A River Runs Through It- A Beautiful Mess

Hi! This is actually a homework assignment so that explain the added length and detail. Shoutout to Mr. Becknell for introducing me to this tragic, profound, mysterious story. Also the movie was adapted from a short memoir, so this is another combination review.

Norman MacLean’s 1976 short story details his relationship with the mountains of Montana and with his wayward brother Paul. My tagline “A Beautiful Mess” refers not to the overall story but to Paul. Throughout the story he is seen as the inferior brother in many ways, but he also has an entirely unique relationship to the art of fly fishing and it is the one thing that keeps him sane and happy in the middle of his alcoholism, immaturity and lack of direction in life. This story could best be paralleled to Little Women-a fictionalization of a true story of American family life.

The first lines of the story are “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing”. This blend of nature and religion is the anchor of the story and most tangibly seen in Paul who appears to have no religious beliefs of his own despite being the son of a reverend.

Robert Redford directed the 1992 film adaptation, starring Craig Sheffer as Norman and a very young Brad Pitt as Paul.

One of the chief achievements of the movie is the cinematography. Nature shots and narration are utilized with finesse. The most poignant passages of the story are narrated by Redford and set to picturesque views of Montana mountains and rivers.

The movie adds some details about Norman’s life, one of them being his job offer at University of Chicago and his subsequent quasi-proposal to Jessie Burns. Riding on the high of love, Norman visits Paul in a bar and tells him the good news, about ninety minutes into the movie. Paul offers perfunctory congratulations but clearly has something up his sleeve. Paul ends up bringing Norman to a casino to “celebrate”-rather to manipulate hi brother’s luck in an attempt to get out of debt. When Norman confronts Paul and offers to help, Paul simply repeats in a steely voice “It’s my debt”. In this moment, Paul is somehow both hero and villain. Hero, because he shoulders his own responsibility, toxic as that mindset may be, and villain for manipulating Paul.

The MacLean family fishing trip is the most engaging  and profound scene in the story. This scene happens in the third act of the story, and serves as a “final battle on the hero’s journey” for Paul. Norman muses on the day later, saying “At the end of this day, then, I remember him both as a distant abstraction in artistry and as a closeup in water and laughter.” As my friend said about the scene It’s almost like he’s catching himselfit’s basically a Grecian fall”

One of the more poignant yet subtle details of Paul’s death is that the bones in his right hand were broken, the hand that held the rod that was his instrument. In addition to Paul’s personal tragic irony, the right hand is seen throughout the Bible as representing authority and power. In the end, Paul lost what little autonomy he had and dies alone.

The last lines about Paul (“He was a fine fisherman….he was beautiful.”) continue to trip me up and make me ponder. Paul is considered beautiful, even though he is an alcoholic, possibly a playboy, and has no real sense of direction in life. Norman may be the narrator of the story but Paul is clearly the hero. In addition to self-destructive and manipulative behaviors, Paul struggles with pride and lack of direction, One could infer that fishing is the only thing that centers him and keeps him sane and this is why he devotes so much focus and energy to the craft.

All in all, Paul is simply a human. He is a man who has nothing but the love of his family, but in that he has everything. He is an artist with a fishing rod and a degenerate with a beer pint. Paul is many things, bu above all, he is the river that runs through this backwoods odyssey.

The movie is a wonderful ode to family, religion, nature, and the bonds that nothing can break. 10/10 for amazing actors, amazing cinematography, and Brad Pitt’s amazing performance. A lovely movie to watch during family night, especially for those who have spiritual families and/or families that connect via nature


Legally Blonde-A #MeToo Predecessor

Hi! Here’s a look at a 2001 classic that definitely deserves the status. I’ve seen this movie about ten times, but only recently did it occur to me to watch it through a feminist/#MeToo lens and I was pleasantly surprised.

Let’s start with Elle herself. One of the earlier scenes in the movie shows Elle calling a dress store clerk out for trying to trick her. Already we can see Elle’s sass and articulation combine flawlessly. One wonders what an intelligent witty young lady is doing with two supportive but shallow friends as her sidekicks. While her motives for going to Harvard Law are completely regressive and impulsive, her dedication and drive throughout the process is quite admirable. Once she gets into Harvard, she struggles to be taken seriously. My favorite little montage of the movie occurs around 42 minutes in, after Elle realizes that Warner is a dick who will never take her seriously. The glow up montage is backed by “Watch Me Shine”, a random power anthem by Joanna Pacitti.

Ok I must talk about Victor Garber’s role as Professor Callahan. This role might be one of the best examples of a subtle predator I’ve seen on film. He begins by praising Elle’s efforts in class and offering her an internship, but quickly turns to deriding her ideas in the courtroom and discounting her intuition. That’s annoying and sexist in itself, but he goes so far as to make an advance on her. For the first half of the movie one could excuse his behavior as “he’s the professor, he’s the adult”, but there is no way of excusing his lecherous behavior around 1:20:00. He gets his comeuppance in a cinematic manner and the audience is satisfied, but it serves as a heavy lesson to all.

Two other interesting characters are Warner and Vivan. Warner begins as Elle’s boyfriend but quickly ends up engaged to Vivian. Warner’s life track appears laid out for him and he rudely explains to Elle that she doesn’t fit. Vivian comes on the scene as an antagonist, but she quickly comes to appreciate Elle’s intuition and grit. The movie deliberately turns the “female catfight” trope on its head in an entertaining fashion.

Overall this movie gets 9/10 for a driven protagonist, an entertaining plot, and well-developed supporting characters. One point docked because a few of the plot points are just too far-fetched. A good pick for a girls night or a mother-daughter movie night.

Romeo and Juliet-Impulsive Teens Cause Six Deaths

This review is going to cover the 1968 and 1996 versions of the classic, starting Leonard Whiting/Olivia Hussey and Leo DiCaprio/Claire Danes respectively.

For anyone who slept through 9th-grade English class, the William Shakespeare classic (originally published in 1597) tells the story of two kids from feuding families. They meet, catch instant “feels”, get married a day later, and blow up both of their families. Six people die, including the two lovebirds.

I’ve had a funny relationship with this play ever since I first read it freshman year and thought it was the most romantic thing on earth. But as five years have passed and I’ve come around to the play in some form about once a year, I see more of the insanity of the plot and the lack of adult guidance or sensibility.

1968-Olivia Hussey/Leonard Whiting

Some common themes throughout my notes were: 1. Juliet appears to be a good girl, but she’s actually a ratchet rebel. 2. Romeo is incredibly impulsive and his affections change on a dime-I can relate, much to my chagrin. 3. The Friar is almost entirely to blame for the fuckery of the last 30 minutes. Overall the real tragedy of the play is the lack of responsible adults to smack these kids

The performances by Whiting and Hussey are both commendable, although Hussey seems more grounded and believable. Hussey carries the right blend of naïveté and desire to give a compelling portrayal of a girl who does what she can to break the rules.

*yes Leonard Whiting bears an eerie resemblance to Zac Efron, no they are not related to my knowledge.

1996-Claire Danes/Leonardo DiCaprio

Right from the first frame, this is a fast-paced movie with lots of background operatic music. The real draw of this movie could also be its turn-off: keeping the Shakespearean dialogue while updating the setting and costumes. It’s definitely jarring for the first 10-20 minutes, but eventually one gets used to it.

Ok a word on Claire Danes: in Little Women, she was a great actress as shy Beth. But apparently she brings the same shy unsure qualities to Juliet. There are times when Juliet is called to be shy and unsure, but there are other times in the first act when she needs to be brazen. Claire’s performance seems to turn on a dime in the scene of refusing a second marriage. There she is able to conjure up some pain and anger and maintain it through the finale. Or as I put it in a text message, “I was wrong about Claire Danes in R+J. She is flat in the first act, but when her parents come to tell her about Paris, then she unleashes the fury of hell and it’s interesting.”

DiCaprio brings a certain underlying nihilism to the role that Whiting lacked. Whiting’s Romeo is pure eagerness and impulse while DiCaprio is more pretentiousness and melancholy.

Overall I give this version 8.5/10, for stunning visuals, having Paul Rudd, and Leonardo’s committed performance. Two points docked solely for Claire Danes’s lack of emotion in the first act.

Fan Edit-My Immortal-Evanescence
(Here is a fan video of clips from the 1996 movie over “My Immortal” by Evanescence

Comparison and Contrast

The main difference between these two is their aesthetics. The aesthetic of the 1968 version is “typical Shakespeare”, while the aesthetic of 1996 is best summed up as “neon, cigarettes, guns”. For anyone who watches the 1996 version and is reminded of a Halsey video or song, she once said she watched it every day for a year, so similarities are not coincidental.

One thing I appreciate is that both versions omit the death of Paris (outside the Capulet tomb, Romeo fights with Paris and stabs him.) I always felt that Paris got the shortest end of the stick, getting killed by some stranger outside the tomb of his betrothed, who died under freaky mysterious circumstances

Another difference I noticed is that Luhrmann incorporates an element of racial tension by making Mercutio African-American and Tybalt and the nurse Latina/o. I don’t know whether Luhrmann was simply trying to reflect life as he saw it in California in the 90s or if he meant to make a political point.

Overall, I tend to prefer the 1968 version, mostly for the muted aesthetics and highly talented performance of Ms. Hussey, but there are charms to both movies. It´s less a ¨which is better¨question and more a ¨which aesthetic speaks to you.¨In any case, the insanity and tragedy is a reminder to us all to be careful about the choices we make.

Crazy Rich Asians-Romance, Opulence, and Nuance

I went and saw this mega-hit with my friend and we agree it is wonderful. It’s akin to 2009’s The Proposal, but set in Singapore, with some complex musings on family and cultural value differences.

In this latest blockbuster, Rachel Chu follows her boyfriend Nick Young to Singapore for a wedding only to learn that “he’s the Prince William of Asia” and his family plays by unique rules. Let’s just start with the implausibly of dating someone for over a year and knowing nothing about their family, ignoring options like Google or Facebook.

While other Asian characters are often portrayed as passive, quiet, or shy (looking at you Lara Jean), Rachel Chu is outgoing and radiant, but also has the necessary strength to fight for love. Her lover Nick Young (played by gorgeous newbie Henry Golding) is the one who seems to lack a spine when it comes to owning his heritage, and he pretty much is ashamed of his family.

The main source of this shame is Nick’s mother Eleanor. She holds very traditional values and puts her family above all else, even passion and love. Nick refusing to inherit the family corporation sours Eleanor’s opinion of Rachel from the start, and the two are curt at best. Toward the end of the movie, Rachel and Eleanor play a symbolic game of mahjong, and there we see that Rachel truly does have the courage and elegance to join the formidable family.

Another reason Rachel is looked down on is that she was raised by an immigrant single mother. Never mind Rachel is the youngest economics professor at NYU, her family past is seen as shameful and scandalous. 🙄😡🙄😡 This plot line angered me to no end, but the character of Rachel’s mom is so well-done, and I wish we had seen more of her.

There are a few interesting side characters. My favorite is Nick’s cousin Astrid, married to a “commoner” named Michael. When Astrid learns Michael is having an affair, she keeps her composure and doesn’t let her personal issues upstage the wedding. But eventually there is a confrontation and it is quietly powerful and glorious. Another standout supporter is Peik Lin (nicknamed “Asian Ellen”) played by the hilarious Awkwafina. Awkwafina was clearly an underused actress in Ocean’s 8, but she shines in her comedic niche here. The other standout is Oliver. While he’s a total stereotype, the “rainbow sheep” clearly had fun in the role and adds a light air to a cold and reserved family.

Overall, 9/10 for intriguing concepts, overwhelming sets/costumes/beauty and great actos. -1 because Mrs. Chu was a bit robbed.

Moonstruck-Everyone Cheats

I recently watched this 1987 classic and actually quite enjoyed it. Driven by Cher and Nicolas Cage (but carried by Cage entirely), the film tells the story of a woman complacent in life who comes to appreciate passion and joy through interesting circumstances. For once, there will be spoilers.

Let’s start with the casting choice. The producers cast Cher (at the time a 41-year old global pop icon) and Nicolas Cage (then a 23-year old semi-known actor) as the two romantic leads, and to my utter shock, they have amazing chemistry despite an 18-year age difference. A word on Cage: he is not “pretty” by aesthetic definition, but he is absolutely…. magnetizing in this role, similar to his turn in City of Angels. A large part of his appeal is due to his delivery of well-written monologues, but more is due to his raw emotion in this role. (Plus, he somehow makes flipping a table look good)

The movie’s supporting cast is rather weak, but a standout is Olympia Dukakis as Loretta’s (Cher) mother, dealing with age and her husband’s infidelity. (Her husband Cosmo is a snake 🐍). Another endearing supporting character is Cosmo’s father, simply named “Old Man”. His love of his 5 dogs and the moon is relatable and very endearing.

Overall I give this movie 10/10: 8 for Nicolas Cage, 1 for Cher, and 1 for Olympia Dukakis and the Old Man. (Seriously, Nic Cage was made for this role.) In conclusion, it’s a warm, funny, lovely movie and all hopeless romantics should watch it.

Friends-A Strangely Endearing Band of Losers

Hey! I made my second attempt to watch Friends starting in January and I finished them series last night. Now, I have a lot of thoughts on it. When I say “a lot”, I mean this is basically a 1000-word essay.

Seasons 1-2, 5-7, and 9 were awesome, but I’ve already forgotten seasons 3 and 8. I know season 10 has a nostalgia factor, but it just wasn’t the best. And don’t get me STARTED on “I got off the plane”, I’ll cover that in a second.

Ok. Whoever decided to put Ross and Rachel together as endgame, I have some WORDS for y’all. Ross has been married 3 times, with two different baby mamas. He also can’t work a damn spray tan machine despite having a PhD. In addition, he is overly proud of being a paleontologist despite never doing more than writing papers for obscure journals. And finally, even counting the argument that he suffers from depression, he is a narcissistic pessimist who has the most toxic masculinity I’ve ever seen on TV. (I watch mostly modern shows) The best possible example of this toxicity is the aforementioned series finale. I don’t care that “they love each other”, Ross is forcing her to choose love over her passion!! I do get that their daughter Emma (who should have been way more than a plot device) complicates things, but why not just bring them all? Seriously, get a grip. I’ll cover Rachel soon, but let’s go to my sweet soul sister Phoebe.

My dear sweet soul sister Phoebe Buffay has gone through so much trauma pre-show, and yet she is the funniest, kindest, weirdest Friend of them all. I strongly identify with her free spirit, her naïveté, her approach to her past and her future, and her creativity. Plus she’s the one who gets to marry Paul Rudd. 😊 And that brings me to her love life. While all of the Friends have numerous romances, Phoebe has the most intriguing escapades, namely with David the scientist (almost endgame!) and Paul Rudd. I guess his character is named Mike Hanigan, but it’s just Paul Rudd being the cutest cinnamon roll. He protects her, he supports her, he learns from her, and he proposes 3 times!! The only good episodes of season 10 were when they got engaged and then married. Anyway, Phoebe is my queen and I’m still looking for Paul Rudd. 😊

Despite the show being an ensemble cast, Rachel Karen Green is the closest to a sole protagonist. The series opens with her running into Central Perk coffee shop in a wedding dress, leaving Barry somebody at the altar. She starts off as the epitome of “poor little rich girl”, but she adjusts to NYC pretty quickly and eventually becomes almost likable. The one thing that stops me from rooting for her is her insistence on being tied to Ross chauvinist-insecure-Man-child Geller.

As horrible as Ross is, his younger sister Monica is the “mom friend” and the most sane of the bunch. Take a type A personality, give it some steroids, enlarge it by 1000% and you have a rough estimation of the force of Monica’s being. At times she’s overbearing for comedic effect, but there are worse addictions than cleaning and cooking. I realize in hindsight she sounds like a ’50s housewife, but she’s also a professional chef, which sort of helps. She marries Ross’s best friend Chandler, and they are the solid stable couple of the show. Their stability is the primary reason they are my favorite couple of the show.

I rather like Joey Tribbianni, but he’s the happy version of Ross. Both are womanizing man-children, but Ross is utterly devoid of innocence or charm, both of which Joey has in spades. His most powerful arc shows up in season 9 when he falls for Rachel, and they briefly date. I personally think Joey and Rachel should have been the endgame couple. They had much more chemistry, zero conflict, and an actual sense of fun and contentment in their relationship.

Chandler Bing, best friend of Ross and husband of Monica. He’s also “the gay character” despite being completely heterosexual. This running joke has flown over my head given the current social climate, but I suppose it was funny 20 years ago. Another running Chandler joke is the gag that no one has any clue what he does for a living. It has something to do with data processing, but the details are vague. Overall, his main purpose is comic relief and he executes it well.

That sums up this character review and analysis of the hit show Friends. Thanks for reading! I’ll be back with new content soon.

I Capture the Castle-A Forgotten Gem

Hello! Instead of actually finishing one of my nine drafts, I figured I would write an entirely new post, because why follow through on a project? 😂 To be fair, this is a wonderful book and deserves some honor. It was originally written in 1948 by Dodie Smith, who also wrote 101 Dalmatians. I Capture the Castle centers on sisters Rose and Cassandra and their quest to improve the family status through marriage While I have not yet read any Jane Austen works, this story seems to me like a modern Pride and Prejudice based on what I’ve heard of it. There is lots of romantic entanglement, a zany father, and a sweet farmhand too. Recommended for anyone who loves rom-coms  and/or soap operas. 9/10 for intriguing characters, lovely setting, and a precocious protagonist. One point lost for occasional excess drama.