Archive for category Works of Others
Title Rules of Magic
Series Practical Magic #00
Author Alice Hoffman
Genre Historical Fiction | Magical Realism | Fantasy | Witches
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Publication Date October 10, 2017
Setting New York and Massachusetts in the 1960’s
Synopsis: The Owenses are one of the oldest witch families of the New World, their lineage dating back to Maria Owens, who fell in love and had an affair with a married man, John Hathorne, who in order to hide his sins, branded her a witch and tried her during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. A brokenhearted Maria, then already pregnant with Hathorne’s child, had cursed her own future family to caution them from ever falling in love – a curse that would bring ruin to anyone they fell in love with. For generations, witches of the Owens clan tried to escape the curse, leaving their family home in the little town of Massachusetts to find a “normal life”, as did Susanna Owens. But magic born of blood cannot be eschewed and so Susanna instituted rules to keep her children from discovering their magical heritage. Yet Franny, Jet, and Vincent always knew they were different and, like any other children, they broke all the rules. The eldest Franny was difficult but intelligent and inquisitive; she always thought the fact that birds flocking to her was a curious power to have, but being protective of her siblings, chose to turn a blind eye to her abilities. Jet was the beautiful kind mediator; she could read minds but chose not to reveal what she discovered out of respect for others’ privacy. Vincent, the first male to be born into the family, was heart-stopping handsome and possessed a gift for music; his charismatic ability to cast a lure on others was discovered soon after his birth when a mesmerized nurse had tried to steal him away and he was the first of the siblings to enjoy wielding his powers. However, by the summer Franny turned seventeen, all three Owens children had their turns in experimenting with their abilities. And though they were not aware of any elderly Aunt Isabelle, when Franny and her siblings were called to visit her to learn about magic, they were excited to go. Over the course of the following few months, the siblings come to learn about their family history and power as well as the privileges, responsibilities, and tribulations that come with it. And over the span of the next few decades, the siblings come to learn how everything they learned from Aunt Isabelle was absolutely true.
Experience: I had originally planned to do the review for this novel the Wednesday before Halloween. However, I had just finished reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South at the time and my head was still too full of Margaret and Thornton, so I put off reading Rules of Magic for a couple of days. Then it took me two weeks to finish reading this book – not because it was boring but because it was so languidly mystical.
Despite the topic of the novel, the central theme of the story was truly family and love. If one begins reading the book with expectations of bangs and pops, or potions and spells, one could sift through the entire plot without extracting more than a handful of notes. Rather the magic lay within the dedication Franny placed in ensuring her brother and sister were well taken care of, the undying love Jet possessed in her heart for a man born of the enemy to her bloodline, and the pursuit of self-worth that Vincent ventured upon even as he simultaneously accepted the magic in him while despising the fate his power portend. And through all this, each sibling must come to an understanding with the curse put on their love life and find the grounds upon which they build their own future – but not without plenty of encouragement and protection from each other. The life of magic is not for the faint of heart. The story demanded that it be read with heart and patience because patience is what each of the characters required most to endure all that entailed their inheritance.
The characters were so well developed that it was difficult for me to accept they were not real. It was as though Hoffman truly watched their lives unfold over the decades and were summarizing the events as she remembered them. There were little action or dialogue, the book having been written mostly in exposition, speaking more about how each character interpreted what their magic was and how their experiences with magic confirmed or refuted their original theories. And while this bode that I could not chase through the book in a hurry to reach the end – au contraire it rather slowed me down because there was no opportunity to skip a line lest I miss out on an important thought trail from one of the characters – the passages were by no means prosaic but rather lent the narrative a spiritual quality.
Having both read and seen Practical Magic, I felt Hoffman produced a historical account of the ancestors of Sally and Gillian, the protagonists of the original book. And in the process, quite dispelled the assumptions both the sisters of Practical Magic and I, as a reader, made about the aunts. Whereas in Practical Magic the aunts appeared rather matter-of-fact about their heritage and thought it pointless to shield their wards from the injustice magic rendered upon the family, both personal and social, here, we come to realize how much the aunts concealed about their own lives from Sally and Gillian. Once the girls became their charges, they set aside their past and allowed the girls’ happiness to become the central concern and were more than happy to let them live their lives and discover magic on their own terms without piling their own past fears, disappointments, losses, or even triumphs to overshadow the lives of their wards. While Rules of Magic may be faithfully read as a stand-alone and one need not have read or watched Practical Magic before venturing onto this book, reading Rules of Magic did give me a better understanding of the Frances and Jet in Practical Magic. I cannot help but respect the aunts in the original more for reading about the sisters in the prequel.
As for the “rules of magic”, Hoffman does share many of them – first as instructions and then with the exceptions tot he rules. We are allowed to experience the rules as the siblings (returning to Franny, Jet, and Vincent) successfully break them, come to accept them, and then learn to circumvent them, each playing a cat-and-mouse tango with fate in their turn. It was delicious to watch sisters and brother experiment with the unique power inherited by each as well as the general rules they found in their family grimoire – and even the forbidden texts meant to lead them astray of the course of “not to bring harm”.
Although, I must say few of the witches or wizards in this book cared much for that mother of all rules, harming others and self frequently enough to get out of binds. If anything, I think this was one place where Hoffman could have added a little – including some direct consequences of the magical manipulations the siblings and their aunts rendered would have brought on consistency to the rules. However, all we get to read about is a few blisters from telling uncomfortable lies. Yes, the siblings face their share of hardship but those seem to be unavoidable lessons of their inherent magic rather than the consequences of harms they cause others. Apart from this inconsistency, I think Hoffman wrote yet another masterful tale, weaving together an utterly believable myth.
Recommendation: It will be a bit of a slow read, I tell you, but if you’re into magic and if you’re into the power of family, this book is for you.
Title Crimson Peak
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, and Tom Hiddleston
Director Guillermo del Toro
Writer(s) Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins
Genre Drama | Fantasy | Horror
Release Date October 16, 2015
Filming Location USA | Canada
Parental Guidance R
IMDB Rating 6.5
Synopsis: Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) always knew there were ghosts. As a child, she lost her mother to the Black Cholera. The night Mrs. Cushing was buried, her ghost appeared to Edith with a cryptic warning to “Beware of Crimson Peak”. Edith received a visit again with the same warning fourteen years later, when she had blossomed into a young woman of unassuming charm – albeit bookish – and keen determination to prove herself as a novelist, with the blessing and encouragement of her businessman father Mr. Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver). While Edith prefers writing to society, she suddenly finds her world expanding with the return of her childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), who just set up a practice in town after completing his medical studies, and the mysterious inventor Baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who is trying to gain her father’s confidence in order to gather the capital to build the machine that would help him mine the red clay on which his family estate sits in Cumberland, England. Attraction between Edith and Thomas is instantaneous and he takes advantage of this in hopes of gaining an ally before her father. Thomas’s sister Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), who accompanied him to help gain the capital, is not impressed, having hoped her brother would have picked a more affluent and vapid quarry. Neither are Mr. Cushing and Alan, who had their own misgivings about the brother-sister duo from the start. Mr. Cushing hires an investigator to learn more about the newcomers, only to discover their very disturbingly suspicious history, and confronts the siblings about their intent towards his daughter, writing them a cheque to leave Edith alone and return to England. He also tells Thomas to break Edith’s heart so that she may move on, which Thomas does with angry reluctance but publically, announcing he will be gone the next day. Except the next morning, Mr. Cushing is brutally murdered and Thomas, who stayed back even though Lucille left, confesses to Edith that he had broken up with her under her father’s instructions. As Edith comes to learn about her father’s murder, Thomas takes advantage of her distress and marries her. Thomas takes Edith back to his home in England, with Edith hoping to have a new beginning with her husband. Only now Thomas is physically distant and avoid consummating their marriage while Lucille is cold towards her and perhaps a bit too intrusive about their marriage bed. Pretty soon Edith is visited by gruesome red ghosts on a nightly basis and is told that the family estate is referred to by the locals as “Crimson Peak”.
Experience: I’m not easily scared by horror movies, only ever startled when things jump out of the shadows and have actors screaming. This movie, however, instated its creep-factor from the first act. I’m not sure what it was, really. Maybe it was the hovering carcass-y melancholically-draped specter of Edith’s mother that crawls into bed with her when she is a child that did it [I mean, who hasn’t ever slept with their back to the wall out of vigilant fear as a child, right?] or the historic setting of the movie and romantic undercurrent between the various characters that made me feel invested and empathetic, or the appallingly possessive way that the Baronet’s sister watched his love and married life progress, but I could feel the morbidity of this movie take hold from the preamble. It definitely put me in the mood for all things evil and ghastly for this Halloween.
I felt the casting of the movie was very well done. From Jim Beaver to Jessica Chastain, everyone showed just the level of curiosity and invasiveness that the characters needed to possess to make the relationship dynamics – one of the most important mechanics of the plot – emanate from the screen. The characters themselves were well-developed and complementally contrasted one another. On the one side you have the open and honest friendship between the Cushings and Alan, on the other side you have the sinisterly co-dependent devotion between the aristocratic siblings. Watching the two worlds merge, split, and then reconnect was interesting and rather flawless.
Going back to the actors, Beaver was as usual just the right level of encouraging and frustrating as a parent to the honestly devoted daughter that Wasikowska played. As always, Hiddleston pulled off the younger sibling, misunderstood and committing immoral acts against those nearest to him (though here misguided by his sister) with aplomb. Once again I found myself wondering should I be disgusted by the character he portrayed or accept him for his redeeming potentials. I found Chastain, as always, alluringly potent. I think it might be her strong bone structure or set facial features or the matter-of-fact regard of her eyes, but Chastain always casts best as a woman of indomitable resolve, which her acting ability greatly complements. Next to her, Wasikowska featured a pale contrast, which cast a perfect effect to play the deceptively polite but equally gritty new woman of the household (I loved how Edith chased after the ghosts to get to the bottom of the mystery despite being utterly petrified by them). Hunnam took a back seat for most of the movie, acting mainly as a supporting role and a necessary plot device to help Edith out once she solves the mystery and rescues herself, but I admired the fact that he could remain subtly in the background until called to action without trying to overpower the screen.
With regards to the plot itself and the script was written and directed with a steadily accelerating pace. While there was little in the way of plot twists (the audience today has wizened up too much to the evil that lurks in people’s hearts to really be surprised with anything), the real mystery was how the truth will unfold and what will Edith do once she is faced by it (I think I was surprised by her last reaction more than anything). But all in all, there was just enough creepiness to make it interesting.
Recommendation: Totally worth watching this Halloween! Or any dark wintry night, really.
Via: Daily Prompt – Identity
Title A Monster in Paris
Starring Adam Goldberg, Jay Harrington, and Vanessa Paradis
Director Bibo Bergeron
Writer(s) Bibo Bergeron and Stéphane Kazandjian
Genre Animation Adventure Comedy
Release Date October 12, 2011
Filming Location France
Parental Guidance PG
IMDB Rating 6.8
Synopsis: Emile (Jay Harrington/Sébastien Desjours) is a shy projectionist with a passion for films, working in a movie theater and crushing on the ticket girl Maud (Madeline Zima/Ludivine Sagnier) in his free time. When he finally plucks up the courage one day to woo her, his exuberant best friend Raoul (Adam Goldberg/Gad Elmaleh), an inventor and deliveryman, literally drives a halt in the situation with his bizzare delivery van “Catherine” when he arrives to pick up Emile to help him buy a belt for his projector. Lamenting the courtship interruptus, Emile blames Raoul but Raoul takes no notice of his error, too busy encouraging his best friend to go for it. On this transport route, Raoul has Emile tag along for an “adventure” to the private nursery of a scientist, where they roam unchecked in the absence of said scientist. Despite the warnings from the scientist’s guard-cum-assistant, a monkey named Charles, Raoul fools around with the various chemicals in the chemistry lab while Emile records what happens on his new video camera. An accident ensues, during which a flea off the monkey’s back is hit by two unstable chemicals that turn the flea into a human-sized figure. The disgruntled flea, upon seeing Emile’s fearful reaction, “flees” the vicinity and is on the run ever since throughout Paris whenever witnesses reject him in terror upon the sight of him and eventually ends up in the back alley of the cabaret in which Raoul’s childhood friend and crush Lucille (Vanessa Paradis/Vanessa Paradis) sings. At first Lucille, too, is afraid of the giant flea but when the flea with human emotions and the voice of an angel breaks out into a song about his harrowing experience being seen as a monster from the moment he turned, she takes pity on him and invites him in to hide in her dressing room, dubbing him with the name Franceour (Sean Lennon/Matthieu Chedid), which means “honest heart”. Only, in him, she finds the perfect singing partner who inspires her to perform even better. The duo is instantly popular with the audience, except the power-hungry Police Commissioner of Paris Maynott (Danny Huston/François Cluzet) is out to capture and murder the monster in a hope that it will gain him enough popularity to win the mayoral election.
Experience: I had this movie on my TBW list for a while now – years, actually. I just kept skipping over it for some reason but I wish I hadn’t. Yet, I guess, everything has its time and this Halloween prep-season was the time to watch A Monster in Paris. And what I learned is, not all monsters are bad.
And this monster can sing. It doesn’t take animation to realize that almost all species are capable of emotions, many of which are quite human. But I think cartoons do have a way of humanizing creatures better than any other medium. Turn your suspension of disbelief on and it seems perfectly plausible that a flea off a monkey’s back (a monkey which is a scientist’s assistant and guard too) turns to singing to express his fears upon becoming a seven-feet-tall monster instead of sucking the blood out of terrified and lonely pedestrians when he meets them in dark alleys. “It” becomes a “he”, and we sympathize with him and try to give him an opportunity to excel at his talent. The monster in distress becomes the central character with whom we commiserate.
Appropriately juxtaposed, we witness a power-hungry police commissioner out to kill this pathetic creature in a bid to gain popularity and politically climb up to the lofty perch of the mayor of one of the world’s most modish cities. And, in his single-minded track, he is ready to slaughter any civilian in his path. We see the human become the real monster. The story now has greater meaning – not all whom we see are who they are. We learn that before we assume one’s reality or feel any partiality towards or against a person, we should give them a chance to prove their true worth.
Meanwhile, two beautiful romances unfold amidst citywide chaos. We already see early in the movie that Emile is trying his best to hold onto his courage to inform Maud of his feelings (and for a while, I was sure it will be Emile who will end up becoming the monster and start wooing Maud in his new form), but slower to blossom is the romance between Raoul and Lucille. In fact, I found the chemistry between the latter duo much more scintillating than the former, despite (or perhaps because of) the apparent volatility of their relationship. The mystery behind Lucille’s obvious disparage of Raoul and his attempt to jovially disregard it hints at a past and titillated the romantic curiosity in me immediately. Especially because under all the witty comebacks lobbed at one another, the two seem to truly care for each other’s interests.
While at first, I thought the sweet shy Emile might be the hero of the story, and he does rise to the occasion when necessary, driven as he is by friendship, Raoul is adorably comic (think Ryan Reynolds) and he comes alive more throughout the movie. And I found it great that Lucille’s character wasn’t far behind him. She was no damsel in distress even though Raoul did his best to “save” her by protecting her friend-flea Franceour. Yet even while they are working together, they continue to bait each other with hilarious effect. But we see the knot loosening and it’s charming to witness.
Recommendation: I’m sure you all too have plans for this Halloween to catch a monster-flick or two. But I sincerely suggest you make time for this uplifting monster movie this year – especially if you haven’t seen it already. Especially, after all the political and environmental chaos we have experienced throughout this year. It’s a great reminder that human endeavor may be found even in the most unlikely places if we only make the effort to see.
* Original animation was dubbed in French so I have included the name of the French voice-over artists beside the English voice-over artists post forward-slash in the synopsis.
Author Elizabeth Gaskell
Genre English Literature, Classic
Publisher Heritage Illustrated Publishing
Publication Date March 17, 2014
Format eBook via Project Gutenberg
Setting Regency England, Industrial Revolution
Synopsis: Cranford, sometimes referred to as Chronicles of Cranford, was originally published between 1851 and 1853 as a series of vignettes belonging to a larger body of work by Elizabeth Gaskell in the magazine Household Words, as edited by Charles Dickens. The novel follows the lives of spinster sisters Misses Deborah and Matilda (Matty) Jenkynses and their bevy of matronly comrades who oversee the genteel standards of living for the society of this titular town. The narrative accounts are related by Miss Mary Smith who spends the larger share of each year living with the Misses Jenkynses given her unwavering attachment to the townspeople – though her family moved to and officially resides in the nearby city of Drumble for the benefit of her father’s growing business. Mr. Smith, an industrious man preoccupied with his work, rarely feels Mary’s absence, much to the satisfaction of all principal characters in the story. Mary, in turn, especially benefits from the female society Cranford affords since her mother passed away some years ago, upon whence, she has been left mostly to her own devices in her household. Meanwhile, the women of Cranford take great care to uphold all appearances of dignified living despite any pecuniary shortcomings. What unfolds is a witty commentary of a community that strives to retain the “old ways” despite any modernity the industrial revolution brings to their small town and a heartwarming portrayal of feminine friendship that enlists infallible assistance even in the face of irreparable tragedies.
Experience (some necessary spoilers): Honestly, I did not procure this book until I saw the 2007 BBC adaptation starring Judy Dench and Eileen Atkins last month. I never even listed it among my TBRs. The TV mini-series, however, was very enjoyable and so, as I never deny myself a comparative assessment once I have seen the adaptation of a classic literature, I began reading.
When, in the Making of Cranford, creator and writer Sue Birtwistle (one of the geniuses behind the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice) confessed that the crew had taken many liberties while writing the script for Cranford, I did not imagine the extent to which this admission was accurate. If one reads the novel and then seeks any accuracy of narrative or characters in the adaptation, they will feel the discrepancies. However, if the heart of the novel were to be determined, they will discover that the adaptation has amplified Gaskell’s intentions. In essence, while the adaptation made unscrupulous changes to the original story(s), it made up for the one gross limitation of the novel, i.e. a structured plot.
Indeed, it was not until I reached Chapter 12 that I began to see a plot formation. Upon a bit of research into the work, I learned that Gaskell, due to her commitment to writing another novel, was quite irregular with the installments for this one, which must account for why the first half of the book chiefly details individual events in the lives of the various Cranford ladies without amounting to any particular direction in which the overall the story headed. However, the adaptation more than provides for a plot even though the scriptwriters often resorted to omitting certain characters by merging them with others, killing off some characters early in the series while keeping alive throughout the program others who were meant to have died as per the novel, and generally attributing the events of some characters to the roles of others. To wit, there was a lot of shuffling around; however, not always at a deficit. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the adaptation was better than the book but Birtwistle and her team edited Gaskell’s story whereas the original author had not.
Having provided you with a fair warning on book vs. adaptation, allow me to proceed to tell you how I felt about the novel itself. Despite the lack of structure in the storyline, both the subject of the narrative and the writing voice had me vested from the first page. In fact, it boasts one of the better opening sentences I have ever read:
In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women.”
For a feminist, this line would be of guaranteed interest and I can imagine the popularity the series would have garnered with its very first installation among bluestockings. Indeed, as Household Words aspired to raise the “affection of both sexes”, Cranford was ideal literature towards that objective.
Gaskell, herself, wrote of her characters with much affection, even though she was not impervious to listing their many deficiencies where soundness of logic is concerned, which may have been engineered to recommend the material to the male readers – or, at least, it prevented the reading from becoming wholly unpalatable to her opposite sex given how self-sufficient the characters were. Before the first paragraph is over, we learn that the men manage to find themselves out of Cranford one way or another (“In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not in Cranford”) because the autonomy with which the womenfolk conduct themselves renders any male presence redundant. As if to exemplify, early in the book, the one man who manages to infiltrate this community and endear himself with his unassuming and obliging ways, manages to get himself killed in an act of heroics.
The Misses Jenkynses, who are themselves daughters of the former rector of the parish, act as the moral compass for the community as well as regulators of the general decorum of their society. The women adhere to certain rules, which would not always make sense to outsiders but manage to ensure that everyone knows exactly what is expected of them and lives in harmony with one another. And while the older Miss Deborah Jenkyns passes away early in the novel, her guidelines are continued to be followed by her peers. So much so that the surviving Miss Matty cannot make most of her decisions without in some way counseling with her conscience as to what her sister might have done. In fact, it is one of the distinguishing traits of Miss Matty to second-guess herself and always reflect upon the inferiority of her mental capabilities in comparison to others because she was so determinedly steered by her sister in all things while the elder still lived. It is not until later in the novel, when Miss Matty begins to demonstrate a bit more independence in decision-making – albeit with temerity – that we begin to realize that she is the central character of Mary’s narrative even though so much of their lives is presided over by the spirit of the long-deceased Deborah Jenkyns.
Yet, the women are not without their individualities, from fashion sense to personal peculiarities. For example, Miss Matty always saves on household expenditures by burning only one candle at a time but would alternately burn two candles every day to ensure they are of the same height in a sense of “elegant economy” (since having two candles lit was the due riggeur) for the benefit of witness should they have visitors. While another character Mrs. Forrester regularly washed her prized lace in milk to obtain that fine creamy hue and once, when her cat swallowed the unattended lace with the cream, had even fed the animal current-jelly before stuffing it in a farmer’s boot so it could “return” the favored item, for such fine lace could no longer be procured given the nuns from the continent who used to produce it had stopped. And such was the friendship between the women in the community that such eccentrics were not laughed at nor even found wanting. In fact, I thought for a feminist herself who wished to demonstrate how well women could get on on their own, Gaskell was rather harsh towards her characters, ridiculing them more often than they did one another though there was plenty of inducement. However, such indiscretions on Gaskell’s part could easily be overlooked when considering how honest and consistent her portrayal of each character was.
Nonetheless, as the story progresses, the true intent of the author becomes more visible and the reader may realize that amidst all the satire, Gaskell’s message from the town of Cranford is related by how Miss Matty continues to remain a paragon of goodness and kindliness even in the face of adversity, which without fail manages to bring about the best qualities in others. We see, in an hour of need, the devotion with which other characters come to her aid, self-sacrificing without hesitation, simply founded on an assurance that, if situations were reversed, Miss Matty would have happily ransomed every single one of her comfort to benefit another. Even individuals outside their immediate social circle is fully aware of Miss Matty’s eternally benevolent heart and childlike expectation of others to do only good, ensuring that they mirror the same qualities – at least in their deeds towards her. As Mary’s father, upon learning how Miss Matty’s friends rally around her, aptly explains:
See, Mary, how a good, innocent life makes friends all around. Confound it! I could make a good lesson out of it if I were a person; but, as it is, I can’t get a tail to my sentences–only I’m sure you feel what I want to say.”
And Mary, who grows into a woman under the unconscious counsel of this woman, too emulates to think of others before herself, particularly resourcing ways to make Miss Matty happy one of her priorities, faithfully concludes:
We all love Miss Matty, and I somehow think we are all of us better when she is near us.”
Recommendation: There is nothing I love more than a story that depicts the wholesome traits of humanity and this book had this in many folds. I recommend the read to anyone who feels the need to restore their faith in the goodness of mankind and a reminder that kindness begets kindness.
Title Last Man Standing
Author Jane Ashford
Genre Historical Romance, Regency Romance
Publisher Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date September 05, 2017
Setting Regency England
Synopsis: Ever since her father’s death, Elisabeth Elham has fended for herself by teaching at a finishing school for girls. So when her curmudgeon reclusive elder uncle – a man who cut off both his brother and sister for choosing spouses he did not approve of – dies and leaves her all his possessions as a joke to instigate further family estrangement, Elisabeth chose not to fall for it. Instead, she collects her aunt’s orphaned children, who are almost of age and should have received their share in the will, and brings them to live with her in her new London home. At the advice of her solicitor, she also invites a very eccentric matronly cousin from her mother’s side to act as her chaperone. Soon she finds herself in a flurry of activities that include refurbishing the London house, arranging a complete makeover for the country estate which was left to decay for two decades, bringing up her wardrobe up-to-date, launching one beautiful cousin into society while schooling the other overexcited cousin and his even more unmanageable dog into proper decorum, and, of course, navigating the height of season among the ton. The responsibilities of a newly-minted heiress are many and not the least critical is fending of fortune hunters. Elisabeth’s artless and unassuming air and easy sense of humor endear her to many of London’s eligible bachelors, including a most-sought-after heir to a viscount, a self-proclaimed and jovial fortune hunter, and a Byronic hero with a checkered past from the West Indies, all the while she herself collects a bevy of unconventional friends to occupy her time. Though Elisabeth enjoys her trials and pleasures alike with humor, misfortunes still threaten to set her stoic constitution into decline. Especially, at the risk of losing the regards of the one man she could indeed fall in love with.
Experience: I have been reading romance novels for nearly twenty years now but ventured into historical romances only as recently as 2013. The reason for my general aversion to historical romances was, I’m ashamed to admit, something very superficial – the models on the cover in their usual state of undress. My ultra-conservative mother would have a conniption if she saw me reading them (the fact that some of the stories I have written emanate moderate amounts of steam is not yet known to her). So it was only when I started reading off of tabs that I dared procure my first copy of Regency romance [not including classic literature, of course]. There. I have now revealed the most hypocritical secret of my reading and writing career. String me up if you will, fellow romance readers, I probably deserve it.
You are probably wondering why I have chosen to reveal this about me in this particular post. What does my proclivity to hide the cover arts of some of my favorite novels have to do with Last Gentleman Standing? Well, it’s the fact that those steamy cover arts do deliver what they promise; most historical romances have no trouble fogging up my spectacles every few chapters. The prude in me that my mother managed to instill usually just peruses through them unless they are written exceptionally well or, even better, exceptionally ill [really, some of them are sheer comedy]. So when Last Gentleman Standing did not feature a single such specs-steamer and I discovered that quite a few reviewers condemned the story for it, I decided this book needed my defending.
I should clarify that the fact I found the lack of sex scenes in this book perfectly in-form has nothing to do with my natural diffidence [I already confessed to writing some myself]. Rather that I feel Ashford remained true to a Janeite scheme of romancing. Austen’s heroes and heroines always demonstrated a rather restrained form of courtship. It did not mean that their emotions lacked intensity but only that because they felt it so deeply and consistently, they did not need to prattle on about it to attest its existence. To have discovered the same characteristics present in Elizabeth and her wooers was a rather refreshing promenade down the “original order”. After all, to me, the primary reason for reading Regency romances is the fact Miss Austen is no longer alive and printing new materials.
Moreover, I did not think the main hero was “tame”, as one reviewer put it, but respectful to the heroine’s wishes. I thought he was consistent of character. He fell in love with Elisabeth because she was independent of mind and spirit and very unlike other simpering toadying females of his acquaintance. So if he gave her space, it was because he did not want those very attractive qualities of her to diminish. While he did have one or two spurts of admonishment to issue her way when he felt she took unnecessary risks with her person, he soon reconciled that he had no authority to do so either because she was, after all, an independent woman – perhaps more independent than most women of her time since she was an heiress without a guardian. He was perfectly aware of all her strengths, both intrinsic and extrinsic, and acted with the caution the situation demanded. I thought his wisdom and ability to not be guided by ego rather sexy in itself. He did not need to demonstrate his sexual awareness of her to make me enjoy a secret smile or two or feel the temperature kick up.
The Elisabeth of this story, too, shared a very telling trait with my favorite Elizabeth in literary history. Early in the story, the narrator shared how the heroine had inherited her father’s good humor and ability to take life’s hurdles with a pinch of salt. And throughout the novel, we see just that – Elisabeth brushing off any jittery sensation or blinking away any prickling of the lashes. When her father died, instead of seeking assistance from the family Scrooge, she chose to find employment to sustain her livelihood – it was the quality that made her stand apart in her uncle’s eyes and procured her the inheritance. The same self-sufficiency with a side order of humility that allows her to graciously accept assistance once actually offered is what helps her survive through all the ordeals in the novel. Very admirable quality to have in a heroine.
If the heroine and her hero are not convincing enough that the book is worth the read, there are still a host of very entertaining and very eccentric characters to motivate. Even better, I liked how varied these characters were in their appearances. For example, not all the men who managed to steal the belle of the ball were tall, dark, and dashing, which is like stepping away from one of the cardinal rules of historical romance writing. Also, not all fortune hunters were without a heart. I liked one particular fortune hunter extremely who had a bit of dash in him but moreover was burdened by a penniless title that his mother tried to rectify by being the ultimate Mrs. Bennet, and he felt his shortcomings acutely. My heart went out to his sense of vulnerability that he hid so well behind a jovial demeanor and I dearly hope that Ashford will provide him with a good romantic ending one day. [I think that last bit could be a spoiler… oops! Well, at least there are plenty of other competition for Elisabeth’s hand to keep readers guessing]
Coincidentally, the book was apparently originally titled Bluestocking. And, indeed, when I searched online, Ashford had published a novel by such a name in 1980 with the blurb indicating a very similar plotline and same name heroine. I would love to get my hands on that book and see if it varies in any way because how else does the same book continue to exist simultaneously with two names [I can imagine customers clamoring for their money back]? In any case, the new name is so much more suitable to the plot because indeed it was about a crowd of romantic contestants vying for Elisabeth’s affection as well as hand and fortune and only the most faithful gentleman gets ahead. Moreover, by definition and historical account, to be a bluestocking, a woman would have to demonstrate a certain desire for intellectual pursuit. While Elisabeth was quite intelligent and levelheaded, and even once a teacher, she does not demonstrate particular craving to build her knowledge. She enjoys reading when the opportunity presents her with a good book and circumstances had compelled her to acquire the level of education necessary to survive. This provided her with cognitive independence but it was all very contingent of her various stations in life. No, no, Last Gentleman Standing is a vast improvement to the title.
Recommendation: Though I branched out a bit on my book review for this post, what I’m trying to say is, romance readers, do not write this book off just because it does not offer the usual display of amour. But rather embrace it for the practicality with which it upholds the Puritan nature of a society once lived.
Title Pretty in Pink
Starring Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy & Jon Cryer
Director Howard Deutch
Writer(s) John Hughes
Genre Romantic Comedy Drama
Release Date February 28, 1986
Filming Location LA, California, USA
Parental Guidance PG-13 for thematic smoking
IMDB Rating 6.8
Synopsis: Ever since Andie Walsh’s (Molly Ringwald) mother skipped out on the family, Andie has been busy working at a strip mall record store to keep house for her heartbroken and unemployed father Jack (Harry Dean Stanton), i.e. when she’s not already at school striving to remain on the honor roll. She is generally admired by the faculty and her employer Iona (Annie Potts) alike for the level of commitment she demonstrates in all her undertakings. However, this goodwill is not shared by the more affluent “richie” kids in school, namely Benny Hanson (Kate Vernon) and her boyfriend Steff McKee (James Spader), who take great joy in bullying Andie and her friends for their humbler lifestyle. Prom is coming up but Andie has no time to worry about attending, especially since she hasn’t been asked yet. Andie’s best friend “Duckie” Dale (Jon Cryer) is in love with her but Andie is oblivious to the nature of his “devotion” as he lacks solemnity in his professions of love. When one of the richies Blane McDonough (Andrew McCarthy) begins to show his interest towards Andie, often finding reasons to catch up with her at the record store or school, Andie reluctantly reciprocates, unsure whether dating a rich kid would be advisable. However, with a gentle nudge from Iona, Andie begins dating him and, when he asks, ecstatically agrees to go with him to the prom. Duckie is livid, seeing their relationship as a form of betrayal, and issues an ultimatum. Blane’s own friends, in particular Steff, too object to the union. Steff, who once himself tried and failed to conquer Andie’s “favors”, reminds Blane that not only will Blane be rejected by his society but asks if he’s willing to put Andie through his parents’ ridicule. Blane withstands the peer-pressure with less aplomb than Andie and their fledgling relationship seems to dive before even taking a proper flight.
Experience: Amazingly, I did not see this classic rom-com until this week. For one, when the movie was released, I was all of four years old. And B, there was never any occasion to before since plenty of romantic comedies were released annually to occupy my time since the days I turned a teen and was allowed to watch movies with smooching in them. But have you noticed how few and far between rom-coms have become lately? Yeah! Apparently, the audience doesn’t pay for romantic movies anymore. In fact, I recently read in a review of this one chick-flick version of Harold & Kumar… that made a statement to that fact. How rude! But I need my regular fix of the romantics and while The Hallmark Channel tries diligently to keep me in supply, those flicks lack a bit of variety, don’t they?
So Pretty in Pink! I liked it even though I think I have grown out of it a bit. I think I would have loved it when I was younger and such teen angst actually would seem like a do-or-die crisis. At this point in time of my life, I was like, “Chuck Duckie and chuck Blane! You can do better, Andie!” In fact, I thought Steff was someone I could work with [yes, I do have a bit of a taste for the bad boys] – you know? Save? I saw a lot of anguish in Steff, the abandoned rich boy who bullies others to make himself feel more important. Oh, yes! Andie the-good-girl could have totally saved his soul. But I’m getting ahead of myself and prattling about that which DID NOT happen in the movie.
Yet, the premise of the story was Andie handles her various romantic options: there was her wacky best friend, the kind-hearted-but-confused rich boy, and the self-assured web-spinning kingpin of haut monde. Which will she end up with? We watch as the Andie tries to find a balance between the world she is accustomed to and the “inside” world where she is invited. But the aspect of this movie that makes Andie such a special girl isn’t her ethereal red-headed sweet looks, her off-the-track fashion sense (all designed by her, by the way), or her great taste in music; it is the fact that even in the middle of her greatest predicaments, she is never dishonest with herself. Andie has a mind for speaking only the truth. She knows exactly what she wants and she is never afraid to let it be known. She does not allow Steff, Duckie, or even Blane talk her into doing what she doesn’t want to do. The way I see it, this movie was a feminist movement all unto itself, and I can only imagine how necessary for the adolescent girls of the 80’s, nay, even now. Even though many of the thematic angles of the story were a bit dated (I mean, I would never have been caught dead in all that lace and rhinestones though Andie’s style became iconic), I would give this movie all the stars in IMDB for holding steadfast to the stance that girls can risk swimming against the current and still get what they want if they only set their mind to it. And that getting the guy is NOT more important than being true to oneself.
Another aspect of the movie that really stood out for me was how writer John Hughes showcased “youth”. As movie aficionados may be aware, Pretty in Pink was only one among a lineup of teenage-angst movies that Hughes had written-directed to great success and followed Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, both of which Ringwald also starred. However, unlike the doe-eyed timid Samantha of Sixteen Candles or the snobbish Claire of The Breakfast Club, Andie has both her feet planted firmly on the ground and, perhaps, is more adult than even her father. She is able to demand if necessary but with humility, provide solace with a bit of sternness, and even learns to let go at times to let fate take its course. And while we watch all the clichéd and prepossessed rules still prevail over her life and the lives of her peers, guiding how they behave and accept themselves, we watch Andie, 18 and on the cusp of graduating from high school, ready to break free and find independence. At the same time, we see a very self-sufficient daughter who never complains about having to be the adult, opening up to her father to ask him to give her a chance to be a kid and the father acknowledging his culpabilities in denying her the opportunity of a youthful existence. As Iona [who happens to be my favorite character in the movie and, frankly speaking, the best dressed] so poignantly and truthfully summarizes, “Oh, why can’t we start old and get younger?”
Recommendation: This is a must-see movie for teenagers everywhere, boys included. While the ladies would probably enjoy it a bit more, and I imagine there would be a few eye-rolls from the male side of the audience, there is still a lot to be learned for both parties in their youth and a few reminders for the older crowds too.
Via: Daily Prompt – Grit
Title The Americanization of Emily
Starring James Garner, Julie Andrews, and James Coburn
Director Arthur Hiller
Writer(s) Paddy Chayefsky (screenplay), William Bradford Huie (novel)
Genre Comedy Drama War
Release Date October 27, 1964
Filming Location Dukes Avenue, Muswell Hill, London, England, UK
Parental Guidance PG for thematic semi-nudity, carousing, and war imagery
IMDB Rating 7.4
Synopsis: Lt. Cmdr. Charles Madison (James Garner) of the US Army is a “dog-robber”, or batman, to Adm. William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas) and is known for managing the best supplies to make his superior’s lifestyle near the frontline of WWII opulent. Even based in London, Charlie can arrange the best prime cuts for the Admiral’s lunch, the most lavish food, drink, and women – down to the preferred hair color – for the evenings, and the biddable bedpartners for his best friend and co-worker Lt. Cmdr. Paul ‘Bus’ Cummings’s (James Coburn) nocturnal exploits with less than 24-hour notice. Such blatant display of pleasure-seeking in the middle of war rationing is something that Emily Barham, a driver from the British military motor pool and a woman who has lost her father, brother, and husband to the war, finds deplorable and has no compunction informing Charlie of her feelings to his face. Charlie too is wary of her moralization and forthright about giving her a piece of his mind. Charlie, who openly advocates his anti-war sentiments and is a self-proclaimed “practicing coward”, enjoys his position as the Admiral’s adjutant because it keeps him from having to actually fight in the war and feels Europeans have caused wars for centuries, which is nothing to boast about. However, soon Emily realizes that there is a kind of charm in his cynical honesty and approaches him to initiate a no-strings-attached affair, which quickly develops into a more serious meet-the-parents kind of tableau. When the Admiral, already depressed from the death of his wife, has a mental breakdown over the Army and Air Force overshadowing the Navy and initiates an idea of filming a “reality” movie of the bombing on the French shore of Omaha Beach on D-Day, Charlie is assigned the responsibility of getting it made and Bus is adamant to get Charlie onto the war site, putting a damper on his amorous plans for Emily and even risking his very life.
Experience: I think there is a bit of a pattern among my celebrity crushes and I realized it after seeing James Garner in this movie. It’s a weird revelation too. I like men who have wide foreheads with horizontal creases on them. Do you see it?
Be still my heart! There is something similar about their physique as well, though at different levels of buff. I just had to get this out of the way before I carried on with the review.
Aside from Garner, there is another heart-stopper to sigh over in this movie. I think the whole world has been crushing on Julie Andrews since The Sound of Music. With additional star actors Melvyn Douglas and James Coburn, this movie was destined to shine. But it’s not only the cast that makes it a success but also the eccentric plotline, the unabashedly candid characters, the snappy dialogue, and the unique theme for its time that helped it win hearts – at least, it did mine.
Let’s talk about the message of the movie. There is no doubt that the producers and director of the film took a big risk when they decided to make an anti-war dark romantic comedy at a time when the US government was only becoming more aggressive in its foreign policies throughout – or maybe it was just the perfect time. Sure, there was also a rising anti-war sentiment among the public but did it constitute the dominant segment of the public? Hardly. So the movie could have tanked.
But the plot carried the message of the movie by ensuring that it was “the virtue of war” and not the men and families who sacrificed their lives and loved ones that deserved criticism. We see an old man, bereaved by the loss of his wife, dictating and demanding what the movie should feature: a make-believe unnamed soldier who is the first to die on D-Day to stir up public sentiments for the glory of the Navy. He goes on as far as to enlist the president’s endorsement for a monument for this fake martyr. The idea reeks of the same self-indulgence that is depicted earlier in the movie where we see the American military that “can buy anything with a Hersey bar” enjoying a good bout of hedonism. With a finely written script, the argument cuts deep and succinctly.
Speaking of his lines, I was quite taken with how magnificently Garner delivered his dialogues. There is no apology in his expression when Charlie presents a set-down to Emily after she demonstrates her disdain for the amount of “swanky goods” occupying the bedroom-converted-pantry in the Admiral’s quarters. You would never imagine that he was talking to a beautiful woman that he had been slapped by after patting her bottom during their initial meeting. And Andrews, always the epitome of sophistication, demonstrates a starry-eyed enchantment even as she sincerely tells him why he is just all-wrong.
In fact, there is a bit of name-calling between the two throughout the movie that aptly describes the traits of each character. She is “something of a prig” with an “ingrained British morality”, “facile” yet a “fancy Euro”, and “emotionally sticky” with a propensity for “sentimental contempt” who takes “sensual satisfaction in grieving”; he is a “rascal”, “charmer scoundrel”, the “most immoral man [she] ever met… a shameless coward, selfish as a child, and ruthless about what he wants”, “a Yank who can’t even show affection without buying something”, “dotty” but who “cuts to the core of things”. Gee, tell us how you really feel. But it really makes you want to see the two actors saying it all to each other, doesn’t it?
And the two actors wear their roles like finely fitted gloves. Andrews manages to generate a certain softness towards him even as she is exasperated with him and listing out all his negative qualities. While there are such competence and cockiness to Garner that a girl cannot but help swoon. In fact, there is this scene early in the movie where Charlie goes about folding clothes and running baths and doing all the things a valet does while preparing the bedtime rituals for the Admiral, and I was so mesmerized watching him in action of domestic efficiency that I had to keep replaying the scene to catch what the Admiral was yammering about. It made me think there’s a man who is comfortable in his skin no matter what the situation. Garner in motion is a graceful thing to watch. That scene alone is worth re-watching the movie.
Recommendation: It’s a fine movie, as efficient in delivering the message as the actors were in playing their roles. Prepared to be riveted.