Saturday, February 22, 2014

Movie Review: Romeo and Juliet (2013)


Title: Romeo and Juliet
Author: Shakespeare (more or less)
Genre: romance, drama
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and thematic elements)
Age Group: 18+

Summary: We all know the story--or so we think. Shakespeare gives it to us in the first lines of the play. Romeo and Juliet are from warring families and they fall in love. Their love, and marriage, is ultimately torn apart by the families' arguments. When Romeo believes his wife to be dead, he commits suicide. Juliet wakes from her sleep, sees her dear husband dead, and kills herself as well. A tragedy, really. A Shakespearean tragedy.

Word of Warning
  • Shakespeare's language is always obscene to some extent. This particular play is loaded with hidden little comments that might make the audience squirm for sheer number of them--if they were all understood. This particular version of his play keeps much of the original language. Since it is not possible to name all the suggestions, just know that they are there and not easily noticed.
  • Juliet is not even 14 (and she looks young as well). Romeo looks to be about 16, but it is unclear as to how old he actually is.
  • Death. Three men are killed during sword fights, Romeo drinks a poison, Juliet drinks a drug which makes her appear dead, Juliet thrusts a dagger into her stomach (there is no gore or drama here). Before actually taking their own lives, Romeo and Juliet both threaten to do so with a dagger (not in the presence of each other) once.
  • Various uses of God's name, Jesus's name, and saints.
  • The first meeting of the lovers involves numerous references to lips (often compared with pilgrims), saints (not always respectful), and Romeo states that his kissing Juliet was a sin, then begs her to allow him to repeat his sin again.
  • Countless passionate kisses between Romeo and Juliet. Romeo also kisses Juliet a few times after he believes she is dead, and she kisses him after she knows he is dead.
  • Romeo and Juliet get their wedding night despite the fact that Romeo is in danger of being killed. They kiss, Romeo's shirt is removed, Juliet is in her underdress, and they end up on her bed, kissing. The last shot we see is of Romeo bent over her, kissing her, and then the shot in the morning has her in his arms, both still dressed the same as they were when the camera cut to another scene. Obviously there are implications of sex, but nothing is shown, and they are married. The scene becomes a bit disturbing when we take into account their ages, and the fact that Juliet looks so young.
  • Children marry without their parents' permission, and behind their backs because they know they can't get that permission. A priest goes along with this.
  • Juliet's father shouts at her, threatens to disown her, and tells her she must get married. He is unaware that she is already married to Romeo. Juliet's nurse advises that the girl marry Paris as her father desires as Romeo has been banished. We get the idea that Juliet is refusing not because she is already married, but because she loves another.
  • Romeo caresses Juliet's face on more than one occasion (before they are married).
  • Romeo's friends are not exactly respectable people (well, money-wise they are). They joke about various things, and much of Shakespeare's hidden sexual comments come into play between them. At one point, a young man refers to his friends as "lusty gentlemen."
  • Juliet's mother makes a comment that implies her husband had a brief affair. He responds by hugging her from behind and asking if she'll still hold that against him. He kisses her, and it's pretty clear he's suggesting something for later that night.
  • At the end of their famous balcony meeting, as Juliet is about to leave, and after they have kissed passionately several times, Romeo asks if she will leave him so unsatisfied. When she asks what he means, he quickly responds that he wants proof of her love and that they should vow it to each other. As a viewer who was paying particular attention to the language, it sounded like his request for vows was a sort of quick cover up, more spur of the moment than actually what he was originally suggesting.
  • Romeo is clearly interested in a physical relationship with Juliet and one might even venture to say that all his sweet words of love are to that end. Juliet is relatively innocent in this respect, but she does give in pretty quickly and apparently believes his love for her.
  • Many other smaller things. Listed above are simply the biggest problems. And, once again, I was unable to keep track of all the kisses or the disguised sexual language.
My Thoughts
I have a confession to make: I hadn't read Romeo and Juliet until now, my sophomore year of college. I mean, sure, I'd glanced at it before, but never really studied what was actually being said. Having read the first two acts, I was a bit shocked as to how far Shakespeare went with his language and sexual suggestions. In all honesty, it was disgusting.

I was lucky to come across such a clean version of the play (clean there is obviously a relative term here). By sticking to most of the original dialogue in the play, and using period costumes, the movie itself was really impressive and I was glad they didn't try to make it modern (because the beauty of the story is that it's timeless. it doesn't need to be modernized). The movie does deserve credit for that, and also for its portrayal of the story. Somehow, we are able to internally laugh at Romeo and Juliet, and yet not. We feel sorry that Juliet has fallen for Romeo's sweet words of love, and that Romeo is so caught up in his desires that he sees nothing else. We also find this overdone and almost comical. And yet, the acting was too well done for it to be seen as a comedy. We have Midsummer Night's Dream for that (same plot, just not a tragedy). Yes, it felt like a tragedy. A well done tragedy.

While I would not advise reading Romeo and Juliet in high school, or watching the movie, if one must watch a rendition of it, this version was incredibly well done. That's why I rated it so highly. Because it took on the challenging task of recreating this famous Shakespearean tragedy, and it completed it in a satisfactory, even impressive, way.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Play Review: Tartuffe

And...we have a new category! Due to the fact that I am an English major, therefore reading a good number of texts, I will often be reviewing the texts I read because: 1) it ensure I have the time to review something, 2) it will give me a better understanding of the text, 3) the texts will often be unknown gems or very well known pieces that perhaps have not been read carefully in the past, 4) other random reasons I can't think of right now.
So, following my modern tradition class, today I present to you a play from the Enlightenment era. I hope you find the review interesting!

Title: Tartuffe
Author: Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Moliere
Genre: Play, romance, enlightenment
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: N/A
Age Group: 16+
Summary: Tartuffe is a sneaky man who poses as a religious figure. Through his skillful acting, he manages to wrap a household around his little finger and make a move to take everything from them. Those who see through his disguise are ignored and seen as jealous or childish. But what happens when the man of the house sees Tartuffe approach his wife in an adulterous way? Will he believe Tartuffe's guilt, or is it too late?

Word of Warning
  • The story line is a good place to start. Tartuffe is a religious figure who lies and basically steals. He also uses his position to attempt to essentially have a sexual relationship with a married woman.
  • A father banishes his son in anger. The father is also blind to Tartuffe's cruelty and will no hear no wrong said of him.
  • When Elmire (the wife) is approached by Tartuffe, she does not respond as we expect her to. While she doesn't encourage the man, she doesn't cut him off either. This, we learn later, is simply part of her plot to prove to her husband how evil Tartuffe is. She does not allow Tartuffe to become physically intimate with her.
  • The wife sets up a situation in which she suggests to Tartuffe that she does love him. Then, she allows him to continue from there, not really encouraging or discouraging his profession of love. Meanwhile, her husband hides under a table, witnessing the whole thing. Several times she coughs, trying to get her husband to come out and accuse Tartuffe of the crime. When he doesn't, she convinces Tartuffe to check to make sure the situation is clear before they become physically intimate. While he is gone, she tells her husband he should come out, but seeing the doubt he has, tells him not to come out until he is absolutely certain he is seeing what he thinks he is. He comes out a moment later and accuses Tartuffe of inappropriately approaching his wife.
  • Tartuffe tricks Orgon (the man of the house) to basically hand over the house, property, and money. This leaves Orgon's family with nothing. (spoiler alert: this is not the end)
My Thoughts
In all honesty, I've never been a huge fan of plays or poetry (except epic poetry). This semester, I've encountered a lot of plays (and we've only just begun!). I found Tartuffe to be one of the more interesting ones. It's short, characters are simple, and yet the whole thing has a complexity to it. It shows the ideas of the Enlightenment era, debates about authority and how it should be used, and is driven by that main Enlightenment idea: emotions should be governed by reason. As classmates joked, if it's not, everyone dies (according to Racine's Phaedra). The lesson of Tartuffe is similar, though not as drastic.
Also, the play actually had a bit of an edge-of-your-seat quality to it. It was a fun piece of literature.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Trojan Horse Book Review: Divergent

Post 100! A celebration is in order, no? Not to worry, Stacy is working on an entire week of Robin Hood media. Does it get any better than that?

A Trojan Horse Review is a review of one of those books/movies/albums/other that comes highly recommended or disguised as something good, and is a nearly deadly attack.
An unfortunate disappointment review is when the media being reviewed could have been good if only ____ hadn't been there. Those poor books/movies/albums/other. They had so much potential. If only the author could have carried it out.

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Teen fiction, science fiction, dystopian fiction
My Rating: *
Official Rating: Teen fiction
Age Group: 18+
Awards: Amelia Bloomer Book List Award

The world was in chaos, so of course the government decided to separate people. This time, they've been separated into what they call factions. Each faction is based off a particular virtue and the people who show a tendency toward that virtue are sent there. It's not a requirement--you can stick around in your hometown or you can change factions as you will after taking the test that helps show you what you tend toward. Once you arrive, you're there forever.
Tris is divergent, which is a big problem. The government finds people who don't fit into a particular faction threatening. She chooses dauntless and tries hard to blend in and not die. But when she discovers something much more dangerous than mere separation into factions. Can she stay alive, and save others, before it's too late?

My Hopes:
They were simple. An interesting and good conclusion to the premise presented, and an appropriate romance written by a contemporary author. Both hopes were dashed against the rocks.

Word of Warning
Due to the nature of the material (book, and Trojan horse) this section is going to be less detailed and more broad. Unfortunately, I am not able to list every problematic detail here but have rated the book 18+ to give an idea as to what is present.
  • Bullying by other factions. Certain factions are looked upon as better than others.
  • Kids are given an injection which them simulates rather terrifying situations (attacking dogs, drowning, shooting, etc) to determine which faction they belong in.
  • Violence in the dauntless faction. Much of this comes from training and includes characters getting knocked out, bruised, knives thrown at them, and various other beatings.
  • Tris comes out of the shower and grabs her towel right before two boys and a girl walk in. One of the boys pulls the towel from her but she holds up her dress so they don't see anything. They see her back as she runs out.
  • Tris is captured by a few of her classmates (most of them young men) and they attempt to rape her before throwing her to her death. She fights back but is relatively unsuccessful. They succeed in "only" touching her breast before she is rescued by another character.
  • After being rescued, Tris spends the night in the bedroom of one of her male leaders (the one who saved her). Nothing happens, but by this point in the book the readers are well aware of an attraction between these two.
  • Tris is uncomfortable with her body shape and remarks more than once that it appears childlike.
  • Tattoos are common for dauntless characters. They also pull crazy stunts (jumping off buildings and trains, climbing to dangerous heights, etc) as their faction is based on showing bravery and getting an adrenalin high.
  • Government officials are corrupt.
  • One character's father used to beat him with a belt and told him that it's for his own good.
  • The abnegation (selfless) faction is seen as weak. They often misunderstand selflessness, always backing down in a fight and letting other characters basically walk all over them. Somehow, they have some serious power when it comes to the government.
  • The concept of separating people into factions based on their strongest qualities. This is an interesting idea, but completely unrealistic, as no one person is only going to be one thing. Tris and a few other characters are great examples of this.
  • During a simulation, we find out that Tris is afraid of intimacy (yes, it's that awkward). A character she's in love with appears (remember, this is all in her mind, but to her it feels real) and starts kissing her and slips her jacket off to reveal a tank top. He pulls her onto a bed and continues to kiss her. Tris realizes that he wants to have sex with her (the word "sex" being used) and resists, telling him she's not going to do that with him in a simulation.
  • The romance is a huge problem. Kisses are far too passionate; Tris sits in her love interest's lap at one point during a kiss, later hands run over shoulders and neck, kisses range from various places on the face (nose, cheek, mouth) to neck and back again, and other problems. At one point the male character is without his shirt and, because Tris is too uncomfortable to make the move herself, takes her hands and places them on his abdomen, then brings them upward. Both characters confess to fear of intimacy and decide that they might do it later. Passionate kissing follows.
  • The romance is the biggest reason this book is a Trojan horse book. It is put forth as something relatively chaste as the characters never have sex, but they are pretty physically involved otherwise (as noted above). A complete misunderstanding of chastity is shown here. If the author was going for abstinence, she misses the point there too as the couple is incredibly physically involved.
  • Mind control.
  • Characters (other than Tris) kiss. Tris finds this uncomfortable because she is unused to public displays of affection.
  • A character commits suicide and is praised for his "brave" act. Luckily, Tris and her friends see right through this as a lie. Still, the leaders of the group consider his move to be one of a true dauntless member.
  • Blood and gore (nothing too detailed). Characters get shot and die. Characters are forced to kill those they care about (sometimes for real, sometimes in simulations).

My Thoughts
I admit I was disappointed. While I disagree with separating people into factions based on their strongest inclinations, the premise was one that I thought would be interesting to entertain. What would happen to our world if it was separated like this?
The author followed the premise through in a way that made sense to me, but also disappointed to me. At some point, it became less about the premise and more about one particular character. Then, it became about the romance. Then, it became all about the where-did-that-come-from ending.

The Trojan horse aspect comes from the failure to follow through with the premise and from the romance. Failure to follow a premise to the end is usually seen as more of a writing flaw, but here it was dangerous. Bringing up a premise like that and then dropping it is not safe. The end did not satisfy "conclusion" requirements. As for the romance, there are more details above, but the basic idea behind it is that the romance is portrayed as safe and appropriate and the characters shown as admirable for not having sex right away. The problem is, they went so far that's almost the only thing they're not doing. And there is something wrong with a romance that excites readers (because the characters are portrayed as excited) and then stops. That's not what romance is meant to be--but it's not meant to go that far until marriage either. This is like the set up, set up, part of a three part story, lacking the pay off. In no way am I suggesting the characters engage in any more physical intimacy. I'm suggesting they do the opposite.

Why was it disappointing? Aside from the premise, the romance started out as interesting. When the author took it as far as she possibly could without frightening away the younger audience and their parents, she disappointed me. Can no one write a good romance without all of that? Granted, that's what it should become eventually--in marriage. But I had honestly hoped she'd be one of the few living authors who could write a great romance without that before marriage. I was wrong.

Do I suggest reading the book? No, I don't. For the simple reason that it's a Trojan horse and an unfortunate disappointment. Did I enjoy parts of it? I would be lying if I said I hadn't. No book can be an unfortunate disappointment without having something good in it. This one just didn't follow through.