Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Young Victoria

Emily Blunt is easily one of the most talented and diverse actresses to gain attention over the last 4 years, and as is probably clear from the last two posts, I enjoy films which are period pieces. So, when I had the free time to see The Young Victoria at the theater on a Thursday, I jumped at the chance, knowing it could be gone on Friday when they change the schedule.

Like 2006's The Queen or Elizabeth, The Young Victoria tells the story of the person, not the rank. As should be obvious from the title, this film, like Elizabeth, focuses on the very beginning of Victoria's 63-year reign, for which half of the 19th Century is named (Victorian). The plot is fairly heavy on politics, but this serves to enhance the viewers' admiration of and sympathy for the title character as she maintains strength while those around her try to manipulate her for their own gains. Many of the filming locations are truly stunning, and the scene of Victoria inspecting the newly completed Buckingham Palace is pure eye-candy.

Overall, it's the kind of absorbing biopic that sparks a viewer's desire to find a good book about its subject.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Keira, Wright, and Blu part 2

I made sure to read Atonement before the film was released.

My overly simplistic but intentionally short book review for Atonement posted to LibraryThing was:
Patience. That's what it takes to read the book. It's like reading an epic story seen through just a few fragments. There is a lot of descriptive prose, which is what may test the patience of some of us who need things to keep moving. But it's worth it in the end. Some will say the ending is predictable, but I thought it was a thing of beauty.

I'm tempted to say that Joe Wright's film is superior to Ian McEwan's book. To my recollection, it's a bit more faithful to the book than P&P. As a novel, Atonement is more internalized and introspective, capturing the inner monologue of characters and heavy on description, but Wright has a terrific cast, each capable of conveying a volume with only a look. The advantage of filming such a descriptive book, unlike Pride and Prejudice with its wealth of plot and dialogue, is that there is never a rush to fit all of the story into the film because the visuals can show much more than the words can describe.

While James MacAvoy and Keira Knightley are the focus of the film, we see the story through the eyes of Briony, played by Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones), Romola Garai (who's brilliant as Emma, currently airing on PBS, and a true chameleon, almost recognizable from one role to the next), and Venessa Redgrave in the different time periods. Of course, we know it's the same character because she keeps the same hairstyle for 60 unnecessary contrivance.

The visual style is again an Oscar-nominated achievement (Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design) for this 1935-1940 period piece set in England and France. The incredible scene everyone remembers is the 5 minute-long shot on the beach of Dunkirk that used one camera and 1,000 extras. From

On shooting, Steadicam operator Peter Robertson shot the scene by riding on a small tracking vehicle, walking off to a bandstand after rounding a boat, moved to a ramp, stepped onto a rickshaw, finally dismounting and moving past the pier into a bar.

Dario Marianelli walked away with a win for best score this time. Appropriately, the music is much darker. What really stands out is the percussion of Briony's theme, created by a typewriter.

The most I should say about the plot is that it's about a mistake, followed by a misunderstanding, and a life haunted by the search for redemption. My only small complaint is that I found the final chapter of the book to be much better than its adaptation. Perhaps the key passage to the novel comes 40 pages before the end, but is not fully understood until the last chapter. Wright finds other ways to hint at the same thing through short dream sequences.
(Highlight text for potential minor spoiler)

She left the cafe, and as she walked along the Common she felt the distance widen between her and another self, no less real, who was walking back toward the hospital.

A couple of comments about the Universal discs. Universal/NBC/Sheinhardt Wig/GE is clearly full of themselves and want to leave no doubt you're watching one of their films. There are no less than 2 full Universal openings that can NOT be bypassed, a Universal screen saver if you pause the film, and as the film loaded, it hijacked my internet connection to download a Winter Olympics on NBC commercial that thankfully could be skipped.

Since both of these titles were released on HD-DVD, the only question remaining is why it took them so long to be released on Blu-ray?

Keira, Wright, and Blu part 1

I admit it.
I like Keira Knightley. I don't care that's she's arguably overrated, "too" skinny, or that there's been an over-saturation of films with her name in the credits. When I saw Love Actually, well, let's just say it didn't take much imagination to sympathize with Andrew Lincoln.

Two of her best movies arrived on Blu-ray, Tuesday, having just shipped Monday from Both collaborations with Joe Wright came packaged in the traditional blue cases, but with gold Academy Award slipcovers.

Book adaptations are always risky. Exactly ten years after the definitively faithful 6-part Pride and Prejudice mini-series, Joe Wright crafted somewhat of a modern version, without actually changing the setting or time period. It's Austen with attitude. One challenge is to compress the story into 2 hours. Instead of a story that unfolds leisurely, it has to move at a fair clip to finish the tale in time, even with the excising of many scenes or characters such as Mr. and Mrs. Hurst.

Filmmaking is obviously a visual art, and Wright, with Roman Osin, manages to bring extraordinary images to the screen. Most scenes are washed in golden sunlight or candlelight, while others clearly use digital grading to make certainly hue pop off the screen. The opening shot, as well as the climactic scene take place at sunrise. Artistic license is taken with setting, character, period wardrobe, and movie trickery such as the scene that shows Darcy and Elizabeth dancing in full ballroom where everyone else is suddenly invisible to the camera.

Dario Marianelli's score is almost always present, based around a single piano theme. This theme is even performed with differing levels of proficiency, on the piano, by two of the characters within the film.

It's well crafted cinematic beauty, but novel purists will be wasting their time. They will always have the 300 minutes of P&P on Blu-ray with the 1995 version.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball

Jesse Ball doesn't use quotation marks or page numbers, opting instead for numbering every 5th paragraph.

The novel embraces absurdity while toying with surrealism. One story flows into another, sometimes without the reader realizing exactly when he has passed through one of the many "doors". Reality shifts and bends and folds back onto itself, and some stories are called back to be told in different ways. Main characters find themselves persuing each other through varying tales as the man telling them tries to help an amnesiac woman find out who she really is. This can make it a little difficult to stay interested. Just as the reader becomes invested in one story, another comes along to take its place, leaving the first with no resolution.

Twice while reading the book, I felt that he described the very book I was reading through his characters' words:

"Who can say therefore where a certain person is, for what is it that anchors a person? Is it their place in the story to which you are a part? Many stories hereabouts run side by side, and you can not be at pains to unpin them, for they are sharp, and you will only sting the tips of your fingers." - paragragh 966

"Events are continuous, not broken, and they never move on. Stories tell themselves one to another, over and over, never ceasing, and we skip here and there, saying this is consciousness, this acrobatic feat, but what of remaining?" - paragraph 1813

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mark Levin's Libery and Tyranny - A Conservative Manifesto

From 1776 to 1881, the U.S. founding fathers worked to draft and ratify a document that established a limited government that would bring together a confederation of the states. Their goal in limiting the scope of government power was to protect the sovereignty of states and maximize individual freedom. It quickly became evident that the powers granted the Continental Congress were simply too weak for effective governing and our current Constitution had to be drafted. Their desire for a limited government remained the same, though, and many on all side of the political spectrum have lost sight of this. Ronald Reagan famously said that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Too many feel that only government can solve all our problems, and this is exactly what Mark Levin addresses in his book Liberty and Tyranny.

Levin sets up most of the book as a differentiation between two imaginary characters, The Statist and The Conservative. He provides an eye-opening summary of the battle of principles being played out in our own time. The first several chapters cover Faith, The Constitution, and Federalism, but by chapter 7, we start to recognize the very things that are happening in the U.S. today. Here he addresses the welfare state being promoted by the current administration, and all progressives over the last 100 years.

"If the Statist were to devise a scheme whereby a grandparent would be stealing future earnings from his own grandchild, would the grandparent consent to such immoral behavior?"
If you think not, maybe you just aren't paying attention. This week the congress has been planning to raise the debt ceiling another $1.9 trillion to a total of $14.3 trillion. What's the plan here? Spend the government into the ground. Create total dependence on government. Remake the government in your own image. Google: Cloward and Piven, or Saul Alinsky

It's not just the massive spending programs that have taken place over the past year, but the unfunded liabilities from entitlement programs like Social Security. They've led people to believe that their taxes are being taken and put into a savings account on their behalf (that's what the privatization of social security would have done if the Dems hadn't killed it under Bush.) On the contrary, they simply take money from workers, write checks to retirees, and promise to pay workers back when it's their turn to retire. As of this writing, Social Security liabilities stand above $14 trillion. Total U.S. UNFUNDED liabilities stands over $107 trillion. If you're breathing and you are a U.S. citizen, you owe $347,000, even if you were literally born yesterday. Adding "free" health care into the mix is a guaranteed disaster. The last year should have been spent lowering taxes and allowing the private sector to create jobs, not raising taxes and spending more, while no jobs were created (or saved) and official unemployment soars past 10% (at least 17% when you add in people who have given up looking for a job).

Chapter 8 is about enviro-statism. Whenever someone says the debate is over, and the science is settled, be very skeptical. Global warming continues to crumble under the weight of its own cover-ups, and the "scientists" just yell louder that the debate is over, calling skeptics "deniers". They simply don't have the science to show the Earth is warming, let alone to show that it's man-made. The greenies have doubled down on their efforts towards environmental control, translated into control of YOU. Cap and trade will not have any effect on the environment. What it would do if passed is make people who are invested in "green technology" like Al Gore and General Electric rich, and force the working man to pay double for energy, and eliminate cheap energy needed for developing countries. More government control. Less freedom. Decreasing prosperity.

Chapter 9 is one of the most unsettling in the book. Illegal immigrants are literally changing the face and culture of the country. Continued unchecked mass immigration is unsustainable, just like current government spending. The preservation of our history and culture is impossible when illegals continue to flood over the border, refuse to assimilate or learn the language, set up their own communities, and reproduce at a rate higher than naturalized citizens, providing "anchor babies" in a distortion of U.S. law. It's estimated that 9 percent of the population of Mexico was living in the U.S. by 2004. For 40 years the flood has continued, and must be stopped. By the time 2010 is out, progressives will not doubt have a bill proposing citizenship for illegals who are already here. Those who began their association with the country by breaking the law, don't pay income taxes (the Fair Tax would force them to), and use facilities such as emergency rooms without paying, would become voters that ensure progressive (not to be confused with actual progress) control of government for generations to come.

After a chapter about gun control, Mark Levin ends his relatively small volume with about 10 pages summarizing the basic conservative position on various aspects of politics. His book provides a potent counterpoint to those to say conservatives are simply a party of "no". Look closer at those things to which we say "no": Change for the sake of change, a government that insists we push a $1 trillion health care bill through congress in a matter of weeks, unconstitutional government control, higher taxes, higher energy costs, inaction on illegal immigration.

Must read for any American who cares about their country.