Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast

If you’ve ever wondered what happened to Mr. Potts, Belle’s mother, or why the entire town just conveniently forgot there was a castle in the woods this adaptation hold some answers.

I had high expectations going into this movie because I loved the live-action adaptation of Cinderella they did a few years ago. While the story Cinderella (and Beauty and the Beast) has been remade countless times. I felt that this particular Cinderella excelled in the same way that Ever After (telling the same narrative) did as well: elaborating more upon just the idea of a pretty face. The Prince meets Cinderella in the woods and decides to marry her, or at least wants to pursue her, from that encounter. The writers gave her determination to “have courage and be kind” even in the face of adversity. They gave her personality, strength, and a mind of her own.

But while the Cinderella archetype had room for elaboration, the Belle character has often remained the same. She loves her family, no matter what and displays it when she takes her father’s place in the castle. She loves to read, and she’s feisty and angry toward the Beast, but as he softens so does she.

Despite the standard “more developed” character of Belle, I thought Disney did an excellent job with this remake.

We are able to see more into Belle’s relationship with her father, which I adore. They present Maurice as less crazy than usual, which I appreciate. Belle helps her father with his inventions and creates some of her own, which was something new. I had wondered what (if any) songs they would add in from the Broadway musical, and the one I missed here was “No Matter What“. Aside from the townspeople thinking Belle is just odd, they also display some cruelty early on, which I think gives more insight to why they were so easily pulled into the mad mob.

A few notable notes for me:

The first introduction to the (beautiful) enchanted castle, of course, gives us a glimpse of the loveable cast of characters living there. Initially, the animation of Mrs. Potts and Chip bothered me. Because the characters need to actually look realistic, well, as realistic as anthropomorphic housewares can be, their facial features needed to be more subtle.

Another song missing for me was “Home”, after Belle takes her father’s place at the castle, but it does present itself in the background music, which I appreciated.

The beast has more personality than I’ve seen in another adaptation, which aids in the narrative of the growing friendship between Belle and the Beast. There are some insights into his childhood and upbringing that explain how he came to be the man he is. And like the animated version, the library scene is as endearing as ever.

I had the thought during the ball and the title song, Beauty and the Beast, that it seemed odd not to have Angela Lansbury singing it, but Emma Thompsons did well with the iconic song. Though I did think her speaking voice was weird, it didn’t sound like her at all…

On the topic of singing: obviously, Audra McDonald was stupendous, and the rest of the cast did well too. However, at times Emma Watson’s voice disappointed me. It wasn’t the quality but rather the believability that she, in that exact moment of the film, was singing. The audio just seemed separated from the scene at times.

The enchantress in this adaptation gives the Beast one more item (aside from the rose and the mirror): an enchanted book. If you’ve ever wanted to know what happened to Belle’s mother, this scene is for you. Heartbreaking, really.

One thing I wasn’t counting on in this film was ever feeling a bit of pity for Gaston. But if you watch LeFou during “Gaston”, you’ll see him giving money to the tavern patrons to get them to sing along. Perhaps, Gaston is not as loved as we have always believed. Or, at least as I always believed. And as for LeFou, I never watched the videos or read the articles about this “controversy”. I did however, pay particular attention to him for this reason. But ya’ll. I don’t know what the big deal was all about, it’s no worse than some other Disney characters.

Oh, and don’t forget the man in the beginning who has forgotten something, but can’t remember what.

Julie & Julia and Finding a Passion

Sometimes it’s easier to answer the question “Who am I not?” than “Who am I?”. I’m employed, but I do not have a career. I like to dabble on this blog, but I’m not a writer. I bake, but I’m not a baker. I cook , but I’m not a chef – let’s be honest, I rarely actually follow the recipe. I’ve sewn, but I’m not a seamstress. I can play piano, but I’m not a pianist. I’ve acted, but I’m not an actress.

I’m in the throes (maybe a bit melodramatic) of self-branding and website building before I can officially start applying for jobs. Writing essays for college applications is a process of humble-bragging to admissions people you will (most likely) never meet. Self-branding as a designer is making visual decisions to represent yourself to future employers. It’s more than my grades, my school, and my work experience. It’s also the design of my resume and my body of work that I present. It’s not just the facts, it’s the presentation.

Kind of like food. My mom always says, “You eat the food with your eyes first”

I watched Julie and Julia (2009)  the other weekend. My reasoning was three-fold: One – It’s about cooking (and food) which is so important to my inner mennonite and I love watching people that are passionate about it. Two – Meryl Streep + Amy Adams. Three – Stanley Tucci, he’s so fabulous he gets his own number. I’ve been known to watch films just because he’s in it. I want need to have coffee with him. All quotes are from the film and I have not looked into their accuracy in real life vs movie life.

Julia Child was in Paris with her husband who was working there and didn’t know what to do with herself.

Paul Child: What is it you REALLY like to do?
Julia Child: Eat!

And so she made a life out of what she liked to do. She enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu and that was that. Simple. Well, not so simple really and she had her own mountains to climb. But she knew what she liked, found her passion, and pursued it.

Julie was stuck in temp jobs. She wanted to be a writer and had an unfinished novel. She had a friend who blogged and thought she could do it too, she just needed something to blog about. Enter: Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She already loved cooking as a way to unwind after a long day, so she found what she loved, and made it work for her. Side note: Julie had never had an egg until she started cooking through Julia’s cookbook. I, on the other hand seem to survive on a steady diet of eggs, bananas, greek yogurt, and oatmeal.

Amy Robinson, the producer says in the special features:

I hope that this story can be both a fun movie and a delicious movie that’s gonna make you want to go out and eat but also something that may inspire, particularly women to say, you know what? What do I really love? And what can I do with that and make something with my life and try to pursue it?

So what are you passionate about? I love design, but specifically, I love making things beautiful and I love making beautiful things. I also love food and my heritage. Is there a way to combine all the things? Make my own cookbook? Actually, the film makes me want to cook through someone’s cookbook. Not, however, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I have no desire to cook a calve’s leg, “murder and dismember a crustacean”, or de-bone a duck.

Maybe I will do something like that, someday. I’ve given myself and completed 3 creative challenges. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment. And giving yourself a set amount of time is something very important. One of my favorite choral composers, Eric Whitacre, mentioned it in his talk at my university a few years ago and it’s very true for me. No deadline, no work. But ah, the deadline to figure out what to do post-graduation is very real, and coming quicker every day.

Julia Child: [on her book being published by Knopf] Is is kun-Na-pf or NOFF?
Paul Child: Who cares!

And isn’t that the spirit? Sometimes I’m a bit too much like Julia here – concerned about the details. The 5 W’s and an H. These are all important things, but sometimes I need the enthusiasm of Paul. Yes, I’m in my last stretch of schooling and staring into an abyss of questions. But: I’m graduating! 4 years of dedication to my passion of making things beautiful and making beautiful things. It’s a time for celebration and cheers to new beginnings.

Despite unknowns, this I know for sure: I’m loved unconditionally by my heavenly father who died for me and a family that loves me even when I talk too much. Every year is a year of self-discovery, I suppose. I propose a toast: to the year of graduating, reading, learning about myself, and becoming a designer*. Please excuse me now, I need to go work on my website and my elevator pitch.

Recommend reading: If Stanley Tucci was your Boyfriend

 

Serendipity Suggests #13

Far From the Madding Crowd

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In the words of Morgen, “I like the music, not the story”

That pretty much sums up my view as well. Over the summer I listened to Far From the Madding Crowda novel by Thomas Hardy (1874) as an audiobook from LibriVox. It took me awhile to get through because the main character is just awful. Bathsheba Everdeen is conceited, narcissistic, haughty, obstinate, and imprudent. (see: Scarlet O’Hara, Gone with the Wind) She toys with other’s feelings, makes rash decisions, and tries too hard to be independent. They call it a love story, but I call it a romantic train wreck. However, despite my feelings for the novel, the movie trailers looked too beautiful to pass up (also, Carey Mulligan).

You can check out the second trailer here. 

Why, you are asking, is this a Serendipity Suggests if I despise the story?Because the trailers did not steer me wrong, the movie was beautiful. I loved the coloring, the costuming, and most importantly the soundtrack. And the soundtrack is what I’m suggesting to you today. I’m slightly obsessed with movie soundtracks. (What’s the difference between a score and a soundtrack? If you know, please comment below!) The music seemed to float the movie along. While both the film and the soundtrack could, I believe, stand apart and be strong, together they make a tremendous team. A few tracks are from party scenes and the dance music is lively and keeps in time with the scene. Overall, the rest of the tracks are very heavy in string instruments (with a smattering of others, of course), which is a characteristic in most of my favorite soundtracks. Strings give these tracks an air of dramatic subtlety, a gentle ebb and flow to the music that cannot really be obtained with many other instruments. Strings have this ability to pick up the tempo and drama while still remaining gentle and soothing. This dramatic subtlety plays in nicely to the visuals of the film. A lot of beautiful landscape shots and close ups of bits of nature fill in spaces along the story and the soothing strings seem to echo the beautiful lines of the countryside. The coloring is soft and unsaturated. Full of browns, greens, grays, and blues, Sgt. Troy’s red uniform sticks out harshly. It is perhaps, a sign of the poor choices that come with Bathsheba choosing that path.

One of my favorite tracks is “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme”. The song is hauntingly beautiful. A bit mournful, Carey Mulligan sings the song (mostly) alone and a cappella and is featured on the trailer I embedded above. At first, I thought the song was an odd choice for that scene, although the concept of not giving your time (thyme) to any man seemed to fit her views on marriage. But upon further inspection of the song lyrics and its imagery and symbolism therein, the song almost echoes the tale of the film. (Although she really should have listened to her own advice).

So, I highly suggest you give the soundtrack a listen. I’ve been listening to it almost exclusively for a week now, and I’m still in love. Also, I wouldn’t mind trying on a few of her dresses!!

 

Do you have any favorite movie soundtracks? Do you think you’ll give Far From the Madding Crowd a chance? If you want me to break down the lyrics of “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme”, let me know in the comments below.

// image source //

I’m In The Wrong Story: Into the Woods Review (Part 1)

My roommate and I decided to review the new film adaptation of Into the Woods. My review, part 2 can be found here.

We have this saying in my (occasionally pretentious and judgmental) family, “Keep your expectations low and your dignity high”, which is useful in a great myriad of situations: gas station bathrooms, cheap pizza, and movie musicals of long-beloved Broadway productions. Seeing Into the Woods for the first time on New Year’s Eve with my parents, I kept in mind that, while I had grown up with only Bernadette Peters ever playing the Witch, the movie would be another artist’s interpretation and each actor would bring a different tone and flavor, not to mention the differences that are necessary between stage and screen.

I braced myself. The lights went down.

“Once upon a time…”

I have a multitude of thoughts on some of the details of the movie, but to sum it all up: it was good. It was a well-made, enjoyable movie. I like that anyone could understand and enjoy this movie in layers. But that’s because it’s a brilliantly-written, accessible, heartfelt storyline. The magic could never come from the cinematography, the costuming, or even the actors. The magic was always in the beans. Lapine’s story and Sondheim’s music were at the heart, which meant that the movie would be successful. The individual stories within the plot are familiar and central to Western culture (this is another paper I’ve already written), but when our favorite characters are met with realities we never expect them to face, such as natural consequences, indecision, temptation, doubt, and fear, the story becomes far more cathartic and meaningful. Cinderella is no longer just a princess we dream to be when she is stuck on the steps of the palace; she is me, caught between what I’ve thought I always wanted and lackluster reality. When Little Red Riding hood steps back from her near-death encounter in the belly of the Big Bad Wolf and realizes that she has learned something she never would have known otherwise; she is me, hesitantly grateful for hardships that let me grow.

I could go on for a while here. The story grips the audience because it takes the familiar stories and twists around the happy endings with the honest, ugly parts of being human. It highlights the human ache for family, comfort, and adventure, but also the tendencies for greed, discontent, blame, and deceit. Into the Woods says a lot about mankind in general.

Something was missing from the film version, though. It wasn’t just the polished, pretty cinematography or the perfect audio quality. There was a layer missing, in my opinion. Something I grew to adore in the stage production was the musical’s ability to laugh at itself. When Little Red scoffs, “She talks to birds?!”, the audience realizes with her that Cinderella is kind of a flake. She may be that beautiful damsel we grew up with, but her character has made some mistakes, and laughing at her frees up the audience to admit that our fairytale heroes are no better than we let ourselves believe they are. They are no better than we are.

We can laugh at Jack’s mother (who was “not quite beautiful”) because the human moral drama contained in the undercurrent of the musical is more important than the fluffier discomforts and troubles on the surface. Cinderella’s desire to go to the ball is nothing to keep us awake at night anymore because we know she gets to dance with the prince. However, her dilemma after getting the night of her dreams and being trapped in indecision is far more troubling because it hits close to home.

The magic and the fireworks are the vessel for the darker, more cynical message that we as humans are not fairytales. We hurt one another, sell one another as scapegoats to avoid the blame, and accept niceness as a substitute for the truth. The film still contained this idea, but I think it got more caught up with Chris Pine’s smolder and the magic of the woods. The magic of the woods is not the real substance. The film was well done, but I don’t know if it did the story justice. However, I’m grateful for the chance to celebrate one of my favorite musicals and to share the conversation with people who haven’t experienced it. In the end, it’s a musical about realizing we are not alone as flawed, lost people. We fight for what we think will make us whole, but sometimes the things we wish for are not to be touched. I think there’s power in looking that brokenness in the face and recognizing it in one another. Our choices affect the people around us. Our dreams may lead us astray. But in the midst of the chaos of being a person, Into the Woods reminds us that no one is alone.

I’m in the Wrong Story: Into the Woods Review (Part 2)

Ecstatic. That’s a good way to describe how I felt going to see Into the Woods. While I am extremely fond of the show, unlike Morgen (Part one can be found here) my history with it is short. I was first introduced to the soundtrack from Into the Woods in 2010 when I checked the cd out from the library. Later, in 2012, I was finally able to watch the Bernadette Peter’s version in preparation for my senior musical.

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I was Little Red Riding Hood.

 

This show is popular, it has a following, it’s Sondheim. But In my way of thinking, it hasn’t reached as far as Les Miserables. So if Disney remaking it was going to expose more people to the wonderful show, I was happy.

I knew two things going into that darkened theatre:

  1. It was probably Disney-fied.
    1. Disney-fied: watering down something for the approval
  2. Because I was part of a different interpretation of the show, I was extremely open to whatever Rob Marshall threw at me. After all, the slotted spoon can catch the potatoes and unless the actual plot was significantly changed, small adjustments would not ruin the show for me.

[OPEN CURTAIN, LIGHTS UP] ENTER, STAGE RIGHT

“Once upon a time”

Wonderful. I was blown away with how well the show was transformed into a move. I was instantly drawn into the woods world. With a show as brilliantly written as this, it’s not that it needed the fluff, sparkle, and pizazz that a film adaptation allows. Like my friend said, “the magic was always in the beans” the magic is in the writing more than it is in the telling.

I thought the all of the actors were wonderful with maybe the exception of Johnny Depp as the wolf. I’m a huge Johnny Depp fan and I admire his acting ability to transform into every character so deeply that I’m not reminded of his other characters. I’ve heard a lot of criticism that his portrayal of the wolf was creepy. But wasn’t he supposed to be creepy? It’s the nature of the wolf.

One of the biggest characters to get adjusted to was Meryl Streep as the witch. Meryl Streep is phenomenal; I think we can all agree on that point. I knew the character was in good hands. Bernadette’s version is classic… well, Bernadette. Sassy. Snarky. Boom. Crunch.

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But that’s not Meryl Streep and I think if she had tried to adapt that persona, she could have… but then people would have criticized that she was not as (see adjectives above) as Bernadette’s version. No, I applaud Meryl Streep for taking a character that has been played the same way for so many years and changing it and because she is such a strong actress, she never strayed from that choice. And she sold it.

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Emily Blunt was astonishing. Honestly I loved her more than the original actress. I don’t even know if I can put into words how much I loved her. Because I played Little Red, I loved how she was kind to Little Red and didn’t mind at all that she stole more food than she paid for. I was thrilled they didn’t leave out MOMENTS in the woods and I loved watching her face through that scene.

6Chris Pine and Billy Magnusen (Can we get the Agony scene on loop?) were wonderful as the princes: shallow and vain (although did Chris Pine look older than normal?)

Jack = Gavroche = ACTOR. Brill. Bright-eyed and adventurous. I loved seeing the character played by a child, not an adult.

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Since I played Little Red I suppose I should also mention I did love her. I’m not going to criticize her vocals. She copied the flat-toned quips like the original actress. And she did it well. But a film allows the audience to be fully engaged with your facial expressions and I wish that she had stayed away from constant deadpanned expressions.

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It was great to see some of the aspects of the film made much more dynamic without the constraints of the stage. The Witch’s entrance and exits. Especially when she was hanging upside down from that tree! Having an actual giant, instead of just a papier-mâché marionette.

My regrets about this movie are few but lie in what was omitted, because the thing about being in a musical, you tend to memorize most of the script and all of the songs. It started early… in the first song. Because Jack’s mother… she was not quite beautiful. And sometimes, she fears he’s touched. I really missed AGONY 2. Ask a wolf’s mother. I feel like there were more, but it’s been a month since I’ve seen it last. (This post was a long time coming. ) Some things were missed but didn’t alter the story too much. Rapunzel’s death, Last Midnight SONGS, the presence of a narrator, or the mysterious man. And I was surprised that they didn’t disney-fy it more. I was expecting more to be cut out.

EXIT, STAGE LEFT. [LIGHTS DOWN, CLOSE CURTAIN]

PSA: If you read both of these posts and ever asked yourself: “Who’s Bernadette Peters?” Please, educate yourself, your life will be so much better

A Midwinter’s Tale: Summer

Recently I watched A Little Princess (1995) and felt that the story echoes my relationship with summer. Buckle your seat belts, it may be a bumpy ride!

Summer is great. You’re happy, it’s warm and it’s great to be alive.

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But then autumn comes. It’s a bit colder but not too bad. You still feel like summer loves you.

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Then something tragic happens… it freezes.

WINTER

Sometimes you think it’s beautiful.

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And once in a while, it warms up a bit and you remember what used to be.

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Then it just becomes to much! You can’t handle it anymore!

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But spring comes and you cling to it… hoping… that the weather will remember what it should be doing.

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And finally it does! Tears of happiness and relief are shed!

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Summer has returned and all is right with the world.

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