Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Emma (1996)

In what is becoming a bit of a habit, I watched another Austen-related thing around Christmas (and yes, it was a while ago but these posts have a waiting list):

Emma (1996)

Category: Movies

Find it on:  IMDb

What it is:
An adaptation of Austen’s Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

How I found it:
This was actually my very first introduction to the work of Jane Austen. I watched Emma for the first time not long after it was made, on TV one Christmas at my grandparents’. It delighted me to no end and soon after that I read both Emma and Northanger Abbey.

Summary judgment:
It is one of my all time favorites, even if I find it a little superficial.

Best things about it:
It looks so beautiful. It creates this idyllic atmosphere through gorgeous landscapes that really make you want to walk those parks and meadows. I love the light in this movie.

Worst things about it:
Unlike Paltrow, Jeremy Northam doesn’t sell his characters with complete success. He lacks the gravitas that Mr. Knightley should exude: it feels like he’s trying to keep from lighter, laugh-inducing behavior. In fact, this interpretation of Emma focuses on the comedy (and sometimes grotesque) of the story and many characters (for instance the Eltons) and their portrayals fit right in. However, Knightley should stand out from that.

Other pluses:
✤ Gwyneth Paltrow looks lovely as Emma. She’s so aristocratic, with truly impressive body posture. She manages to sell the character completely, both her charm and all her offputting qualities.
✤ Toni Collette, whom I will always love as Tara from the obscure but wonderful United States of Tara, does a great job as Harriet, despite the superficiality of her character.
✤ The movie carries an important quality from the book: it manages to illustrate the challenges and the tedium of having a limited group of people to spend your life around. Almost no one around Emma seems worth developing a friendship with.

Other minuses:
✤ The actresses sport eyebrows plucked in a truly 90s fashion, which I found distracting in the historical setting.
✤ They should’ve used those painted portraits in the end credits. I don’t understand how they missed it.

How it enriched my life:
I had a good time watching it with my husband.

Follow-up:
I will certainly come back to Emma again.

Recommended for:
People who enjoy their Austen with 1990s flavor.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Fun fact:
No fun and barely a fact but I really hate the new WordPress editor with my whole heart. It’s moronic and doesn’t do anything useful, complicating what used to work well. Ugh.

Next time: Descender comic

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: An Enchantment of Ravens

While I read a lot of what some of you more discerning readers might consider crap, especially if it comes in a fantasy envelope, I rarely enjoy it without question. This time I did.

er-anenchantmentofravensAn Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:

A fairy tale for (young) adults. Isobell lives in Whimsy, a land for people selling their work to fairies. She is a gifted portrait painter who has learned to manage the tricks of the fair folk rather well – until she meets a very special fairy.

How I found it:

I don’t remember but I think I expected a different book and mixed them up – luckily.

Summary judgment:

It’s surprisingly lovely.

Best things about it:

I was surprised to be so, ahem, enchanted by the world Rogerson creates: it’s got the charm of a fairy tale in which you just buy the premises of the magic world and enjoy being in it. However, it’s more developed than most fairy tales, with characters more fully drawn and quirkier. The tension between the romantic leads feels real and you believe all the reasons why they can’t be together even though you know eventually they will be.

Worst things about it:

It’s just a simple pleasure reading that you can’t boast about having read but for what it is, it works. I just wish it didn’t try so hard to be a teen book because Isobell didn’t need to be 17 – she felt older.

Other pluses:

✤ I liked all the details about fairies and their world: they made sense.

✤ While you have the general sense of where the book is going, the reveals don’t feel boringly obvious.

✤ The simplicity of the story and the sole focus on Isobell’s point of view work: they make for a clean, controlled narrative.

Other minuses:

Honestly, I’m good.

How it enriched my life:

I read it while nursing and it made the whole thing so much better.

Cover notes:

While the illustration leaves me indifferent because it doesn’t have enough character to be memorable, at least it’s competent. (I do wish they’d found someone who could create an oil portrait style illustration though to go with the story; wasted potential.) I wish they kept the typography simpler because the embellishments don’t work.

Follow-up:

Rogerson has another novel in the works and I might read it if I come across it.

Recommended for:

People who are not embarrassed to read a good, romantic fairy tale.

Enjoyment:

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Since I’m back from the short hiatus, I’ll try to keep up with the once-a-week schedule. Next Emma, the movie

 

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Personalness

Best of 2018

Obviously, I’m the kind of person who loves end of year summaries. Have you even met me? Here we go.
Sidenote: I’m only counting the things I read and saw for the first time this year.

Favorite books

5. An Enchantment of Ravensby Margaret Rogerson
A truly charming attempt at a fairly tale for adults (even if young ones).

4. The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason
A thoughtful play on the original Odyssey, and, I feel, more palatable to a modern reader. Reviewed here.

3. Faith beyond Belief: Spirituality for Our Times by David Steindl-Rast and Anselm Grün
Not the kind of book I usually discuss here but this is a book on spirituality I would recommend even to those who feel allergic to the very idea (or maybe expecially to them). I’ve been a fan of brother David for a while now.

2. Among Others by Jo Walton
A perfectly original, delightful book, combining a few of my favorite things: magic, geek girls and a boarding school. Reviewed here.

1. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I know you’ll excuse the obvious pun but this classic that I never knew before has absolutely captured my heart.

Favorite movies

5. Avengers: Infinity War
Mainly for being better than I expected it to be. It certainly didn’t shake my world. Reviewed here.

4. Love, Simon
A cute, little movie, but with a progressive edge. Reviewed here.

3. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
While not nearly as progressive, this movie gave me so much simple joy.

2. Whiplash
Tense, exciting and somewhat relatable, an intellectual treat. Reviewed here.

1. Song of the Sea
An absolute beauty. Reviewed here.

Favorite TV shows

5. The Tick (S1)
Superheroes done differently. Also, Lint. Reviewed here.

4. Nashville (S6)
It was so bad but I still want to mention it. Reviewed here.

3. Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (S2)
A lot of fun and looks lovely but maybe loses some of season one’s edge.

2. The Americans (S6)
Such a smart, emotional show. One of the best I’ve ever seen. Reviewed here.

1. The Magicians (S2 & S3)
The most fun I’ve had with TV in a while. Reviewed here.

Favorite songs

(Or: new additions to my Spotify playlist of discoveries, not necessarily the songs I listened to the most this year.)

5. “Don’t Know How” by honeyhoney
A bit of an earworm, but enjoyable.

4. “Tougher than the Rest” by Camera Obscura
Silly but sweet.

3. “The Way It Goes” by Gillian Welch
This one has a kick to it.

2. “My Antonia” by Emmylou Harris
Melancholic and charming.

1. “Iowa” by Dar Williams
This has a hold one me. Discussed here.

Have a great new year, everyone, full of books, movies, shows, songs (and anything else you enjoy) that gladden your hearts!

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Parasol Protectorate novels

Some books will not win the Nobel Prize but they are just so damn charming.

The Parasol Protectorate novels by Gail Carriger

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing (link for book one, Soulless)

What it is:
A series of steampunk novels about Alexia Tarabotti, a lady of many assets and some issues, one of which happens to be a lack of soul. Alexia lives in Victorian London, where vampires and werewolves are much more welcome in society than a lady who’s half-Italian and a bit too tall. Over the course of the entire series she is constantly attacked with various contraptions, solves mysteries and starts a family.

How I found it:
The first time I encountered it was on a blog about book covers. Then I picked Soulless up in a bookstore, read the first few pages and fell in love: if you don’t love the first scene in which Alexia is attacked by a vampire she’s not been introduced to, you and I are very different people. Then I just had to read the whole thing.

Summary judgment:
It’s a lovely, enjoyable thing though maybe it runs a bit too long.

Best things about it:
It’s written with great aplomb and you have to admire the vivacity of style. The matter-of-fact introduction of Victorian manners and language (even though, of course, not specifically historically accurate) and clashing them with a supernatural adventure makes for many humorous moments. Alexia is a lovable heroine, and also quite original. The faux-Victorian society of the books seems lively and believable.
My favorite is definitely the first novel with its freshness and originality.

Worst things about it:
I guess the series is a bit too long to carry its premise with equal success throughout. While I liked all the books, the further ones didn’t delight me as much as the first one and they sometimes felt too long, especially with the constant mortal dangers Alexia is put in. The freshness of the idea wears off a little after a while.

Other pluses:
✤ Having said that, the books manage to build a consistent mystery and mythology throughout the five parts. I just feel that could’ve been done in fewer pages.
✤ I like the pairing of Alexia and Connall – they make for an interesting couple and the drama when he suspects her of infidelity is unlike most such stories in supernatural romances.
✤ Carriger uses a lot of charming vocabulary and plays with the historical aspect of her novel.

Other minuses:
✤ Some characters tend to be caricatural and, I feel, not always as intended by the author. This is particularly striking with the LGBT characters and while I’m not extremely sensitive to this problem, I can see how it would put out many people.
✤ This is pleasure reading, without any particular depth to it. But as far as those go, this is no reason for shame.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed the books and the first volume inspired a RPG campaign I’m sometimes creating for our gaming nights.

Cover notes:
While most photo-based covers seem stock-derived and repulse me, here you can see the designer’s work and I appreciate it. It gives the Victorian theme a decidedly modern slant, which works for the series.

Follow-up:
Carriger’s other series, Finishing School. Sounds like something right up my alley.

Recommended for:
People who like supernatural Victorian romances of a tongue-in-cheek variety (so, I want to say: everyone…?).

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: An Enchantment of Ravens

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Longbourn

You might have noticed already that I tend to devour things created around Pride and Prejudice. So, naturally, I also read

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
It’s a book that happens around and between the story of Pride and Prejudice or, to put it simply, it’s Pride and Prejudice from servants’ point of view. So naturally it focuses less on new bonnets and marriage prospects and more on all the scrubbing, soaking, cooking and tons of other physical work these require. The main character, Sarah, is one of the housemaids of the original story and Baker imagines the lifestory of hers and other servants.

How I found it:
I think it might have been a list of things to read for Pride and Prejudice fans? Maybe.

Summary judgment:
I enjoyed the book thoroughly, though I’m not unaware of missed opportunities.

Best things about it:
It reads fast and manages to recreate a lot of the magic of the original, without a slaverish attitude towards it. The world feels vivid and believable, even though I suspect some anarchronisms have crept in (not being a scholar of history of manners, I didn’t mind much but the characters’ outlooks felt maybe a tad too modern). I found the description of the servants’ work and the difficulties they face quite enlightening.

Worst things about it:
While, contrary to what I expected, this book is not just a fan-fiction historical romance, it still feels like a bit of a wasted possibility. The idea is just so grand and theoretically allows for such a multi-faceted examination of social and feminist, literary and moral issues of the time. Obviously, taking up a subject like this is, in a way, bound to fail: I don’t imagine a convincing modern rendition of Austen’s wit and artfulness so, I guess, not even attempting it is one way to go. But I kept wishing for something like Alias Grace on the subject: a more prying attempt to disover the intricacies of the mind of a 19th century servant girl.

Other pluses:
✤ I enjoyed the villification of Mr. Bennet. He’s shown as cowardly, cruel and small-minded and I’m glad other people also notice this about such a bafflingly beloved Austen character.
✤ Perhaps what I’ve already written doesn’t emphasize this enough but this really is a good book that doesn’t mostly give in to the temptation of pleasing fan girls.
✤ Both Elizabeth and Darcy are much less delightful in the novel, which I found refreshing.

Other minuses:
✤ I really hated the James chapters. This is perhaps the best example of the lack of subtlety and it completely breaks down the unity of the novel, giving very little in return. As his secret is very easy to figure out, the same exposition could’ve been achieved within the main narrative and with fewer unnecessary details.

How it enriched my life:
It gave me a bit of the Regency fix I sometimes crave and it made for a fun (while not trashy) reading.

Cover notes:
I like the painting they found to encapsulate the theme of the novel but I’m not crazy about the unimaginative (and, frankly, a bit clumsy) way they combined the picture with typography.

Follow-up:
Nothing right now but I’m sure some Regency reading is in my future.

Recommended for:
Pride and Prejudice fans, of course, who always look for more of the story, even those generally discouraged by most fan fiction productions of the sort.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Parasol Protectorate

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Legion (S2)

You might remember or not but I was really impressed with the first season of Legion. The second… Well…

Legion (S2)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
David and his mutant buddies are now working with the government organization which tried to kill them in the previous season. Shadow King is looking for his body. Syd from the future tries to change the past. There might be a plague? Black-goo aliens? Also, educational videos. Also, also: cows.

How I found it:
I was a fan of season one.

Summary judgment:
It’s like jazz. Ambitious and you know someone is enjoying it, but that someone is not me.

Best things about it:
It remains an ambitious show which looks beautiful. You just know somebody is planning every detail of every scene and working hard to come up with striking visuals. The form of this show leaves nothing to complain about.

Worst things about it:
But it is so much style over substance. After a while you realize you just won’t be getting answers and resign yourself to a numb admiration of the show’s prettiness. While some stories get resolved, most of them leave the viewer hanging (the cows? the chickens?) and I finished the season with a vague feeling of wasted time. (I’m not a fan of artsy cinema though. Fair disclosure.)

Other pluses:
✤ The storylines which do get resolved work well enough, I suppose, though they take their sweet time to reach a conclusion.
✤ I liked how some of the episodes tried more gimmicky structure, particularly the one with the mystery of Syd’s mind (maybe less so the one with alternate realities but it still felt more structured than most of the regular episodes).
✤ Most of the actors still do a great job, they just often don’t have much to do.

Other minuses:
✤ Mostly, the season bored me: it took such a long time to do anything. It felt like the creators focused so much on how everything looked that they forgot about the satisfaction one could get from the story.
✤ Too much of the story was surreal and followed some sort of dream logic – and when anything goes, the stakes drop.

How it enriched my life:
It helped pass the evenings when I was waiting for childbirth. But as I was watching it after The Magicians, I felt acutely the lack of avid interest.

Follow-up:
I’m not decided about the third season but I’ll probably end up watching it anyway. However, I’m not sure it’s possible to build this show around a villainous David so unless it’s a story of redemption, I don’t see how it could work.

Recommended for:
People who thought the first season was too straightforward to enjoy.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Longbourn

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