Happy 200th Birthday, Pride & Prejudice!

Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of the publication of my favorite book of all time, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I am ill-qualified to write anything that will do justice to the book, Jane Austen and its enduring place in literature, pop-culture and the hearts of millions of women (and some men) the world over. So, instead, I’ve rounded up, from all over the interwebs, my favorite bits and pieces to celebrate the day Jane Austen gave us the gift of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy:

  • No surprise that The New Yorker’s tribute is wonderfully written and lovely. In what is a very quick read, William Deresiewicz manages to touch on the history of P&P‘s publishing, other legendary authors’ reaction to Austen and the book (Charlotte Brontë and Mark Twain hated her, Virginia Woolf called her “the most perfect artist among women, the writer whose books are immortal”), the dearth of information on Austen’s life and why we still love Pride & Prejudice so much, after all this time.

  • Because I liked that New Yorker article so much I clicked through to the link to Deresiewicz’s book, “A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter.” As if that title wasn’t enough, the book description sold me:

“Before Jane Austen, William Deresiewicz was a very different young man. A sullen and arrogant graduate student, he never thought Austen would have anything to offer him. Then he read Emma—and everything changed.”

If that doesn’t convince an Austen fan to buy this book, I don’t know what will.

  • This Conde Nast Traveler slideshow on the stately homes, towns and gardens all over the UK that were used as settings for either the BBC miniseries or the 2005 movie reminded me that I need to start saving for that trip to the UK. Chatsworth has been on my bucket list since, you guessed it, 2005.

  • If you need a quick reminder of what the story is about then here’s P&P  illustrated as a comic. I actually want a printout of this to pin on to my office desk cork board.
  • And again, via NPR, what is ostensibly a review of an Austen biography of sorts. What I liked about this particular article, though, has nothing to do with the book being reviewed (no offense to the author of both the book and the review). I liked the story about Albert the orangutan and the author’s thoughts on who Jane Austen would be pals with if she were alive right now (clue: one of them hosted the Golden Globes this year and the other one won two).
  • The Week’s roundup of the most bizarre retellings and reincarnations of Austen’s story is so, well, bizarre, that Seth Grahame-Smith’s zombified edition doesn’t even make the cut.  But a Twilight-esque treatment, a retelling in the “dialect of the American South” and a “Wild and Wanton” edition (Austen must be rolling in her grave) do. If I were Jane Austen, I don’t know if I’d be flattered or offended.
  • And now for a bit of shameless self-promotion. I didn’t write this for the 200th anniversary of course, but if ever you were wondering what I thought was the definitive Pride and Prejudice adaptations, here’s my sometimes rambling comparison (part one, two and three) of  the BBC production and the 2005 movie by Joe Wright. I wrote this a couple of years ago and have re-watched both since, and, instead of changing my mind, I now even feel more strongly about what I wrote. I’d love to hear what YOU think.

And so there you have it, a mishmash of the commemorations of 200 years of Pride and Prejudice. William Deresiewicz couldn’t have said it any better:

“Two hundred years—the bicentennial. Send in the tall ships. Set off the fireworks. Darcy and Elizabeth forever.”

Click the photos for their sources.

Okay guys, this has got to stop

Yes, it’s the same story. The actors play the same characters. They sing the same songs. But the Les Misérables movie is not something you should compare to the Les Misérables performances onstage.

The movie was not meant to be the stage musical in film. Phantom of the Opera this is not. The songs were not meant to be sung as Claude-Michel Schönberg wrote them (I will refrain from making the obvious Russell Crowe joke at this point).

Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne and Hugh Jackman were not hired for their ability to hold a note and belt it out in front of a room of nearly two thousand people. They would be the first people to tell you that their performances are not to be in considered in the same league as Patti Lupone’s or Lea Salonga’s or Michael Ball’s.

Stop complaining that Anne Hathaway’s I Dreamed a Dream does not hold a candle to Ruthie Henshall’s. Or that Eddie Redmayne and Samanth Barks’ A Little Fall of Rain was faltering. Or why Hugh chose to speak, and not sing, some words.

Just stop, please.

Because you’re missing the point of what Tom Hooper tried to do. To be more precise, what I think he tried to do (I won’t assume to understand the inner workings of an Oscar-winning brain), which was to make the singing feel more real, at least as real as you could expect conversational singing to be. Because, let’s face it, we have to suspend a lot of disbelief not only because Eponine is still singing as she lay dying, but also because she is still singing so damn perfectly.

Tom and the actors and the hard-working pianist playing into the actors’ earpieces did a lot of the work for us. So, now, in I Dreamed a Dream, Anne’s Fantine practically made me feel as if it was MY world that was falling to pieces, versus just me knowing that her life was. And it did feel like Eponine was fatally wounded in A Little Fall of Rain instead of me just knowing that this was her death song. Sam’s voice was breaking and she made it seem like she was struggling to get her words out, like she was actually, well, dying.

And Sam, Hugh, Eddie, Anne and Amanda could pull off doing that for the movie, and not for the stage. It’s probably impossible (not that I would know for sure) to have your voice artfully break, falter, stutter or whisper AND carry to the last row of a theater. On the flipside, actors could also manage to belt out the notes on the West End because they only doing it once, max twice, a day. Whereas during filming, each song had to be performed between 20-30 times on a shooting day.

So, again, just stop.

Do yourself, Tom Hooper, Victor Hugo, Schönberg, Boublil, etc. a favor and stop analyzing and comparing and nitpicking. I know that it’s natural, and actually fun sometimes to do that but just stop. Just sit back, take it all in and just appreciate the fact that we’re lucky enough to have such a powerful story told in such different, remarkable ways.

The Classics

I distinctly remember one summer when I was a little girl when I watched Disney’s The Little Mermaid every single day. Every. Single. Day. Unsurprisingly, I knew every word to every song. Needless to say, I loved The Little Mermaid.

Beauty and the Beast was released a few years after that, and I loved Belle’s story as much as I did Ariel’s. And although Aladdin was a male-driven story (it’s all about the princesses when you’re between 4 and 10 years old), Lea Salonga providing Princess Jasmine’s singing voice ensured the movie’s place in my heart.

So, feeling rather nostalgic, I asked for DVDs of these movies in our annual cousin Kris Kringle. And, happily, my cousin complied and gave me these (thanks, A!):

I watched them both over the holidays, the first time in years (possibly a decade) and was finally able to evaluate them without the giddy, crazy-over-castles-and-tiaras awe that I had when I was six years old. My conclusion, however, is still the same: these movies are brilliant. Absolutely BRILLIANT.

What’s not to love about these movies? Even if you weren’t a princess-obsessed six year old, there is still something about girls living out fairy tales that is irresistible to us (case point: the number of people who watched William & Kate’s wedding). And both princesses (well, princess-to-be, in Belle’s case) in these movies are feisty, charming, a little peculiar but overall lovable. You can’t help but root for them.

The same can be said about The Little Mermaid’s and Beauty and Beast’s supporting casts. Flounder? King Triton (if you didn’t shed a tear when he turned Ariel into a human, there is something seriously wrong with you)? Mrs. Potts? Maurice? Heck, I even love Ursula for her fabulous evil-ness.

But there’s one thing that I think MADE these movies the icons that they are now.  And it’s the same thing that I think was central to the string of movies now referred to (and rightfully so) as the Disney Renaissance: the music.

Under the Sea. Part of Your World. Kiss the Girl (my fave!).

Belle.  Be Our Guest. Something There (my fave!). Beauty and the Beast.

Even the villains’ songs, Poor, Unfortunate Souls and Gaston are great songs.

The music for both movies, by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman (who heartbreakingly did not live to see Beauty and the Beast completed), is nothing short of wonderful. The Menken (score) and Ashman (lyrics) pairing was nothing short of genius. And they have the Oscars to prove it, too. Both movies won for Best Score and won AND had multiple nominations each for Best Song (Under the Sea and Kiss The Girl for The Little Mermaid; Belle, Be Our Guest and the title song for Beauty and the Beast).

Awards or no, though, the songs are just wonderful and so central to the already beautiful stories being told. You only got proper insight into Ariel’s fascination with the human world through Part of Your World (which they actually considered taking out of the movie, the horror!). You understood how Belle felt so out of place in her “poor, provincial town” through Belle/Little Town. And on top of that they’re catchy and so much fun to sing along to. I mean, how can you NOT sing along to “Bonjour! Bonjour! Bonjour! Bonjour! Bonjour!” from Belle or “Sha la la la la la, my oh my” from Kiss the Girl? Impossible.

To put it simply, the music from these movies are unforgettable, wonderful and brilliant.

And the music made the movies unforgettable, wonderful and brilliant.

My six year old self had it right all along.

Lea Salonga!!!!!

News broke out last week that Taylor Swift is allegedly vying for the role of Eponine in the film adaptation of Les Miserables. And that made my blood boil. Because while her voice may be, ummmm, adequate for the type of the music she makes, I don’t think it will be enough for Eponine.

No no no no no...

It’s Eponine, for crying out loud, our very own Ms. Lea Salonga played her to absolute perfection. Can you imagine Taylor Swift doing this even half as well?

Anyway, I searched for that video on youtube in an are-they-serious?!?! type of mindset, just to prove to myself that I wasn’t just being a cynical b*tch in thinking that Taylor can’t possibly play Eponine (the above video proves me right, of course). And as it turns out, it’s physically impossible to watch just ONE Lea Salonga youtube video. Because she is Lea Salonga, and she is perfection.

There are tons of videos showcasing her jaw-dropping talent but the one I kept playing over and over was this one:

Sure, it wasn’t one of those full-on performances, but I think this video has a charm all its own. I didn’t know that she did this, got a member of the audience to sing A Whole New World with her during concerts. And the guy in this video, Jared, is so cute in his reactions while singing with her. He gets so giddy and kilig when she starts singing, and seems so extremely excited and awed to be onstage with her (who wouldn’t be?), I find it adorable. And the guy can sing. And he’s not bad-looking either. Hehe.

Adorable as Jared is, of course the star of the video is still Lea (duh). As the youtube commenters put it, she owns the song: she sings it as perfectly as she did for the movie. Not that we should expect any less, of course. She is, after all, THE Ms. Lea Salonga.

And that fact that Taylor Swift is even being RUMORED to be CONSIDERED for the same role she played still irks me. Uggggh.

Mock Les Miserables poster from NYMag.com’s Vulture

The only good thing that came out of Twilight

Apart from this, of course

would be these:

I don’t like Twilight. I didn’t read the books, I didn’t pay to see the movies (I got treated to the first one, saw the second one on a plane and haven’t seen the third one in full) and have no intention of changing that situation any time soon. I’ll resist the temptation to go on a full-on rant and just say that the material is just not for me.

Despite my aversion to all things related to franchise, I’d like to think I’m still objective enough to give credit where it is due (see lead photo), especially when the recipient of such praise is a pair of shoes this pretty.

You can’t really go wrong with a classic satin pump, much less a Manolo Blahnik one. And the crystal embellishment on these are just to my liking. They’re not too sweet or precious-looking, as some wedding shoes tend to be, and they lose all “bridal” connotations when paired with a different-colored shoe (although I do wonder if those crystals will be poking your feet. Bloodstains on white satin would NOT be pretty.) . My favorite version of the Swan Pump is the bright pink one as the black one strikes me as a little unimaginative. I think the contrast of the pink against the crystal is fantastic, plus you can wear them to other occasions where they don’t play the bridal march. Although I wish they also came in the same shade of blue as Carrie Bradshaw’s infamous pair in the movie.

Taylor Lautner photo via Google Images, Manolo Blahnik Swan Pumps photo from Neiman Marcus via TalkShoes

Siiiiiiiiiiiigh

I know the title isn’t very eloquent, but I can’t think of a better way to sum up the way my favorite movie of all time (and I say that without any exaggeration) makes me feel: siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh.

It’s very rare that a movie based on a book leaves a reader satisfied, much less completely and absolutely enamored with the film. And Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book of ALL. TIME. So Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation had a LOT to live up to, to say the least.

And it met and wonderfully exceeded my lofty standards.

I don’t envy writers who adapt their screenplays from well-loved books and in classic English literature, I really don’t think it can get more well-loved than Jane Austen. It’s a thankless job, because some bookworm out there will always have something to complain about. But I really can’t imagine how Deborah Moggach’s adaptation could be significantly improved. Although I would have preferred to have seen Ms. Bingley’s (played to haughty perfection by Kelly Reilly) jealousy of Elizabeth played out on screen, that’s just me wanting to see a bitch get her comeuppance (don’t we all?). Other than that, I think it’s a beautiful adaptation. It took enough from dialogue from the book for it still to be distinctly Austen, but not so much that the characters sound like they’re speaking a different language. It was well-paced and the detail and character omissions did not take away from the story at all.

But a good script alone doesn’t make a good movie. The other half of the genius of this movie is in its casting (what is it about British films, anyway? Why are they all so impeccably cast?). Almost everyone, from Judi Dench as Lady Catherine and Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennet is perfect for their role. And none the more so than the two leads: Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew McFadyen as Mr. Darcy.

Although I discuss it more at length in a previous post, it still must be said: these two NAILED IT. Both Keira and Matthew were born to play these roles. I was skeptical about Keira playing my favorite fictional heroine, given that the roles she was famous for were in Bend it Like Beckham and Pirates of the Carribean. Not exactly dramatic gold. So imagine my surprise when she moves from the self-assured, headstrong and stubborn Lizzy, to the confused, conflicted and humbled girl in love seamlessly and gracefully.

And what about McFadyen’s Mr. Darcy? Well, before I saw the film, I was already convinced that if I ended up an old maid, I would have Jane Austen’s Fitzwilliam Darcy to blame, even if I didn’t really have a picture in my head of what Darcy possibly looked like. After seeing the movie, the picture in my head is of McFadyen. McFadyen is so perfect as Mr. Darcy, that I actually get disoriented when I see him in a role set in the modern world, that I find it weird when I see him in a suit and not in breeches, a waistcoat and coattails. And he’s not even THAT good-looking (sorry, Matthew, but you know I love you)!  He plays the formal, stiff Mr. Darcy well enough, but I think it’s the flustered, nervous and struggling Mr. Darcy that McFadyen gets spot on, and that gets the “awwwwwwws” going. With McFadyen, you really appreciate the inner struggle Darcy goes through with his feelings for Elizabeth, and isn’t that what’s at the crux of Darcy’s story anyway? And he plays it all with such emotion, but yet with such subtlety. Even with just his eyes and very small movements in his face, McFadyen makes you feel what Mr. Darcy is going through. Mr. Darcy is the probably the most controlled character of them all, but McFadyen is so good as him, that even when Darcy’s unintentionally blurts out “I love you, most ardently”, it all still seems so natural. *swoooooooon*

And together, Keira and Matthew are just brilliant. They play off each other so well. When Darcy and Elizabeth are arguing there’s fire and hostility, but you can sense an underlying attraction to each other that is just undeniable, despite both’s best efforts to resist it. And they are just as good in the latter stages of the movie, when all the hostility is replaced by nervous awkwardness and longing. Like I said, brilliant.

If you need further convincing on how good Keira and Matthew are together, here goes:

If that still doesn’t convince you, (1) what is wrong with you? and (2) then my final suggestion is to get an original DVD of the movie, and watch it with director Joe Wright’s commentary. I loved the movie even without it, but I watched Pride and Prejudice with it and, I didn’t think it was possible, the commentary made me love the movie even more. Wright’s sometimes hilarious and always insightful anecdotes about making the movie, the characters, the actors and the script just gave me a new appreciation for the film that I never had. So, please, get the original DVD. I’ll lend you mine if you can’t find one.

Because more people need to realize how beautiful this movie is. Also, I need more members in my “I am Mrs. Darcy” old’s maid club.

The End is Near

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t yet the book (but really, you should) and don’t want to know about anything that will happen in the 2nd part of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, then don’t read on. I repeat, don’t read on.

In a little less than two weeks time, the moment millions of people have both been anticipating and dreading will come. The 2nd installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallowswill hit screens, capping off one of the (if not THE) biggest movie franchises off all time. I’ll save all the farewell drama for until after I’ve seen the movie. For now, the anticipation still trumps the sadness of the prospect that this movie virtually represents the end of EVERYTHING Harry Potter. So instead of focusing on how sad it will be to have nothing Harry Potter-related to look forward to anymore, here are my thoughts/questions about the upcoming movie:

The epic Empire Magazine Harry Potter commemorative issue

  • Do they even go through Dumbledore’s backstory in detail? In the first movie, they didn’t really touch on the former Hogwarts headmaster and the controversial revelations in his biography, The Life and Times of Albus Dumbledore as much as they did in the book. So I wonder how much they’ll discuss it in the second book. It would be quite a lengthy sidestory involving Dumbledore’s parents, borther and sister and friend Grindelwald. But it’s needed to explain Dumbledore’s obsession with the Deathly Hallows and how he came to possess the Elder Wand, so they can’t do away with it entirely.
  • King’s Cross Station – The part where Dumbledore and Harry meet again in a limbo-version of King’s Cross was my least favorite part of the book. I found it unnecessary and so random, so I wonder if they’ll even bother with it in the movie. If they do, though, I wonder what the scene will look like, since in my (admittedly unimaginative) head it’s just King’s Cross with a fog machine on overdrive.
  • Snape’s Story – Severus Snape’s secret love for Lily Potter is one of JK Rowling’s most brilliant bits story-telling, and that’s saying a lot. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking story, but is quite lengthy, as it goes as far back to when Lily, Snape and even Aunt Petunia Dursley  were children. But I daresay fans will be in an uproar if Snape’s story isn’t told in its full glory. So it will be interesting to see how much screenwriter Steve Kloves put in and took out. Also, I can’t wait to see what a young Petunia looks like.
  • The Epilogue – Will they even show this in the movie? After what surely will be an action-packed face-off between Harry and Voldermort, I think it would anti-climatic to fast-forward to the time when Harry and Ginny and Ron and Hermione are sending their kids off to school on the Hogwarts Express. Besides, I don’t really need to see Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson artificially aged 19 years or, worse, replaced by completely different, more adult actors.

There are other things that I wonder about, in terms of what will be in the movie or not (the death of Lupin and Tonks, Grawp) but it’s the in/exclusion of the plot points above, I think, could make or break the movie. I don’t envy Steven Kloves and director David Yates in trying to figure out what will make it and what won’t and how long something will be in if it does make it in… But who am I kidding, even if they condensed Snape’s story into one sentence (which I’m pretty sure they won’t do anyway, if Kloves values his life at all), I’d still be there on opening day (yes, I’m a little pathetic) to watch this movie. It’s the end of an era for me and millions of other readers, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world, even if the whole thing was in 2D animation. Or worse, 3D.