A story within a story set of films

Every once in a while, I remember I own DVDs. Between Sling and Netflix, I rarely actually watch the movies I own anymore. I am trying to work on that. So, Saturday nights if I have nothing else going on (most of the time) or a book I want to dive into (more likely to be my conflict), I try to re-watch some of my own movies and always ask myself, “do you still want to keep this?”

This weekend I re-visited one old movie that inspired the new movie. Paris When It Sizzles is not the best Audrey Hepburn movie but it’s so ridiculous, I pretty much forgive it for being not the best. It also has a randomly appearing Tony Curtis which makes it that much better in my mind. It’s the story of a playboy screenwriter who needs to deliver his next script in the next three days. His patron sends him a typist to type up the final draft of the script. However, she arrives to discover said screenwriter has not actually written the script yet at all. So, the two of them work together over three days to write a script. The movie is both the screenwriter and typist working on the script as well as the script itself being played out with them in the lead roles. It’s rather overacted, suffering from its time period, and doesn’t actually make much sense in the end but it’s so ridiculous and funny to me that I don’t mind. It’s also like a perfect time capsule of Paris in the 1950s on film; the cinematography is lovely. I can get over the dodginess of the main character and how he treats his typist enough to enjoy the film though it’s definitely tough at times.

So, we’ll move along to the modern version of the same story, Alex & Emma. A down on his luck writer Alex, who gambled away his advance and is suffering from a major case of writer’s block, must deliver his new manuscript to his publisher in three days to get the rest of his money and pay off the loan sharks on his case. However, his computer gets destroyed so his answer is to hire a stenographer, Emma, in order to dictate his novel. During dictating the novel, the writer and stenographer also act out the parts of the 1920s love story in predictably ridiculous fashion. In comparison with its inspiration, Alex & Emma fix a lot of the plot holes and actually come up with an interesting story for the novel. It also depicts healthier, more normal romantic relationships so I appreciated that a lot after watching the shudder-inducing swarminess of Paris When It Sizzles. Also, Kate Hudson is really delightful as Emma and all the other characters she gets to play in the book scenes (Ylva, Ilsa, Eldora and Anna) as Alex falls in love with her, both on and off the page. Luke Wilson as Alex is sort of lukewarm in general but that’s sort of his schtick so I didn’t mind it too much. This is a fun romantic comedy that is a little different than the usual formula.

Both are still keepers for the collection though Paris When It Sizzles is one that really shouldn’t be re-watched very often. I’ll stick with Hepburn’s better Paris comedy, Charade. Oh, there’s the next paired re-watch with Charade and the lackluster remake, The Truth About Charlie (though Mark Walberg is adorable per usual)! I own both of those too which surprised me LOL

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Oceans…the final frontier

 

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A side by side image of a reef taken just months apart from Chasing Coral [Image Source]

I am not a good swimmer. I am still thankful I somehow managed to pass the swimming unit in gym class. I have never much progressed beyond the doggie paddle to be quite frank. But water has always been a love of mine. I adored being near it, watching it. I brave my hatred of sand and sun for it. I loved, even more, being out on it. I don’t come from much of a boating family but we often took boats during our travels and I was lucky enough to have a friend’s family adopt me a few summers for their family boat trips on Lake Ontario and into the St. Lawrence. It is perhaps another thing that bothers me about where I live in Florida. On a peninsula,  covered in lakes, I managed to find a town that doesn’t have much water to it. Water is close by in most directions. But I don’t see it on a daily basis unless I go looking for it.

In 5th grade, all my friends and I went through the “I’m going to be a marine biologist” phase. Seriously, I was looking through the pages of my 5th grade “yearbook” the other day and at least a quarter of the girls in my class wrote that down for their answer to that question. I know all of us, at least the ones I’m still in contact with, are not in any kind of science field. That’s a different discussion. I’m not sure why we were all in that stage. We had a very science-friendly classroom that year; we raised baby snapping turtles and visited the swamp for our class field trip. It was awesome. I just know a part of me never really grew out of it even as I started to realize that science involved a lot of math and I wasn’t very good at that.

So, fast forward to 8th grade and our first research paper. We were given a list of prompts to pick and I chose the one that leaped out at me, “Discuss why ocean pollution needs to be addressed on a national and international level.” I proceeded to fill 10 pages, single-spaced, of facts and figures and reasons why we needed to worry about that. Keep in mind this was supposed to be about a 6-page double-spaced paper. I still have this paper – one of many research papers I’ve written over the years and I think it’s one of my favorites because I was still so full of hope when I wrote it. I truly believed all those facts and figures meant we could do something to help. That, of course, we would because well, the facts said we should. Science didn’t lie.

I watched Chasing Coral recently. It’s much along the same lines as Chasing Ice, just coral reefs instead of glaciers. It made me cry. I remember tearing up with Chasing Ice but there were some major tears during Chasing Coral because the 8th grader in me is so disappointed. She is even more disappointed and frustrated and just plain angry than I think the 32-year-old me is. Even as I read yet another article on how climate change is being ignored, willfully denied and/or actively encouraged by those who should be doing something about it. Our oceans are the balance of our planet. As they go, so do all of us. How we cannot act when they are sending up major distress signals be it by coral bleaching or unheard of hurricane seasons? I guess in the end we’ll get what we deserve. Is it petty to hope the climate change deniers get it first?

But, I will not end on a petty note. I’ll end on a passionate note. On the note of an 8th grader who believed her words and research could make someone sit up and take notice and do something about it.

The damages and impacts on the environment, the marine life, and humans that marine pollution is causing still isn’t enough for governments to realize that by polluting the ocean, they’re polluting us. The ocean’s delicate balance and relationship with us is being pusher further past its limit each day…The science fiction movies of the 1950s and 1960s often depicted space as the growing frontier. Why not stay closer to home? The ocean’s depths hold just as much possibility as space, but not for much longer…Do you really want your grandchildren asking you what a blue ocean looks like? I doubt it, but to pass a clean and blue ocean onto our children and their children, we must take steps to protect the ocean and save it from ourselves. And we must take them now. For as Arthur C. Clarke said, “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when clearly it is Ocean.”

A Tale as Old as Time

The first movie I can really remember seeing in the movie theater was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Belle was my hero. I wanted to be just like her. Adventurous, loyal, smart, kind, able to walk and read at the same time. Bonus? She got that library in the end too! This was before princess culture took over the toy aisles and before Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique was a thing. This was just a heroine who saved the day. I am who I am because I had Belle as a role model and never once has that been a bad thing. I didn’t even realize it could be until college.

I was a women’s studies minor in college and I adored it. However, it was the first time I really needed to defend my love of Disney and the movies. Look, they are problematic at times, don’t get me wrong but I know it’s also something we have a lot of control over in how it effects us thanks to how our world shares it with us. [See my rant a while back on Cinderella and princess culture] My parents never told me “look at the pretty princess who gets her prince, you should be just like that!” No, my dad only ever said, “look, Belle likes to read just like you!” I always felt I could go off and have adventures because Belle did. And honestly, while I enjoy the Beast, I never felt he was really all that necessary to Belle’s adventures. A catalyst? sure! But necessary…eh. I am the girl who went onto write one of her best papers on how men are superfluous in 19th century novels so clearly I had an idea from a young age that princes and their elk were around for plot purposes, not because the heroine actually needed them. And hey, look at Disney movies with that lens and suddenly, it’s a whole different ball game.

But, I digress. I’m here to talk about Beauty & The Beast of which I lately read and/or watched a couple of fabulous re-tellings that I wanted to share. I read a lot of Cinderella re-tellings but not so much B&TB so yay for different fairy tale re-visits!

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Seriously, so gorgeous. La belle et la bête (2014)

La Belle et La Bête is an absolute gorgeous film out of France in 2014. It has been on my list for awhile so I requested it through the library recently and then they decided to purchase it. I do have great taste after all. And then, right after I got it from the library, Netflix started streaming it so you should all check it out! This version stays a bit more on the traditional tale side of things. Belle and her family (widowed father, two brothers and two sisters) move to the countryside after her father’s merchant business is ruined by bad storms and the family’s finances are immediately tanked. Belle loves her new life in the countryside though the family is less than pleased. However, miracle! One ship manages to get back to port so Belle’s father and oldest brother head back to the city to reclaim their good fortune but that doesn’t work out so well. The eldest brother is in hock to a very bad guy (why isn’t all that clear) and her father ends up hunted by wolves until he finds his way to an enchanted castle. It goes on from there. Things I really liked about this version were: the visuals – the movie is yummy to look at and the costume design is out of this world. Seriously, Belle’s dresses at the castle are works of art and I am so impressed she could move in them; The backstory to why the Beast is cursed; The little enchanted dogs; Giant walking statues at the climax of the film; the ending. Also, the relationships in this movie are SO stereo-typically French which doesn’t always come across well to an American audience (I hate you! I love you! Save me! Get away from me! all in the span of five minutes) but I enjoyed them. My main issue with this version is the plot has a few holes in it and lot of plot points aren’t explained very well.

2974811Belle: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast (Once Upon a Time #14) is actually part of me getting back to finishing up series on my reading list. This installment is by Cameron Dokey, one of my all time favorite fairy tale re-tellers (if that’s a thing you can have a favorite in).  This was quite a decent retelling of Beauty & The Beast. I liked the woodcarving Belle in this adventure and the idea that the name is more of a curse than a blessing when her face does not live up to the promise of the name. I liked the evolution of the family here as well; much closer to the original story where Bell has two sisters but this version redeems her sisters in ways the original tale did not.

I had read Robin McKinley’s Beauty a long while back but she wrote another B&TB re-telling and I only just now got around to it. Rose Daughter is a lovely rendition of the original story. I liked the emphasis on description over dialogue; much more in keeping with the original fairy tale tradition. The sisters especially were wonderfully rendered and their relationship very much the core of the story over Beauty’s relationship with her father and even to some extent, the Beast. The only thing missing from this version was a good library but I liked the idea of Beauty as a gardener as something new that made perfect sense. Indeed, this book would have fit perfectly into a widening of my thesis in college – the idea that a fairy tale heroine is much stronger when surrounded by a network of supportive and strong females.

Indeed, you get a glimpse into how we re-imagine our heroines in all these versions. Belle as a bookworm, as a woodcarver, as a gardener. As someone who is brave and strong for her family even when she is placed in impossible situations and asked to do impossible things. I think that is something I appreciate more and more about fairy tales each year; they are infinitely malleable to times and places and never seem to cease having tales to tell us in new versions. And surely, Beauty and the Beast will remain a favorite.

 

Happy (belated) 65th Anniversary to a Personal Fave

On Sunday of last weekend, I headed to the movie theater. Not for a new release (though have you all seen Hidden Figures yet? If you haven’t, what it wrong with you!? Get you to the movie theater!) but for an old classic.

It was the 65th anniversary of the release of one of my all time favorite films. I can remember my dad calling me out to watch it many years ago, saying with a casual, “I think you’ll like this.” I was already taking ballet lessons but I am pretty sure Singin’ in the Rain ensured that tap would get added to my lineup really fast. In fact, tap would remain my favorite and I think in no small part because I wanted to be Debbie Reynolds in this film.

This movie makes me grin like an idiot from start to finish. I know all the words, I know all the tap sounds (to the point that while listening to the soundtrack, I can tap out the dancing correctly – just the sounds mind you. My aspirations to be a tapping great did not go well). While people will wax poetic, correctly, over the title number or the Broadway Melody segment, for me, it’s always got to be “Moses Supposes” segment. It remains to this day my all time favorite dance number in any film or stage show I’ve ever seen. And I like to think I’ve seen a lot by this time. So, toast a belated happy anniversary to Singin’ in the Rain and enjoy the following:

In need of some inspiration

Last week was long. I was away from Tallahassee, traveling for work and it was just the week that would not end. In the middle of it, I needed inspiration so I started thinking about my fictional spirit animals; the fictional ladies I want to be when I grow up. In times of trouble, I admit, I retreat into fiction. I’m trying very hard not to do so here. So, I’ll post this here for inspiration, for those days my news feed will make me cry and remember these ladies. They may have been afraid sometimes, discouraged, annoyed, angry but they always acted as they saw fit and made the tough decisions when they needed to. So, my fictional hall of fame:

Agent Peggy Carter

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Seriously, when I grow up, I want to be just like Peggy. She is smart, resourceful, bold and is not afraid to tell it like she sees it. But, she also knows how the game is played so she has to be extra clever to get around all the ridiculous male misogyny in her line of work. We need more Peggy Carters front and center for girls and boys to see what is possible, regardless of gender. I know the character isn’t going anywhere but I was bummed that the TV show wasn’t more successful. Her portrayer, Hayley Atwell is also #lifegoals so it was a win-win in both fiction and reality!

Leslie Knope

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Leslie Knope is a spirit animal of sorts. The woman can do things with binders and organization that made me actually get teary at times watching this show. But mainly, she is eternally optimistic and sure that she can make changes in the world around her. She refuses to get bogged down by all the naysayers and traditionalists around her but continues to work and fight for what she believes in. She even wrote a letter to America after the recent election and folks, it gave me life.

Amelia Peabody

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Amelia doesn’t have a movie or tv show yet; criminal really. I’ve always cast Kate Winslet for her in my mind though and Tom Hardy for her rapscallion husband Emerson. Amelia is a take no prisoners sort of person. She is happiest when organizing the lives of everyone around her and solving murders while she does it. She is brilliant and independent; her marriage proposal to her husband is one of the best things ever. And their marriage a thing of beauty; Amelia never loses herself in it but I think becomes the best version of herself. (which is a common thread for my fictional role models; all had strong partners for love interests. Example A: Ben shaking his head next to Leslie in the above gif).

Anne Shirley

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Anne is a bit of a mess at times but she always pulls through. Smart, funny, and still sensitive after living a life that would have hardened most. Her imagination is perhaps the thing I love most about her; the world is a stage for her mind to go wild and she’s another optimist for us to aspire to be like. The type of friend who sees the rainbows through the rain.

Belle

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My first bookworm role model; the heroine who taught me what it was to be a heroine. To fight for those you loved even against crazy odds (and to always have a book on hand). The Disney princesses can be problematic, it’s true; but Belle has a backbone on her and never lets the world and the little minds she’s surrounded by get her down. She always dreams of adventure and does not settle for less than what she wants.

The Class I’ll Never Forget

 

I always meant to write a post about French class here. I have mentioned it in several posts, even shared my college essay inspired by Van Gogh and French class but I’ve never sat down and really explained what that class meant to me. Watching The Little Prince tonight on Netflix, I started to remember.

It took me a long time to realize that it wasn’t so much the language I adored. Although beautiful, and when I used it right something that made me feel more accomplished than all my other classes combined, I was never good at it. I would get frustrated with it. I wanted to be able to say what I wanted to say and not trip over myself getting there. I lacked the patience of a true linguist. I would write my essays in English and then translate them back into French, utilizing my dictionary, 501 Verb book and a very early version of Babel Fish when the books failed me. But I loved French class. I loved the stories, the culture, the food. The holidays and history were fascinating; the resulting country even more so. Madame understood this; it’s why she taught the language as she did. How could you understand and appreciate a language if you did not understand the people and the countries who speak it?

I had found French rather boring until 11th grade. My teachers, while very good, had been uninspiring. It was a class that also made me anxious. I lived in dread of the moment the teacher would call on me to speak. It was a combination of tripping over my own tongue and not wanting to butcher a language that had done nothing to me. I also hated to not be right in class; the perfectionist in me didn’t like that the words that came out of my mouth didn’t sound like they did in my head.

I was nervous when I started class with Madame. Her reputation proceeded her. It took me only about a period and half before I adored her and that made French both wonderful and stress-inducing. I didn’t want to fail her or have her think I wasn’t smart enough. I always tried hardest in French of all my classes but I never did get it to sound right coming out in the end. Instead, I learned to love what it gave me outside of the sometimes tongue twisting sentences and headache inducing numbers (math was involved just to count…I didn’t stand a chance. I still have the cheatsheet Madame finally gave me). French gave me Le Petit Prince, the Impressionists, and Amélie. It gave me Normandy, Paris, Carcassonne. It gave me an appreciation for the traditions of a storied country, with all its own fairy tales, myths and legends that was so different from my own.

So as I teared up watching The Little Prince tonight, and everyone should go watch it ASAP and cry with me, I also remembered what else comes along side the story of the little prince who left his rose behind to travel the stars: the classes on verbs and speaking exercises, of listening to bad ’80s French pop songs and writing our own adventures for the little prince. We wrote our own fairy tales, learned the words to La Marseillaise and looked forward to La Bûche de Noël in December. The Little Prince reminded me of why I adored French class and everything it continued to give me since leaving school. All these years later, it is a class I think of all the time and use often. I have chased paintings across oceans because of that class, lectured friends through the Louvre, bought board books of The Little Prince for friends’ children and sacrificed DVD settings on laptops to watch Notre Dame de Paris one more time. It is not so much the language perhaps but the tools the class and the study of French gave me through which I can appreciate, understand and revel in the world around me in a way I would not be able to do so otherwise. Merci.

Pete’s Dragon

I was going to love Pete’s Dragon. No matter what critics said or didn’t say, I was going to love it. That said, I didn’t think I would love it as much as I did. For starters, there is no singing which is my favorite part of the original film. Some of my all-time favorite Disney music comes out of the original Pete’s Dragon. And secondly, Elliot was…different. I remember the first trailer and just sort of sitting there until I could spit out, “wait…Elliot has FUR?!” I adored the animated pink and green dragon of the original (my first car that I paid for, which was blue, was named for him. Yeah, I don’t know either. I just loved the character that much). So, while I knew I would still love it because of reasons, I didn’t expect to be quite as enchanted as I was.

Luckily, I was primed for the big difference because of a review I read last Friday before I went to see it. They talked about how it was a quiet film, one that harkened back to some of the classic childhood films like E.T. There are action scenes but the real story is the family, the relationships, the growing pains the main characters feel; not the explosions or chase scenes. It reminded me of my favorite live action Disney films when I was younger: the original Escape to Witch Mountain, The Apple Dumpling Gang, even The Parent Trap. It wasn’t loud, overcomplicated, or silly to the point of ridiculousness. They were usually about a kid, or a group of kids, just trying to find a place to belong and the friends they make along the way.

This new version of Pete’s Dragon is gorgeous; visually stunning. Its time period is slightly non-descript but probably the late 1970s? At one point, I remember thinking “a John Denver song would fit well here.” It’s harkening back to what seemed like a much simpler time, a safer time, though villains still lurk. The villain of misunderstanding, of fear, of ambition. Those people who must destroy what they do not understand. The worst kind of villain to me; the kind I wish I could just reach into the screen and shake for all I’m worth. Pete’s Dragon has a good one of those here. In the original, the villain is a cartoon in live action; here the villain is someone who is simply afraid and has the power to act on his fear and turn it to his advantage in the town.

For a villain, there must be a hero and Pete lives up to the title. They do maybe hammer it home a bit much (lots of the characters call Pete brave throughout the film) but Pete lives up to the word. His story is heartbreaking on many levels (why he meets Elliot is pretty devastating); but his character is one of curiosity and acceptance so he learns to adapt, to adjust and to thrive. Some will argue I’m sure that the character adjusts too quickly; to which I would remind them it’s an hour and a half movie. He is brave but I don’t think he’s ever thought of himself in those terms. He was simply living. Those he meets in his journey are much like him; curious about the world around them, trying to adjust and accept as the world around them changes. The forest ranger Grace who finds Pete, Grace’s father who swears he saw a dragon in the forest years before, Grace’s fiance and his daughter. Perhaps they are reluctant at first but as the movie builds, they see that a dragon can be a friend, not a foe.

Which brings us to Eliot. The animation is fantastic; at no point does Eliot looks like a cartoon out of place in the film. He blends with his scenery, interacts seamlessly with Pete and the other actors. The fur does make him a bit more cuddly, a bit more approachable and less like a dinosaur out of Jurassic Park so that did the job. But the character remains much the same as the original film; he’s still a bit of goof, clumsy at times, fierce when his friend is in danger and lost when he doesn’t understand something. His relationship with Pete is the heart of the film and honestly, that is what makes it sing.