movie, review

From Up on Poppy Hill

 The latest American release from Studio Ghibli, From Up on Poppy Hill is easily the best movie I have seen in months, with the possible exception of Random Harvest. It is everything a Studio Ghibli movie ought to be. Exquisite visuals, a sweet and lovely plot, winsome characterizations, characteristic attention to homely details, an enchanting remembrance of times gone by.
There are two strands to the plot. The first involves a relationship between a sixteen-year-old (according to Wikipedia) girl named Umi and a slightly older boy named Shun. The second is the attempt of a group of charming schoolboys (including Shun) to save a delightful decrepit clubhouse known as the Latin Quarter, which is crammed with nooks, doors, and dust. It may be the best thing in the film.
Out of all the Ghibli films I have seen, it is easily most similar to Whisper of the Heart. For those who enjoyed that movie, it will undoubtedly be ninety minutes of bliss. As Whisper may be my favorite film of all time, it was intense happiness to me. I would like to see it again now that I know the plot, which, incidentally, is considerably more melodramatic than Whisper.
Here is a list of locations where you can see it. Note that not all locations are listed in the main page; many are on the sidebar. It was not released by Disney, so its release is much more limited than The Secret World of Arrietty. Here is a good, brief review. Please do see this movie in theaters and take some friends and family. If we want to see a wider release of Studio Ghibli films in America, we must support it with our wallets. There are still a number of Ghibli movies which have never been released in America, to my knowledge.
Content advisory: Some rather squicky plot material, which involves major spoilers. I have written it as ambiguously as possible below. My 11-year-old sister saw it, so I think it’s okay for that age range, especially since it was handled very innocently.
Two main characters who love each other find out that they may be brother and sister.
Books, review

He Knew He Was Right

I finished reading this a few days ago, and this work by Anthony Trollope was very good indeed. I’m not sure if it’s on the level of the best Barsetshire novels, but it was certainly worth reading all 716 pages (according to my e-reader).

The book follows the marriage between Louis Trevelyan and Emily Trevelyan, nee Rowley, which is in turmoil for virtually the whole book, excepting only the first pages which give us the background leading up to the quarrel. They have been married for about two years at the time of the disagreement, which is on a matter ridiculously trivial: a friend of Emily’s father, Colonel Osborne, visits too often and treats her with too great a familiarity for her husband’s comfort; therefore, despite the fact that nothing strictly improper has been done, and Emily is true to her husband, her husband wishes her to (at least somewhat) drop the acquaintance. Emily takes this as a gross insult to her fidelity, and as she also has a temper, storms away. The rift grows and grows.

Complicating the matter is their son, also named Louis, who at the beginning of the book is ten months old. Emily’s sister, Nora, also lives with them, and has a subplot built around her. One of the members of this subplot branches off eventually into a different subplot, and another character, who participates in the main plot as well, has two sisters, one of whom has another subplot. Yet another subplot grows around a character in this subplot. This is typical of Trollope, and in this novel he gives nearly as much, if not more, time to the various subplots as to the main plot; a relief, since they are much more humorous, cheerful, and rather more interesting than the main plot.

I heartily recommend this book to my readers, once they have returned from reading the Barsetshire novels and The Way We Live Now. It might even read well before the latter book.

Books, review

One of my favorite authors

I thought that since I haven’t posted in over a month, I would write a quick post about one of my favorite authors, Anthony Trollope.

I do not think he is particularly well-known. This is a great misfortune, for his books are numerous, amusing, plain, and comfortable. He wrote in the great days of Queen Victoria; the golden age of English novelists, producing Dickens, George Eliot, Thackeray, the Brontes, Wilkie Collins, Robert Louis Stevenson, and various others. (Preceding the golden age, we had the novels of Jane Austen, which are probably at least equal to the best novels of the golden age, as well as Sir Walter Scott, who, I am told, was excellent also; I have not read enough of him to either confirm or contradict that statement.)

He is best known for his excellent Barsetshire series, beginning with The Warden and ending in, most suitably, The Last Chronicle of Barset. His books, being Victorian, are acceptable reading for even the straitlaced (though they do deal with mature themes on occasion, such as adultery or illegitimacy). His characters are delightful. I point out with especial affection his portraits of Anglican clergymen and elderly noblewomen. Although C. S. Lewis would probably sigh sadly to read this (well, perhaps not, but he would not like it), I thoroughly enjoy his love-stories. There are usually at least two or three in each novel, and frequently more – at the end of one book, there were four weddings. There are also usually some romances that fizzle out by the end, or have already been commenced at the beginning of the book.

His novels have many subplots. If you have trouble keeping up with many characters, then it is perhaps wise to write them out on a sheet of paper, for there are certainly quite a few. He has ample time to keep up with them all,  for his books are rarely less than 450 pages long, and generally more like 700 or 800.

If you are to start reading them, I recommend starting with The Warden and reading through the whole Barsetshire series. His other series is the Palliser novels. I have read only the first one and The Eustace Diamonds; neither was his best work, though I suspect Phineas Finn is better; I have only read a very small portion of that work, however.*

I’ve never actually read The Warden – I started with Barchester Towers – but you had probably better begin with it. Both novels deal largely with Anglican clergymen, and Barchester Towers is very funny.

After you’ve finished those, I recommend The Way We Live Now. It is long, relatively serious, and has about fifty million characters. I have also read Ayala’s Angel and Orley Farm. The first is rather weak. The second has some good pathos, but is not really one of his best. Just now I am reading He Knew He Was Right; I will endeavor to make known my opinion of it when I am finished. If by some miracle you read all of these books before I finish it, go ahead and read Can You Forgive Her?. I liked it when I read it, but in retrospect it seems tedious.

*I mention it here, because Catholicism is mentioned in the beginning of Phineas Finn (the title character being Irish); Trollope rarely mentions Catholics, in the novels I have read, but there is a part in Barchester Towers where he writes a page or two, perhaps more, about Cardinal Newman’s conversion. Skip it. I did, and I don’t believe I missed anything important. There’s a minor priest character in The Way We Live Now, also, and I believe I skipped some of the conversations that began to veer into Protestantism vs. Catholicism, because I do not like that sort of thing. Several of the other few references are by a character in the Barsetshire novels who is both anti-Catholic and a negative character. So if that kind of thing bothers you, Trollope doesn’t mention it much, though like I said, it does come up at the beginning of Phineas Finn and I don’t know if it stays up. Maybe it comes up in The Warden.

femininity, movie, Music, review

My Fair Lady

Yesterday night I went to see a local production of the musical “My Fair Lady”. I thought it was quite well done, though I don’t have much to compare it to. This review will not further discuss the particulars of that production; rather, I will speak about the aspects of the musical itself, apart from any one presentation of it. (Let it be known, however, that last night’s viewing and the Audrey Hepburn movie are the sum of my acquaintance with the play.)

It’s good entertainment. The songs are catchy and pleasant to hear, the story is romantic, and it is quite funny in parts (particularly the scene at the races). However, there are serious deficiencies in the play as well. WARNING: spoilers from now on.
Firstly, the character of Eliza Doolittle is not sufficiently developed pre-transformation. She’s not much more than a yowling, greedy, dirty child, and her sudden change into a lovely, clear-voiced, romantic young woman after learning how to correctly pronounce her A’s injures the suspension of disbelief which is already under strain. I love the song “I Could Have Danced All Night”, and I think her emotions under the circumstances are completely believable. However, it is almost as if it is the first time we meet Eliza. There was not the slightest hint that she was capable of such affections earlier in the play, save perhaps the short scene with her father in the street. I recognize that the entire point of the play is Eliza’s rebirth, and I can swallow the huge implausibility of the plot, but the change needed to be at least a bit more gradual, and there needed to be some sign earlier in the play that Eliza had more personality than a feral cat.
Then there is the character of Henry Higgins. He’s certainly amusing, but as the play goes on he almost seems to become worse as Eliza becomes better. By the end of the play he swears at her almost continually and even lays hands on her. Her words to him after he does this are cutting, and I could feel his horror at his own behavior; but it never comes to anything. After her magnificent song “Without You”, she returns to him, apparently leaving poor Freddy completely in the lurch, and he returns to asking her rudely where his slippers are. This might have made sense if she had heard Higgins singing “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face”, but as far as we know, she had no idea. By the end of the play, Eliza still unreasonably loves him, despite the fact that as far as she knows he’ll still treat her like dirt, Higgins continues to curse at her, and not a word is said in apology for his outrageous treatment of her.
What the play needed was a scene where Higgins clearly repents his behavior, tells Eliza that he is unworthy of her with tears in his eyes, and she consents to marry him after he desperately apologizes to her. Or, at least a scene where he confesses his contrition to Colonel Pickering, who goes on to tell Eliza of his sorrow.
My dissatisfaction with the play consists in this: Higgins predicts repulsively that she’ll come back to him. And she does. She has no idea that he’s sorry; she simply cannot live without him, even at the expense of her self-respect. I find this deeply unsatisfying. Certainly, there are many men and women like this, but to portray Eliza as one of them undermines Eliza’s character arc and makes the song “Without You” meaningless. Evidently, the world won’t go on without him. (And what’s with Higgins’ mother? She is clearly a strong-minded woman, but she puts up with his yelling and cursing at her, and even comes when she’s called. If he were my son I hope I wouldn’t put up with it. So much for honoring your mother and father.) He never apologizes.
Yes, Higgins shows jealousy and suffering when Eliza leaves, but that’s not enough (and she isn’t even aware of that when she opens the door!). He needs to show that he’s truly sorry that he manhandled her, swore at her, and ignored her. He doesn’t. I’m no feminist, but you don’t have to be a feminist to see that this is unacceptable on his part. I still like My Fair Lady, but it will never be a favorite of mine.
Family, femininity, movies, review

In Defense of Beauty and the Beast – Part I

Before I start writing this, I will mention as evidence against my defense, that Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney movie of all time. If you disagree with me, you may be tempted to use this to disprove my thesis. However, keep in mind the ad hominem fallacy; do not think that you can dismiss my arguments simply by saying that I am biased. The arguments must be dealt with on their own terms.

My other disclaimer is that I am most certainly NOT a feminist. I believe in all the tenets which St. Paul taught about the submission of wives to husbands;  I even think there is evidence that in certain intellectual aspects (certainly not all aspects) woman qua woman is inferior to man qua man, and that the dominance of men in almost all fields of learning is at least partially due to a real superiority in these fields. However, I also think that man and woman are equal “in Christ Jesus”, and that any given woman may have equal or greater skill, even in those aforementioned fields, than any given man.
Certain Criticisms of Beauty and the Beast
It is common now, among orthodox Catholics, to criticize Disney unfavorably. (The ‘unfavorably’ is not redundant; criticism is not necessarily, by its nature, negative.) I will not name names, but you know who I am talking about. Far be it from me to disagree, on the whole. There are many detestable aspects to Disney, including some of its movies. I may later mention a few of the other movies which have fallen into this category of criticism, but for now I will confine myself to the case against Beauty and the Beast
I will divide these criticisms into four parts.
1) Criticisms of its perceived anti-domesticity.
2) Criticisms of its portrayal of men.
3) Other criticisms.
1) most closely involves the character of Belle herself and her aspirations. She longs for ‘something more’ than she thinks she can find in this ‘poor provincial town’. She is bookish and dreamy; besides, she is beautiful and conceivably considers herself superior to the peasants who live around her. This shows, some argue, a contempt of what G. K. Chesterton called the ‘wildness of domesticity’. She believes she is too good for the plain life found by the other villagers, and too good to settle down to a normal married life with Gaston. That is for other poor souls who have no higher aspirations. Besides, it reaches beyond and is opposed to her proper feminine role, which is to nurture a home (for most women, anyways, whose vocation is marriage). In other words, she is a feminist.
2) is the second most serious criticism brought against Beauty and the Beast. Gaston is a macho brute, Belle’s father is an ineffectual dimwit, and the Beast is, well, a beast. There are no positive male role models in Beauty and the Beast. Gaston, who is the only young male in human form throughout the movie, is a mockery of true manhood. It is anti-male; it is emasculating; it is feminist; it breeds contempt for fatherhood in the minds of the children who watch it.
3) primarily concerns the portrayal of the enchantress. She performs an evil action (turning the boy into a beast) for the sake of a good result (his repentance). This is an example of evil means working for a good end, which is unacceptable.
It also concerns the modesty of the dress and behavior of the characters. I am sure there are some others I intended to write about, but at the moment I am unable to remember them.
Many conclude, looking at all this, that Beauty and the Beast is unsuitable for children and that they will not show it to their family – a reasonable conclusion, if it is as poisonous and anti-family as this evidence would seem to suggest.
Part II – still working on it.
Books, review

Book Review: Entwined

Entwined, by Heather Dixon.
One day, I was reading this blog. This blog linked to that blog, and by diligently perusing that blog (which is marvelous) I discovered that the blogger had written a book, which book was in the possession of the library. Therefore I checked it out, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is frothy, true; it is silly; it is splendid. There is a great need for light (very light, I must stress; so light it almost floats away), innocent fiction that appeals to modern young girls. (Modern is stressed, because although it would be much better if we could get them all reading Charlotte Mary Yonge, Louisa Alcott, Jane Austen, and the Brontes, there is no hope that we will. Just none. Zero. We might succeed in getting some people to read them, but for the mass of teenage girls there is no hope that they will begin to read those writers for anything but school.)
This book is a Victorian-oid telling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. It is not set in England, as far as I can tell, though there is a Parliamentary government, trains as a new technology, extended periods of gloomy mourning, and two horses named Dickens and Thackeray, if I remember correctly. At any rate, there is a King, which would rather rule it out being set in Victorian England in the strict sense. The book focuses primarily on the eldest Princess, Azalea. I had better list all the names of the princesses here, and I recommend that you note down the information now; it will be easier to keep track, since the book nowhere lists all of them together.
In order of oldest to youngest: Azalea, Bramble, Clover, Delphinium, Eve, Flora, Goldenrod, Hollyhock, Ivy, Jessamine, Kale, and Lily.
Moral problems are almost nil. It treats the large family lovingly (the author was a member of a large family herself – I am sure she is a Mormon, by the way, since she apparently grew up in Salt Lake City and attended BYU), is chaste, etc. The girls are initially disrespectful to their rather stern father, but near the end of the book this problem is resolved. There is some kissing, no real religion (which is the usual case in fairy tales, so I don’t consider this a problem) and the villain’s attitude to Azalea has some unpleasant undertones. This book is probably appropriate for 12+.  One odd thing about the book; the author is apparently Mormon, and the book has a Victorian England feel, but the only reference to religion is to Mass. ???
Highly recommended if you have been reading tons of Thomas Aquinas and your brain is bursting from reading stuff like “whether the operation of contemplation is fittingly divided into a threefold movement, circular, straight and oblique?”
awesomeness, Books, review, sci-fi

Book Review: Zita the Spacegirl

Today I’m reviewing Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke.

I first heard about Ben Hatke because I am a fan of Regina Doman, as you all know, and he illustrated her book Angel in the Waters (I feel sure I noticed him first in connection with her, but I don’t think it was through that book; I’m not really sure). I’ve also seen some of his work in Gilbert, the magazine of the American Chesterton Society.
A few weeks ago, I was at the library and they had that newsletter called BookPage out. One of my friends was looking at the last page and showed it to me; it was an interview with him mentioning Zita, and I was delighted to recognize that it was someone whom I had heard of. And so today, I was at the library again, and I saw the same newsletter and decided to look at the interview again. Then I thought, you know what? I bet they have Zita the Spacegirl at the library. So I checked, and they sure did. I brought it home and read it.

Wow. I’ve never read a graphic novel all the way through before, and it was absolutely fantastic. I cannot possibly recommend this book enough. It’s targeted at ages 8-12, apparently, but I would highly recommend it to anyone who can read. There’s some scary bits, but nothing extraordinarily terrifying. It’s a glorious little romp. The plot is this:

Two children, a boy and a girl, find an interesting device which allows their entrance into another planet. There the young girl (whose name is Zita, obviously) must go in search of her friend, Joseph, and save him from his kidnapper. But that’s not all; there’s an asteroid approaching the planet, and it will arrive in three days, destroying it. She meets several highly interesting characters, including a giant mouse and a sentient Heavily Armored Mobile Battle Orb. But don’t you dare call him Hambo. It’s not dignified.

What with an exciting plot, the whimsical creatures, and the likable characters, this book is difficult to put down. It’s funny, thrilling, and wholly charming. High praise, but it deserves it. The ending is an obvious set-up for the next book, which I believe the author is currently finishing.
I can’t wait.

Here’s the book’s trailer:

Zita the Spacegirl: Trailer from Ben Hatke on Vimeo.