: “Don’t go where I can’t follow”. I was almost in tears, and I knew what was going to happen next. Then later, after the Ring has been destroyed and Sam and Frodo have collapsed on the slopes of Mt Doom, Sam talks about Rosie Cotton: “… she had ribbons in her hair. If ever I would have married someone, it would’ve been her.” That just slayed me. What a simple little detail- the ribbons in her hair. I think most directors wouldn’t have put it in there, but Peter Jackson knew that the little things counted.

And did anyone else get a little choked up when, facing certain death, Gandalf reassures Pippin that death is not the end, and describes what comes after?

Gandalf: …. and then you see it.
Pippin: See what?
Gandalf: White shores. And beyond, a far grey country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: That doesn’t sound so bad.
Gandalf: No, no it isn’t.

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The charge of the Rohirrim still sends chills down my spine. Theoden’s call to battle would fit right into any Anglo-Saxon epic.

 

Stardust (2007)

stardust_promo_posterOne of my good friends was as excited to see this film as I was, and when we went to see it on opening day, he informed his employees not to call him after 7:00 unless the store was on fire.

Naturally, about halfway through his phone started vibrating. His store had caught on fire.

That didn’t stop me from loving the film from start to finish. It’s full of Neil Gaiman’s humor and contains all the darkness and light inherent to one of his stories, as well as his boundless imagination. When I watched the DVD’s behind the scenes footage, Gaiman admitted to being worried that he was pulling carpenters away from their important work of building cabinets and furniture. They replied that building a flying pirate ship was a dream come true. The cabinets could wait.

I don’t think this film gets as much love or recognition as it deserves, and if you haven’t seen it, you should.

 

The Martian (2015)

martian2015-2These days, Hollywood tends to take science fiction Very Seriously and forgets that there can be a lot of humor in futuristic stories, even if they are about an astronaut stranded on another planet. I didn’t get a chance to see The Martian in the theater. That’s a shame. The landscapes of Mars are incredible (and real, since they were filmed in Jordan!) and it’s hard to get a sense of the scale of the Hermes spaceship or the vastness of space on my little television. That said, The Martian was my favorite of the movies I first saw in 2016.

Matt Damon is spot on as Mark Watney, the astronaut accidentally left behind on Mars after a storm forced his team to abort the mission. He was separated from them and they thought he was dead. Due to a few quirks in physics, though, Watney survived and then had to figure out how to survive on an alien world, alone, with only the supplies NASA sent for the team and their mission. It’s snarky and funny, suspenseful and moving where it needs to be, and is complete with a fantastically diverse cast and a script that contains myriad geek jokes (notice who is sitting there when they’re talking about the Council of Elrond). I’ve heard this move described as ‘a love letter to science’, and it fits that description perfectly.

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Children of Dune (2003)

16c6ec763a7d4c3128d4eb7f310db427d516e1f1This one isn’t a movie. It’s one of the best mini-series I’ve ever seen from the Sci-Fi channel and the story is a follow-up to one of my favorite books, Dune. The first episode deals with the fallout from Paul Atreides’ sudden rise to the imperial throne and the subsequent jihad that spread out from Arrakis after House Atreides asserted its control over the known universe. Paul- or Muad’Dib, as he was known by his Fremen followers- couldn’t stop the religion that sprang up in his wake and desperately tried to contain the damage, a move that cost him everything though his work would not be completed until the next generation of Atreides came into their own.

The children of Dune were the royal twins, Leto and Ghanima, who are on the verge of their inheritance as the second episode begins. In addition to being heirs to the empire, they also inherited their father’s gifts- including the ability to see possible futures awaiting them. The path to the throne is fraught with peril, though. Conspiracies thrive all around them and Leto and Ghanima resort to desperate measures to ensure their survival so they can wrest the throne from their fiercest rival- their own aunt, Alia.

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James McAvoy and Jessica Brooks star as Leto and Ghanima

While Children of Dune is set far, far in the future the feudal and religious elements ground the world and give it a sense of reality that we can relate to. Cutthroat politics are often at the heart of some of our most popular stories, both in history- the Wars of the Roses, for example- and on television- Game of Thrones or House of Cards. The threads become so tangled that it’s difficult to figure out how Leto and Ghanima will find their way through to the end.

I love everything about this mini-series. The acting, costumes, sets, music, cinematography, and script are all well done and clearly crafted with love and attention to detail, and if you watch Frank Herbert’s Dune, another Sci-Fi channel miniseries and precursor to Children of Dune, you’ll see a lot of things that are mirrored in the second series and bring character arcs full circle.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Arrival– Twelve alien spaceships appear at various points around the world, prompting world leaders and scientists to figure out how to communicate with the beings who live within the crafts. Amy Adams stars as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist tasked with breaking the language barrier between humanity and the aliens. Adams’ Oscar nominated performance shows the power of science, careful thought, and communication. It’s hard to write much more than that without giving away major plot points, but this film took my breath away, and the only reason it ended up as an honorable mention is because I haven’t yet read Ted Chiang’s short story, ‘Story of Your  Life’. (2016)

Jodorowky’s Dune– In the 1970s, cult film director Alejandro Jodowrosky poured years of his life and massive amounts of effort and money into what has been billed as ‘The greatest film never made’: a mind-bending version of Frank Herbert’s Dune that would have starred his own son and featured music by Pink Floyd and concept art by a young artist named H.R. Giger. This fantastic documentary from 2013 discusses the process of putting the pieces for this ambitious film together, and how and why the project was eventually given to David Lynch, who made a film notorious for how terrible and incomprehensible it was.

 

New Year, New Books

So time has passed…

The holidays were busy, and while I wasn’t running in circles like other people I know, it still feels like December passed in a mad rush. There were a lot of things I intended to do (like write new posts here), and they just didn’t happen. Oh well. Better luck this year, I suppose.

Something I did manage to do:

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I made a gingerbread house for the first time! I’d been intending to make one for years before this, but never got around to it. My book club’s December meet-up was slated to be a time for each of us to make one, and while we all brought kits to do so, we were distracted by wine, cheese, and cookies. C’est la vie. It was a tasty evening, anyway, and I took my kit home and put it all together a few days later.

I got new books for Christmas! Of course. That was pretty much all I had on my list.

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I don’t know where to start with the reading of these, since they’re all interesting. I did attempt to read The Story of the Night earlier this year and failed to finish it. I’ll have to give it another try this year and see if I finish it off this time. I can’t remember if I read The Slow Regard of Silent Things in 2015 or 2016, but I loved it. Because I never got around to getting my own copy, it went on the Christmas list this year. I will probably re-read it soon.

The rest of them are new to me, and I’m looking forward to them!


The past month hasn’t been all work and gingerbread houses. I’ve been doing quite a lot of reading on my phone and e-reader. I read a Lifehacker article about reading a little bit from a ebook instead of checking and rechecking Facebook and all the other time sucking social media, so I decided to take that advice. For this, I chose a series of light-hearted memoirs such as Karen Wheeler’s Tout Sweet (a solid meh), Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods (fun, but it certainly did not inspire me to go out and walk the Appalachian Trail), and Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project (which did get me to think about my mindset when it comes to the way I treat myself and other people). There were two other books that were not light-hearted, but that I found compelling: Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, both of which were amazing.

I also read the science fiction novella Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, which is highly imaginative, but too short. There were certain things regarding Binti’s abilities that I wanted to read more about, and the ending seemed very sudden given the build-up. Overall, though, it’s a solid read and a little refreshing to have a story told in such short order, given the massive volumes and endless series that seem to be the standard for science fiction and fantasy these days.

I easily finished my Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2016. My goal was fifty-five books, and I read seventy-two. 2017’s goal will be sixty books, which I should be able to do easily enough. Other reading resolutions include continuing with my plan to read more by international authors, instead of sticking with books by North American or British authors. I also found a ‘2017 Reading List’ online from PopSugar, which provides numerous suggestions for the year such as “a book recommended by a librarian” or “read a book with a red spine”. I don’t think I’ll use every suggestion from that list, but I’ll probably use a lot of them. Another goal is to do a better job of sticking to the monthly “To Read” lists I’ve set up in my bullet journal. I have a grand total of five books listed for January, so that leaves me plenty of room for incidental books that call to me through the month.

January’s To-Read List:
1. Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath
2. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
3. The Táin- Anonymous
4. Dewey the Library Cat by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter
5. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

All of these are suggestions from the PopSugar 2017 reading list. Rejected Princesses is a book recommended by a librarian, The Fellowship of the Ring is a book I enjoyed as a child, The Táin was a book I purchased while traveling, Dewey the Library Cat is a book with a cat on the cover, and My Brilliant Friend is a book by an author who uses a pen name.


In non-book news, I went to a couple of movies this past month. Arrival was brilliant and beautiful. In a very near future, a dozen or so alien ships appear at various points around the world, sparking fear among the nations. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner play two scientists sent by the US government to try to communicate with the aliens. The cinematography and score are both gorgeous, and the message- that communication is the true answer to our problems, not weapons and fights, is one that everyone should take heed to.

For New Year’s Eve, a friend and I went to Rogue One last night. I enjoyed it immensely. It felt like it filled in a chapter of Star Wars history without intruding onto the saga of the Skywalker family that we’ve been following through the rest of the movies. You can slip it in between Episodes III and IV or not depending on your viewing preferences, and while I heard some reviews that complained that “it was too heavy handed on the dark portents” or “there were sooo many names”, or “there weren’t enough jokes”, I disagree with them. I thought it was dark where necessary, funny when it needed to be, and heartfelt enough to make me believe in what the characters were fighting for.