Monday, August 29, 2011

I believe

Steve and I finally saw Cowboys & Aliens yesterday. I went in with low expectations and actually had a pretty good time with it. Yes, it was formulaic, often cheesy, and completely lacking in subtlety. But the explosions! And gunfights! And alien abductions! And sweaty cowboys! Hey, I was quite pleased.

Best of all, Daniel Craig had me within the first thirty seconds of the movie. He just . . . he always makes me believe in his characters -- even when they're doing and saying the most preposterous things.

It's what I like best in actors who play action heroes (and here I loosely define action hero as "one who'd prefer to solve problems by fighting rather than talking") -- that ability to own the role so completely that I always see the character rather than the performance.

So whether Daniel Craig is playing . . .

an alcoholic police detective with anger issues

a drug dealer who wants to quit the game

a government agent with a license to kill

or an alien-busting cowboy . . . I BELIEVE!

[BTW, Michael Fassbender also accomplishes this in every role he plays, in my opinion. Whether it be a demon (with eyeliner!), a centurion, a mutant, or a 19th century gothic hero, I always buy into him as character.]

Which action hero actors make YOU believe?

[cross-posted at Livejournal]

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The problem of kissing in JANE EYRE '11

[Warning to those completely in the dark about the plot of JANE EYRE -- spoilers ahead!]

You all know I'm obsessed with the latest adaptation of Jane Eyre.

I've seen others comment on the lack of development in Jane and Rochester's romance, a lack of chemistry between them, and a general weirdness in their physical interactions (i.e. KISSING) on screen.

I . . . have some thoughts.

I agree that the film didn't, couldn't, spend enough time developing their very complex relationship in two hours. In some ways, I was glad to see much less of Rochester torturing and provoking Jane. In all other ways I compensated by mentally projecting what I knew about their "courtship" onto the brief scenes in the film. Not all viewers had details hovering in their minds from 5+ readings of the book, so I understand why they might feel disappointed.

I disagree about the chemistry, however. The more I watch the film, the more I see it in the subtle moments -- gestures, facial quirks and bits of dialogue. (That moment when he's on the horse and she lays her cheek on his thigh? It's wonderfully intimate, but also foreboding. So perfect!) And yet I do remember, after the proposal and subsequent kiss, thinking "Umm, that was a little awkward."

For all I know, it could have been a Clark Gable sort of situation. Since Michael Fassbender seems to exist solely on cigarettes for nutrition, perhaps Mia Wasikowska could barely stand to kiss his ashy mouth and therefore seems to be shrinking away during their embraces.

But after listening to the director's commentary, I don't think Cary Fukanaga would have put up with that.

He makes the point early on that, at eighteen, Jane is practically a child and has never kissed a man. We all know this -- most girls of her time would not have been making out with the boys in the neighborhood -- but in Jane's case I would stress that the only men she's ever had contact with on a regular basis (who else was there other than John Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst?) were cruel and physically intimidating. She has no idea how to be held by a man, much less kiss him, and even before the kiss we see her torn between excitement and terror every time she's near Rochester. It's not so much that he's scary (though I would argue he is more so in the book), but that she's grown up to be wary of male violence and has no experience with sexual passion or how to interpret sexual overtures. Imagine how freaked out she would be during every moment alone with Rochester! And then, when he does finally propose and kiss her, the contact of their lips might nearly have been a physical shock. Hence, the stiffness to her body and the sense that she is holding something back.

And then there's this particular adaptation's interpretation of Rochester. Since there's so little time to develop their growing attraction, Fukanaga (or the script, anyway) seems to focus on Rochester's desire for redemption. Jane's clever and "unpolluted" mind paired with her strong moral compass seem just the ticket to him. After his early disappointments and subsequent debaucheries, her purity will somehow cleanse him of his sins. No doubt, at this point, he is charmed by her hesitant, closed-mouthed kisses.

Of course, I also like the way in which their slightly awkward embraces foreshadow the fact that something is off-kilter with their pairing. (To me it works much better than the old "lightning strikes the tree as they embrace" cue.)

I find it interesting that, later on during Jane's "dream kiss" with Rochester, she is slightly more open-mouthed and passionate, but there's still the sense of shock and not really knowing what she's doing.

By the end, she is much more sure of herself, and the physicality in that final scene is intense. She comes to him, falls into him rather than shrinking back -- in fact, she is the dominant figure in the embrace -- and I find it exquisite.

Thoughts? What have I missed?

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Favorites

I know this is so last week, but I finally caught up with So You Think You Can Dance a few days ago. I was very pleased with the outcome -- the winning dancer was my favorite all along, for I could never quite connect to the runner up, despite his/her amazing talent and drive. (Trying not to spoil, just in case!)

Overall, a great season. The top eight show was the best set of performances I can remember.

It was fun to watch the judge's favorite dances during the final episode. My own favorite was not included in that number, so of course I'm going to post it here. This dance may not have been the most technically brilliant or heart-tugging of the season, but it sure hit all my story buttons. (Desire, manipulation, unrequited love, etc.) Melanie is such a great actress as well as dancer, and I found Tadd convincing as the choreographer. (But did he miss the beat at the end?) I can't help giggling over the fact that Skippy-faced sweetie Spencer Liff came up with something so darkly passionate and Black Swan-esque (as Cat noted).

[Shirley Bassey's vocals are amazing, too. Nice mix.]

What was YOUR favorite routine of the season?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The return of TV Tuesday

And this week it's all about Brit TV.

I didn't know my FAVORITE fictional detective had been adapted to the small screen until I saw ads for Case Histories in England this summer. To be honest, I'm not sure what to think of this. I love Jackson Brodie so much that it's hard to imagine any actor getting him right. (I love Rochester and Darcy, too, but for some reason I enjoy seeing different actors take a stab at them. It's different with Jackson.) Jason Isaacs is great, but I remain apprehensive. And the thing about these Kate Atkinson novels is that, as Isaacs himself says, they're not really detective novels. They're works of literary fiction that happen to feature a detective as the main character -- I'm just not sure how this will translate to the screen. But . . . I will, of course, be watching this October 16 when the show premieres on Mystery!

THIS, on the other hand, looks like great fun. A young Inspector Morse? YES, PLEASE! (And look -- he's standing in front of the Brasenose chapel! ETA: On second look, maybe not. But it's very like Brasenose. Must investigate further.) Learn more about Endeavor here. Not sure when this will come to the US, but there's no doubt it will eventually cross the pond, what with all the Morse and Lewis fans in this country.

And then there's The Hour, which premieres on BBCAmerica this week. Lots of familiar faces in this one, including a very suave Dominic West heating up the screen with Romola Garai. We randomly tuned into one ep while we were in England, and I was very intrigued. Check out this NY Times feature for more context.

What about you? Has anything caught your eye in the fall TV lineup?

Monday, August 15, 2011


First off: I'll be signing at the Barnes & Noble in Oklahoma City (6100 N. May) this Thursday evening, August 18, at 7 pm. I'd love to meet you and sign your book!

Second newsflash: I'm HOME!

Some nice things about this:

-- My kitty remembered me. He was very sleek and happy from getting such excellent care from my adorable housesitter.

-- The heat isn't TOO terrible. (Highs in the upper 90s, but getting warmer soon enough)

-- I have remained unspoiled as to the final results of So You Think You Can Dance and am now caught up to the top six. WOW! The top eight show was absolutely phenomenal. (I don't know if this is my favorite dance, but watching the Viennese Waltz with Melanie and Pasha is a nice way to start a Monday. Pasha would brighten any morning, wouldn't he?)

-- It's just great to be in my house and back to our old routines. I really am a creature of habit.

I'll leave you with this photo -- a rare shot of the Brasenose College entrance on High Street. Why is this rare? Well, for one thing, it's SUNNY. And the second is that there are no people crowding the sidewalk. Miraculous, really.

See you next summer, Brasenose!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Oxford 2011: another rambling recap

We leave in 5 days. I'll be so glad to see my kitty and be reunited with all the conveniences of home, but I'm dreading the heat of Oklahoma. And it's been such a great summer that I'm really going to miss this place.

We enjoyed many adventures with our friends this past week.

Last Tuesday we punted to the Victoria Arms with John and Liesa Richter (& kids). From their lovely holiday cottage on the river it was a 40 minute punt -- made a little longer than usual by the fact that Steve struggled at first with the technique. (We knew better than to let me have a go at it.) I wore my punting hat (there is no such thing, I just felt I needed a white hat.) Unfortunately, hats always transform me into a little old lady, but this one did protect me from the rain that began to fall as we neared the pub. It rained pretty heavily while we ate, so the cushions got soaked, but once we flipped them over we were mostly dry. It did get a little dark, however, as you see above. And at one point I was distracted from the scenery by the sound of Steve crying "Oops!" This was what he was oopsing about. We were able to paddle back to retrieve the pole, but not before John ran over it in his punt. Fortunately, it popped right up!

On Friday we drove out to Bourton-on-the-Water and from there hiked about 8 miles through the Cotswolds. Here we are lunching at The Old Mill in Lower Slaughter, which has one of our very favorite riverside cafes. From Lower Slaughter we made our way to Stow-on-the-Wold, where we met program director Bob and his wife Carolyn for refreshments at Huffkins.

From Stow we rambled through scenic meadows and wooded paths (as seen above) toward Donnington, and from there to Longborough, where we had a fantastic night of eating and dart playing at The Coach and Horses.

Saturday took me on an entirely different but equally fabulous adventure. I traveled to Bath and joined fellow Elevensie Stephanie Burgis and her husband (my agent-sibling) Patrick Samphire for tea at the Jane Austen Centre Regency Tea Rooms (note portrait on the far wall). I felt instantly at ease with them, so time passed quickly, and before long we were moving on to Waterstones, where Stephanie signed her latest Kat book (A Tangle of Magicks in the UK, or Renegade Magic in the U.S.) After the very successful signing, we collected a group of writers for tea at the Pump Room. (Yes, I had a lot of tea that day. You know I'm not complaining!) I was so busy chatting with Harriet Castor, Amy Butler Greenfield and Alex Dally Macfarlane that I forgot to take any photos. I really hope to meet up with them again. Thanks for setting this up, Stephanie!

Sunday morning we rejoined the Richter family for a drive north to Kenilworth Castle. We enjoyed climbing over the ruins, peering through windows, and touring the lovely Elizabethan garden. Best of all was imagining Robert Dudley and Elizabeth canoodling in various secret nooks, for it seems that Dudley poured a lot of money into Kenilworth in the hopes of impressing the young queen and perhaps convincing her to marry him.

After Kenilworth we drove south to Broughton Castle, near Banbury -- the sort of place that's easiest accessed by car. This 14th century castle, still inhabited by Lord and Lady Saye and Sele (who were walking the grounds with their grandchildren while we toured) had a lovely moat and garden. Liesa and I decided that we needed to watch Shakespeare in Love again, since parts of it were filmed here and its star, Joseph Fiennes, is cousin to Lord Saye and Sele!

We ended the day with a meal at The Trout in Wolvercote, which never fails to please. Such a memorable weekend!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Oxford 2011: Week 3 in review

On Monday I took the train down to Winchester and then a taxi over to the little village of Chawton to see Jane Austen's house. It was wonderful to meet up with my old grad school buddy Laura (who is now a college professor and gets to teach Austen, Bronte and all sorts of lovely 19th century authors).

I'm knocking at Jane's front door! After exploring the house and enjoying tea across the road at Cassandra's Cup, we walked to the church where Jane Austen's sister and mother were buried and ogled Chawton House, one of the estates owned by Jane's brother Edward. Chawton House is now a library of early English women's writing. Someday I hope to go back for a tour.

Last year I was in quite a frenzy to capture images of all the Peter Wimsey-related sites in Oxford. At that time St. Cross Church, where Peter and Harriet were said to have been married, was covered in scaffolding. Fortunately the work is done now, but the church has been made redundant (how can this be?) and is to become a historical collections center for Balliol College. We could not get inside on this evening, but we did sneak into the churchyard . . .

to get this picture. Lovely, isn't it?

This past weekend my Dad and stepmother came to Oxford. We dined with them Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday took them to Blenheim Palace. Steve and I had been before, so this time we tried to explore the more remote reaches of the gardens. (It was lovely, but I still prefer Chatsworth.) This is a shot of the palace and its Italian garden.

I like this shot of Steve and the . . . what is she, exactly? It's a lion with wings and a woman's head. A sphinx? It was such a sunny, warm day. Almost too warm -- in fact, we're having quite the heat wave this week. High of 80!

Only two weeks left of this glorious summer in Oxford. How can it be August already?