💕I Just Read: The Great Gatsby

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 (out of 5) stars

In honor of Valentine’s Day (which I know was yesterday), I thought it would only seem fitting to celebrate one of the most romantic days of the year, with one of literature’s most famous love triangles in one of the world’s most famous novels: The Great Gatsby.

Published in 1925 by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), The Great Gatsby tells the story of Jay Gatsby through the eyes of a young bond salesman and war veteran, Nick Carraway, who has just moved to the West Egg of Long Island. There, Nick reunites with his wealthy cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom Buchanan, who live on the East Egg side of the city, reserved for those born into wealth. Nick soon discovers how Tom and Daisy carry some secrets of their own, while also becoming more and more curious about his reclusive neighbor, Jay Gatsby. It is not too long until Nick actually befriends his affluent neighbor, who is as lavish and extravagant as he is mysterious and secretive. Gatsby, despite throwing many extravagant parties, is the subject of much gossip and rumors, inspiring Nick to spend more and more time with this man and learning from others as much as he can. From this, Nick, and the audience, soon discover Gatsby’s greater goals and intentions, through his connection with Nick as well as the Buchanans, Jordan Baker, and many more characters.

(Warning there will be very, very mild spoilers from here on): First of all, I should mention that I read this book for my English class, and not just for pleasure. Having said that, I did really enjoy this book and learning about the author and time period from which this book takes place. That is why I still would like to share my general thoughts on the story, writing style, characters, etc.

First, I would like to talk about the plot/story. The book is relatively short, being only a little over 200 pages. Yet, I didn’t feel that there any pacing issues, and this might be because it was a relatively simple story. While Nick is the narrator, it is Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom who drive most of the action, so we only see and learn about these character’s and their motivations as Nick learns it. As previously mentioned, there really isn’t much plot to the story up until that last third. It mostly follows Gatsby in his quest to reunite with his former lover while he and other characters struggle to keep up their images while also keeping their secrets and relationships in balance. For me, the story really was the least interesting part, compared to the characters, themes, and rich, descriptive language, up until the last third where everything really took a left, dramatic turn.

Leonardo Dicaprio starred as the infamous Jay Gatsby in the 2013 film adaptation directed by Baz Luhrmann.

Going into the characters, I think that the structure of the novel made most of the characters far more intriguing than, if say, the story was told from Gatsby’s point of view. Nick, despite being the narrator, is relatively uninteresting. This never possed a problem for me though both because Nick being used as a catalyst for the audience makes Gatsby himself far more intriguing. Since we could only learn things about Gatsby through Nick’s eyes, it was often difficult for me to tell if I could trust him or not, and what his true motivations and desires were. While I had a good grasp on him by the end of the story, I still wanted to know more about Gatsby’s past, his thoughts, and his life. While this may seem like a negative statement, I think the fact that I got so much and still wanted to know more is very telling about what a great character Fitzgerald created.

Anyways, while Nick is not the most interesting characters, Fitzgerald does make it clear early on that Nick is the type of person who mostly listens and observes, which is why he learns so much. Much of his purpose also lies in his relationship to Gatsby since Nick acts as this middle ground to help Gatsby reunite with his former lover. This was probably my least favorite part of the story. The love triangle wasn’t done bad or anything like that, in fact, I like how either way the relationships weren’t so cut and dry and seemed far more complex than just a “who does she love?” solution. I just found that part of the story to be less interesting than, say, the last third. I won’t give it way, but the story takes two really sharp turns, one that carries a lot of dramatic tension through the ending, which I could honestly say was really unexpected and tragic.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s (pictured above) most famous literary works include The Great Gatsby, as well as Tender is the Night (1934), This Side of Paradise (1920), and The Beuatiful and Damned (1922).

Let’s talk about the supporting cast now. Similar to Gatsby, much of the supporting cast is presented as one thing, but whose motivations and goals also become unclear and raise questions. At first, I didn’t really like Tom that much. He just seemed like a total caricature (think Billy Zane’s character from Titanic) to me that I could not stand him. As the story progressed though, there seemed to be this underlying humanization that made his actions did not seem as one note. I especially liked the scenes between him and Gatsby and the interesting ideas that constantly shined through in their rivalry. I often think people overlook Jordan Baker, who I really like. From a historical perspective, she seems like a complete 180 from what was expected of women back then. She enjoys her lavish lifestyles, but also likes to play sports and doesn’t rely on a man to carry her through life. Wolfsheim (despite being a major stereotype of the time) is still a fun and crooked character that I’m still not so sure how to feel about. One character I really didn’t like was Daisy. She just seemed unintentionally boring and I didn’t really draw a connection to her. Some of the choices she made were either confusing or downright frustrated me.

The best part of The Great Gatsby for me was the writing. Even the simple act of two characters saying goodbye was so descriptive and atmospheric that I felt I was being put right into this world. The language, at times, was so poetic and descriptive that you could find so many hidden meanings and symbols behind the simplest of things. Why is the light green? Why mention the clock? Why choose to describe the “valley of ashes” this way? Fitzgerald was so clever in knowing what to describe and how to describe it to put me right into this lavish world with these extravagant homes and people. He also knew what to omit so as to keep me asking questions and to let my own mind fill in the gaps. Even the simplest gestures that characters took carried so much weight and purpose behind them. Nothing about the characters or setting was just told bluntly to you. The majority of impressions I got about people was from the way they were simply described. I just loved how detailed and atmospheric the writing was.

Advertisements

Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Rating: ⭐⭐ ½  

Yes, I understand how late this review is, and I completely apologize! I’ve been awfully busy this month, between school, starting a new job, rehearsing and then performing in a musical at a local theatre, and then such. By this point, everyone’s pretty much moved past the sequel to the beloved Disney classic, but I still wanted to get my thoughts out. So on with the review.

While Walt Disney Picture’s Mary Poppins Returns may not be “Practically Perfect in Every Way,” the film, directed by Rob Marshall, does deliver enough good songs, characters, performances, set pieces, and moments that I could say that I’m definitely glad I at least saw it.

The sequel to 1964’s Mary Poppins is set 25 years after the events of the original film, again in London, as we find an adult Michael (played by Ben Whishaw) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer), who lives with him, struggling to make ends meet. Ever since his wife died, Michael’s desire to support his three children and keep his childhood home has to lead him to repress his inner child and sense of wonder. After failing to repay a loan he took out to cover the expenses of the home, he is threatened by William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth) and his accomplices that they will repossess the house by the end of Friday if he does not repay the loan. While Michael’s children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson) are out for a walk in the park, a great wind blows their kite up into the sky, where a certain nanny gets caught in its path. Upon landing, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) agrees to watch and take care of the children while Jane and Michael race to prove ownership over the shares. Along the way, Mary Poppins introduces the Banks family to a colorful cast of characters, exotic new locations, and a new found belief in wonder, faith, and childhood imagination.

So before I get on with what I think of this film, I think I should mention how I feel about the original. While I don’t deny that it’s a classic and one of Walt Disney’s best projects, I also haven’t seen the whole thing in a long time. So while I certainly do respect the film and find it undeniably charming with a great cast, great music, great moments, and a great story, I can’t say that I’m a die-hard fan of the original. With that being said, I think that because I’m not as devoted to the original film as, say, Beauty and the Beast, my thoughts on this movie are a little more forgiving and lenient. I can definitely see fans not liking this movie, as opinions on the film are relatively split; however, I do think this movie is a little more forgiving because it presents itself as a sequel (that really doesn’t honestly need to exist) rather than a straight remake of a beloved classic.

Emily Blunt stars as the titular nanny alongside a (new) cast of familiar faces.

Taking out the nostalgic value of this film, there is a lot in it that’s to be admired. For one thing, I thought the cast was phenomenal especially with our two leads. Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins is very captivating as Mary Poppins and a great casting choice. I don’t feel like anyone today could recapture Julie Andrew’s Academy Award-winning performance; however, I think Emily Blunt was a very effective replacement. She definitely understood what made the character so special and I could tell that she was trying to be Mary Poppins and not Julie Andrews playing Mary Poppins. She was charming, witty, stern, demanding, and of course, had the vocal chops to breathe life into all of the new songs. I thought Lin Manuel Miranda as Jack, a lamplighter, was also a performance highlight. He brought a lot of charm to the role and you could tell he was having a lot of fun singing and dancing. I thought that Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw were also really good as the matured Jane and Michael Banks. Mortimer really captured that youthful innocence and excitement that Jane still held on to, while Whishaw did a great job showing how Micheal has tried to distance himself from youth and imagination as well as how he is trying to deal with his loss.

I also really liked the songs and song sequences. My personal favorite is “Cover is Not the Book.” It has a very snappy rhythm and a catchy tune with some cool visual stuff around the characters who are submerged in the 2D world of this movie. Speaking of: THIS MOVIE HAS A 2D SEQUENCE! That alone tickled my nostalgia bone as I realized how long it’s been since I’ve seen some good old fashioned 2D animation. I also really like “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” even though I felt the dance did go on quite long, it was quite enjoyable and you weren’t sitting there wishing it would just end. “The Place Where The Lost Things Go” is also a really sweet ballad with a nice message. The final thing I would like to comment on is the technical aspects. I really liked the costumes and thought the alterations they made with Mary Poppin’s wardrobe fit perfectly with character and still made her stand out as Marry Poppins. The costumes in the 2D world were also very vibrant and colorful, as well as the ones they wear at the end. The set and production design, though it doesn’t do much new or different from the original, still looks good.

Lin Manuel Miranda co-stars as Jack, the kindhearted lamplighter who helps Mary Poppins watch over the Banks children.

And that leads me to one of my main problems with the film. While the songs are good and do fit into the world of Mary Poppins, you can’t help but draw parallels to songs done in similar circumstances in the original film. For example, while “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” is a catchy song with some good choreography, it’s clearly trying to be the “Step in Time” sequence of the film. While “Turning Turtle” is a nice tongue twister of a song featuring one of Mary’s peculiar family members (played by Meryl Streep) who experiences some odd living conditions, one can’t help see the resemblance to “Love to Laugh,” which features one of Mary’s odd family members living under some odd conditions. Pretty much every song/song sequence is like this. While I do appreciate how well done the majority of songs and dance sequences are, it does really take me out of the movie a lot of the time, thinking of those classic songs and dances.

Same could be said for the characters. I mentioned the odd family member, Jack in this film is also pretty much Bert, just if he was a lamplighter, and even Jane and Michael go through a similar arc as their parents. Jane is a women’s activists, and Michael needs to learn to reconnect to his inner child (although I should mention there is the added conflict of Michael having lost his wife). I should say the actual children in this movie are a little different from the Banks children in the last one. While in the original, they were more spoiled brats at the start of the film, here they’re all very mature and don’t want to enjoy being children while they still can. I should also mention that there’s a villain in this film (played by Colin Firth) and while he is pretty one dimensional and has no real (at least that I caught on) motivation for doing what he did, it did provide some new conflict (and a very delightful cameo, who I think you all already know).

Overall, I didn’t think this film was that bad. In fact, I think it leaps over the majority of Disney Live-Action Reboots (yes I know it’s technically a sequel, but considering the era of Disney films we live in now, I think we could kind of categorize this film in a similar vein). I think it’s just ok. I am glad that I saw it even if I won’t be rushing to see it again anytime soon. I’m not ashamed to admit, however, that I’ve already listed to a couple of the songs again.

Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A promotional poster for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Groan, you must be thinking. Another Spiderman movie. Not only have we had six Spiderman movies in the last 16 years, but we’ve had three separate Spidermen from three separate universes! With how many superhero movies are being pumped out each year, must another Spiderman movie be one of them?! To my very delight, however, this is not only a great film but probably the best superhero and animated film of the year!

Now, I have a quick confession to make. While I do love the character and lure of Spiderman (having grown up with two different animated Spider-man TV shows) I have yet to see all of the movies. I’ve only managed to see Sam Raimi’s Spiderman (2002), half of Spiderman 2, and The Amazing Spiderman (2012). I have yet to see Spiderman: Homecoming and only know of Spider-man 3 and The Amazing Spiderman 2 and what they are most infamous for (emo Peter Parker, Venom, and too-many-villains syndrome). With that being said, if someone who has seen all of the Spiderman films were to tell me this was the best one, I would have no problem believing that. Without having seen all of the films, I can feel the passion the filmmakers have for this character (or should I say characters), and I think this film perfectly captures what Spiderman is.

Without going into spoilers, the film is told from the perspective of not Peter Parker, but Mile Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a high school boy who struggles to connect not just with people at his new school, but with his parents, especially his father (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry). After an encounter with a radioactive spider, Miles soon develops strange abilities, including heightened senses, increased agility, and the ability to stick to nearly everything. Troubled, Miles decides to go back to the scene of the incident, where he is caught in the middle of a fight between Spiderman (Chris Pine) and several other villains, including criminal mastermind, Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). The Kingpin ultimately succeeds in activating the Super Collider which in turn brings together several different Spidermen from different Universes into Miles’ dimensions, where they must work together to take down the Kingpin and the Super Collider before it’s too late.

First and foremost, I must talk about the animation, because it is spectacular! To say it is ‘stylized’ would be an understatement because it’s one of the most unique, spectacular looking animated films to come out in recent years. Not only does it lend itself to some very fast-paced action sequences and beautiful backdrops (especially when they are in the forest and during the final fight sequence), but there are also other small details that make it seem like a comic book come to life. From multiple frames being shown at the same time to look like moving comic book panels, to actual words and captions being displayed, to the way certain characters are animated. One thing I love about the animation is there’s always something going on, whether it be in the background or foreground, yet the film always knows when to slow down and what to focus on (especially in the more sentimental scenes, which are quite effective I must say).

Speaking of which, I must talk about the characters. Before this film, the only other versions of Spiderman I knew were even a thing were Spider-Ham (from a single episode of a TV show I watched), Miles Morales, and Spiderwoman, but not specifically Spider-Gwen. This film has so many characters, but it never feels overstuffed. Excluding Miles, each of the five main Spidermen are given quick, but very cleverly done, introductions that deviate from the traditional Spiderman origin story that we’ve seen so many times in their own fun, unique ways. Even the heroes who don’t go through an actual “arc,” Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), Spiderman Noir (Nicholas Cage), Spiderwoman (Hailee Steinfeld) and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) are all super fun and voiced brilliantly. The primary focus is where it should be, on Miles and how his relationship with his father and his uncle affect his transformation into Spiderman. What I really like about his story is that he doesn’t become Spiderman right away. Not only does he struggle to figure out his powers, but it’s through his struggles that we get to see how his story both diverges from all the other Spidermen stories and connects him to all of their stories. This movie really understood what makes Spiderman Spiderman and what connects all of their stories to eventually become the heroes that they are.

Miles Morales (center right) must team up with several different Spider-men each from a separate universe in order to stop the Kingpin and get them all home safety.

I want to take a moment to discuss this movie’s version of Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), a character we’ve seen brought to the silver screen countless times. In this version, we find a middle-aged Peter Parker struggling to balance hero work with living a stable, happy life. As we see, his life has basically gone into a downward spiral, so it’s interesting to see how both his experience being Spiderman for so long affects Miles and how Mile’s journey affects him. It’s quite refreshing to see a more disheveled version of a hero who’s gone through so much over the years and that, yeah, heroes can hit rock bottom, but what matters is how they chose to bounce back from it.

While the villains aren’t the primary focus of this story, they are still a lot of fun (and at times even a little surprising). The main villain, while certainly not the most complex or compelling one we’ve seen, is given some motivation behind what he is doing, making him a little more sympathetic than just “generic baddie who wants power.” Still, most of the focus is on the heroes as it should be. The final thing I want to talk about is the comedy, which is spectacular and never feels too forced or cringe-inducing. The comedy is timed perfectly and extends beyond generic one-liners and quips to some clever visual cues and character-driven lines/moments. There’s also a pretty damned amazing Stan Lee cameo in here (who I’m sure would have been very pleased with how this film, featuring one of his most beloved characters, turned out).

Honestly, I cannot recommend this movie more. This may well be the best animated/superhero films of the year, and certainly one of my favorite movies of the year! Also, stick around for an after-credits scene (as if you need to be told to do that by this point). Not only is it downright hilarious, but also features what may as well be a pivotal plot point for (hopefully) many sequels to come.

I Just Read: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆

So while I didn’t technically just read this play, as I took it out from the library over a month ago, I did just complete it. One aspect of my new blog is book reviews, which will include dramatic scripts, as is the case today. The first play I read in my quest to become a better writer and to read more often, is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf published by Edward Albee in 1962.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf follows the story of middle-aged married couple Martha and George, who have just returned to their New England home from a University faculty party late at night. Martha has invited a younger married couple, Nick and Honey, to their house after the party for a drink. Nick, who serves as a new biology professor on campus, and Honey then must endure an entire night of “fun and games” with this couple as George and Martha proceed to peel back the surface of their own lives and the lives of this young couple.

This story is much less plot-driven as it is character driven. A lot of the character’s motivations and secrets are revealed through long conversations between two or more characters. This, for me, both helped and hindered my opinion of the play. On the one hand, this greatly affected the pacing of the story because there was so little story. For the first act into the second act of the play, it felt like nothing was really happening or being developed. Things about the characters would slowly be revealed through long conversations, and at times this made the story really drag on for me and leave me frustrated that not much was happening.

From the 1966 film version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, directed by Mike Nichols. From left to right, Nick (George Segal), Martha (Elizabeth Taylor), and George (Richard Burton).

With that being said, how the play really benefited with being so character driven, is that I found these characters to be super fascinating. Martha, the campus president’s daughter, and George, an associate professor of history, are constantly at each other’s throats, trying to both embarrass each other and get the upper hand. While it did get rather tedious listening to them consistently insult each other, I think that was the point. Both George and Martha seem as though they want to “win” at this game they call their marriage. It’s rather compelling and invigorating trying to figure out what George and Martha will pull out of their sleeve next, and what embarrassing relic from their past they will use to humiliate the other. It comes to the point when in the final act when they both start insulting Nick, and their motivations aren’t even that clear anymore. It makes them seem all the more human. Even Nick and Honey, who seem like a simple and rather dull young married couple, are discovered during this one night to have their own secrets beneath the surface of their seemingly innocent marriage.

Overall, I found the character’s to be very compelling, between the way both of their marriages are exposed for what they are, to the large, twisted, and even quite depressing, end result of all of this (which I had to look up afterward to fully understand), to the clashes of tension between characters. What really bogs this story down for me is the pacing which can often get tedious as we have to wait through long conversations before all that much is really discovered.

Fall Play @ BCA

Below are some photos from my high school’s fall play, Loves Labours Found: Don’t Trust the Boyz, a contemporary sequel to Shakespeare’s Loves Labours Lost. This sequel was created, written, re-written, cast, staged (in the round I should add), produced, costumed, and finally put on for the first time anywhere at the Bergen County Academies high school in Hackensack, New Jersey.

The entire cast and crew of LLF: Don’t Trust the Boyz!

It took two months for the play to be fully realized, first in a project-based class that lasted two hours on Wednesday during trimester three, and finally during the first trimester of this year, leading up to the show’s performance Friday, November 16th at 7pm, and Saturday, November 17th at 2pm and 7pm. 

Our beautifully designed program cover!

During the project class last year, which I was involved in, we spent most of the time reading and analyzing Shakespeare’s original play, coming up with the basic concept, and starting to assign roles for the characters within the concept. At my school, we hold auditions for the fall play the year before, and because it is a huge ensemble piece, everyone who auditioned was automatically in the show. During the rehearsal process leading up to the show, the entire cast and most of the crew was involved with actually writing the play and finalizing all plot and character details. We also held another round of auditions for specific roles, and the entire cast and crew ended up casting the show itself! I ended up playing Boyet, who in our version, is the intern at the recording studio that the Princess runs with the help of her three ladies, Maria, Katherine, and Rosaline.

The play, I must say, turned out really well! It went through multiple re-writes because of all of the wonderful ideas that the cast brought to the table. The play would never have been as amazing as it was without everyone’s involvement, especially considering the huge amount of musical talent within the cast which was very much essential considering how our show has original raps, songs, and choreography. We even had to write and do re-writes as we staged the show to the point where we didn’t finish the script until two weeks before opening night! While none of the nights were technically flawless, and while there were multiple times I messed or didn’t think that I had enough energy, (and I know a few other actors felt the same) the audience loved it! It brought me so much joy to hear them laughing (and sometimes even to things that my character said!). 

The final thing I would like to say is what a great experience this was! Not only did I get closer to the people in my class, but I also got closer to cast and crew members in this production who aren’t in Theater, as well as to the upperclassman both inside and outside of Theater. This was also my first BCA speaking role, so I felt like I could really show off what I could bring to BCA productions. I was not a huge role, but I still had so much fun acting alongside everyone and bringing what I could to the crazy world we created! I learned so much from this experience not just about writing, but about teamwork, acting, diction and volume (since we worked in the round), and about what I could bring to a production. Overall, this was an amazing experience and I can’t for the next show I am involved in!