Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: The Great Gatsby (2013)

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

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of those classics everyone is supposed to read. Unfortunately, I'm something of a rebel: I tend to avoid reading what I'm "supposed" to read. I'm still a shocking example of a homeschooled bookworm, having never finished Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Don't get me wrong, I have read some of those dreaded books that everyone must read to be properly educated, but they usually don't make it to the top of my "Want-to-Read" list. I confess, I didn't read The Great Gatsby until I heard about the movie. (Oh, and seeing Fitzgerald portrayed by Tom Hiddleston in Midnight in Paris might have helped my interest in the author.)

As a staunch the-book-is-better-than-the-movie defender (well, almost always), I have to give a brief opinion on the book - I liked it. It was extremely well-written, very unique and intriguing. Beyond that, I don't really understand why I enjoyed it as much as I did - it's certainly not my usual sort of book. I found my mind engaged, the hint of mystery and quirky weirdness was certainly interesting. But the story is not one that touches the heart. At least, it didn't touch mine.

 It didn't even occur to me that the story should possibly have inspired some emotion in me until I saw the movie... and then I was still completely detached emotionally, but I felt guilty for being so. Afterward, my dad pointed out that in the book, the narrator is simply a spectator, telling the facts of the story without trying to tell the reader how to feel about it. In the movie, I think they tried to tell you what you should feel, but never actually decided what that feeling should be, so the message was confusing.

I do not think you should watch this movie unless you have read the book. And even though the story is not the kind I prefer (lighthearted and innocent this book certainly is not) I do recommend this book for anyone who is interested. Be warned, it portrays the loose morals of the 1920's (in a non-graphic way) and is really not an uplifting story. (Beware of spoilers from here on.)

Gatsby's one desire is Daisy. The poor boy fell in love with the rich girl, and 5 years later he's trying to win her away from her rich husband with a huge, sparkling mansion and wild parties. Her husband is having an affair with another married woman, so she has an affair with Gatsby. Everyone here is totally selfish and absorbed in their own schemes. Desperately seeking their own happiness, thoughtless for anyone else, they grasp for whatever they want, only to see it ultimately slip through their fingers.

I've only read the book once, so I don't think I've began to really understand all the nuances and subtleties. It's not just about wealth, adulterous love affairs and desperately searching for happiness, because if it were, I wouldn't be able to like it. I think it's really an experience: you are invited to step into the comfortable position of a casual observer, and watch with Nick. The book was great visually, it seems like you're really there, but it also feels surreal.

The movie, simply by being a movie, can't capture the experience of a book. I enjoyed the movie, but in general I think they tried to make it too much of a show. There's something quite enchanting about the style of the book that just makes me want to read it again.

(As I was struggling with what to write about the movie, and interrupting Sarah's diligent writing with frequent complaints of my predicament, she suggested that I write down my random thoughts about the movie, rather than trying to organize myself. It worked. I will now bombard you with random comments, and maybe it will turn into something intelligible. For a truly well-thought, intelligent review, check out my sister's review here.)

I don't understand why they decided to begin the movie with Nick telling the story as a retrospective from a sanitarium. It bothered me immediately, and increased my annoyance every time they returned to it.

Tobey Maguire did a much better job playing Nick Carraway than I expected. His voice still sometimes squawks awkwardly, but he actually fit the character pretty well. 

Leonardo DiCaprio, unfortunately, did not fit my imagination of Jay Gatsby, even though I knew he was going to be playing Gatsby when I read the book. His accent was kind of weird. His "old sport" kind of annoyed me in the book, and it was just cheesy in the movie.

Carey Mulligan was pretty fabulous as Daisy Buchanan, like I thought she would be. Her voice was perfect sometimes, others not quite so much. In reading the book, my imagination came up with some impossibly surreal ideas for her voice, which is probably what Fitzgerald intended.

Even though Gatsby shouldn't still be thinking about Daisy since she's married to another man, it's kind of touching how attached he is to her. Until, that is, he nearly goes insane trying to erase her past with her husband by insisting that she tell her husband that she never loved him. 

Tom Buchanan was portrayed by Joel Edgerton. I was sad to see him play a bad guy role, but he's one of those actors who are talented enough that I only think about the character in the role. Tom's affair with Myrtle makes him seem "unworthy" of Daisy.

Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher) is the wife of a poor garage owner. Tom keeps an apartment just for their affair, and apparently for raucous parties. There is a very uncomfortable scene in that apartment, with drugs and alcohol and 20's style underclothing.

Jordan Baker, played by Elizabeth Debicki, was cut out to nearly nothing, she had a much bigger part in the book, including a relationship with Nick. I wish they hadn't cut it out, I think the actress could have done a great job. She's a rich friend of Daisy and attendee of Gatsby's parties.

I really liked the billowing sheer curtains scene! It was almost exactly like I imagined! Unfortunately, I couldn't find any good pictures of it. The picture above doesn't even begin to do it justice.

They spent too much time showing us the "epic driving." I'd had enough of the famous yellow car zooming around by halfway through the first sequence. All that time could have been spent more productively in my opinion.

I never imagined the green light on the dock to have been a rotating, flashing light. It's the little things like that that irk me. Instead of getting a sense of Gatsby's wistful longing, I was distracted by thinking "why is the light flashing?"

The glitz and glamour of the 20's is presented here as a garish glitter and jewel-encrusted shell, which cracks open to reveal the lonely, dark emptiness of each character's existence. It offers no redemption, no happily-ever-afters for anyone, and no apology for it's cool carelessness.

Somehow, the movie felt more callous than the book. Perhaps because in usual Hollywood style, the movie seemed to over glamorize the immoral behavior. That is, after all, what our society considers acceptable. "You're meant to be happy, whatever that takes, with whomever you want!" Delivered from Hollywood, the message I get from this story is humorously condemning. 

"For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." (Luke 9:24) is brought to mind for me. I don't know if that's what the book meant to say or not, but that's definitely what I took away from it. I think I could read the book one hundred times and not catch all the details. It's a wonderfully written book, and the movie really just made me want to go read the book. 

If you made it through that long, rambly, messy review, congratulations! Your patience is extraordinary. I'm sorry I didn't do Fitzgerald's story better justice. In a nutshell, I recommend the book, with a slight reservation and the movie with more reservations, only if you read and liked the book.

The movie gets more reservations because they unfortunately chose to show some of the inappropriate relations that were only implied in the book. The apartment scene could be skipped in its entirety, in my opinion, and then there are some brief scenes that are hard to skip later in the movie. That's all I remember, but I try to forget those parts. 

My favorite part of the movie was the billowing sheer curtains scene. I will imagine that when I read the book again. Which I intend to do very soon.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rainy Day Musing

I love rainy days like this - calm, gentle showers lulling me into a dreamy mood. I've always had such a fanciful imagination and a tendency to romantic knight-in-shining-armor sorts of fantasies. As long as I can remember.

Looking back, I suppose it's a little strange that at 8 or 9 years old I had already determined a pool of eligible suitors, and was confidently waiting for declarations of love at every turn. I made no attempt to quell my over-active imagination. My prayers were usually sparked by the notion of asking God to start my little life plan in motion and send a future husband my way soon. Out of a sense of guilt, I would usually pray for other things more logical (like the salvation of lost family members) or practical (like the healing of some minor sickness) and sometimes for childish things like toys (I wasn't completely crazy.)

Fast forward a few years, and I'm still determinedly waiting for a man. The previous suitor pool having all vanished from my life, I have a new list of options. I'm a little wiser, realizing that marriage is a big step, and I probably won't be ready for a while. But I still have a vivid imagination, and I'm even more of a hopeless romantic, so I keep my eye on my personal favorite of the selections I've picked, and hope God will eventually agree. I know I'm supposed to love Him first, and wait patiently for His will in my life, but I'm really only faking it, indulging in daydreams about the boy I chose and giving him primary importance over my King.

Finally, after too many years were spent infatuated with my "last hope" of options, I realized he wasn't the Prince Charming I had imagined. I allowed myself to realize what I had done in emotionally attaching myself to these guys, most of whose personal characters were almost completely imaginary, and neglecting the relationship that I had with my Savior. My heart felt like shreds, my silly dreams were in tatters, and the boys that I had foolishly idolized seemed like ghosts haunting my mind.

I had been a Christian for most of my life, but for so many years I really only thought of Jesus as my ticket to heaven, and God as my personal assistant. It sounds so awful to say that, but sadly, that was my subconscious thinking, as my behavior showed. Sure, I would say I loved Jesus. After all, I knew He loved me, and He saved me from hell, so I was very grateful. Someday, I knew I would go to heaven and meet Him, but I was content for him to be distant until then. It disturbed me a little when people would talk about Jesus being the "bridegroom" and their First Love, etc. I didn't want to think of Him like that; I wanted a "real" groom! That was my biggest desire, but I was looking in the wrong place for my fulfillment.

After many years of stubbornly pursuing my own dreams and focusing on what I wanted for my life, I finally came to the place where I was ready to let go of my desire to be married. I used to think that if I let the burning wish to be married fade from my heart God would gleefully give me a life of single celibacy, and so I held on with all my might. I don't know God's will, but I'm finally ready to trust Him. With every day, I grow to trust Him more. I want to focus on His plan, fulfilling His will, bringing Him glory with every day of my life. I'm safe in His hands.

 It's been raining off and on all day here. A sweet rain, with cheery light coming in the windows, even though it's raining. Just a gentle spring shower, the sky barely gray and all the plants bright green, delightedly soaking up the wonderful moisture. 

"Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth."
-Hosea 6:3

Like the spring rain that gives life-sustaining water to the plants, the Lord refreshes and renews my spirit. Just like flowers thirstily soak up water, I must eagerly seek to know my Savior. He assures me it will not be in vain.

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
-Lamentations 3:25

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Little Letters": May 2013

Dear May, 
 Why are you going by SO FAST? I used to wonder what my parents meant by "time flies" but now I understand. It's somewhat terrifying, as the speed seems to be continually increasing. I'm beginning to worry how much faster time might seem to pass as the years go on.

Dear Green Tea,
 As much as I enjoy drinking you hot in the mornings, I think you're the best when prepared as iced tea with mint. The tangy flavor of the tea with a hint of cool mint in a refreshing iced drink simply can't be beat.

Dear little Volvo,
 If you would magically relent and allow the air conditioning to work for me again, I would really appreciate it. It would save me the money of having to take you to the mechanic to fix it, and you might like that better, too, right?

Dear lone Firefly,
 Your appearance the other night was quite timely. A little early in the season for you to be out, I thought, but I found your bold little flashes cheering all the same.

Dear The Mysteries of Udolpho,
 I am very sorry that length of my baby-sitting evening didn't allow me to finish more than the introduction, but I am very eager to read you, and hope I will have more time soon!

Dear Weather,
 The cold night that came and brutally killed many of our poor little garden plants was very unseasonable, and quite rude. So many of our pepper plants, a few basil, a couple cucumbers and 1 tomato may not seem important to you, but I assure you it was far too many to sacrifice to your whims. Please behave.

Dear Merlin,
 I didn't expect to like you all that much when my siblings and I watched the first episode. I usually try to avoid magic, and you're really kind of cheesy and silly sometimes, but in spite of all that I find that I'm slightly addicted now.

Dear Ice Cream Maker,
 The Triple Chocolate Crunch ice cream we made yesterday was amazingly delicious! Probably my new favorite flavor, and while you usually make ice cream making very easy, this was probably the easiest recipe I've made, besides plain vanilla! I'm thrilled!

Dear Green Rubber Boots,
 I'm devastated that I have managed to tear a hole in you. I am so sorry and sad. I will find some perfectly matching green duct tape as soon as possible to repair you.

Dear Piano,
 I'm very happy that you will be receiving proper care and attention in the form of some voicing and action regulation next week, but you will be very sadly missed! I'm both dreading and looking forward to the piano technician coming to take your keys and action away. But, the sooner you depart, the sooner you may return!

Like the "Little Letters" theme? Hop on over to Rissi's blog and join in the fun here!


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review: Midnight in Paris (2011)

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

Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is a successful Hollywood writer, but he's not satisfied. He'd rather be a novelist, and wistfully dreams of bygone times - specifically, Paris during the 1920's... in the rain. He's a hopeless romantic, struggling with his first novel during a trip to Paris with his fiancée, Inez and her parents. What better place to find inspiration?

Inez (Rachel McAdams) is less than encouraging about his novel, though, and she's disturbed by his enthused suggestion that they move to Paris after their wedding. She wants to live in Malibu, California, and she's only in Paris for the shopping. She drags Gil along to wherever she wants to go: dinner with her parents, looking at ridiculously expensive furniture or touring famous places with her irritating friend Paul and his wife Carol.

Paul, Carol and Inez listening to Gil talk about Picasso.
Gil just wants to wander the streets of Paris, and after one exhausting day of being an obedient tourist, he decides to skip dancing with Inez and her friends, and does just that. When the clock strikes midnight, the magic starts. 
Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald
 A vintage car picks him up and takes him on a whirlwind evening where he sees Cole Porter perform, runs into Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (played to perfection by Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill) and meets Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) himself. Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) agrees to read his novel and give him some tips. Among other famous people, he also meets the beautiful subject of one of Picasso's paintings, Adriana (Marion Cotillard).
Adriana and Gil walking the streets of 1920's Paris.
Once he gets over the shock, he realizes this is his chance to live his perfect fantasy... or is it? Through his brief trips to the 1920's, Gil learns that the idealized past isn't as perfect as it may seem. You just can't live in the past, and you can't truly live in your present if you're constantly wishing for a bygone era. Time in the past gives him insight for his future, and zest for the life he's supposed to live in the 21st century. 

Owen Wilson as Gil Pender
Owen Wilson isn't my favorite actor, but I think he fits the part of Gil well. I relate to the character, as I sometimes wish I was born in a different time (though I dream of Regency days rather than the '20's). This beautifully-shot film reminds me not to get too enthralled with the past, while simultaneously satisfying my dreamy, romantic imagination. A movie every romantic should see!