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Posts Tagged ‘classic’

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I honestly can’t remember whether I actually read these books – more commonly known as Alice in Wonderland, I guess due to the 1951 Disney film, which is an amalgamation of both of the Alice books – or whether the stories and characters are just so well known that I feel like I’ve read them.

Either way, I recently bought the dark retelling and continuation ‘Alice’ by Christina Henry, and decided to read the originals before reading this newer release. For anyone who has lived under a rock for their whole lives, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland tells the story of the strange encounters a young girl called Alice has when she falls down a rabbit hole and ends up in Wonderland. There she meets such characters as the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire Cat. In Through the Looking Glass, Alice steps through a mirror and ends up in a strange world where she meets the Red Queen and the White Queen, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and many other characters.

I have mixed feelings about these stories. On the one hand, I am not really the target audience anyway and I feel I should take that into account. On the other hand, there is no doubt that Carroll was both imaginative and intelligent. The stories are quite fantastical, and Through the Looking Glass includes several clever verses, one of which is the famous Jabberwocky poem.

For all that though…I can’t say I really enjoyed reading the book (I read one book which contained both stories). I definitely preferred the first one, but I got a little bored with Through the Looking Glass, and consequently took far longer to read it than I would have expected. Maybe it’s because fantasy – which I guess this book probably could be classed as – is not a favourite genre of mine; maybe it’s because as I say, I am not the target audience; maybe it’s just that no book can resonate with every reader.

I would not want to put anyone else off reading the book – it is after all a much-loved classic, so really what does my opinion matter? – but on a personal level, I felt a little disappointed by it. I still look forward to reading the Christina Henry book though!

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Everybody knows the story of The Three Musketeers and their friend D’Artagnan, right?  Well, if you’re like me and you were basing your knowledge  upon the various screen adaptations of the story, then you may be amazed by how much of the story – and the characters – that you don’t know.  D’Artagnan, a young man from the Gascony area of France, who goes to Paris with the aim of joining the King’s Musketeers.  After a few initial misunderstandings, he becomes firm friends with the melancholy Athos, the rambunctious Porthos, and the foppish Aramis.  The book follows their adventures as they become embroiled in trying to stop the evil machinations of Cardinal Richelieu, who is determined to bring down Queen Anne, wife of King Louis XIII.

The book was a delightful and action packed adventure, full of humour, fighting and romance.  I was surprised that there were chunks of the storyline that didn’t actually feature D’Artagnan or the musketeers, and also by the fact that, unlike the screen adaptations, the four servants of the main characters featured almost as heavily as the main characters themselves, and were very instrumental in the musketeers’ plans and actions.

The plot moves on very quickly, and there are LOTS of twists and surprises, but despite this, Dumas still found time to establish each main character’s personality.  It’s fair to say that at times they act in a less than gentlemanly manner, but despite this, I still found myself regarding each character with affection.  It is also, in parts, a very funny story (there is one particular scene where D’Artagnan visits Aramis, who is constantly planning to leave the musketeers to become a man of the cloth, and finds him in consultation with a curate and Jesuit superior, which had me laughing out loud all the way through).

The seductive but evil Lady de Winter, and Cardinal Richelieu are a substantial part of the story, playing the two main villains, with ‘MiLady’ always trying, and often succeeding to stay one step ahead of the musketeers who seek to bring her down.

Overall, this is a hugely entertaining romp through Paris, and I believe that everybody should read it at least once.  For me, it’s a keeper, and one I intend to re-read at some point.

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Click here for my review of the 1993 film, based on the novel.

Click here for my review of the 1973 film, based on the novel.

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Marlon Brando is Johnny Strabler, the leader of a motorbike gang who arrive in the (fictional) town of Wrightsville, California, and, initially just being boisterous are welcomed (or at the least, tolerated) by the residents.  However, when the gang’s behaviour turns dangerous and threatening, the town’s residents decide to take matters into their own hands.  Meanwhille, Johnny meets a young woman named Kathie (played by Mary Murphy), who works in the local cafe, and despite their very different background and lifestyles, there is an attraction between them.

I wasn’t sure whether I would really like this film, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it.  Brando epitomises 50s rebellion, and (sorry to be shallow) he oozes sex appeal.  I loved his portrayal of Johnny, as a man who is more than what he appears on the surface; it’s clear that Johnny has not known much love and affection in his life, and is looking for something to rebel against (when asked, “What are you rebelling against?” he answers, “Whaddaya got?”).  He almost steals every scene he is in, and would have done, were it not for the fine performance of Mary Murphy as Kathie, who is very attracted to Johnny, but doesn’t understand his lifestyle.  Robert Keith is also notable for his role as Chief Bleeker, the town’s only law enforcement officer, who seems unable to cope with the gang.

The story takes place over just a few days, and despite feeling somewhat aged (but come on, this film is 61 years old!), the film captures the tension and claustrophobic atmosphere of the town.

Overall, this was a pleasant surprise for me, and a film that I would definitely recommend, not only for it’s excellent performances, but also for being a classic, and one of the first films to highlight the issue of gang violence.

Year of release: 1953

Director: Laslo Benedek

Producer: Stanley Kramer

Writers: Frank Rooney (short story), John Paxton, Ben Maddow

Main cast: Marlon Brando, Mary Murphy, Robert Keith, Lee Marvin, Jay C. Flippen, Hugh Sanders, Ray Teal

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This is not the first time I’ve read this book, but it is the first time I’ve read it since I started blogging about the books I read, and so I haven’t written a review of it before.  I LOVE this book, and will say from the outset that I doubt I can do it the justice it deserves (so you just ought to read Emma for yourself!)

Emma Woodhouse is a spoiled, snobbish, but ultimately well-meaning young woman, who – wrongly – believes herself to be a talented matchmaker.  She has no interest in marrying herself, as she would never want to leave her widowed, worrisome father, but she is determined to make couples among her friends.  She  decides that the local vicar, Mr Elton, would make the perfect husband for her naive young friend Harriet, and sets about getting them together; a plan which rapidly turns into a disaster.  Meanwhile, the whole village of Highbury is excited by the arrival of two visitors – Frank Churchill, the son of Emma’s friend Mr Weston, and who enjoys a flirtation with Emma; and Jane Fairfax, an elegant and quiet young lady – the niece of Miss Bates, a kind-hearted but (to Emma anyway), somewhat wittering villager.  As the story proceeds, secrets are revealed, relationships are put  under the microscope, and Emma learns a lot about herself.

So that’s the bare bones of the plot.  There’s more, lots more, but I’m reluctant to reveal it, and anyway Emma is so much more than just it’s plot.  What I really love about it is the humour – because this is really a very funny book – and the insight into human nature.  Each character is so well drawn and described – from the insufferable Mrs Elton, with her inflated sense of her own importance, to the kind-hearted and indiscreet Mr Weston, and even the lesser characters, such as Emma’s sister’s husband, John Knightley, with his dislike of social interaction, and irritation at well, most other characters, you do feel like you know these people.

Emma herself is precocious, judgemental, sometimes unkind, and often completely obtuse to what’s happening right in front of her, but for all that, I still really like the character.  She displays unending kindness and loyalty towards her father, where many would get annoyed or exasperated with him, she is able to recognise her own flaws, and she is charitable towards the needy in her village.

I cannot talk about this book without mentioning Mr Knightley.  He is Emma’s brother-in-law (his brother is married to her sister), and good friend, as well as often the voice of reason and conscience.  He is also my favourite Austen hero – I’d take a Knightley over a Darcy every time.  Mr Knightley is compassionate, sensible, honest, and very fond of Emma, but certainly not afraid of telling her off when she behaves in a way that is beneath her.

For all of these reasons and many more, Emma is not only my favourite Austen novel, but also one of my very favourite books of all time.  I wholeheartedly recommend it.

(For more information about Jane Austen, please click here.)

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Click here for my review of the 1972 mini-series adaptation of Emma, starring Doran Godwin.

Click here for my review of the 1996 film adaptation of Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Click here for my review of the 1996 television film adaptation of Emma, starring Kate Beckinsale.

Click here for my review of the 2009 mini-series adaptation of Emma, starring Romola Garai.

Click here for my review of Clueless, the 1995 film adaptation of Emma, starring Alicia Silverstone.

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In one of his most celebrated films, Charlie Chaplin plays his famous character the Tramp.  He falls in love with a blind flower seller (Virginia Cherill) and tries to help her.  Along the way, he makes friends with an eccentric (and probably alcoholic) millionaire, climbs into the boxing ring, and gets into all manner of sticky situations.

I haven’t seen many silent movies – one to date, and that is The Artist, which was a recent film.  I do find it quite an unusual viewing experience to be watching a film with no dialogue.  The acting here is much more exaggerated, maybe because it HAS to be – there are no words to tell you what the characters are thinking (except for the few title cards), so their actions have to show you everything.  Fortunately of course, Chaplin was a master at visual comedy, and this film is packed with visual gags, many of which literally made me laugh out loud.

How it really won me over though, was the tenderness expressed throughout – and a wonderful final scene, which I’m not going to spoil; viewers deserve to see it for themselves – which made me grow very fond of the Tramp, and root for him to beat the odds.

Cherrill is luminous and lovely as the flower seller – it is interesting to see the emotion between the two characters, particularly when you consider that off-screen, the actors did not get on, and in fact he did fire her at one point when she arrived late for work.  (By that time, he had already completed most of the film, and intended to shoot it with a different actress, but was not able to afford this.  Cherrill was aware of his difficulty, and offered to come back and finish the film for double her original fee, which Chaplin had little choice but to agree to!)  Harry Myers also put in a great performance as the suicidal man who befriends the Tramp – the first meeting between the two characters is a hoot, as is the opening scene of the film.  And the boxing match is like a finely choreographed and extremely funny dance!

I watched this more out of curiosity than anything else; I wanted to see how I would enjoy one of the original silent greats, and I think I surprised myself by just how much I did enjoy it.  It works as both a great comedy, and a moving romance – give it a try, you might like it!

Year of release: 1931

Director: Charles Chaplin

Producer: Charles Chaplin

Writers: Charles Chaplin, Harry Crocker, Harry Clive

Main cast: Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers, Al Ernest Garcia

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At a young age, the virtuous and sweet Fanny Price is sent to live with her Uncle and Aunt Bertram, and her four cousins, the feckless Tom, the moral Edmund, and their flighty sisters Maria and Julia.  Fanny falls for Edmund, but keeps her feelings hidden and has to watch as he falls for their friend Mary Crawford, while Maria and Julia are both attracted to Mary’s sister Henry Crawford.  As the Crawford and the Bertrams become closer, entanglements and complications ensue.

In all honesty, there is too much story to put into one small summary, and in many ways this is the most socially aware and least romantic novel of Austens.  It is also probably the least popular of her novels, and I can understand why, although I did enjoy it.

The thing that struck me about the characters is that none of them are particularly likeable.  Fanny is sweet and kind, and Edmund is very  moralistic and by far the most thoughtful of the Bertram children, but (for me anyway) they were both ever-so-slightly boring.  The rest of the characters don’t have much to redeem them, with Mrs Bertram seeming kind, but practically catatonic for most of the novel, and Mr Bertram being well-meaning, but cold and distant.  The other youngsters are pretty self-absorbed, and Fanny’s other aunt, Aunt Norris, is mean-spirited and never misses an opportunity to put Fanny down.

Despite this, there were moments of humour, and the plot was interesting, with a pivotal scene being the play which the youngsters hope to stage, and which is the point at which feelings and attractions start to develop.  (Edmund’s horror at the thought of something so scandalous a play taking place at Mansfield Park – even with no audience – was unintentionally funny!)  There was a lot of angsty dialogue between the characters, and some scenes were overplayed, but I did like the gradual growth in characters as Edmund tries to excuse some of Mary Crawford’s behaviour which he would have found unacceptable in anyone else, and as Fanny starts to be more confident about giving her own opinion (in the first half of the book Fanny is really little more than an onlooker through whose eyes we see the proceedings, but as the story develops she features more, and becomes more interesting to read about).

Overall, it’s well worth reading, and I didn’t think it the disappointment that some Austen fans do.  Fanny, while not the most engaging of characters – she does not have half as much personality as Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennet for instance – is likeable, and eventually admirable, and the story is well told, even if the ending is predictable to anyone who has read any other of Austen’s books.

(For more information about Jane Austen, please click here.)

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This book was published in 1949, and set in 1984, in a nightmarish dystopian world.  Our ‘hero’ – and I use the word loosely, as Winston Smith is in many ways the complete opposite of a hero – works for the Ministry of Truth, where his job is to rewrite the past in order to support the governing body, Big Brother’s, version of the past.  London is now part of Oceania, which is turn is one of the three superpowers in the world, the others being Eurasia and Eastasia.  In Oceania, conformity is essential, not only in behaviour, but also in thoughts.

Outwardly, Winston is compliant and obedient, but inside, he rebels against the world he lives in, and when he starts a relationship with fellow citizen Julia, both of them are risking their lives.

I am in two minds about this book.  Dystopian fiction is a favourite genre of mine, and I loved Animal Farm, also by Orwell, so I expected to thoroughly enjoy this.  However, while it undoubtedly raised some scary but important issues, and certainly provided food for thought, I found myself plodding through it, and not always enjoying it.  The third part in particular left me quite cold.

That said, I would almost certainly recommend this book to others, because the points it raises, while exaggerated to a very extreme and unrealistic degree, are still matters which should concern us.

Overall, it was a worthwhile read, but I would personally recommend a book such as The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood as a better novel in the genre.

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