Posts Tagged wednesday reflections

WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS #03 – The Book of Love starring Jason Sudeikis and Maisie Williams

mv5bnza2nzewotczmv5bml5banbnxkftztgwndi3mze2mdi-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Title     The Book of Love (originally titled The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea)

Starring     Jason Sudeikis, Maisie Williams, Jessica Biel

Director     Bill Purple

Written By     Robbie Pickering and Bill Purple

Genre     Tragicomedy

Release Date     January 13, 2017

Parental Guidance     PG-13 for thematic content, language and drug materials

IMDB Rating     5.5

Synopsis: Henry is your average joe, his creativity only peeking out when he is off designing architecture for his real estate developer company, which is what he is brilliant at. The only thing that keeps his life from fading into the mundane is his oddball wife, Penny, whom he monikers hurricane. Penny tries to stamp her mark on Henry’s life by pushing him to do the eccentric things she lays out and simply “be bold!” Penny is expecting to deliver their first born in the coming month and he just gets an offer to be made partner at his office when Penny has a fatal road accident and Henry’s life is turned upside down. Recovery comes in the form of Millie, a homeless girl rummaging through his garbage. They interact over a cabinet he is ready to dispose of that she could use and she comments that the magenta sneakers he is wearing with his suit “is the shits”, which is what Penny had said to convince him to put them on the morning before she died, and he suddenly remembers that the last promise he had made to Penny was to help out the homeless girl who goes through their garbage. After a bit of harmless stalking, Henry discovers Millie is trying to build a raft to cross the Atlantic Ocean and he decides to dedicate all his time in helping her and in the process rediscovering his reason to go on.

Experience: Given the number of book-turned-movies playing at the cinemas these days, amazingly The Book of Love is not a book turned into movie. I walked into this movie without having seen the trailers or reading the synopsis, which in itself is very unusual for me. But I have always loved that Peter Gabriel song “The Book of Love” and find Jason Sudeikis one of the more versatile but underrated actors of Hollywood so it wasn’t difficult to hit the play button with so little nod to movie prerequisites. It turned out to be one of those uncalculated risks that provide the exact morale your life needs at the time.

While the plot was not something I would call riveting, the script has been very well written. Despite the lack of brief on its premise, I could pick up on the cues of what was about to come early on. The director cut straight to laying out who the lead characters are, that something was about to happen to render upheaval into this young couple’s lives. In fact, I could tell Penny (Jessica Biel) would die soon as she made Henry (Sudeikis) promise he would take care of the homeless girl if he meets her. I could also tell how much Henry doted on Penny by the way he gave in to her every whimsy regardless of the level of contrast they drew to his personality as well as work life (wearing the magenta sneakers with his suit to a major career altering meeting). I could smell the devastation brewing but not in the way that the end was given away. I did not feel like, oh! It’s just another movie about a guy getting over his wife’s death, I was intrigued by the idea of how… how will Millie (Maisie Williams) the homeless girl help him get over her death, how did he come to love her even? Obviously Millie is too young to be of romantic interest, which would have been just abhorrent so soon after Penny’s death.

The cinematography of the movie also sets the mood. The color scheme, mostly muted tones to set the atmosphere of loss with the only contrast allowed in the spaces of the house where Penny, who was also an artist, spent most of her time, like the kitchen or the bedroom. There is a lot of clutter everywhere that Henry goes, as though he needs to find a way to draw himself out of the rubble. The director used a lot of montages in the movie to pace the travel through time, both in flashbacks as well as how Henry’s life progresses. There are two junctures of the movie portraying the moments of changes in Henry’s life that really resonated with me. First, at the wake at the house, where everyone moves in slow motion, discussing the death matter-of-factly while Henry sits ignored until he really attempts to isolate himself. The other is when Julia (Mary Steenburgen), Penny’s mother triggers him into a panic attack when she pushes him into realizing that he might be having a breakdown as he risks his career to build a homeless girl build a raft to cross the Atlantics. Pivotal moments when Henry is both at his worst and his best because after each panic attack, he works out a puzzle, somehow left behind by Penny.

Which brings me to the overall theme of the movie. A bit of study online showed that the most highlighted quote from the movie is “Sometimes, things are better when they’re not perfect.” But I felt what defined the movie best was “Death ain’t about the people who died anyway. It’s about the ones who have the shit luck of having to go along without ‘em.” The central trope of the movie depicts how each character deals with Penny’s death. There is Henry, who after withdrawing into himself focuses his energy into fulfilling his last promise to Penny by helping Millie and thereby pushing further the moment when he must truly accept her absence in his life. There is Julia, who strives for control in Penny’s death just as she has during her life, and focuses on the minutest details involving the funeral, the obituary, charity, etc. as though it is just another responsibility she must take care of – clearly, her daughter leaving the world before her is a burden, especially given the guilt of never cherishing the time she had her. There’s Henry’s boss, Wendell (Paul Reiser) who lacks even the basic sense of empathy to put aside the company goals to allow Henry the time to grieve but you can also see how he is embarrassed by this lacking. There are even “Dumbass” (Orlando Jones) and Pascal (Richard Robichaux), the guys who were working on the renovation of the house and who were endeared by Penny who took care of them while they were around, who take it upon themselves to help Henry through his grief. Without revealing too much, in the end you get to see even Millie had a reason to deal with Penny’s death. But there is a likeness in the way both Henry (for Penny) and Millie (for her father) use fulfilling promises and the lost dreams to get over their own losses, which sort of answers the conundrum of the movie. I enjoyed how this theme remains consistently throughout the movie as each character’s arcs are developed.

When speaking of the characters, of course something must be said about the actors’ portrayals of them. First and foremost, I was thoroughly convinced by Sudeikis. Despite being a comic hero, he was able to invoke the tragedy Henry undergoes. In fact, I especially enjoyed the nuance he rendered the role with subtle moments of comic disaster he ends up in. Initially, I felt it a bit unbelievable that he could be propelled to fixate on the raft-building so soon after Penny’s death but his motivation came out to dispel that disbelief. Another actor I felt did a good job was Jones. He took what minimalist role he had and really bit into it. Williams, on the other hand, though played the other lead role, did not come into character until halfway through the movie. However, that might also be because her bayou drawl was a bit contrived and unnecessary even to the plot. Also, I could see how narration by Millie created bridges to allude to each segment of the movie, I did not really see why it had to be there. The only actor that really was the oddball was Biel’s. But while Penny the oddball was a necessary and endearing element, Biel was something the movie could have done without. Biel just did not have the ethereal quality that Penny needed to make her peculiarities blossom. In fact, Biel looked a bit haggard all through.

Recommendation: Again, if plots are dead important to you, I would suggest skip the movie. It is a bit whimsical yet ordinary, which the narrator warns of in the prologue of the movie. However, if you just like good character building, acting and enjoy a good script and direction, you will enjoy this movie like I did

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Wednesday Reflections #02 – Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

lola-and-cricket

Title     Lola and the Boy Next Door

Series     Anna and the French Kiss #02

Author     Stephanie Perkins

Genre     Young Adult Romance

Publisher     Dutton Books

Publication Date     September 29, 2011

Format     E-book

ISBN     978-1-101-52948-5

Synopsis: Lola Nolan is an aspiring fashion designer with grand, over-the-top concepts that sort of define her personality. She is also a good daughter, a good enough student to keep her parents satisfied, a good friend most of the time, a fairly good employee at the movie theater where she works part-time and a pretty good girlfriend to keep her rocker boyfriend Max interested. Too bad her love interest does not fully suit the rest of her world. But Lola gets by juggling between Max and all her other responsibilities. Until the dreaded Bell twins return to the neighborhood and Cricket Bell is once again brought to the forefront of her life, throwing her emotions and life into chaos. Her childhood friends Calliope and Cricket had transformed into two divergent roles in Lola’s life as they all grew up next door to each other. While national ice skater Calliope lost interest in Lola and saw her as a nemesis there to steal her twin brother’s attention away, boy-inventor Cricket became Lola’s lifetime crush. Thankfully, they were rarely around and Lola thought she grew out of her feelings for Cricket when the Bells moved away to pursue Calliope’s career. And she also had Max… But as the Bells move back in next door, Lola is compelled to wonder the accuracy of her self-assessments.

The following section may contain some spoilers…

Experience: I loved this book and I am going to just dive into it. Despite the title more or less giving away the ending (either Lola will leave her present boyfriend for the boy next door or fumble with her feelings for the boy next door and return to her boyfriend), it is truly one of those journey-through-the-plot kind of novel and it is even more ripe with unfolding revelations because of the way Stephanie Perkins used her trademark first-person POV to reach each movement of Lola’s character development. The series of events that occur in Lola’s life, how she deals with each in the present either in reflection of her future aspirations as well as her past experiences kept me on edge. It was not very difficult to guess which ending the book will reach after reading a few chapters but it was very, very important to see how Lola would reach that conclusion all the same. Her reactions kept the suspense alive and the plot churning. And it was very interesting how Perkins managed to blend the character arc as a response to the plot conflict, which by the way was truly plot-driven and not just something the character built up in the protagonist’s head.

Moreover, as Lola transforms in the book, through her viewpoint, we also see this kaleidoscope of other very relevant characters transform, or rather their true natures reveal themselves. In fact, what makes Lola… the book so great is that Lola wouldn’t be Lola if it weren’t for the people in her life. Her parents support her career aspirations and this is an important aspect of Lola, who is really one of the most colorful characters I have come across in years. I kept imagining a butterfly with beautiful sparkly wings but one that could just as easily become a gray moth. And while her fashion sense made her a misfit in school, it’s also sort of okay because she has a great supportive best friend with whom she not only shares couture related traditions but who is also able to sanction Lola’s love affair with Max despite not being able to get along with Max herself.

Which brings us to the romantic conflicts. Max is obviously in a relationship with Lola because he is intrigued and attracted by her creative sense. But at the same time, it’s her quirky outfits that sort of niggle on him too, though he tries to claim that it is really her secretive ways. But this suggests Lola, who is all about expressing herself through her fashion, is really hiding from him because she is not fully sure of herself. An abject contrast to her relationship with Cricket, with whom she seems unable to hide anything about herself at all. Meanwhile, Cricket, as an inventor, actually feeds Lola’s aspirations with tangible contributions. Yet, she cannot consciously accept herself to be in his company because of their past conflicts. Honesty in relationships as well as with oneself is definitely a key theme of this novel. But then, the contrast between Max and Cricket is not only explored by Lola’s reaction to each love interest but also by through the interactions each possible hero has with the important people in Lola’s life. Despite the superficial similarities between Max and Cricket (creative, attractive, somewhat successful and with unique dress sense), the people Lola’s life respond differently to each.

In all this, enters Lola’s former drug addict and somewhat dissolute birth mother with whom she cannot abide and who is again living in her house and making life uncomfortable for everyone, another potential angle for Lola’s growth and self-acceptance. And even Anna and St. Clair, the wonderful heroine and hero from Anna and the French Kiss (first of the series), make appearances to further confuse Lola with their extremely adorable and heartwarmingly cohesive relationship by providing a contrast with her own relationship with Max while throwing her more frequently into Cricket’s path.

Really, with so many people so greatly invested in her life, how can a girl, who is simply trying to keep her boyfriend happy and not get involved with a former-present crush with all the seeming ability to devastate her again, not get confused? But, just as an aside, I would love to have as many creative and crazy people in my life even if they were a bit meddlesome.

Before I finish this review, I must also put in a word for Perkins’s method of world building in this novel. While in Anna…, Perkins spent long beautifully written passages describing Paris through Anna’s eyes, in Lola… she better employs her narrative genius to create individual settings to develop the reader’s sense of each character. Because, again, for Lola, all these people are essential. Perkins delves greatly into helping readers visualize Lola’s and Cricket’s bedrooms, her baker dad’s kitchen, Max’s apartment, even the living room where Lola’s mom moves in and transforms, each space an extension of the characters’ personalities and each a setting where some significant scenes of the novel unfold.

Last but not least, I always love Perkin’s name selection. Lola and Cricket, gotta love it!

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS #01 – The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

flame-flower

Title    The Flame and the Flower

Series     Birmingham #01

Author     Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

Genre     Historical Romance

Publisher     Avon

Publication Date     First published in April 1972

ISBN     978-0-380-00525-3

Synopsis: Set in the cusp of Georgian and Regency eras over 1799-1800, the story begins in a dilapidated cottage in England, where the heroine, Heather Simmons lives a life of toil handed by fate when her father dies, leaving his debts behind. The cottage belongs to Heather’s only living blood relatives, a weak paternal uncle and his overbearing and abusive wife, who grudgingly took her in. As Heather plays the slave to her aunt, who takes sadistic pleasure in terrorizing the girl for inheriting her mother’s stunning Irish beauty, she spends moments of reprieve reminiscing about her past of relative luxury in London where she dreams of returning to one day. The opportunity arrives when her aunt’s younger brother, a rich clothier, offers to help her find employment in a ladies’ school. However, once in London, he tries to rape Heather as he discloses his true plans to sell her into a brothel. Heather manages to escape after injuring him, only to be captured by a couple sailors who mistake her as a prostitute and take her to their merchant captain for the night. The captain and hero of the story, Brandon Birmingham proceeds to have his way with Heather, misinterpreting her struggle as coyness and divests her of her virginity. His solution to the injury caused is to turn her into his mistress, albeit an unwilling one. Heather manages to escape and return to her uncle’s cottage and eventually discovers she is pregnant. Her aunt, learning the truth, formulates a plan to profit from the situation by marrying Heather to Brandon, which he does in fear of legal repercussions. Unfortunately, Brandon believes Heather had a full hand in forcing him and decides to punish her by withholding his love and keeping her out of his bed – yet providing her with the necessities to live the life of a wealthy merchant’s wife. Having been traumatized by her sexual initiation, Heather finds this verdict more than welcome at first though eventually realizes the punishment for what it is – rejection. As the story progresses, the newly married couple sail back to South Carolina and settle into Brandon’s family mansion and plantation. The already timid Heather navigates her marriage like a flightless bird while Brandon suffers an irrepressible lust for her, all as their affection and dependency for each other grows.

Experience: I picked up the book when I came upon the title in an article on the history of “sexual revolution” in romance novels. As a romance reader, naturally, I was curious about the book that set the ball in motion to what lines the “Romance” sections in libraries and bookstores today. As an author, I felt it my duty to read up on works by the pioneer who paved the way for paperback romances. And so, it was with somewhat of an awe that I began reading.

I have to admit it took me a while to get into the mood to continue, though, once I got through the first few scenes. Living with the freedoms I enjoy in 2017, it is pretty difficult to relate to Heather Simmons, a meek woman-child who allows herself to be told she only has the weak mind of a woman and shuffles around from one life to another doing others’ biddings – who accidentally falls into a bed and then accidentally impales herself as she struggles to get away from the hero’s raging manhood. Moreover, her relationship with the hero begins with a full-on struggle to stop him from having sex with her but which he takes as foreplay only to later conclude his “mistake” easily redeemable (what we call rape today regardless of which angle you look at it) and moves along to where she admires his attractiveness, prowess and virility while lamenting that he took her virginity by force (as though rape is not rape if the rapist is handsome). Not the stuff of romantic heroes and heroines I am accustomed to – the moral compass gone haywire. But I trudged on, telling myself that I was reading a novel written by a woman who lived in the 70’s about a female character who lived in 1799. Perhaps The Flame and the Flower was the level of cognitive liberty and ethical progress achieved at the time Woodiwiss wrote the novel. She was a brazen feminist instigating a cultural revolution, a quality quite admirable and which I can live by. I am glad I reconciled myself to continue reading.

The book redeems itself to me as I realized the consistency with which Woodiwiss kept both Brandon and Heather’s individual streams of consciousness in chaos throughout the book. Heather keeps oscillating between being pleasantly surprised by the little acts of kindness Brandon displays and terror-stricken when his foul temper bursts forth (which by the way reflects back on her experience under her aunt’s reign); while Brandon’s struggle to keep his lust in check to salve his ego or relenting to a woman he thinks has forced him into marriage is also real. The consistency in the driving traits of each protagonist is what made the book a good read. Though Woodiwiss’s very descriptive narration and passages a bit on the longish side made the reading slow at first, a troupe of varied characters included later in the book pushes the plot along at a quicker pace, making the development of the romance between the hero and heroine enjoyable for Woodiwiss’s audience. Apart from the relatively steamy scenes, of course, which must have been quite refreshing for the women of the 70’s.

Recommendation: If you are well-versed in romance novels, this would be an excellent read to gain some perspective on what life must have been like back then (197o’s/1790’s). And once you adapt yourself to the culture shock, it is actually a pretty well-written novel with an entertaining plot. If you are newly venturing into the world of romance novels and a very impressionable young woman, please put it down and pick it up again a few years later – the material and characters within do not send the liberating messages we, romance authors, want representing us today.

P.S: I’m sorry to be posting my WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS on very early Thursday morning – which is a sad beginning for my first ever blog for the column. But I had picked up The Flame and the Flower as my initiation blog given its historic significance and well, you now know the rest.

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So it’s a new year: Bah! Humbug!

(Also there will be changes to the site in 2017)

scared-firecracker-14507999

Picking up from the title, did I reference that exclamation to the wrong holiday? I don’t think so. I love Christmas. Having spent the greater part of my preteen and adolescence amongst colorful baubles and fairy lights in red, green and white all through December, accentuated by the great American television bonanza surrounding the spirit of giving, Oh Christmas Tree and Santa Claus, it’s hard not to pick up on the excitement. Although the same decorations and entertainments stayed up until New Year Day, I have never actually been lured in by New Year’s Eve revelry. So what is all this hype about?  Read the rest of this entry »

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