Sunday, March 27, 2011

In Memoriam

Dear NftN readers,

If you haven't heard already...yesterday, the fantasy novel world lost an extremely important and very dear author...

Diana Wynne Jones, you will always be in our hearts. Thank you for giving us the beautiful world of Sophie, Howl, Calcifer, and others. Ingary will live forever on, as will the rest of your worlds. Thank you for creating the world that inspired one of Hayao Miyazaki's loveliest films--it is because of both the film and your book that I've made some very special friendships with people who love your work just as much as I do.

To my readers, I highly recommend Ms Jones's works. Our authors are never given the recognition they deserve, so please honor her life by reading Howl's Moving Castle (I reviewed the book not too long ago), or any of her other books. I promise it'll be worth it. I am only sorry that I did not get to read more of her novels before her death. Howl hit all my sweet spots as far as books go: fantasy, adventure, romance, humor, identity--just lovely.

Rest in peace, and God bless.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

*Emma (2009)

How I Watched the Movie: First watched on Masterpiece's website online, and later bought on DVD from BN (I think it was)

In Short: beautiful, witty, fun

I'm a Janeite, if you didn't already know. I will never tire of Pride and Prejudice, I know the story of Sense and Sensibility like the back of my hand, Northanger Abbey never ceases to make me squee with utter joy, Persuasion makes my heart sigh with the happiness of a fulfilling romance, and Mansfield Park...well, I have a bit of an issue with it, but that's another tangent entirely.

So being a said Janeite, I of course had seen the two 1996 adaptations of Emma (along with Clueless, of course) and knew the story very well, a coming-of-age chronicle of the ups and downs in the "career" of a wealthy wannabe matchmaker who simply muddled in everyone's business a little too much for their--much less her--own good, and for the longest time I was quite content and greatly enjoyed Gwyneth Paltrow's film version.

Until I became as spoiled as Emma Woodhouse herself.

Let me first make it simple: I've seen the 2009 miniseries more times than I can count (and I'm certain is nearing ten, which, considering this is four hours long, is quite a feat). But to make an adequate review, let me break things down a bit in a way I don't usually do them:
  • Casting. When I first heard that Emma was being remade, I was, frankly, iffy about it. "We don't need another Emma!" I said. "The Paltrow movie was great enough!" Wrong. When I saw the cast list on Wikipedia for the first time, I wrinkled my nose. Romola Garai as the eponymous Miss Woodhouse? Johnny Lee Miller as the chivalrous Mr Knightley? Michael Gambon as Emma's valetudinarian father? It didn't sound right. How Nicholas Nickleby's little sis, Edmund Bertram (also Angelina Jolie's first husband, believe it or not), and Albus Dumbledore could fit into one miniseries I couldn't figure out. It didn't sound right. I'd seen Garai in multiple movies, all period dramas, as traumatized Kate (Nicholas Nickleby), mercenary Gwendolen (Daniel Deronda), and wimpy Celia (As You Like It). None of these roles made me think she'd make a good Emma (she was also Barbara Spooner in Amazing Grace, a dominant, kick-bum role, if I may say so myself), but being a Janeite--and since I did enjoy her acting and those movies she had been in--I was still interested in watching this. Am I glad I did. There are a few casts I think fit perfectly together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and this is one of them. Everyone was practically the characters come to life. I couldn't have been more wrong about Garai as Emma--practically made for the role, she had comedy, emotion, innocence, and poise: everything required to play Emma, in contrast to Paltrow's prissy, snobbish counterpart. I'm surprised she hasn't gotten more recognition, having been snubbed at the Emmys and the BAFTAs (thank goodness for the Golden Globes though). I don't follow up on many celebrities, but if I were to draw up a list of my favorite actresses, she has definitely made it onto mine. Michael Gambon couldn't have been a better Mr Woodhouse (he made me crack up more times than I can count), and each character was perfectly casted, especially Harriet Smith (Louise Dylan), Jane Fairfax (Laura Pyper), and Frank Churchill (Rupert Evans, aka Frederick Hale from North and South--!!!). Amazing cast.
  • Accuracy. I read the novel not long after first watching this and was blown away by how accurate this adaptation was. Each Austen novel has an adaptation that corresponds to it dutifully (take Colin Firth's P&P), and this is Emma's.
  • Music. I could listen to the beginning score for is simply gorgeous. The first time I heard it, I was in love. When it opens with the absolutely beautiful opening credits sequence, all my previous qualms about this version of Emma were instantly removed. I just want the soundtrack badly. Listen to it here (I can't seem to find the artwork from the opening credits, but I suppose that is a good incentive for you to go watch the whole thing yourself ;) ).
  • Costumes. The costume designers certainly didn't get the Emmy nod for no reason (and they were sorely snubbed, in my opinion). If you watch the bonus features on the DVD, they explain how they chose their color palette, and each costume corresponds exactly with each character. The people who worked on this took such care to follow Austen's masterpiece and understand it so well that they know down to the exact shade that Jane Fairfax would wear and the styles that Harriet Smith would mimic from Emma. (As a side note, my favorite was Emma's ball gown--simply wonderful.)
  • Settings. The places picked were perfectly suited for the adaptation: the coziness of Hartfield, the dark and masculine Donwell, the sweet comfort of Highbury, the cramped Bates home, the relaxed atmosphere of Randalls...each location was carefully picked to match these fictional places. These places were so beautiful that it made me want to step inside Emma's world and live there. The interior design, especially of the Hartfield sitting room, was, love, love!
Red Flags: Nothing that should be of any concern; it is as clean as it can get! It is a romance, but there is nothing above a sweet kiss. One character is said to be illegitimate, and all that is said about that is how it reflects on her status in society.

Plot: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Screenwriting: 10/10
Originality: 10/10
Enjoyment: 10/10
Overall: 50/50

Original Release Date: October 4, 2009 (in U.K.)
Length: 240 min
Director: Jim O'Hanlon
Producer: Phillippa Giles, George Ormond
Production Company: BBC Drama Productions
MPAA Rating: NR (but as good as G, I think)