Ella Enchanted Book Review

24336Fun Fact: Ella Enchanted was among the first books I ever purchased for my own personal library decades ago. Also, a little embarrassed to admit this, but one of the biggest reasons I picked up this specific book, was because it had Anne Hathaway on the cover. I was/am a HUGE Princess Diaries fan and had watched her in its movie adaptation. Although I wasn’t a big fan of the movie, I did somehow, end up becoming a big fan of her. For some reason, Anne Hathaway appealed to my young self, as not only was she beautiful, but she came across as having spunk. And now that I think on it, I think this idea I had of her really affected the way I approached this book. The image I had of Anne Hathaway blended in with the characterization of Ella in the book, resulting in my forming an instant love for the spunky, strong, and smart Ella.

As I first read this book decades ago, you might be wondering why I decided to talk about it today; but there’s a reason for it. If you’ve been on my blog for a while, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I actually haven’t reviewed any books in a long while. Aside from The Night Circus, it’s been almost five months since I reviewed one. And the reason for that, was that I had actually fallen out of love with reading. Or perhaps a better way to phrase it, would be to say that reading did not hold the same excitement for me anymore. I would pick up book and then put them down after reading two pages. It puzzled me and made me sad, as reading had been one way I defined myself for years. However, I just could not find it within me to complete a novel. Then randomly, I plucked Ella Enchanted from my personal book collection and began reading. Henceforth, almost magically, my love of reading returned! As such, I figured that I owed the book at least one review on my blog. So let us begin!

Basically, Ella Enchanted is an adaption of the Cinderella fairytale. However, in this story, she’s named Ella and doesn’t really become a scullery maid by choice. Unlike in the original fairytale, book Ella had been cursed. When she was born, a fairy gave Ella the “gift” of obedience, making it so that Ella had to obey whatever anyone said to her — including if they wanted to take advantage of her. As a result, her mother forbid her to tell of her curse to anyone. When Ella’s mother died (like in the fairytale), it was revealed that their family cook, Mandy, was also a fairy. However, she refused to reverse Ella’s “gift” out of fear that something could go wrong.

Similarly, Ella and Prince Charmont (aka Charming), don’t really first meet at a ball. Rather, they meet at her mother’s funeral and form an instant friendship (their families apparently knew each other in the book). However, their bond suffers as Ella’s father remarries and her step-mother send her off to finishing school in another country. Fed up of her step-sisters taking advantage of her curse (i.e. by commanding her to give them all her money or forcing her to miss meals by telling her to not eat), she decides to run away from school and find the fairy who cursed her in the first place. The rest of the book details Ella’s adventures after running away from finishing school, her attempts at removing her curse, and her friendship with Char.

As it’s Cinderella with a twist, the ending remains the same as the core — Ella and Charmont marry and live happily ever after. However, as it’s an adaptation, some things have been changed. One of the biggest and best changes, in my opinion, is that made of Ella’s character. While Cinderella was depicted as being kind and doing servitude quietly, Ella is feisty and determined. She’s headstrong, stubborn, and brave. Even though her curse causes her to lose her freedom (as she has to do whatever people tell her to do), she manages to find loopholes and assert her own will. It’s kind of inspiring to be honest. On top of that, she’s also incredibly talented with languages (it’s actually really cool!). She dabbles with speaking ogrese, elvish, etc.

Speaking of language, the world that Gail Carson Levine, the author of the book, manages to create is also really cool. Although the book focuses mainly on Ella and her exploits, we do get some hints as to how the magical world around her is. I’ve already mentioned the differing languages (there’s actually some pronunciations included!), but there’s also descriptions of the types of creatures, their personalities and customs, their way of living, etc. Plus, the fairy subplot that she includes is interesting as well. It really felt like the reader was on the journey with Ella, vs. just reading about how her adventures went. Levine writes in a way that is easy to read and understand. However, she also manages to include the themes of love, friendship, strength, and determination within her writing, in a way that doesn’t come across as preachy or too subtle.

I never really enjoyed Cinderella too much as she was always too passive of a heroine for me (especially in the Disney versions). However, this refashioning is one of my favourite adaptations ever. It changes Cinderella/ Ella from a meek character seeking her happily ever after to a brave one who becomes her own hero and goes after what she wants. Highly recommend this for young girls looking for a role model to emulate (or to parents who are looking for a role model for their kids).

My rating: read it to enjoy a modern, inspiring take on the Cinderella fairytale.

Advertisements

The Last King Movie Review

last_king_dvd_2d.jpgI put on The Last King/ Birkebeinerne on a whim. I just needed some background noise. However, when the film opened up with the allegation that it was in fact based upon some real life events, I knew that it would no longer just be background noise. I’m a huge history fan so my interest was fully piqued.

Basically, the background history is this: from around 1130-1240, Norway underwent a series of civil wars. Prior to this, Norway had often been ruled under a power-sharing agreement wherein 2 kings or so would agree to govern together. This was done so because Norway had vague kingship laws. As long as a pretender had a claim to the throne (regardless of his legitimate/ illegitimate status), they could partake in the sharing of power. However, over time, some kings broke their oaths (i.e. to not claim the throne until someone’s reign was over) or attempted to usurp all power. Inciting these power struggles, were the neighbouring kingdoms of Sweden and Denmark, who would periodically pledge their support to various leaders. As such, various civil wars began. It is important to note that the civil wars weren’t always between the same two groups, as agreements and alliances shifted. However, by 1177, a faction known as Birkebeiner (birchbark leggers), gained power and elected Sverre Sigurdsson (Sverre of Norway) as King in 1184. However, Sverre’s kingship wasn’t peaceful as a number of pretenders challenged his throne. By 1197, the Norwegian Catholic Church also fell into conflict with Sverre, and as a result, backed another faction: the Baglers. Unlike the Birkebeiner who were mostly made up of poorer peasants (hence their name – they could only afford birckbark to wrap their shoes), the Baglers consisted of the richer merchants, noblemen, and clergymen. Eventually, the Baglers and Birkebeiner emerged as the two main factions. Yet, despite the challenges, Sverre managed to hold onto power, until he died in 1202. His son Haakon Sverresson was made king after his death, but Haakon died in 1204, after less than 2 years on the throne. Desperate for a leader, the Birkebeiner put Inge Bardsson, a nobleman, on the throne. On the other hand, the Baglers saw this as the perfect opportunity to strengthen their claim to the throne and began fighting intensely. Amidst this struggle, it became known that Haakon Sverresson had actually fathered a son – thereby strengthening the claim of the Birkebeiner. However, the son, Haakon Haakonsson, was born within Bagler territory, thereby putting his life in danger as the Baglers were determined to kill him to strengthen their claim.

This is where the movie begins (1205/1206). Two Birkebeiner, Torstein (played by Kristofer Hivju) and Skjervald (played by Jakob Oftebro), manage to sneak into Bagler territory and pick up the infant Haakon Haakonsson and his mother. While enroute to a safehouse, they are spotted by Bagler troops. Hence, Torstein and Skjervald take the baby and flee, promising to deliver the child to safety. After a couple of cool skiing sequences (the birkebeiner carried the child while skiing in order to escape), they manage to find shelter for the night and deliver the child to the safehouse. Skjervald then decides to go home to his wife and child. Unfortunately, the Baglers get to his house and kill both his wife and child in their pursuit to find baby Haakon. Skjervald manages to escape and skis to the safehouse to warn Torstein and other Birkebeiner that the Baglers are still on their tail.

Meanwhile, back at the Birkebeiner stronghold, Nidaros, one of Haakon Sverresson’s loyal men, Inge (played by Thorbjorn Harr), is framed for his murder. Behind this conspiracy, is his younger brother, Gisle (played by Pal Sverre Hagen), who wants the throne for himself. It is shown that he indulged in an affair with Queen Margaret of Sweden, the widow of King Sverre, and convinced her to poison Haakon Sverresson. After administering the poison, she flees to Sweden, with the promise that Gisle will become king and then power will be theirs. However, Gisle betrays her and instead attempts to marry her daughter, Christina Sverresdatter (played by Thea Sofie Loch Naess), in order to secure his claim to the throne and gain the backing of the Birkebeiner. However, Christina is loyal to the throne (Birkebeiner) and Inge, so she attempts to betray Gisle and free Inge from jail. Unfortunately, she does not succeed.

Concurrently, the Birkebeiner ready themselves for battle to protect baby Haakon from the Baglers. Again, Torstein and Skjervald ski with the baby. The rest of the film deals with the two conflicts. Spoiler alert: Inge gets freed and reigns as regent for the young Haakon, who manages to reach Nidaros safely.

If you’re wary about watching this film without knowing about Norway’s history, I’d tell you to not worry. You actually don’t need to know the history behind the film in order to enjoy it. From a thematic point of view, the movie itself is very well made. Although it is historical in nature, the writers managed to adapt it to the big screen well as the story is (relatively) easy to follow onscreen. Of course you don’t get the nitty gritty details, such as who exactly the Baglers are, why the two (Baglers and Birkebeiner) are fighting, etc. However, I don’t think it’s necessary to know every single detail in order to enjoy the movie. Visually, it’s pretty cool to watch, especially the skiing action scenes (I’d probably call them the highlight of the movie). Plus, there are some nice emotional cute scenes with the baby. If anything, I’d say a prior knowledge of Norway’s history would probably allow you to appreciate the movie more, but again, I don’t think it’s necessary to know to enjoy.

The only big negative for the film, in my point of view, is that the film is not completely historically accurate. First off, from what I’ve been able to gather, Inge and other Birkebeiner actually did not know about Haakon Haakonsson’s existence until after Inge had been chosen to be the next king. So movie-Inge declaring himself to be regent until Haakon came of age is wrong. Secondly, Inge is never really framed for Haakon Sverresson’s murder. Suspicion falls upon Margaret of Sweden who actually does fail a trial and flees to Sweden. Inge is chosen to become the next Birkebeiner King. So movie-Inge being jailed is wrong. Thirdly, the character of Gisle doesn’t really exist in history. Inge did have a younger brother, but his name was Skule and he actually was the ruler of Norway, but after Inge’s death and he technically functioned as Haakon’s regent rather than Inge. So the whole plot of Gisle attempting to usurp power by framing Inge – no idea where that came from. On top of that, Gisle is implied to be a secret Bagler and is semi-supported by the Bagler’s as well. Given that information, it seems like Gisle’s character was partially inspired by the real life Bagler king, Philip Simonssen. Which is interesting, because the real life Christina Sverresdatter actually married Philip Simonssen. All of which implies that Gisle is a made up character, representing Skule and Philip together? I mean, if I squint, I can see why the writers chose to do that. However, as a history lover, I’m not impressed with it. Nonetheless, it’s a decent enough movie.

My rating: watch it if you’re a history lover, knowledgeable of Norwegian history, and/or if you want to watch cool skiing sequences.

 

My Little Baby Korean TV Show Review

My-Little-Baby-Poster1There’s just something about Korean dramas that makes them so addicting. Maybe it’s the actors? Or the story? Or the special effects? I’m not quite sure. Whatever it is, whenever I find a good k-drama, I tend to go crazy and just binge-watch it. Which is kind of out of character for me, because I’m not much of a binge-watcher. Yet, despite my adoration for k-dramas, I find it so difficult to find good ones. If you remember, I talked about how it was so difficult for me to find good K-dramas in my Falling for Innocence review. Sadly, things have not changed much and after watching that show, my expectations were even higher. So it was difficult for me to find one that I enjoyed. I sampled so many dramas, only to end up disappointed. Hence when I chanced upon My Little Baby, I didn’t expect much. Yet to my surprise, I ended up quite enjoying My Little Baby, to the point where the binge-watching returned!

Basically, My Little Baby is about police detective Cha Jung-Han (played by Oh Ji-ho) who is suddenly thrust into the role of a parent. Prior to the show beginning, Jung Han was a bachelor dedicated to fighting crime and devoting his entire time to his career. However, with the sudden death of his sister and brother-in-law, along with his brother-in-law’s mother’s waiving her parental rights, Jung-Han is forced to take responsibility for his sister’s 6 month old baby girl, Eun Ae. Since he focused entirely on his career, Jung-Han has absolutely no idea how to care for a baby. So he decides to take some time off work to get the hang of raising his niece. His friend and former police trainee/ current coffee cafe owner, Yoon Min (played by Kim Min-jae), moves in with him to help him out. The two move into a community for young children and the show deals with the struggles Jung-Han faces while raising Eun-Ae and living at the community.

At the community, it turns out that the administrator is actually Jung-Han’s former corporal officer, Jo Ji-Young (played by Jung Soo-Young). The two share bad blood because four years ago, on a police stakeout, Jung-Han had to actually deliver her baby. Jung-Han is upset that he had to witness Ji-Young in such an intimate way (he had told her to stay home due to her pregnancy), as is Ji-Young. Worried that Jung-Han will blurt out their shared past to the other mothers who live in the community, she conspires to make Jung-Han’s life miserable so he moves out of the community. On top of that, also in the community, is Jung-Han’s first girlfriend and first love, Han Ye-Seul (played by Lee Soo-Kyung). However, now she’s the secretly divorced (no one in the community knows except for her, her sister and Jung-Han), single mother of a four year old boy. Jung-Han attempts to rekindle their romantic relationship, while trying to gauge her feelings and dodging Ji-Young malicious machinations.

Supporting all these characters, are some other mothers from the community, 40 year old first time mother Yoon-Sook (played by Go Soo-Hee) and 20 year old first time mother Kim Bo-Mi (played by Joo Sae-Byuk). They, along with Ji-Young, form the core trio of the community mothers and are the main ones Jung-Han interacts with. In the process, they also end up becoming good friends to Jung-Han, especially Yoon-Sook. Also in the main credits is Nam Ji-Hyun, and she plays the role of Ye-Seul’s sister and the baby yoga teacher of the baby yoga class the mothers and Jung-Han attend. She actually doesn’t feature in the show that heavily so I’m not quite sure why she’s in the main credits.

The main story-line itself, if you can guess from the write-up, is actually quite sweet. Jung-Han is a pretty loveable character (or maybe it’s the actor LOL) and is a really decent guy. He’s willing to forgo his reputation in order to secure what is best for Eun-Ae, but also sticks to his principles. On top of that, he’s literally so dense when it comes to raising a child/ understanding the ways of parenting, that’s it’s actually hilarious. In fact, the entire show itself is super sweet and light-hearted. It does briefly delve into some serious problems, such as a father hiding his job demotion from his wife and struggling to provide for his family, but those problems aren’t really part of the main plot or really focused upon for a long time. For example, for the prior example, it was the main point for one of the mom’s for an episode or two, but after that, it’s just mentioned in passing remarks by other characters. Similarly, the show also touches upon the difficulties of parenting and being mothers. However, again, the difficulties aren’t really elaborated upon and are sort of *solved* by the time the episode(s) end.

However, I don’t think that this is detrimental for the show because it’s still quite enjoyable. I think this is a show to just enjoy for what it is. It’s light-hearted, sweet, and funny. Nothing more and nothing less. The only real negative point I can think of for the drama, is that it’s actually quite unrealistic. To give you an example, there’s a whole subplot of how Eun-Ae’s step-grandmother attempted to usurp Eun-Ae from Jung-Han in an effort to get her custody and therefore be privy to the large fortune Eun-Ae is set to inherit.  I mean, it’s so obviously a manufactured story-line for drama and completely unrealistic. Yet, since the show is so light-hearted, this conflict isn’t terribly dramatic and is still sprinkled with moments of comedy. Similarly, some of the action sequences were hilariously fake as well. However, they were easy enough to ignore because there wasn’t too many of them.

That said, the show is definitely uncomfortable to watch at first, because of the baby playing Eun-Ae. When the show begins, Jung-Han is obviously supposed to be unfamiliar with handling a baby, so I guess the actor was doing his job. However, the poor little girl playing Eun-Ae seemed to be terrified in the initial episodes. All she did, was cry and look scared. I felt so horrible for her, it actually did mar some of the viewing experience. However, as the show went on, she was more smiley (because I assume she got more comfortable with the actors and with filming in general) and the viewing experience was consistently enjoyable. Yet even then, part of me still felt bad for the little girl.

Moving on, let’s talk about the acting and characters. I’m not really familiar with Oh Ji-ho or his acting, but I really, really enjoyed him in this drama. He acted quite well and is super good looking. In fact, I have a small suspicion that his good looks made me feel far more favourable to his character’s actions than I would have been otherwise. He has the most adorable dimpled smile. Plus he had fantastic chemistry with his onscreen roomie, played by Kim Min-jae. While Ji-ho is good-looking in the popular “tall, dark, and handsome” trope, Min-jae is good-looking in the cute, well-dressed and witty way (I don’t know, is there a specific description for a guy like that?).Together, not only did the two play off of each other, but they also existed as foils. While Jung-Han is clueless (especially in regards to raising a baby and some social manners LOL), Yoon-Min is incredibly smart and resilient with everyday life things (Jung-Han is a good detective though). Lee Soo-Kyung is also quite good as Jung-Han’s girlfriend Ye-Seul. She actually brought this really cute charm to Ye-Seul. What’s also quite hilarious, is that she’s almost as naive and clueless as Jung-Han (LOL). She falls victim to pranks easily and isn’t as obsessed with being a mom as the other women in the community are, as she is busy being a working mother. However, she never plays the working mother as too harsh or strict. She really just comes across as any other mom trying to raise a kid alone, while still an incredibly sweet (if not judgemental sometimes) person.

On that topic, the whole mommy community in the show was a little intense. There was actually a subplot about how the mommy community literally had nothing else to do besides bring their babies everywhere and gossip with other mothers (LOL). The community depiction itself is also pretty unrealistic (or at least I think so). Yet, despite that, they were still generally enjoyable to watch and all three main mothers had distinct personality traits. That said, I will say that Ji-Young’s character could get a little too mean and annoying. She actually served as the main antagonist for most of the show and while she wasn’t exactly evil, she could be incredibly spiteful and selfish. Thankfully, she was balanced out by Yoon-Sook, who was incredibly sweet and good-natured (aside from complaining about how much her butt hurt because of childbirth LOL). In general, the acting was pretty solid across the board.

Cinematography was also good for this show (again, pretty convinced that this is a staple of all Korean dramas, regardless of content quality) as was directing (a lot of tricky camera shots to convince the viewers!).

My rating: watch it to enjoy a light-hearted, sweet and funny show about child-rearing, friendship and love.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story Movie Review

47980728Movies about depression are always iffy for me. A lot of the time, I either find them too optimistic or I find them too dramatic. Maybe I haven’t seen enough of them. That’s why I was a little hesitant to begin It’s Kind of a Funny Story, as I didn’t want to be disappointed.

Basically, It’s Kind of a Funny Story (IKoaFS), is about high school teenager Craig (played by Keir Gilchrist) who checks himself into the psych ward due to his fear of him committing suicide. However, the teen ward is closed for renovations, so he is instead admitted to the adult psych ward. In the adult psych ward, he meets with a number of people and forms bonds with them. There’s his mentor, dealing with his own problems, Bobby (played by Zach Galifianakis), the nice and pretty Noelle who struggles with self-harm (played by Emma Roberts), his bed-ridden roommate Muqtata (played by Bernard White), and his psychiatrist Dr. Minerva (played by Viola Davis). Craig stays in the ward for about a week and the film deals with his life. Although, the supporting characters do get some great work to do, particularly Bobby.

What I liked about the film, was how relatable Craig was. Craig was an incredibly anxious, stressed out, depressed and suicidal teenager. He felt like an outsider among his peers, his friends, and even with his family. The pressure of performing well in school, of thinking of about his future in terms of academics, or even asking out a girl, all seemed to mount on him, until he had difficulty coping. Although I’m not a teenager anymore, I could definitely relate to Craig. In fact, a couple of times, I had to do a double take because some of the things he said/ thought actually reminded me of when I was still in school. He feels like an incredibly realistic character.

I also really enjoyed the take on depression this movie had. Although Craig’s story-line left a lot to be desired, I liked how it was contrasted with others. Craig’s storyline actually slightly related to one of my annoyances about movies about depression. Craig stayed in the psychiatric ward for a total of five days and left the facility feeling happier and less depressed than before. According to his final voiceover, it taught him a lot about his life, about the things he had that he could look forward too. While it’s a good message, I also felt that it was a tad too optimistic. I wish the movie had maybe pointed out how his meds were also a reason why he felt better (it was implied slightly), rather than him just learning to be appreciative for the things he had in life.

That said, the other takes on depression in this film were fantastic. One of them was Craig’s roommate Muqtata. Although we weren’t ever given a backstory for Muqtata, he spent most of his time at the facility in bed. He was too depressed to even get out of bed. He did attempt to walk out of his room, once or twice. However, he’d always lose his nerve and go back to bed. It was only through Craig’s interference (he brought music that Muqtata liked), that Muqtata finally found something to get him out of his bed/ room. I thought it was nice of the writers to show how depression effects people differently. In Craig’s case, it manifested as anxiety and eventually evolved to fuel his suicidal tendencies. With Muqtata, on the other hand, it manifested as a debilitating melancholy that made it difficult for him to even get out of bed.

The other take on depression, was Craig’s mentor, Bobby. Like Muqtata, we weren’t given a backstory for Bobby. However, we did see the effect Bobby’s depression had on his family, the depth of his depression, and his struggle to get better. In fact, I think Bobby’s story was actually the most emotional of them all (it probably also helps that Zach Galifianakis acted really well). Despite Bobby’s easygoing demeanour and his attempts to help Craig with his depression, Bobby himself suffered keenly from depression; having attempted to commit suicide six times before. We were also shown the struggles Bobby went through, with finding housing after his release from the facility, with finding a job to support himself, and with his wife’s constant belittling of him and attempts at eliminating his daughter’s relationship with him. It’s an incredibly depressing, but also realistic look at the way depression can really seem to take over your life. It’s not just about dealing with it in facilities, it also affects your everyday life. Plus, it doesn’t always end with a happy ending. In one of my favourite moments, during Craig’s last night at the facility, he throws a pizza party for everyone. Bobby refrains from participating, despite the fact that he is also being released the next day. The audience is shown that Bobby was unsuccessful in landing a job and securing housing. Although it isn’t necessarily spelled out or even explicit, the next morning, when Craig asks for Bobby (just to see him one last time), it’s implied that Bobby killed himself. Although it’s incredibly sad, the movie handles it really well, just hinting at it and showing how depression isn’t just a simple issue; its complex.

On that note, the movie does have some unlikeable elements. There’s this semi-love-triangle thing that happens between Craig, Noelle, and Craig’s former crush, Nia. Although thankfully this story-line isn’t stretched too far, I also felt it was sort of unnecessary? I just wasn’t a fan and didn’t see its need. I’e already mentioned how I didn’t like how the movie was seemingly so optimistic towards depression recovery. It only hints at struggles (through Bobby for example) rather than providing an in depth look at them. I also thought it was a little odd how Craig seemed to be so incredibly talented at drawing and singing when he claimed to not be. It wasn’t bad per se, but just odd. Actually, while talking about that, I liked the animations in the movie when depicting Craig’s maps. I thought they were cool.

Anyways, moving onto the acting. If it’s not clear, the acting was pretty good across the board. All the actors were believable. I’d say a special mention probably goes to Zach Galifianakis, just because of how great his Bobby was. But then again, he is a good actor; it just gets hard to remember that because of how many comedies he chooses to do. Also, I think props also go to Keir Gilchrist who makes Craig so relatable. I haven’t really seen him in other things before, but he was really good in the movie and managed to carry most of it on his shoulders. Similarly, directing was great as well. Also, this is probably not the best place to mention it (my bad in not planning out this review better), but this movie was actually based upon the book of the same name, written by Ned Vizzini, who actually spent a few days in a psychiatric facility. So it’s actually semi-autobiographical I believe. Unfortunately, Ned died in 2013 after his own intense battle with depression.

My rating: watch it to enjoy a light but good look at the way depression can manifest itself differently in people, but don’t expect to be blown away.