Tag Archives: love actually

“I Give It a Year” with Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall

i-give-it-a-yearNetflix, knowing me so well, has created a tab of British movies. I came across this one last night and, honestly, I had never heard of this movie. Was this released in the US? Google tells me it was released here last August, but I have no memory of a single commercial for it.  Anyway, I decided to watch it because a-it’s British, b-it’s set in London, c-Stephen Merchant is in it.

There are actually a lot of great actors in it: Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids) and Rafe Spall (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) play the newlyweds, Nan and Josh. i-give-it-a-year-movie-poster-11

They’ve only been dating for a few months when they get engaged, and then married. We don’t even really see them before their marriage, the movie starts with a sort of ‘first moments’ montage, and then the wedding is just finishing when we are really brought into the action.

Minnie Driver (who I love) plays that friend (who hates her husband as often as she loves him) that says ‘I give it a year’.

The action switches back and forth from the first moments of their marriage (disasters aplenty–the minister comes down with a hideous cough just as he is about to announce them man and wife, and Stephen Merchant gives one of the most horrific best man speeches in human history) to many months later, when they are beginning couples therapy with the worst therapist in the world (Olivia Colman).

There are little quibbles they have with each other. Josh is too lazy to take out the trash, so he ‘compacts’ it, so that he can wait a few more days without taking it out. Nan persistently sings incorrect lyrics to songs (We built this city on the wrong damn road, I travel the world in generic jeans, etc.)

Throughout that first year of marriage, the couple is orbited by two alternate choices. Chloe, played by Anna Faris in a bad wig, and Guy, played by Simon Baker:

I-Give-It-a-Year-Simon-Baker-and-Anna-FarisCan I just ask who came up with the names for these people? Josh and Chloe are normal enough, I suppose. But Nan and Guy? Sounds like they belong in a ’50s musical about an upcoming sock hop. But I digress.

Chloe is Josh’s ex, a relentless do-gooder with almost no other personality traits that I can remember. Guy is a business mogul who immediately develops a crush on Nan. This crush is fostered by the fact that Nan hides her wedding ring when she’s working with him.

Both Josh and Nan slip from focusing on their marriage and both come very close to an affair. But the couple are determined to make it through the first year of marriage, because someone told them that ‘if you can make it through the first year, you can make it through anything’. Josh doesn’t correct Nan when she sings the wrong lyrics, and he takes out the trash when he should.

And they do, they make it to the exact anniversary of their wedding.

And then, that very night, they split up. They are so glad to be rid of this marriage that they’re almost ecstatic to get a divorce. They both run off to find their other, better matches. And these two separate new couples ride off into the proverbial sunset.

And here’s my big problem with this movie.  It’s not that it’s a bad movie, or even particularly inaccurate about the trials and tribulations of living with one person as your partner in life.  My boyfriend bites his fingernails, and it drives me completely insane. He is also guilty of the trash smushing maneuver. He’s kind enough not to point out my annoying habits, but I’m certain there are many–like me constantly asking him not to bite his fingernails, I would guess…

This movie tries to show how marriage does not always end in ‘happily ever after’. It shows you what happens after the fairy tale wedding, when reality hits.  Okay, good, I’m in favor of that.  But, in the end, when Josh and Nan break up and immediately form relationships with other people, the implication is that if you do match up with the right person, then ‘happily ever after’ is almost guaranteed. Every relationship in real life is more like Nan and Josh’s than the fairytale relationships Nan and Guy or Josh and Chloe will have.  It really irritated me to end the movie with just a simple swap and everything is fine. They haven’t learned anything, except that they’re not right for each other?  And Chloe and Guy are pretty lacking in personality. They just wait for the other two to come around and want to be with them. And then, easy peasy, they do a swap and everyone is happy and everything will be perfect from now on.

In the end, the good acting almost saved this movie for me, but since the very end was the most disappointing, it left a bad taste in my mouth.  I wish I’d liked it more, because I like everyone in it. All the hype about it being from the same producers who made Notting Hill and Love Actually...it is nothing like those movies.

Also, I found this very strange French poster for it, i-give-it-a-year-1where the translated title is English Marriage.  Apparently the French have different problems in the first year of marriage?  Maybe there was no similar idiom in the French, and they don’t cynically predict a couple’s demise while still celebrating their creation. But if I was going to predict which country is not cynical enough for something, the French would not be my choice. And why is only one of the umbrellas the Union Jack? So many questions for whomever changes DVD posters for foreign releases..

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The Best British Holiday Films

I was sick a few weeks ago, just a 24-hour thing. I took the day off from work and spent it watching British holiday films, of which there are a surprising amount.  I seem to own most of them, despite not liking holiday movies most of the time.  So I thought this would be a great Christmas post.  Here are my favorites:

Love Actually

Love Actually posterI’m hoping you knew this one would be on the list.  How could it not?  First of all, let’s consider the cast.  Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, and Rowan Atkinson. Also, not even listed on their little poster is Martin Freeman and Joanna Page.  Yes please! I love so many of these actors. Not to mention that I love them together.  Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman were together in Sense and Sensibility; Hugh Grant and Colin Firth were in both Bridget Jones films.  They work well together and its lovely to see them in the same film.  This movie isn’t perfect. All of the interrelated characters are sort of vaguely coexisting, but the bonds and relationships between them are too tenuous and unimportant to make a really cohesive whole.  And the part I really dislike is when Colin goes to America–to Wisconsin of all places–and encounters some sort of mythical America that does not and has never existed.  American women do, undoubtedly, enjoy British accents. I know this first-hand. But Denise Richards, January Jones, Eliza Cuthbert, and Shannon Elizabeth don’t all share a bed in a house in Wisconsin.  Sorry, men.  That is not reality. But, leaving that bit alone, everything else is wonderful. Hugh Grant dancing around No 10 Downing Street? priceless.

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Colin Firth speaking broken Portuguese and receiving broken English answers to his proposal? Adorable.  Martin Freeman doing anything at all? Yes.  Love this movie.  Makes me feel all happy and warm inside, like a great pair of fuzzy socks.

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Bridget Jones’ Diary

Bridget-Jones-wallpapers-bridget-jones-10347017-1024-768

I loved this book and I love the movie too.  It takes place over the course of an entire year, so it is not a Christmas movie in the traditional sense. More of a Rom-Com with Christmas at its beginning and end.  But there is something delightfully Christmas-y about the entire thing. The book is based roughly on Pride and Prejudice, so the fact that they got Colin Firth (the definitive Mr. Darcy) to play Mark Darcy is fabulous.  Especially because we get to see him like this:

Mark Darcy sweaterThis is a very goofy film, and Bridget is no match for Lizzy Bennet.  Still, she is endearing and real, and that is always reassuring around Christmas time, when your pants are a little tighter and all of the food is so inviting.

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The Holiday

The Holiday poster

Here’s the problem with the Holiday: When people ask me if I like it (as happens constantly in my life) I don’t know what to say.  It’s clear to me that the movie was written by and for people who have never had a single real problem in their lives.  The two main characters, played by Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, are desperately unhappy with their lives.  Kate is stuck in one of those drawn-out unrequited love stories where you just can’t get over the person who broke your heart.  Cameron Diaz is a workaholic who acts like her parents getting divorced is the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being.  These aren’t fun things, but considering the tragedies that can come up within one human life, they are not bad.  And Cameron Diaz sits there talking about her parents’ divorce and how terrible it was, to a man whose wife has died and who is raising two daughters on his own. I just didn’t have much sympathy for their ‘plight’ because their problems were so negligent in the grand scheme of things.  Not to belittle anyone’s experiences with divorce or a bad breakup, but I think we can all agree there are worse things that can happen in the world.  So the movie bothers me every time I watch it.

On the other hand, I watch it at least three times a year.  There must be something I like about it.  Kate Winslet is adorable, and Jude Law is fabulous in it.  I love Jack Black, but I know he is a very polarizing actor, so some may hate him.  I find Cameron Diaz is a pretty good actress, but the fact that she is a 5’10” size 4 makes it very hard to accept her as an everyday woman.  If they had made her intensely neurotic or something, I would have been more capable of accepting it. I’ve seen her do convincing performances before (In Her Shoes is a great example) but this isn’t one of them.  But with Jude Law in almost all of her scenes, it’s easy to get through her parts of the movie.  It’s an easy movie to sit through and to imagine what a change of location could do to your life.  Plus, Kate Winslet’s cottage is possibly the most adorable thing in the history of the world:

Rosehill Cottage

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Muppet Christmas Carol

The Muppet Christmas Carol 2

Small confession–I haven’t actually seen this one.  How did I make it through my childhood with so little exposure to Muppets? I watched a lot of Sesame Street, but never made the jump to the Muppets.  Why?  Possibly something to do with the absence of Oscar the Grouch from the Muppet gang.  I dunno.  At any rate, I’m putting this on the list because I’ve heard such good things from so many different sources that I’m confident that when I finally do see this movie, I will love it.  Also, it makes me happy to think of it because I once had a conversation with my boyfriend about A Christmas Carol and the ghost of Marley. My boyfriend claimed there were two Marleys.  I immediately asked if this was due to the Muppets Christmas Carol, because that’s the only version of A Christmas Carol he was likely to be familiar with.  He confirmed this movie as the source of his knowledge, and that ‘Marley and Marley’ were played by Statler and Waldorf, the two old men.  Brilliant bit of casting.

Marley_and_marley

At any rate, whenever I think of this movie now, I chuckle because of that conversation.

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Obviously, I haven’t seen all of the Christmas movies or even all of the British Christmas movies in the world.  Let me know which ones you recommend!

Christmas in the UK

Since Thanksgiving just passed (here in the US) it is now, officially,  the start of the Christmas season. I thought it would be the perfect time to talk about the different traditions in the UK vs US. Because, what the hell is Boxing Day, right?

A note on Thanksgiving: they don’t have it in the UK. Thanksgiving was originally a breaking of bread between the Pilgrims and Native Americans ‘sharing’ land and enjoying the bounty of a successful harvest (mostly thanks to the Native Americans). There’s no reason why it would be celebrated in the UK.

The only downside I can see to not having Thanksgiving is not having a consensus on when the Christmas season starts. Here in the US, Christmas is all we talk about from the day after Thanksgiving until December 25th.  Or it’s certainly the only reason we shop.  A huge upside, however, is a lack of Black Friday related deaths. Have I mentioned on this blog (don’t know why I would have) that I hate Black Friday?

So, the main event. Christmas!

Christmas Eve is not as big of an event in the UK as here in the US. There might be some carol singing, or a trip to the pub to spend time with friends.  That’s about it. The big deal is Christmas Day.

I did hear an interesting factoid: instead of milk and cookies, sherry and mince pies are left out for Father Christmas.  Also, sometimes carrots are left out for his reindeer–why didn’t I ever think of this as a child!?

It’s the same religion, so the basic tenets of the holiday are the same.  Jesus’ supposed birthday, combined with the pagan Winter Solstice traditions to create an amalgam of seasonal and religious imagery and confusion. There are still presents, awkward and annoying family conversations, and there is still the over-consumption of food (especially sweets) and wine.

What are the differences?

Santa Claus is called Father Christmas

-though I imagine with the proliferation of American movies, everyone knows who you’re talking about when you say Santa Claus. Also, in most cases Father Christmas is not chubby, but thin. Legend has it that robins would watch your behavior and report back to him to help him make his naughty or nice list.  Some people argue that the two are distinct mythological figures, but honestly how many fake Christmas visitors does one person need?

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The food is quite different, I believe. We tend to sort of have Thanksgiving part deux, but of course they don’t have Thanksgiving, and their traditional food is quite different from ours. They serve a big Christmas dinner with lots of Brussels sprouts  and there is always a Christmas pudding.  Those are huge brandy-soaked concoctions sure to give you diabetes. They usually look something like this:

I’ve read there is some controversy about this dish, but according to the ‘traditional’ Christmas dinner equation, it is necessary. I’ve heard some people say how much they hate them (like fruitcake) but it doesn’t seem like Christmas dinner without one.  Of course, in a place like the UK, with a massive immigrant/not-naturalized population, there is an active shift going on in terms of Christmas traditions, and the celebration of Christmas at all.  Like the US tradition of Jewish people eating Chinese food on Christmas, I imagine there are a lot of Indian restaurants frequented by the non-religious, non-traditional, non-culinary members of society.  But, this isn’t a post about changing traditions around a new demographic makeup, it’s a post about the ‘traditional’ traditions, so here’s the damn Christmas pudding. They also have something called Christmas Cake, which is just like fruitcake, only they seem to have the sense to cover it in icing.

If you’ve ever seen Bridget Jones’ Diary and heard her talk about eating ’42 mince pies’, and then wondered wtf a mince pie is, I am here to solve this epic mystery.  A mince pie is a mini pie stuffed with savory meat and fruits and coated in powdered sugar.  It sounds like the most disgusting thing in the world to me, but I’m a vegetarian so my opinion should not be trusted on this matter. Still, the combination of savory and sweet is creepy to me, like that time Rachel on Friends made a parfait with ground beef in it.  But, it is very popular in the UK, so there must be something good about it. Actually, I’ve seen two different bits of info about the mince pie; one indicates it has actual mince meat in it, the other indicates just using beef fat added to the dried fruits and spices. The latter would be far more palatable, so I hope that is more common.

At Christmas Dinner, they always have crackers.  Not the Ritz kind, but this kind:

They’re so named because of the ‘crack’ they make when pulled apart. They usually contain some sort of paper crown or hat, a joke, and a small gift. People who have read Harry Potter are pretty familiar with the concept.

Outside of the Christmas meal, there are the presents (which tend to be less extravagant than in the US) and time spent with family.  The great thing about the UK: it’s pretty small. You don’t really have a good excuse not to get home for the holidays if it’s only a few hours by train from anywhere to anywhere else–people who live in Cornwall or John O’Groats, I realize that it’s not a few hours from everywhere to everywhere else, but before you argue with me consider the relative size of the UK vs the US and you will get my point). I think there’s more of an emphasis on Christmas as an event in the UK, and less an emphasis on Christmas as the time of year we spend all our money on gifts.

Nativity plays are much more common there. See Love Actually‘s final half hour for more info.  Children recreate the birth of Jesus.  I think those have gone out of fashion in schools here because public schools aren’t permitted to celebrate religious events.  In the UK, many more of the schools have a specific religious affiliation, and there is technically no separation of church and state outlined in their laws. So where we have the nativity scenes outside of churches, they have the plays in schools every year. Carol singers are also more common, traveling from house to house to sing.  I remember doing this when I was 10-15 years old, but I grew up in the Midwest.  I cannot imagine anyone doing it here in Philly, especially if they valued their lives. Also, every Christmas there is the Queen’s speech, which I imagine the more traditional people still listen to/watch every year (I imagine a lot of grandparents force their kids to listen/watch).

So, what the hell is Boxing Day?

The story says that wealthy families would indulge in massive Christmas feasts.  The next day, they would pack up the leftovers and distribute them to their servants. Another theory on the beginning of the tradition is that priests would pick this day to empty the alms boxes and distribute the contents to the poor. Boxing Day is (traditionally) December 26th, and is always a national holiday in the UK (and some Commonwealth nations).

Modern traditions for Boxing Day include recovering from the Christmas festivities, lots of online shopping, and giving money/gifts to charities and to tradespeople (milkmen, postmen, paper boys, etc.). Families spend the day together.

Other tidbits:

Traditionally the greeting there was ‘Happy Christmas’ rather than ‘Merry Christmas’, though I believe that’s less true now.

There is still a law on the books saying that every Brit must attend church on Christmas Day, and cannot arrive by motorized transport.  Only 13% of Brits reported attending a Christmas service every year, so I don’t think this one is enforced!

Most of this focuses on English traditions, what about the rest of the UK?

In Scotland, there is a specific New Years’ Eve tradition called Hogmanay. This was originally a festival devoted to fire, and there are still bonfires and the like, all rooting from Viking and Pagan traditional beliefs.  Mostly, though, it’s a big street party (though who would want to party in freezing cold Scotland in the middle of winter is beyond me. I suppose that’s where the fire comes in?)  Traditionally, Christmas was not a very important holiday in Scotland, so Hogmanay was the best opportunity the Scots had to relieve the winter Cabin Fever and need to drink and be merry.
There’s still a big festival every year.

In Wales, Boxing Day is called St. Stephen’s Day and was traditionally the only day of the year it was okay to kill a wren.  So children would stone them to death, like St. Stephen was stoned to death, then parade about the streets with the dead bird in tow.  Fun.  Now, I believe a fake bird is used.  But a less horrifying tradition coming from Wales is mistletoe! The Welsh were the first to associate mistletoe with Christmas, and the tradition of kissing under it started in the UK.

In Northern Ireland, things get a bit complicated. The Catholics would traditionally attend a midnight Mass on Christmas.  I’m not certain if Anglicans did this as well–if you’re reading this and know the answer, please comment!

So, those are the basics.  An important thing to know about the UK and Christmas–even though it is an undeniably religious holiday, the UK is far more secular than the US in general (except N. Ireland).  People rank religion far less important to their lives, especially in England.  Christmas remains more of a cultural holiday where traditions are followed because they are comforting, as opposed to one steeped in religious meaning.  Sounds like all of my Christmases, but for some of the really religious I suppose it could come as a surprise that God doesn’t play more of a part in the proceedings.

Movie Review: Four Weddings and a Funeral

Amazingly, I had never seen this movie until last week. I do remember the fervor for it when it first opened in the US, which was a ludicrous 18 years ago, but I believe it actually predates my anglophilia, which is (approximately) circa 2001. I remember not wanting to see it because I really dislike Andie MacDowell (still do) and Hugh Grant wasn’t famous yet. Also, I was about 13 when this came out, so it was not on my top ten list. I remember the Lion King being more my speed at the time. Forrest Gump, if I was feeling philosophical, or not in the mood to weep over Mufasa’s terrible death scene.

I digress! The point is, I just missed out on this movie, and finally decided to get my shit together and watch it.  Even despite Andie MacDowell, I really enjoyed it!

The plot mostly follows Charles (Hugh Grant), who is your typical Hugh Grant character, X 1000. He bumbles, he mumbles, he charms.  He meets Carrie (Andie MacDowell) at the first wedding, and is smitten immediately.

In a way very reminiscent of Love Actually or Notting Hill, the film also focuses on Grant’s group of close and quirky friends. These include:

Kristin Scott Thomas as Fiona, a bit of an ice queen,

gay couple Gareth and Matthew,

the oddball female character, Scarlett (see Penny from Notting Hill)

and a few others on the fringe of the action.  It’s a sense of an ensemble cast, which the British seem to do so well in film (and TV) without anyone feeling 1-dimensional or flat.

The plot is sort of the typical romantic comedy fare in the beginning–boy and girl meet, girl is taken, boy declares his love too late, girl changes her mind and they end up together.  But it’s also very different.

Take Carrie, the female lead.  At one point in the action she lists her thoughts on her 30+ sexual partners.  Can you see Reese Witherspoon doing that in a  modern RomCom and not being considered a slut? My favorite part of this is that she is not in any way ashamed or embarrassed of her list, and treats every one of the men as a learning experience, even if it wasn’t a pleasant sexual experience. Carrie is somewhat lacking in depth, as we usually only see her through Charles’ interactions with her.  What we do see, though, is someone really confident, independent, and lacking regret.  So I really like that, because fuck the typical women in these movies. They are terrible.

Also, how often does a RomCom focus on a male lead over the female? After all, if you live by the Sex and the City idea of life, women feel incomplete without a man, but men feel just fine regardless.

Two of the eponymous weddings are those of Charles and Carrie–to other people.  That is a bit of a surprise; definitely not in the typical RomCom formula.  Even more shocking, and perhaps my favorite part of the movie, is that the two declare their love at the end of the movie and then decide not to get married.  Ever.  In a movie so clearly focused on matrimony, the two couples who don’t get married–Charles and Carrie and Gareth and Matthew–are the most compelling in many ways.

These little moments and touches make me like this movie a lot more than I would if it was a typical RomCom. There’s something really refreshing about a love story that subverts your expectations, especially in a genre that so rigidly follows a very specific blueprint.

In fact, it’s almost like they are playing with those genre specifics, having multiple weddings and chances to enact the famous ‘If any person knows of any reason why these two should not be wed’ trope that happens in all of those movies. Having the female lead actually go through with marrying another man.

The movie takes place during big life events–weddings and funerals–but everything about the story relies on subtlety.  Charles slowly makes the change from a ‘serial monogamist’ to ready to commit (in part because he loses hope in the idea of true love) to, by the end, a self-awareness that allows him to pursue a path that will truly make him happy.

In addition to what is a very adult version of a RomCom, the film is also moving (funeral scene made me weep) and alternately extremely funny.  Highlights include Rowan Atkinson playing a bumbling Anglican priest, Hugh Grant’s speech as best man, the repeated scenes of Charles and flatmate Scarlett waking up very late for each of the four ceremonies, and Carrie going through her recount of bedfellows.

Another reason to watch is the ’90s fashion and the ludicrous hats the English wear to church. Why do they do this? Why do they still do this? I may have to do a future post about this millinery tradition.

Movie Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I actually watched this movie on the plane ride home from London, which was perhaps not the greatest idea. Any movie taking place in India, should probably be seen on a screen larger than 5-7 inches. After all, much of what is attractive and overwhelming about India are the colors, the sights (good and bad) and the noise. I think I should probably have seen it in the theatre, but hey, I’m not a millionaire.

Despite the fact that I think my enjoyment of it was somewhat lessened by the small screen and bad audio, I did like the movie.  For one thing, the cast is ridiculous. Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy (love him), Dev Patel, Penelope Wilton, the list goes on.  Oh yeah, and Maggie Smith! It’s just a ridiculous list of actors and actresses.  I do enjoy the fact that the British don’t mind having movies that feature people older than 50 (gasp!).  The last US movie I can remember with older people as the main actors was probably Cocoon. But all of these actors and actresses are older (besides Dev Patel, obviously) and they are all very busy in movies and shows like Downton Abbey, the Harry Potter series, Love Actually, the Bond movies, Calendar Girls (another great British movie featuring people older than 50.

The British seem to like this sort of big ensemble cast with little vignettes and snippets of people who are interconnected but not always connected enough to hold the movie together. I felt the same way after Love Actually, that sometimes things seemed a bit thrown together, and not everyone got enough time on screen to really get their identity across with the audience. It feels a bit like when I write a paper, or a story, and realize 75% through that I’ve taken on too much. You can’t do everything justice when you bite off more than you can chew, especially when it comes to storytelling. It was one of those movies where you realize after you’ve seen it that you had no idea what the character’s names were.  Everything just moved a bit too fast from one to the next in order to get a good grip on it.
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it. The basic plot is that for different reasons (Maggie Smith’s character needs a hip replacement and there is a waiting list at English hospitals, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Penelope Wilton all have money concerns, and Tom Wilkinson is on a personal quest), all of these elderly English people end up in a retirement ‘hotel’ in India, run by Dev Patel’s character. In order to get guests for the hotel, he pays for their tickets from London to India. Once they arrive, they realize that the brochure they saw does not match the reality of this hotel, which is much shabbier and lacking doors on some of the rooms. But most of them don’t have the money to pay for airfare back to the UK, so they are literally stuck.

The movie seems to be mainly about assimilation. And what a challenge! I don’t think I’d last more than a few days in India without wanting to leave, and I’m sure each character wanted to leave at some point.  The person who just can’t assimilate, can’t even see anything worth loving about the place, is Penelope Wilton’s character. She spends her days reading in the garden, never leaves the confines of the hotel, and takes a plane back at her earliest convenience.  While she’s stuck there, she disparages the place incessantly and stomps on anyone else’s enthusiasm for India, its people, or its culture. She’s not xenophobic or cruel, but she’s out of her depth and cannot find her feet in this foreign land.  I think everyone can relate to that, and it makes her sympathetic even when she’s horrible. I wonder if it would be harder or easier to assimilate into a new culture at that age.  I think, both.  I just saw my Dad in the UK, and he is definitely homesick. There shouldn’t be any associated culture shock with moving to the UK, but he’s set in his ways and places comfort as a major priority in life.  With age, that does happen (I already feel it happening to me).  On the other hand, with age comes the knowledge that life is so fleeting and so ridiculous and horrible and wonderful and overwhelming, that the only thing the sensible person can do is let go and enjoy it.  At least, the wisest of us can talk ourselves into letting go of the semblance of control and allowing the world to sweep us out where it’s going to take us regardless.  The rest of the characters are much better at embracing that sense of change, of challenge, of enjoyment in whatever comes.

Judi Dench’s character narrates much of the movie, and she does mention the challenges and the rewards of moving to this completely separate culture. We see the most of her inner thoughts and feelings. Bill Nighy is fantastic, tall and besuited, and has that snort of a laugh that I adore. He is the most charming of all the actors onscreen.

Maggie Smith’s character sort of stunned me, because she’s blatantly racist! From her very first line, she is unpardonably racist.  Not that there really is a pardonable level of racism, but you see my point. It’s not an accidental bias, it’s not uninformed prejudice, it’s pure bile.  But she undergoes a transformation through the movie, and …well I’m not going to say she starts to be color blind, because I’m certain that’s not true, but she changes and opens up and becomes a much more sympathetic character. And, being Maggie Smith, it’s all done really very well.  She’s fabulous.

Tom Wilkinson’s character has the most desperately sad story, and I think his is the most compelling character.  I don’t want to give away more, so I won’t say more.

But there are two characters, played by Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup, that seem very similar. They both want to date younger/richer people, or marry them, or whatever. They seem to mostly want sex, love, to be …not lonely anymore. Understandable, but there’s very little to their characters. I wonder if they had more scenes originally and they were cut at some point, because it just doesn’t feel full or complete. They don’t seem to add much to the movie, except some comic relief. The movie was based on a book, These Foolish Things, which I suspect might contain more on these two that makes them integral to the group or to the action in some way. But in the movie it seems they just didn’t have time.

All in all, the movie was pretty good, but it could have been a bit better. I wonder how much I would enjoy the book, as I suspect I would get to know the characters more in that format. But the main thing that made the movie better than average was the incredible actors. With so many of them in one place, it’s almost to the point where you don’t notice how great they are, because they are all great.

TV review: Gavin and Stacey

I don’t think I would have ever gotten around to watching this show if it weren’t for this blog post.  Netflix kept suggesting it to me, because Netflix knows all about my love of British TV, but the cover of the DVDs

makes it look a lot like a weird version of Friends, and I was flashing back to that horrible American version of Coupling for some reason. I just wasn’t into it.

I’m so glad I gave it a try though, because I really enjoyed the entire series.  There are three seasons and a Christmas special, though strangely the special comes before the third season.

The story is about the eponymous Gavin and Stacey, initially, but it expands to include the lives of their entire extended families and close friends, particularly Gavin’s bff Smithy and Stacey’s bff Nessa.  Gavin and Stacey meet online and start to fall in love, and the show begins with them finally meeting in person.  Gavin brings Smithy and Stacey brings Nessa. The four of them get very drunk and the two couples sort of go their separate ways and hook up.  Smithy and Nessa are played by James Corden and Ruth Jones, who created the series.  Gavin is played by the adorable Matthew Horne (who has been in a lot of stuff I’ve never seen), and Stacey is played by Joanna Page, who was Judy (the naked girl with Martin Freeman) in Love Actually.

Things with Gavin and Stacey progress quickly, and they are engaged in a few episodes’ time. Nessa and Smithy have an off-again on-again thing for the rest of the series. We meet Gavin’s family, his mom Pamela and his dad Mick. These two are awesome, especially Mick.  We also meet Stacey’s family, her mom Gwen (who cooks omelets in every episode) and her uncle Bryn (played by the adorable Rob Brydon, who I now love despite finding him annoying in The Trip), who spends the rest of the series making you wonder about his sexuality.

I think if I met a lot of these characters in real life, or if they were presented differently on the show, I wouldn’t like them very much.  Almost all of them smoke (which I hate) and they litter their cigarette butts (which I hate even more). Smithy parks in handicap spots and Nessa is incredibly selfish. Pamela is vapid and occasionally horribly racist.  Or xenophobic, I guess.  Bryn is…hopelessly out of touch.

But the way the show presents them, and the way they interact with each other is so lovely and makes you care and appreciate and enjoy each one of the characters and their relationships.  I really enjoyed this show and it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling a lot of the time. It was also very funny. There were tons of weird colloquial slang words that I have already started to use, and the Welsh accents are fun.

Favorite moments include Gavin’s bachelor party (with annoying appearances by Russell Tovey), Bryn explaining how to use the internet to Gavin, and Pam pretending to be a vegetarian for most of the show.

Unfortunately this show isn’t on Netflix instant, so I can’t re-watch like I did with The IT Crowd. I may have to buy the DVDs for this one.  I highly recommend this show, and plan on watching anything else James Corden or Ruth Jones (Smithy and Nessa) work on in the future.

My Top 5 British Everything! part one

My monetary situation continues to not be conducive to buying new movies or books.  That means it’s time for another list–a long one this time! Part one will cover Books, Movies, and my favorite places in the British Isles.

My Top 5 British Everything*

*not comprehensive.

First off, books! This is very hard for me, obviously, as a quick inventory of my bookshelf will prove that about 60% of all the books I own are British.  To pick only 5 is like picking one meal to eat every night for the rest of your life.  But, nevertheless, here are my favorites!

1.The Harry Potter Series

Of course this is number one.  And, don’t gripe about this being 7 books, not one.  This list is only my top five, and it would be pretty boring if all five were HP books, as they most assuredly would be.  The bottom line is these are my desert island books, the only books I would truly need to be fulfilled for the rest of my life, if, god forbid, it came to that sort of choice.  These books absolutely and tangibly changed my life–cured my depression, inspired me to go back and finish my degree, inspired me to read again, to write again, to enjoy and love my time on earth.  When I am sad or weary, I pull out these books and, like some sort of black market European antidepressants, they make things better. Not only do I own the original 7 novels in their American versions, but also several foreign editions as well.  I picked up the British (children’s) copy of Deathly Hallows, plus an Italian Prisoner of Azkaban (which it took me 3 months to read), a Greek Half-Blood Prince, a Croatian Chamber of Secrets, and even a copy of Philosopher’s Stone that has been translated into Latin!

These books are largely responsible for my love of British culture, and you could draw a pretty direct line from my first experience reading HP books to me creating this blog.  They are the end all be all of my reading life.

2. Pride and Prejudice

See my earlier entry for why this is such a lovely book.  I can’t say it had the same impact on me as Harry Potter, but I just finished a reread last week and even after so many times reading it and watching the miniseries, I still find new and lovely bits that are delightful.

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3. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ‘trilogy’

The first time I read the Hitchhiker’s Guide, it was sitting in the Barnes & Noble cafe. I laughed so hard and so loud that I made an idiot of myself. For those reading this who are unfamiliar with the story, Arthur Dent is whisked off Earth minutes before its irrevocable destruction by his best friend, Ford Prefect, who reveals himself to be an alien.  But this isn’t science fiction; it never takes itself particularly seriously. What it is, in my opinion, is just funny and silly and wonderfully imaginative. The wordplay alone is enough to furnish me with great quotes for the rest of my life.  Here’s just a few to choose from:

In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.

And my favorite (not technically from the series, but wonderful anyway):

I like deadlines.  I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

There is something very British (in my American mind at least) about this love of and playfulness with words and phrases.  Compare it, for a second, to something by Hemingway, whose prose has never even bordered on playful (at least, in my experience).  If you haven’t read Hitchhiker’s Guide,you should.

4.Hamlet

I’ve read a lot of Shakespeare in my life. I think I’ve taken 3 or 4 Shakespeare courses in college, plus the plays I read in high school.  I’ve read all of his sonnets and most of his other poems.  Of his 37 plays, I have read 20, so far.  I think Hamlet may have been the first one I read, back in middle school.  It has always been my favorite.  Some people think that Hamlet is indecisive and incapable of action. I just don’t see it.  He’s overcome with grief, with anger, with a questioning of the purpose of life and of revenge.  He feels trapped by circumstances and he talks his way through his feelings.  And he talks so beautifully.  I think it is, by far, the most poetic of Shakespeare’s works, and I can’t imagine anyone who has ever been depressed or suffered tragedy can read his famous soliloquy without finding echoing questions and statements in their own hearts. I think it is an absolute masterpiece, and encourage everyone to read it.  If you don’t think you can stand reading the play, please do not go get the Mel Gibson DVD.  At least invest the time in the Kenneth Branagh version, or at the very least the new David Tennant.

5. North and South

Please do not confuse this with that civil war miniseries with Patrick Swayze.  Though Elizabeth Gaskell is not that well known in America, she is considered just as popular as Jane Austen in England.  This is the story of a family who is forced to uproot from their life in the South (i.e. London and the counties surrounding it, which were agricultural, were old money, and were considered the most civilized) to the industrialized North (full of factories, the working class, unions, and pollution).  This dichotomy is a huge factor in England, even today someone with a Northern accent can be (unfairly) assumed to be less civilized than his/her Southern counterpart.  The book has the same plot as an Austen novel, and does have a truly scrumptious male love interest, but all of that is against an entirely different background. Gaskell weaves in poverty, unions, strikes, factory conditions, changing social norms, religious disparities, etc. etc. etc.  It’s a great way to get to know some of the background of the time, but to still get a fulfilling love story.  I also highly recommend the miniseries with Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton.

Honorable Mention: Jane Eyre

now, on to Movies.
Please keep in mind that I am not a cinema expert and haven’t seen a lot of what are considered the British ‘classics’. These are mostly mainstream films that were also very successful in the US.

1. A Hard Day’s Night

My love for the Beatles from an early age meant that, at the age of 9 or 10, I dragged my father to the video store every weekend to rent the same two movies: this one, and Help!.  Help! doesn’t stand the test of time quite as well as this one, but A Hard Day’s Night is a brilliant film. It captures the madness of the Beatles’ schedules and touring demands, the ridiculousness of press junkets, and the cheeky humor of the Fab Four.  It features great music, cute British boys, and lots of genuinely funny bits.

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2. Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz

I am listing these two together because, recently, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg revealed that they will be making a third in what they are calling the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. Shaun of the Dead can be described as a romantic comedy with zombies, while Hot Fuzz is a buddy cop action comedy.  But not action comedy as in Rush Hour; it’s more funny than it is action. Also, it’s not terrible, so that’s another key difference.  These movies are both hilarious, have cemented my eternal love for Simon Pegg, and spoof other genres so well that they manage to be both great parodies and great examples of the genres they are spoofing.

3. Snatch

 

This movie is just…unique.  Or, it’s unique if you haven’t seen Lock, Stock, and 2 Smoking Barrels. But seriously, Guy Ritchie made this movie and it was like nothing I had ever seen before.  Vinnie Jones is amazing, Jason Statham is in his first big role (at least in the US), and Brad Pitt plays an absolutely incomprehensible gypsy/boxer.  It’s a stylish, interesting, funny film.  It also provides one with endless quotes. This movie contains both my least favorite moment in perhaps any movie (Brick Top–aka the foulest man on earth–talking about feeding corpses to his pigs) and one of my favorites (Tyrone backs into a van and claims it was at a funny angle. Vinny says It’s behind you Tyrone. Whenever you reverse, things come from behind you.).

4. Atonement

Couldn’t be more different from Snatch.  For all my bitching about Keira Knightley and Joe Wright’s version of Pride and Prejudice, they do a spectacular job with this movie.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it might be better than the book, and I loved the book.  The book didn’t have James McAvoy though, and the movie has an absolutely amazing score that actually works to help translate it from book to screen.  A word of warning, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, it will absolutely fuck you up. I was sobbing for days.  Ian McEwan’s fiction always does that to me, but this is a prime example.  It’s either going to make you depressed or make you very angry, or both. But it’s exceptionally good.

5. Bridget Jones’ Diary

How could I not love this movie? It’s based on Pride & Prejudice, has the real Mr. Darcy playing a man named Mr. Darcy, and features an imperfect heroine who Darcy loves anyway.

I do occasionally have a problem with the fact that Bridget is a bit of an idiot, and compared to Lizzy Bennet she’s a complete moron.  But she does have a sort of wonderful, vivacious, goofy energy that is a good contrast to stuffy, conservative, Mark Darcy.

Honorable Mentions: Notting Hill, Love Actually

Now, on to my favorite Places to visit during a trip to the UK.  Let me preface this by saying I have, by no means, seen the majority of the UK.  These are just the 5 favorite places I visited during my time there.

1. South Bank of London

I spent a lot of time on the South Bank during my time in London, though I didn’t live anywhere near it.  I did go to the theatre there almost every week, and it is among the most beautiful of all the places I spent time in Europe. As the name implies, it’s on the South Bank of the Thames, and features tons of big attractions within about a block or two of the water.  There’s the National Theatre, the British Film Institute, the London Eye, the London Aquarium, the Waterloo station, the Old Vic and Young Vic theatres, and City Hall (popularly known as Darth Vader’s helmet because of its shape).  It’s a beautiful, vibrant, interesting, artistic part of town.  It should also be avoided during tourist season, but if you go when it’s not packed, it can be absolutely beautiful. A few blocks east are the Globe theatre, the Tate Modern, and the Millennium Bridge.

2. Prince’s Street Gardens and the Castle of Edinburgh

I went to Edinburgh and was blown away by how beautiful this part of town was.  The castle sits at the top of a huge cliff and the gardens sit at its base.  The history of the place goes back thousands of years, you can see the entire town from the top of the cliff, and everywhere you go in the area, you have at least some chance of running into J.K. Rowling.

3. Oxford

Talk about history, beauty, the whole thing.  You can walk around this city in about an hour, but it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  I’m still considering going to Oxford for grad school, because can you imagine having this place for your home? Wandering around the same halls and rooms as so many of the important figures in political and literary history (26 prime ministers, 12 saints, kings, queens, Bill Clinton, Stephen Hawking, Joseph Heller, Aldous Huxley, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde…just to name a few. I could go on).  Plus Rowan Atkinson.  I think I could spend the rest of my life inside the Radcliffe Camera (reading room).

4. Bath

A place famous with Roman settlers for its healing waters, home to Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Rupert Giles, and set in a really beautiful part of a really beautiful country.  It’s a small town, but I found it really charming and lovely to walk in.  There are tons of Regency-era museums and houses open for viewing, plus the Jane Austen house, the original Roman baths, and a kickass chocolate shop across from the Cathedral.

5. Hampstead and ‘the Heath’


I lived approximately 1 mile from Hampstead, and ran on the heath most mornings during my time in London. As such, I have a lot of affection for the place.  Plus, it was home to John Keats, my favorite poet ever.  Hampstead is a small village to the northwest of London, rather trendy with celebs and the rich and famous. It’s got nice restaurants, and is surrounded by beautiful neighborhoods on one side and the ‘Heath’ (park) on the other.  The Heath itself has two basic parts, from my recollection, an open park, and a wooded section.  From the top of the hills you can see downtown London landmarks like the BT tower and the ‘Gherkin’ building (so named because it resembles a pickle).  It’s similar, in my eyes, to Central Park, because it is a place that tons of people go when the weather is good and they sit in the grass and just enjoy life.  What’s not to love?

That’s all for this list.  Next time, I’ll tackle my favorite British TV, British music, and my favorite tidbits from British history.