Friday, December 24, 2010

The Help

When a friend recomneded this book, I didn't think much about it. She said it was good, I figured I would get to it eventurally. Honestly, I had this misplaced idea that it was about India, from the cover art. I actually never read the jacket brief or asked her what it was about....
Then I read it.

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, is a novel about three women who speak out durring the turbulent 60's in Mississippi. Skeeter, a young white woman just home from college, suddenly discovers that like in Jacksonville is so much less than she wants. And with the disappearence of the woman who raised her, the black maid Constantine, Skeeter begins to comprehend the deadly spires her society is built upon. Aibileen, a stong black maid raising her seventeenth white child, works for Skeeter's friend-- raising a little girl that will likely never outgrow the system that produced her. Pulling in Minny, Aibileen's best friend and the most smart-mouthed maid in the West, Skeeter and Aibileen conspire to tell their stories to a world in desperate need of change.

I could not put this book down-- go read it and see what else gets done while you do. The civil rights issues where interesting, but I've heard about them before, studied them in depth. What really caught my attention were the people living it. The black maids treated like an inferior species, called dirty and dishonesty though they were the cleanest, hardest working, most admirable ladies I think I have ever read about. The Hitler-like Hilly terrified me as did the testement to a white woman's way of dealing with insult from a black servant. Skeeter, so out of place and "modern" in her ideals, became another of my literary heroes as I read. But it is Aibilean who I hope I can be more like. This strong, dedicated, wise, loving, faithful, and challanging woman inspires me.

The prose is beautiful, the 450 page book sliding along like a Southern dream. Stockett's voice is near pitch-perfect. She writes in the vernacular without using strange spellings or weird regional words. Each character has a disinct voice and a deep dream. With real motivations, far-from perfect lives, and a strange sympathy for those on the other side of societal lines, these ladies manage to change their world, one word at a time.

The Help, read it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Sad Day for Avalon

Meg Cabot wrote this awesome book about a school called Avalon where characters from the Arthur legend seemed strangely reincarnated in high school students. With a smart, interesting, slightly misfit heroine and a text book, golden boy hero, the book was predictable to a point but with plenty to keep a reader involved and guessing to the very end. While it deviated slightly from the known Arthur legend, it does a good job of remaining true to the stories, as close as any Arthurian tale can. 

Then Disney decided to make a movie for their Disney Channel Original Movies series and I am pretty sure I shrieked with excitement. I knew it would be altered and just reading the character bios on the Disney site ratcheted my excitement down a notch or two, but I still retained high hopes. 

Then I watched it.

The movie began well-- some deviations of course, but I expected that. It was fun to watch and I knew where things were going. The characters were interesting and I really did care what happened. The movie turned about turned about about average for a Disney Channel Movie. 

 Allie was a fun, spunky heroine who managed to make friends with the in-crowd the first day in a new school (Avalon High) and still befriend the nerdy Miles. She soon finds that things are not all they seem in her new school, though, and it seems like it's Allie's new job to protect Will-- aforementioned golden boy and quarterback-- from his evil stepbrother, dark secrets about Jen and Lance (Will's girlfriend and best friend), and his own lack of self confidence as college scouts come to the play off football game soon coming up. In the meantime, Allie also makes the track team and pairs up with Miles for a research project about King Arthur. Her parents, medieval scholars, are thrilled about how well she is settling in and about her sudden interest in the Arthur legend. Miles easily stole the show and he wasn't even in the book. With his quick wit and snarky personality, he projected a Sheldon-esque anit-mainstream vibe but still seemed to see himself as a loser. Still, not a bad movie and decently in keeping with the book. Many of the little things the characters did had little impact on the movie, but represented struggles and thoughts faced by the characters in the book.

Then came the finale... *spoilers below the picture*

The first misstep was having the teacher Mr. More be Mordred instead of Will's half brother Marco. In the book, Mr. More was Mr. Morton, a member of the Order of the Bear and swore to protect Arthur. He is a Merlin figure. In the movie, Merlin is Miles, so Morton doesn't need to play that role. But still, changing More to Mordred made it too silly. Marco took the role of the Order of the Bear member bent on protecting Arthur, though he has been an overbearing jerk for the whole movie. So his sudden interest in Arthur's well-fare is rather jarring. 

The Absolute WORST part was when Arthur was actually manifested over one of the characters. In the book, Jenn was Guinevere, Lance was Lancelot, and Will was Arthur. Allie-- whose name was Ellie (Elaine)-- was mistaken for Elaine de Astolet, Lancelot's wife. In the end Ellie turned out to be the Lady of the Lake, who gave Arthur a sword (which became Excalibur) that allowed him to defeat the forces of darkness (led by Morderd/Marco). In the movie, Allie turned out to be Arthur.
Anywho, this leaves Will without a part at all and reinforces that idea that girls are not good enough as girls. Not cool Disney, not cool at all. Apparently the Lady of the Lake is not a cool enough, well-known enough, powerful enough character for a Disney girl to portray. Instead, she has to be a masculine character, ruling in Armor and surrounded by knights. Perhaps my offense partially come from the fact that the Lady of the Lake (Nimue, Vivianne, etc.) is my very favorite Arthurian character. Or that I really like this book and expected Disney to do great things with it. Alas, Disney did not find the story written by Meg Cabot good enough. The Lady of the Lake good enough. And the traditions of Arthur good enough.

So after an average movie with an awful ending, I am sadly disappointed in Disney. This book deserves a real movie with a much better story line. 

A Voyage *spoilers*

When the simple previews for this movie made me ache with homesickness, I knew it would be good. Always a fairy-tale princess more than a modern girl, I was instantly captured by the Narnia movies. What so intrigued me about Narnia that other fantasy stories did not have, though, was one Lion and his relationship to his people. I truly believe his words to Lucy at the end of the movie, "This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there." I know Christ better through Aslan, through my longing for a more beautiful, more noble world. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader returned me to that world and continued its excellent tradition.

The actors were superb, Eustace being a particularly well-casted part. He went from this obnoxious, namby-pamby, nancy boy to being worthy to be cousin to kings and queens of Narnia. Very rarely can children actors pull off this kind of character turn around but Will Poulter did so perfectly. 
Georgie Henley wonderfully reprised her role as Lucy. A pretty girl, she still convinced me that she needed to be beautiful—something I struggle with myself. This movie made me rethink my own thoughts of unworthyness and how God does see me as wonderful and indespensible—the way Aslan showed to Lucy that she was. The entire temptation of Lucy was very well written, acted, and heart wrenchingly close to home.
Skander seemed a little lack-luster. Though I admire him in the first movie, he has lost some gumption and failed to lose that arrogance. In every movie, it seems we have to watch Edmund get over himself again. Admitedly, Skander does play the easily-offended young king very well. I think the Witches appearance for him was far more nerver-wracking than the serpent. I wish they had made his temptation more in her direction, but his fear and his batter with that fear were very well scripted, screened, and acted. 

Ben Barnes proved much more likable here than in Prince Caspian and seems to have become a stronger actor, and in that a stronger king. He did drop the Spanish-tinted accent of the Telemarines in favor of the Narnian-sudo-British, a slightly jarring little detail. Still, he commands the screen and the ship beautifully. I would follow this king to the end of the earth as well.

Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg) was a splendid blend of sensitive rodent and warm friend. I especially like how he interacted with Eustace (who did amazingly with the CG work, by the way!). The relationship between the two is so very real and poignant.

Aslan returns, though sparingly, throughout the film, and I teared up every time. This magnificent lion is voiced spot-on by Liam Neeson. Watchful, fierce, merciful, protecting, and very much not tame, he is so much more than I expect every time. 

I loved the cameos by Peter and Susan (William Mosely and Anna Popplewell) and the other actors played their parts to perfection. For a long time, I completely forgot that I was not actually on-board the Dawn Treader with real sea-farers.

Costuming was sparce, but it fit with the ocean-bound crew. Lucy did not need a beautiful skirt or Edmund a fancy doublet. The simple tunic, breeches, and sashes worn by everyone unified the crew and made the film more adventurous. 

The cinamatography pulled me back to my homeland, per say, as it swooped over sea and island, ship and crew. There were a few more gratuitous shots of the ship than needed and a misplaced warning from a sprite on the way to Ramandu’s island confused me a bit. 

The islands themselves were splendid trips into Lewis’s mind. Each had a vivid landscape, interesting characters, and a specific purpose in moving the story forward. The writers did an excellent job of tying the adventures into a continuous ribbon rather than several loosely connected stops, which I felt was an actual improvement on the book.

The story kept many of the spiritual aspects that have been overlooked or cut from previous movies, which pleased me greatly. Reepicheep’s final adventure was filled with meaning and it filled me with longing to be there with him. 
This movie creates such a real, poignant world that I cannot wait to return. I long to be there, the poorest peasent even, and I look forward to when I too can move on to Aslan’s country. Narnia lets me live in this fallen world with hope for mankinds potential and joy in the eternal promise awainting me. The Dawn Treader takes me back again. And that is all I can ask from this movie.