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Hot Fuzz is a rarity – a spoof movie that could stand on its own. It’s got a fantastic cast, and the writing (by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead fame) is clever and fun. It’s a great parody of the cop/action movie genre and you’ll get more out of it if you’ve actually seen some or all of the movies referenced, but the conventions of the genre are such that you can pick up on a lot of the humor even if you don’t watch the source material. It gets better and better throughout the movie, and by the denouement I was laughing uncontrollably. It’s just 2 hours of pure fun.


Well, what do you know? I really liked it! The most recent production that showed on Masterpiece Theater’s The Complete Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, was the best yet. Yes, it suffered from the same time problem as the other productions, but other than being a bit rushed I really can’t complain at all. The casting was excellent, the few changes to the story served the film well and didn’t take away from the novel, and most importantly they were able to make Fanny sympathetic and relatable to a modern audience while still retaining the essence of the character.

I had hopes for this production since MP has always been my least favorite of Austen’s novels and I am more able to set aside my purist tendencies. At the same time, I’ve often felt that it would be a difficult novel to adapt because the heroine is so timid – the temptation would be to change her too much (as happened in the 1999 version with Frances O’Connor). I believe this production found a happy medium. They were able to show how Fanny’s life was formed by being raised as a “poor relation” and showed her sweetness and propriety without having her come off as a total prude or a wet blanket. Very nicely done by Billie Piper.

Blake Ritson made an excellent Edmund Bertram, and the secondary characters were all quite good as well, particularly Mary Crawford and Maria Bertram. Last week, I couldn’t fully enjoy the production of Northanger Abbey, even though the leads were very good, because the changes to the plot and to some of the characters detracted from the story (in my opinion – I know a lot of people liked it). This time, though, the changes were more seamless and served the story well. If there was anything that distracted me, it was the mix of fashions, but I’m not going to quibble over that because as much as I love costumes, the really important thing to me is how the essence of the novel is put on the screen, and in that respect this production is a success.

Three MusketeersOne of the advantages of reorganizing my books yesterday is that I was reminded of many titles I’d love to recommend. Case in point: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, Even if you’ve never read the book you may think you know the story from the various film versions. You don’t. The book is so much more than the camp and silliness you see onscreen (and if you’ve only seen the execrable 1993 version with Keifer Sutherland, you REALLY have no idea what you’re missing). The book is a fantastic tale of adventure, intrigue, political machinations, romance, tragedy and triumph. The characters are more complex and the plot much more intricate than any 2-hour film can possibly show – do yourself a favor and give it a read.

pile-o-booksOne of my ongoing goals is to organize my home/life. I tend to start this project several times a year and then get completely overwhelmed and quit without accomplishing much, and sometimes having made things worse. This year I’m trying something different: as much as possible, I’m tackling small projects and doing them from start to finish. Today I organized my bookshelves.

Since I started working in libraries I don’t buy nearly as many books as I used to, but I still have quite a few. Many of them are in storage, but the ones in the house tend to get disorganized pretty quickly. When I don’t have places to put things I just start stacking, so today I was sorting through piles of books and other stuff and putting them in order back on the shelves.

BookshelvesIt’s very dusty work, so I weeded and cleaned as I went, and I’m quite happy with the result. I have room for all the books I want to keep in the house plus a little extra for growth, and everything is in order and visible. I am one happy librarian!

So this week’s challenge was to create an iconic Levi’s look out of…Levi’s. Okaaaaaaaay. It doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for inspiration, as I think the designers proved.

  • Christian: the kid’s attitude bugs me, but he gets the win in my book. The outfit is very Christian – he has a consistent viewpoint, but he’s showing more variety than, say, Rami. I really like what he did with the jeans. I wasn’t in love with the jacket, but I still think it was the best thing going this week.
  • Chris: his garment was nicely constructed, but I agree with the judges that it had a dated look and to me it just lost something in the taste department.
  • Ricky: I’m sorry, this dress got the win? Give me a flippin’ break! It’s a cute little dress, but there’s not much to it. I didn’t think it stood out from the competition at all.
  • Rami: I didn’t like this outfit. Zipper trim was done to much better effect by Jeffrey last season, and I thought this outfit also looked dated. Plus, the proportions were weird. I think the judges were so wowed by the fact that Rami didn’t drape that they were blinded to the actual garments.
  • Victorya: I think she has more talent than some of the remaining designers, but come on! I look at that trench and I cannot for the life of me figure out what she spent her time on. That’s a one or two hour project, at most. Take a jean jacket, add a skirt, change the collar. I expected much better from Victorya and I thought she deserved to go home on this one.
  • Sweet P: she is showing herself to be very capable at designing cute, wearable dresses. I’m not sure she has much range, but I was surprised at how well she pulled this one off. Even though I’m not a fan of patchwork and multi-colored denim looks, I liked this dress. Again, though, it’s just a cute dress. I’m not wowed by the design.
  • Jillian: I really think she and Victorya both took a big risk by doing something so close to what they did last week. This coat didn’t work for me, but it was at least more ambitious than Victorya’s.

Last week’s challenge was so great that I can’t help feeling let down this week. Overall the designs were pretty unexciting. Meh.

I found out today that I was accepted into the Eureka! Leadership Institute. Woohoo! It’s a wonderful opportunity and I’m so excited to be going. I’m not generally pessimistic, but I struggled a bit with my application and so I was trying very hard not to get my hopes up. Needless to say, I’m thrilled! I may write more about this later, but for now just wanted to share my joy.

Northanger Abbey was the first Jane Austen novel I ever read. It’s not her best known or most respected, but I’ve always loved it. It’s a fun parody of the gothic novels that were so popular in Austen’s time and gave rise to books such as Rebecca, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I’ve never seen a film adaptation of Northanger Abbey, and although I tried not to get my hopes up I knew that the film that just showed on Masterpiece Theater was written by Andrew Davies (who also wrote the A&E Pride & Prejudice miniseries), so I did have some expectations. I was disappointed again.

As with Persuasion last week, the plot felt rushed, but at least the characters were more accurately portrayed by the actors. Felicity Jones made a very good Catherine Morland, and J.J. Feild a charming Henry Tilney. The secondary characters were mostly good as well. There were some nice creative touches: I have no problems with the sequences that depicted Catherine’s overwrought imaginings and thought they were a clever way to develop that aspect of her character. But again I have to take exception to changes that I thought were unnecessary. A lot of the dialog was re-written and plot points changed in ways that subtly altered, and I think, diminished the characters. I imagine the writer felt that Catherine’s extreme innocence would make her less appealing to modern audiences, but the central conceit of the plot depends on her being very innocent and impressionable, and I don’t think that was believable in this production.

This film has one advantage in that I don’t have the ability to compare it to a stronger production, but I still feel a little let down and think it could have been much better. I have higher hopes for Mansfield Park next week, as it’s my least favorite of Austen’s novels and therefore I will probably be much less critical (no promises, though).

Lia, Kris & GenesisI had a lovely time at the Jane Austen Evening last night. It’s an annual event in Pasadena – My friend Kris and I have been going for about 7 years now, I think, and her friend Lia joined us last night. People dress up, mostly in Regency-era costume, but with some modern dress or other historical periods mixed in here and there. There’s live music, and we dance English Country Dances – if you’ve ever seen any of the film adaptations of Austen novels you’d recognize the dancing. It’s got a pretty low threshold for newcomers – if you can walk and know your right from left you can do the easy dances, and the intermediate dances aren’t too much more difficult.

Monrovia ECD groupThis year’s highlights: several new dances; I made a new dress that actually fit properly; I met some new people; saw some acquaintances from years past; sewed a friend into a dress with a broken zipper; danced my first advanced dance without making a total hash of it; and danced every dance in the final set to end on a high note.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is a ripping good read. It’s the story of 2 women: one a famous author (Vida Winter) who is finally ready to tell her life story and the other an obscure biographer (Margaret Lea) who must try to get the truth from this notorious fabricator. Vida’s story (true or false) is thoroughly engrossing, and the interplay between the two women is wonderfully drawn. This is a great crossover between genre and literary fiction – it will appeal to fans of everything from the Da Vinci Code to V.C. Andrews, but is so much better written that I hesitate to make those comparisons. As an added bonus, the audio book is also quite wonderful.

Excellent challenge this week – finally! I loved that they got to do an avant garde look, I loved that they had to interpret it for ready-to-wear. I’m not wild about team challenges, but I can deal with it in a situation like this.

  • Rami & Sweet P: I really liked Sweet P’s ready-to-wear dress. Cute, wearable, but still interesting. As for Rami – dude, enough!  Show us something we haven’t seen before or get off the show! Two big problems with his outfit: he’s done it before, and it just didn’t meet the challenge. There was nothing avant garde about the dress he sent down the runway. I know he has talent, but I’m tired of talented people getting a pass when they screw up, and he did.
  • Christian and Chris: fabulous! I loved that they used both of their strengths and created something that was really interesting and still very beautiful. I’m amazed that they were able to pack 45 yards of fabric into that dress without making the model look like a mountain. Loved it. The ready-to-wear look was cute, the blouse was interesting, but obviously the star of this show was the avant garde look.
  • Kit & Ricky: I am sad to see Kit go – I feel like she had a lot of potential, and I would much rather see her continuing on than Sweet P or Ricky. I did not like her dress at all – it just looked like a big pastry to me –  but I thought she made a better attempt at avant garde than Rami did. Ricky’s ready-to-wear dress was just a dud. Meh.
  • Victorya and Jillian: I completely loved their main outfit – the trench was fantastic and I really liked the ensemble underneath. Even their ready-t0-wear dress had more going on than I was expecting, but I don’t think it was quite as successful as an interpretation of their main look – it really lost the punk edge. Even so, they were a strong contender for the win.

This was a tough call in the judging. I gave the edge to Christian and Chris because I think they went farther with the avant-garde look and were really successful with it, but I loved both of the top two looks a lot. As far as the losers, I’m conflicted. Rami’s design was more workable, but didn’t meet the challenge and was really lackluster, considering the competition. Kit’s was a failure, but more adventurous. I started the season really liking Rami, but now I’m bored with him. He needs to show some range. At this point I don’t have a real favorite, so I’m just hoping we see more great challenges.