A Quiet Finish

From Goodreads

So, last weekend, I very quietly finished my summer reading challenge through the library with a book which uses film to explain and discuss philosophy. It was interesting and a much better way to tackle some of those writers than either of the two philosophy classes I’ve taken over my lifetime. The thing with philosophy is I always feel it should be interesting than it turns out to be. It should be sitting around discussing what life is, and there is some of that, but then they have to bring logic proofs and ridiculously long sentences which seem to always contradict themselves somewhere along the way. You’d think with all that, there would be answers in there somewhere but those often seem to be missing too. Using film though I think is a great way to go about it and I recommend Christopher Falzon’s book if you’re at all interested in diving into philosophy basics. He was quite good about using movies that I had at least heard of, if not seen, for the most part. That was another fear when I started it, that he would cite all these gloriously wonderful films that maybe a handful of film majors could say they had seen.  Quite frankly, when the man used Total Recall as an example, I knew we would get along just fine.

I had finished the film part of the challenge several weeks before when I was finally in the mood for subtitles. Heartbreaker was a refreshingly clever and funny romantic comedy out of France and I recommend for anyone who has a soft spot for ridiculous rom-coms to check it out. If nothing else, I learned that Vanessa Paradis is something other than Johnny Depp’s long-time partner. And there is an awesome scene when they recreate the final dance from Dirty Dancing…you’d just have to see it to understand how that fits at all with the plot.

So, reading and film challenges are done! Now, I should get back to my other reading challenge for the year, all those pesky books on my reading list that I should have read by now but haven’t (the classics) but I think I’ll take some time and clear out a few books I picked up on a trip to Denver. In April. Eventually, I get back around to everything!

A Cranky Founding Father

From Amazon

For my history movie, I decided to finally watch the entirety of John Adams. I’d caught one or two episodes back when I was in DC in the summer of 2008 but had never seen the entire miniseries. I started it on July 4th after I’d watched all the other “patriotic” movies I own (namely Independence Day and Live Free or Die Hard – I figured start with the explosions and move on to the diplomats). The story of our nation and its origins never ceases to impress me. It never should have worked; we were the ultimate underdogs and yet somehow, we pulled out of it victorious (thanks in no small part to a heaping dose of help from France). I was glad the miniseries kept the cerebral side of our independence, it is the side I find infinitely more interesting.

America, the Great Experiment, comes out ahead in this particular re-telling though they do not shy from the politics and underhanded dealings that resulted in her. I was sad the series skipped over the disaster of the Articles of the Confederation but as Adams was abroad at the time, it made sense in terms of plot though I find it fascinating that the first try didn’t take and we were still stubborn enough to try again. If nothing else, the miniseries makes you think on parts of history that were lines on a study guide once upon a time. The years Adams is president make much ado about the Alien and Sedition Acts. I had a vague memory learning a definition for them before my AP American History exam in 11th grade but it was fascinating to watch the consequences of signing versus not signing be argued out by Adams, his wife and his cabinet. They are mostly scorned in American history class if I recall correctly – acts that reduced civil liberties and put a gag on the American people and yet within the context of their creation, I understood why they seemed like a good idea at the time. If nothing else, the miniseries always portrays America as young, impulsive, and still testing her limits in the new world she created. While I can not condone the Acts themselves, I can better appreciate the reason Adams signed them.

However, John Adams is not only a history lesson; it is a series which portrays some of the most remarkable partnerships our country has ever known. Adams and his wife, Abigail. Adams and Thomas Jefferson, exact opposites in every sense whose friendship spans decades. You see the brashness of Alexander Hamilton (and come to understand why they wrote the Constitution specifically so he couldn’t become president) and the sage quietness of General George Washington. The kookiness of Benjamin Franklin is especially well portrayed by Tom Wilkinson. If nothing else, the miniseries made characters of names I had read in my history books a thousand times but have never connected them to anything other than their proper place on my timeline. And make me wish to see men and women of their ilk among us again. I feel we had need of them more than ever as we enter our 235th year, a birthday perhaps they could not fathom when they signed a declaration of independence so many years ago.

To Be or Not To Be

From Written Images

I’m not sure I’ve talked about Shakespeare too much yet on the blog except in passing. I have a rocky relationship with the Bard. On one hand, I adore his comedies. Give me Much Ado About Nothing or A Midsummer’s Night Dream and I am a happy girl. His tragedies on the other hand…we’ve never gotten along. I did talk about Romeo and Juliet before. I try to forget Othello (or am I trying to forget the awful film version we watched?). The Scottish Play wasn’t much of a fave either though Lady Macbeth is kind of awesome in her evilness. Hamlet, on the other hand, is one I’ve always had a complicated relationship with. I read it on my own in high school (yes, I was a nerd. I was trying to convince myself I liked Shakespearean tragedy. It didn’t go well). Then, I read it as part of my Shakespeare course while in England. We even went to see it performed at Great Malvern with Ed Stoppard in the title role. I had loathed Hamlet in high school; in college, I could appreciate what was happening. Seeing it performed though was a revelation. Suddenly certain aspects of the play clicked; certain scenes became funny that weren’t when you just read the words. Even though that particular production went off the rails in the end, there were scenes that I found to be favorites. I could, at that point, grudgingly admire Hamlet if nothing else.

Fast forward to now and my summer film challenge. There was a version of Hamlet starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company that fans petitioned for, and got, a recorded version of which was released by the BBC. Tennant, at the top of my list for his Doctor, was going to finally make me appreciate Hamlet the way I should. And people, I think he succeeded. His Hamlet is, as a friend says, the closest we’ll get to a feminist one. Suddenly, that ridiculous “Get thee to a nunnery” speech made sense! He’s warning her away, trying to get her out of a situation that he knows is going to destroy more than just his uncle. He’s also a sympathetic Hamlet, a Hamlet I can actually understand is struggling between his duty to his dead father and his own conscience. I see a Hamlet that actually had a relationship with his mother before, who is hurt because he no longer knows how to relate to her after what she did in the aftermath of his father’s death. Also, I found a Hamlet who is funny, ironic, and who is no more mad than I am. This is a Hamlet who is playing a part, perhaps to protect himself from what he knows he must do eventually.

In fact, if I took nothing away from this version other than one thing, it is that a production of Hamlet with a sense of fun is ten times more interesting than one who takes itself seriously. Because, honestly, I have never noticed how witty, how funny, Hamlet is before this production. Perhaps it is Tennant’s delivery of Hamlet, his expressions as he delivers his lines that help convey that sense to the production (it doesn’t hurt that certain facial expressions or delivery of certain words had me wondering if it was Tennant as Hamlet or Tennant as the Doc that I was watching). But I found it made me like Hamlet the character and also Hamlet the play much more.

I also really enjoyed Patrick Stewart as Claudius and the Ghost. It was obvious why he earned an Olivier Award for his work with the production. I always found Claudius a hard character both to read and watch. He is on one hand, presented as a loving husband and worried new father to Hamlet when underneath he is scheming, cunning, ruthless and willing to remove any obstacle in his path. The ruthless side is, I think, often downplayed but here you catch the glimpses of it when necessary to believe this is a man who murdered his brother and married his brother’s wife. Stewart is a master at suppressed rage and once he does let it out for a moment, it is that much more powerful. He is a charming murderer; always the diplomat as he strokes Laertes’ anger at Hamlet to lead him to murder. You can never quite not like Stewart’s Claudius which makes him that much more effective as a villain.

Someday, somewhere, I will find a version of Ophelia I can get behind. This was not it. Kate Winslet remains my favorite though even Kate struggles with a character who doesn’t seem to have a true place in the play. If you remove her, what would be lost? A speech that usually gets bungled and a few mad scenes that wouldn’t be missed. The other players were decent and interesting in their roles. I did love the portrayal of Horotio though; for the first time, you really saw that Hamlet and Horatio are friends, that in a castle where Hamlet has no allies and is increasingly fighting himself, Horatio is there to lean on.

I also really loved the staging of the play. For this recorded version, the play was filmed on location rather than on the stage, allowing more movement by the characters and also adding a great mood over the play. I loved the use of security cameras, and also a hand-held camera at one point, to give the viewer a different perspective on the scene, things you cannot do when an audience is in an auditorium with one view point with which to watch. It was a unique blend of stage set and film set which I think added something to the experience of watching the play.

So, I think I’m finally square with Hamlet. The question becomes which tragedy should I tackle next to try and at least get over my dislike. Any suggestions?

I’ll Be Back

It’s funny don’t you think, the amount of movies you always mean to get around to and don’t? You know the plots, the famous lines, and the reasons people adore them years after they are made but you just never seem to fit them in to your viewing schedule. The Terminator is one of those movies for me. It came out a year before I was born and I’ve even seen other movies in the series – Judgment Day, the weird 3rd one with Claire Danes that I didn’t think worked all that well. I even recall a 3D movie based on the film at Universal Studios – I’ve only been there twice though so that might have been awhile ago that attraction existed. I always thought I should watch the original though; always good to know where all the jokes start.

So, we all know the story right? The Terminator is a cyborg sent from the future to kill Sarah Connor because her unborn son will someday lead the resistance against Skynet, the evil computer that controls the cyborgs. In return, John Connor sends one of his fighters, Kyle Reece, back in time as well to protect his mother. Lots of running, death and explosions follow along with some nifty storytelling that only works in a world where time travel is a possibility.

By today’s special effects standards, the movie is pretty old-school. The robotic Terminator that appears in the end of the movie is quite laughable in terms of believability. But that’s not why I kept watching – the film was well written and, and this is a key for a good action film, well paced. Cameron and his fellow writers clearly understood how to use explosions as needed, not as it seems in today’s movies at times, just for the hell of it. Each murder, each explosion, and each ridiculous chase scene has a purpose and moves the story forward. Actually, for such sparse dialogue, the story didn’t leave me with any major questions. In the end, you understand the logic of the story of this segment of the trilogy (well, I guess it’s beyond that now huh? Didn’t they try to reboot this not too long ago?). But I mean, we understand why they wanted Sarah Connor dead, we know why her son sent Kyle Reece to protect her, and we know, without a doubt, that it’s not over yet. The movie gives glimpses to the future – is that still the future now that Sarah Connor lives or has that altered as well?

As I live in a world where the next two movies have been made, I know the answer. I need to see that latest one to see what they’ve added to the mythology. But I liked it, the original Terminator. It’s always fun to see what the famous lines were actually in there for and to laugh at the bad special effects. But the story holds up so I would recommend a watch if you’re like and managed to miss out on it this long.

(PS – I just couldn’t post a movie poster for the film here – Arnold in all his 1980s glory was just a bit too much for me…LOL)


From Moviegoods.com

I have a life-long fascination with the ocean. I honestly can’t tell you why. I didn’t grow up near one, and have never spent much time near one either. I can remember the handful of times when I’ve stood on the Atlantic’s shores. And I think that the trip-that-shall-not-be-named brought me to the Pacific’s shores for the first and last time when I was eighteen months old. Marine ecosystems though continue to enthrall me. Its animals even more so. I can watch sea otters by the hour at zoos, marvel at the colors of tropical fish and literally remain spellbound in the grace of dolphins when I get a chance to see them at an aquarium.

The library’s summer reading and film challenge has started for this year and I am sadly lagging in getting a move on my list. So tonight I sat down to watch Disneynature’s Oceans for the science category. Disneynature films usually come to Netflix streaming just in time for its latest release and Oceans was no different, streaming a little before African Cats came into theaters. I am usually a year behind, living in a place that doesn’t get Disneynature films into the local theaters. I have to say I liked Oceans even better than its first outing, Earth. Oceans had less peril to it and more of the story of why we need the oceans and its creatures. Plus, the ocean just has fun creatures to watch: dolphins, sea otters, leopard seals, humpback whales and really awesome fish I didn’t even know existed like the Stone Fish or the sheep-domed something or other that is one of the oldest species alive on Earth today. So cool!

I had to laugh at one point though as I tried not to cry over an activity that made me cry over 20 years ago when I first saw it. They showed, what I am coming to think must be an obligatory sequence in ocean-based documentaries, orcas feasting on baby sea lions on the South African coast. People, I want it on the record that I DID NOT cry. I feel I am making progress. It is one thing to understand the whole Circle of Life thing, quite another to watch it.  I do have to give props to the orcas, their way of hunting is pretty awesome to see.

The one thing that I always have after watching a good nature documentary though is guilt. Disneynature takes it pretty light on the whole humans affecting the planet aspect of things (though it is definitely touched on more in Oceans than it was in Earth), and still I have guilt that I am a human and have at some point in my life polluted the ocean. It is, sadly, inevitable that I have done so in some way, shape or form. I like to think I am aware, more so than a lot of people, that how I live even miles away from the oceans effects them in some way. I blame my first research report back in 8th grade for that (my topic was “Why ocean pollution should be addressed on a national and international level” – I was such a nerd…still am….). While we have put so much effort into exploring the skies and stars above us, I feel that the oceans often get the short end of the stick which is just wrong when you think about it. Our continued survival as a species depends on the oceans. One thinks we would have a greater respect for it instead of seeing it as a convenient dumping ground for our trash or as an obstacle in our path of retrieving the almighty Oil. I know I will be seeing the Atlantic in September from the deck of a cruise ship (that hopefully is as Green as can be) and I will be sure to show it a bit more respect than last time we met.