Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: Northanger Abbey (2007)

 (This is the fifth of my reviews for the Period Drama Challenge.)

"No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine." So begins the first novel Jane Austen completed for publication, and so also begins the narrative voice in the 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abbey.

I think Northanger Abbey is the funniest of all Jane Austen's works; they are all quite amusing, but I find Northanger Abbey to be so hilarious, that I often burst out laughing while reading it. I think the story has a more youthful feel, with all the imagination and light drama of innocence and naivete. Catherine is Austen's youngest heroine, and Northanger Abbey is a story of an ignorant young lady growing wiser and more mature, and learning about life through her adventures. 

This movie cuts out many significant bits of the book and changes some things I don't like. Northanger Abbey may be the shortest of all Miss Austen's books, but 1 and a half hours still isn't long enough to cover everything. Like Pride and Prejudice (1995), I feel like this is a good "companion" movie to the book, but not nearly as faithful.

Andrew Davies wrote the screenplay, and unfortunately didn't do quite as well as he did with Pride and Prejudice in my opinion. While I sort of liked the idea of the fantasy scenes he inserted as Catherine's wild imagination, I think she was much more innocent than he made her out to be - some of those fantasy sequences are much too sensual and inappropriate, although one or two were funny. They really did not fit what I imagined her to be reading. Badly done, Davies! I found a quote from him while I was researching for this review saying that he's proud of his reputation for "sexing up" his adaptations. That has seriously soured and disappointed my opinion of his work.

Felicity Jones is absolutely delightful as Catherine. The true test of an actor or actresses' success, in my opinion, is whether I like them well enough to hear their voice when I read the book. Felicity might be a little too pretty for Catherine, but why quarrel about that? I imagine her voice for all her lines when I read NA, and I think she portrayed Catherine as perfectly as she could have, given the downfalls of the script.

"Any vampires? Don't say vampires. I could bear anything but not vampires!" - Catherine
"Miss Morland, I do believe you are teasing me now." - Henry

J J Feild manages to exceed Felicity Jones's perfection in his performance of Henry Tilney. While I like all of Jane's heroes, I think if I could choose one, he would be my personal favorite. He's witty and humorous, while still being honest, intelligent and considerate. Feild portrayed all of this perfectly to my satisfaction. I just wish so many of his lines from the book hadn't been cut!

"Now I must give one smirk, and then we may be rational again." - Henry Tilney
(Thank goodness that one made it!)

One scene I wish hadn't been meddled with.
"From these circumstances sprang the instant conclusion of his sister's now being at his side; and therefore, instead of turning of a deathlike paleness and falling in a fit on Mrs. Allen's bosom, Catherine sat erect, in the perfect use of her senses, and with cheeks only a little redder than usual." - Northanger Abbey, the novel.

Eleanor (Catherine Walker) doesn't get nearly enough screen time for me, but she made good use of the time she did get. Her sweet submissiveness and gentle kindness comes through in every moment, and her sense and greater maturity makes her the ideal friend for Catherine.

Isabella is played by Carey Mulligan, and she was perfectly selfish and flirtatious, while also being endearing and friendly to Catherine. Shallow and scheming, some of her gowns are extremely low cut, which fits her personality, unfortunately.

"I remember, I wore this yellow gown. My hair was up in braids..." - Isabella
Isabella's brother, John Thorpe (William Beck) is much more despicable than she, in my opinion. He's a "rattle," saying anything he wants about anything and everything without regard to truth, and he will do almost anything to get what he wants. In one of the scenes I wish was included, he's previously engaged Catherine for the first dance of the evening, but is off in the card-room keeping her waiting when Mr. Tilney asks her to dance and she is forced to decline. He and General Tilney make a good pair of villains. 

When I was browsing YouTube for some videos in research for this post, I found a version of this movie with more scenes than our American edition has, and while I liked the tea room scene, being almost entirely from the book, I absolutely loathed another one, and wish I could erase my memory of it. It was quite horrifying, and I recommend that you avoid the "bathtub scene" entirely if you happen to watch the UK version. It was an absolutely dreadful instance of Andrew Davies doing what I should never have believed he would do before I found that exceedingly disappointing quotation. I feel betrayed.

Before I found out all of this, I had a fairly good opinion of this movie, only being disappointed that it wasn't more true to the book. I hope it won't completely sour my enjoyment of it, because I do enjoy the characters, and there are some lovely scenery shots, and beautiful costumes. 

Lismore Castle in Ireland is Northanger Abbey

Henry and Catherine arriving at the abbey.
One of my favorite gowns.

I love the hats and shawls!

I can't help but like Carey Mulligan (and her dimples!) even as a shallow character.
In spite of the unfortunate screenplay and distortion of Austen's most youthful novel in this adaptation, I really like Felicity Jones and J J Feild's portrayals. I think they worked well together, and however lacking this movie translation might be, it will not deter me from continuing to imagine them as I read the novel. 

Overall, I do think the positives of this adaptation might outweigh the negatives, and I hope I will still be able to find some enjoyment in the good aspects of this adaptation in the future - though I am afraid some of what I have discovered will increasingly irk me. I am, however, most sincerely attached to Catherine, and even more particularly, Mr. Tilney.

"To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen, is to do pretty well..." - Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Food: Purpose and Choices

What is the purpose of food? The answer is obvious: to keep from starving to death! We must eat to live; these mortal bodies can't survive indefinitely without food. In America, one might think our general population doesn't have much of a problem with that: 69.2% of American adults are overweight and obese according to the CDC (and their data is 4 years old!). With such a fat population, we don't appear to be a starving nation in general, but I would argue differently. We're starving ourselves to death. Eating unhealthy food, Americans are starving themselves of nutrients, starving themselves of the healing, life-giving properties of healthy food, and the saddest part is that they don't even know it. And they don't want to know. In keeping with the self-gratification that's prevalent in our society, most people just want to eat whatever tastes good. And healthy foods, well, they just don't usually top the list.

The analogy of a car has been used before, and I think it makes sense. Our bodies are like extremely fine, high-powered sports cars, and they need the right kind of fuel to function properly. If you put the wrong kind of fuel in a car, what happens? Your car won't perform up to its capabilities, and depending on badly you erred, may break down and need seriously expensive repairs. Americans are gorging themselves on all the wrong kinds of "fuel" for their bodies, and the wear is showing. This is where the analogy should break down, our bodies are designed to repair and heal naturally. In general, though, that's not what doctors will tell you, and it's certainly true that natural repair won't happen if you're clogging your "engine" with the wrong fuel! Personally, I think it's an amazing sign of what wonderful bodies God has given us that some people can survive as long as they do while eating junk.

So, what's the right kind of fuel? To avoid starving yourself first-world style, you have to understand what your body needs. Contrary to popular belief, you do NOT need ANY carbohydrates to survive. (source) From the same source, carbohydrates to strictly avoid for health:

Breads Pasta Cereal Bagels French Fries
Chips Pretzels Waffles Pancakes Baked goods
Totally avoiding carbs isn't recommended for optimal health, but it is possible. (I didn't actually understand until recently that vegetables are carbs.) Here's a list of the best vegetables, plus the not-so-great and worst vegetables.

Highly Recommended Vegetables
Asparagus Escarole
Avocado (actually a fruit) Fennel
Beet greens Green and red cabbage
Bok Choy Kale
Broccoli Kohlrabi
Brussel sprouts Lettuce: romaine, red leaf, green leaf
Cauliflower Mustard greens
Celery Onions
Chicory Parsley
Chinese cabbage Peppers: red, green, yellow and hot
Chives Tomatoes
Collard greens Turnips
Cucumbers Spinach
Dandelion greens Zucchini

Use sparingly due to high carbohydrate levels
Beets Jicima
Carrots Winter Squashes

Vegetables to Avoid

 Just in case you're as clueless as I was (I know it's not much consolation), fruits are also carbs. Fruits are certainly healthy, and I don't know that I agree completely with Dr. Mercola's limitations on fruits due to fructose, but I do think vegetables should be a higher priority. (Click here if you're interested in the dangers of fructose, and a list of the common fruits with their fructose contents.) Coconut is one of the best fruits you can eat, and everyone's heard the saying: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Enjoy your fruits in moderation, but avoid SUGAR like it's poison (because, actually, it is). When I want a sweet treat, I stick with honey, pure maple syrup, and coconut sugar, in small amounts.

Now that you know what carbohydrates you should eat for health and what should be avoided, let's look at something vital to your survival: protein. Proteins are the "building blocks" for your body, providing the nutrients you need to increase muscle mass and maintain health. There are many sources of protein, but animal proteins are the only complete proteins (see more here) and for optimal health, it's important that your animal proteins come from healthy animals. Preferably, organically raised - no antibiotics or growth hormones and fed their natural diet. Grass-fed cows and lamb, soy-free chickens. Dairy should be raw, from those organic, grass-fed cows. (I wrote a whole post about REAL milk here: Illegally Delicious)

 Trivia Tidbit:
Did you know that 30 MILLION pounds of antibiotics are used every year for food production in the US? Unlike the 6 million pounds put to use by the American people every year, the majority of the antibiotics given to livestock are simply being used as a cheap way to make the animals grow faster. 
"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." 1 Timothy 6:10a.

Finally, the food group most commonly incriminated, and so undeservedly: Fats! Fat DOES NOT make you fat - flour and sugar do. As a matter of fact, healthy fats can help you to lose weight (I highly recommend the books "Eat Fat, Lose Fat" and "The Coconut Oil Miracle"). A tablespoon of coconut oil has 6 calories per gram, and increases your metabolism for about 24 hours. For breakfast, I like to have a big mug of green tea with a tablespoon of coconut oil and a splash of raw milk. (Yes, I drink tea with oil in it. I know it sounds weird, but it's really not that bad.) Fats also help you absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in your food.

Avocados Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk Raw dairy Organic pastured egg yolks
Coconuts and coconut oil unheated organic nut oils Raw Nuts, such as almonds or pecans, and seeds Grass fed meats

 Contrary to the common belief that low-fat is healthy, your diet should probably contain about 50-70% percent healthy fats. Fats are very satiating, they satisfy your hunger and also give you energy, in a form that's much more healthful than most carbs. Remember, you actually DO NOT need carbs to survive, fats can more than adequately provide all the energy you need! Also, saturated fat is vitally important for your brain. Enjoy your fats! 

If you're struggling with extra body fat, don't forget, eating fats doesn't make you fat - flour and sugar do! I had to keep reminding myself for weeks before it finally sunk in. I think it's really exciting to know, because I love my fats! Breads and sugary treats were my favorite foods before, so it's nice to replace them with something that I previously mistook for being "off-limits." I'll put a whole avocado on my salad, drink a luscious glass of whole, REAL milk, or top off my fruit salad with a nice serving of yoghurt and sprinkle of pecans.

 I still slip up and eat some pasta sometimes, or cave and eat one of those delicious oatmeal cookies my brother likes to bake, but I feel much better when I cut out those carbs entirely, and eat my carbs in the form of fruits and veggies (primarily raw), with lots of healthy fats, and moderate portions of protein. Different folks are different, though, so experiment, and find out what works for you. You might not need to cut out flour and sugar entirely, like it seems I do, so don't panic if that seems impossible. 

The most important part of eating healthy is making YOU healthy, and healthy should feel great! If you're worried you won't like any of the healthier foods you start eating, just give it a while. Your taste buds DO change, and much more easily than most people believe. Once you get off your sugar addiction (almost everyone is addicted to sugar nowadays) normal food will start to taste better, and you can cultivate a taste for healthy food. You will have more energy, feel better and get sick less often. Eating healthy isn't a constantly miserable experience (although I won't promise it'll be fun at first) - it's an exciting opportunity to live a healthier life! And who wouldn't to be healthier? No one wants to "drive" around in a sputtering, sluggish "sports car" that's always breaking down. Choose good "fuel" and enjoy the ride!


Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Review: Pride and Prejudice (1995)

(This is the fourth of my reviews for the Period Drama Challenge.)

Oh, Pride and Prejudice! Where to begin? I've already written about the novel recently, so I will try not get sidetracked into praising the book. I will simply say that Jane Austen is my favorite authoress, Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite novels, and the unabridged book is the absolute best version of Pride and Prejudice ever.  

Now that we've got that settled, I absolutely love this adaptation of the movie. Like any adaptation, there are differences, and things that they "left out," but what I particularly love is that this movie fits so well with the book that I don't really miss those parts, because my memory just inserts them. This adaptation is perfect for book fans, because knowing the book well makes you feel like you've got secret insight into the movie, like deeper knowledge of the characters' motivations, thoughts and feelings that only adds to your enjoyment of the movie. 

I'm not usually a "behind-the-scenes" type of person, my sister is the one who knows all about directors and scripts and filming and all the work that goes into a movie. I tend to focus on what I actually see, but I want to take a moment to express my appreciation for Andrew Davies's faithful and respectful screenplay. He gives Jane Austen's novels the care and attention they deserve while still making a great movie (he also did Sense and Sensibility (2008) and Northanger Abbey (2007) both of which I hope to review eventually). Even though I am a staunch book fan, I know that trying to "copy" the book into a movie wouldn't yield the best results. Andrew Davies has the skill and ability to properly translate a classic novel into movie. I feel confident that Jane's wonderful novels are safe in his hands. As the director, Simon Langton said: "We treated the story with great respect, but if we wanted to be utterly faithful, we would have got someone to recite it over the radio."

 I think the casting was close to perfect. I don't want to take forever going over all the many cast members who were each so great, lest this sound like a boring Oscar acceptance speech in which my rush causes me to forgo quality for quantity and forget half the people in the process, but I will go over the main characters, and some others. 

Jennifer Ehle's portrayal shows Lizzy's spirit without being over-the-top or wild. Her eyes sparkle with life, and she's "lively and playful" as Austen described her, but in a way that's still well-mannered and acceptable. I can see how Mr. Darcy would observe that "her manners were not those of the fashionable world" but "he was caught by their easy playfulness." She is not what society expected her to be, but there is nothing reproachable or shocking in her behavior.

Except, of course, when she runs about the countryside. But she always makes sure no one's watching first.
Ehle is often criticized for being too old for the role, which I think is a little silly considering she was only 24 when she played Lizzy, who is supposed to be nearing 21. Three years makes very little difference when you're in your early twenties. Her figure is also said to be "too heavy" for the part, but we must keep in mind that the stick-thin model figure that our society finds attractive would have been (rightly) considered a sign of deathly illness in Lizzy's society. I think Ehle's personal appearance fits the part perfectly. 

The only scene in which I didn't think she quite lived up to my wishes was the first proposal. I felt like she should have showed a little more shock when Mr. Darcy first declares his admiration. "Elizabeth's astonishment was beyond expression" (perhaps she was frozen in astonishment). Then as the proposal scene progresses, I thought she could have built up a little more anger. Ehle seemed to be near tears (possibly angry tears) almost the whole scene, but in the book Lizzy was growing more angry during the conversation, and then broke down and cried after Mr. Darcy left. That's my nit-picky book fan point. On this point I have nothing more to say, and no other fault to mention. I have the highest respect for Jennifer Ehle's portrayal of dear Lizzy Bennet.

Lizzy determines to leave the trouble of finding a subject to Mr. Darcy.
 It should be a truth universally acknowledged that Colin Firth will always be Mr. Darcy. The most common complaint I hear about his performance is that he doesn't smile as much as Mr. Darcy does in the book, but I think those folks just don't see what his "smile" is - he doesn't grin like Mr. Bingley, but when Sarah and I were watching this most recent time, we kept exclaiming whenever we caught one of his smiles, and there were several.

Mr. Darcy smiling at the Netherfield ball.
See, that's a smile! There are many others much like that, building up to the truly joyful and carefree grin we finally see from him at the very end. Speaking of building toward the end, Firth did a great job showing the change in Darcy, slowly growing as he realizes his attraction to Lizzy, and then the sudden transformation when Lizzy and Darcy meet unexpectedly at Pemberley. 

"The very circumstance which had been designed to turn his thoughts from Elizabeth, seemed to have fixed them on her more, and more cheerfully." - quote from the novel
I can't praise Firth's portrayal enough, I have no complaints, only happy admiration. His appearance, his voice and his wide range of subtle expressions leave nothing wanting. He just IS Mr. Darcy. He and Ehle work so well together, it's simply delightful to watch.

Touching concern for Lizzy's distress.
I promised to refrain from (boring) speeches about every wonderful character, so I'll briefly breeze through the other main characters. Simply know that I have no complaints to voice about any of their performances, only pleasure and praise.

"Dear Jane! You are too good, your sweetness and disinterestedness are truly angelic." -Lizzy
Susannah Harker is a beautiful, elegant Jane. She always looks for the good in people, and "makes allowances for differences of situation and temper" but she is not a simpleton. When she comes to claim Mr. Collins's help with Fordyce's Sermons for Mary, and he hesitates, she sounds almost stern when she says, "I believe it is of great doctrinal import" and he instantly obeys. 

"He is just what a young man ought to be, Lizzy. Sensible, lively, and I never saw such happy manners!" - Jane
He is also handsome (which a young man ought to be if he possibly can) and played perfectly by Crispin Bonham-Carter. I love the scene when he's preparing to propose to Jane, and he tells the servant to bring out his horse. And then adds: "Quick, man!" 

Mrs. Bennet is brought to life in all her excessive silliness by Alison Steadman. No one else could be so thoroughly annoying, as Mrs. Bennet should be. Her squeals grate on your nerves, her complaints make you want to slap her, and the rare times when she behaves herself and seems like a normal person makes you simply sigh with relief. Mr. Bennet's preference of his library, and fondness for his two intelligent daughters is naturally understood. Benjamin Whitrow shows Mr. Bennet's nearly constant pain at his wife's stupidity with amusing calmness and resign.

Julia Sawalha, while perhaps looking a little old around the mouth for a 15-year-old, played Lydia with exactly the wild, inappropriate silliness that she should have. Considering that she was 27 when she played the role, I think she did look pretty well-suited, and her talented performance makes up for her older appearance, in my opinion.

"Oh! I want to go to Brighton!"
Polly Maberly as Kitty filled her role as Lydia's sidekick very well, with petty, simpering mousiness. 

Anyone know what she's doing in this shot?
The most easily forgotten sister, poor plain Mary (Lucy Briers) tries to make up for her looks by saying clever things and practicing the pianoforte. Unfortunately, she overestimates her own abilities in playing and singing. The "Dear Maid" scene is priceless in its tortuous qualities.

She and Mr. Collins would have made a good match. Too bad he couldn't see it. Speaking of which, David Bamber gave him just the right air of slimy pretentiousness. 

The creepy wave.
Barbara Leigh-Hunt is perfectly pompous and domineering as Lady Catherine. Her voice is nearly as sharp and annoying as Mrs. Bennet's, just slightly more refined. Still, she is too loud and impolite to really be genteel. 

She gets on Darcy's nerves sometimes too. His slight eye-roll at her is amazing.

Oh, I accidentally posted another picture of him smiling instead. Oops!
Finally, I will mention Caroline Bingley. Anna Chancellor is not exactly pretty, but she makes a very elegant Caroline Bingley, which I think works perfectly for the part. Miss Bingley is jealous of Lizzy and the admiration she provokes from Mr. Darcy, probably because she knows her own beauty cannot compete. Miss Bingley relies on jewels and finery where Lizzy has only to smile and her "fine eyes" instantly capture Mr. Darcy. Also, this scene is one of my favorite "book secrets" when I immediately hear the following lines.

"A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment." - Mr. Darcy (quote from the book)
Lyme Park as Pemberley.
 The scenery is beautiful. I could wish that the filming was a higher quality, but I just purchased the restored edition and it was definitely worth it, overall much less grainy. Unfortunately, this was filmed in 1995, which, amazingly enough, makes it almost 20 years old! It's not the most artistic film-making, and the exposure and saturation isn't always ideal, but the fantastic characters and acting override any negatives about outdated technology. 

I think the hairstyles were very well done, and the costuming was beautiful! Some of the dresses are uncomfortably low-cut, which I don't think is quite authentic, at least not in the day dresses. Most of them weren't bad, though, and I love this dress on Lizzy!

Overall, this adaptation satisfies me as a completely honest, respectful and faithful adaptation of the beloved novel. This is Pride and Prejudice in movie form, I can't imagine that another attempt will ever be able to take its place in my regard. I could watch it over and over, almost as often as I reread the book. There are no words to adequately describe how much I enjoy this miniseries. It is the definitive adaptation. It's a classic.

Discussions welcome! Chime in with a comment!

Screen caps used in this post courtesy of

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mid-week Healthy Treat Experiment

Wednesday is the day I usually go shopping at Whole Foods. Mom had found two new recipes she wanted me to try, so today I picked up some ingredients we needed and came home to bake!

First, I pureed the filling for these Paleo Coconut Secret Bars in my food processor. It did take several minutes of processing, but I got a nice creamy filling. The lesser amount of sweetener was definitely enough for my taste! I only made a half batch, so I spread the filling in a loaf pan and slid it in the fridge to chill.

Then I whizzed up a batch of these Apricot Coconut Dehydrator Cookies in my food processor (without washing it out first, because I'm lazy like that). Easy! Our dehydrator is busy today, drying a batch of sprouted wheat berries, so I put my (irregularly sized and haphazardly shaped due my laziness) cookies on a baking sheet and popped them in the oven.

Then I decided to make my tried-and-true raw fudge recipe for the chocolate coating on the Coconut Secret bars, and use the remainder to make a half-batch of fudge. So a cup of coconut oil (half melted), a cup of raw cacao powder and a cup of raw honey, plus a small splash of vanilla extract went into the blender.

I cut my bars into pieces, and then added the almonds (after the bars chilled... not what the recipe said to do. Whoops... worked okay though!) I decided to do a half step in between dipping the bars in chocolate and simply spreading the chocolate on top of the uncut (which is how I understood the shortcut she suggested) - I placed my bars on a sheet of parchment inside a small baking dish with about 1/4 of an inch in between, and then just drizzled my fudge all over them. Then they went back to the fridge.

The rest of the fudge went in the loaf pan and also into the fridge.

I know you're dying to see how sloppy my lazy afternoon attempts look, so here are my results (minus the fudge, which I've been too lazy to cut yet):

 I think the Apricot Coconut cookies could have been a little more interesting. I might add some chocolate chips, raisins or dried cranberries, and maybe some chopped nuts next time. Or maybe even a bit of cacao powder to the mix. I like that they are sweetened by the dates, and when I was tasting the unbaked mixture, I really enjoyed the flavor, it reminded me of my childhood, and eating coconut-covered dates as a snack (and I may have eaten quite a few little nibbles while I was shaping the cookies and reminiscing... ahem).

The Coconut Secret bars are delicious! Very rich, and like I mentioned earlier, definitely the lesser sweetening amount would have suited me fine. I put 2 tablespoons of honey in my half batch, and they are a little sweet. Mom wanted more almonds in them. I definitely plan on making them again!

Finally, I included a picture of the Oeufs a la Neige recipe by Alton Brown that Joel is making. It doesn't really qualify as healthy I don't suppose (um, but it is all organic!). I separated those beautiful egg yolks for him. Aren't they pretty?

I'd love to hear if you try either of those recipes and what you think!