Fairy Tale Themed Writing Class

Last week I was invited to a writing class sponsored by Universal Pictures with Naomi Wood as tutor at Faber Academy. Couldn’t believe my luck, as fairy tale is right up my alley, as with writing. And I’ve got Naomi Wood’s book Mrs. Hemingway on my Kindle for a while (just haven’t got around to reading it).

The class was small and felt private, unlike the usual publication tie-in events with several dozens of people in a room. There were only five of us from various blogs, with one PR person and another girl from Universal – that made seven of us sitting at the big table.

The Huntsman class

This workshop was in conjunction with the home entertainment release of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, which is based on Snow White tale. It’s sort of a prequel/sequel of Snow White and the Huntsman (released in 2012). I haven’t watched the first movie (nor had I the second at the time), but we all know Snow White story. I received the press DVD after the class, and watched The Huntsman since then. I’d say you really don’t need to watch the first film to watch the second one, as Snow White was not even in The Huntsman, only referred to once or twice.

Naomi Wood is a writing teacher apart from an author, and it shows. She’s done this a lot! We went through the materials (with slides!), alternating with clips from The Huntsman, text reading of fairy tales (excerpts from Snow White, Rapunzel, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber) and some actual writing.

We discussed what constitutes fairy tales, the typical fairy tale characters, and the traditional fairy tale story structure; and expanding on those, what we could or would do to give those elements a fresh perspective, a new twist or angle for modern audience. Naomi Wood herself has done something along the line with her book Mrs Hemingway, in which she tells the perspectives of Hemingway’s four wives.

During the class we had a few sessions to write down our ideas then discussed them with the class (i.e. how would you make the villain different, the antagonist, the setting). After the class and watching The Huntsman, I think I have a whole new appreciation of fairy tale retellings. It is not easy to come up with wholly fresh ideas of an old work but still cater to mainstream audience.

In The Huntsman, some elements are modern (no more damsel in distress with kick-ass Jessica Chastain), while some elements are still stuck in the past (single lonely women are evil, woman is miserable without baby). The fairy-tale setting however does forgive many “rules of the old world”, as we play with the imagined once upon a time. It’s exciting to think how much more we can do to break the boundaries and expand the fairy tale box. I love retellings and hope to see more movies and TV series on that (yep, I absolutely love Once Upon a Time). If you’re interested in fairy tale and its retelling, the movie is great, for consumption and for study. It also features fabulous costume galore, funny scenes with the dwarves, and plenty of beautiful stars :)

Thanks Juliana and Universal for inviting me to this interesting workshop!

The Huntsman class
We also got The Huntsman mug :P


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (And More About Coursera Courses)

Jane Eyre

For the second week of reading in the Fiction of Relationship class, we are tackling Jane Eyre. Now I actually started Jane Eyre two years ago, and since then had been reading it on and off. I got stuck at 80% for a long time, and I finally finished it for the class. It’s not that I had specific problem with the book that it took me so long to finish it. I just had problem with the sheer length of it. It is very very LONG! My Vintage copy is 600 pages long. Reading it on Kindle too seems to take forever to move forward. I read pages and pages, and the percentage didn’t go up 1%!

The story itself I really like — a lot more than Pride and Prejudice for instance. Jane Eyre as a character is feisty and courageous. She is cast away as a child and goes through a lot of troubles growing up. The writing is brilliant, it’s almost hard to believe that someone could write that well.

I’m going to talk a bit about the structure of the book, so minor spoilers ahead.

Jane Eyre is roughly divided into three sections. First part for Jane growing up. Second part for Jane with Mr Rochester. Third part is when Jane leaves to become independent. So in short, pre-Rochester, mid-Rochester, and post-Rochester. My problem finishing it was that mainly I found the second part the most interesting, while the first and the third somewhat boring. Now I’m not usually the type of reader who longs for romance story, but honestly with Jane Eyre, it’s like everything dies when I entered the third part along with my desire to continue the book.

I think this is probably a common problem with reading a thick classic. There are interesting parts, and there are boring parts. The time when Jane was confronting Rochester and in deep inner conflict about doing the right thing was mighty interesting. I flew by it. But when it got into a slump, I just thought I would never get through it.

To conclude, Jane Eyre is an excellent literature for classes and book groups. There are a lot to discuss and talk about, layers upon layers, it might be never ending.

I still think the book is too long though…

Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë

I read Wuthering Heights quite a while ago and loved it. I heard that you either love Wuthering Heights and hate Jane Eyre or the other way around. I can see where this comment comes from, as the two books cannot be more different! It is somewhat mind-boggling that the Brontës are sisters.

The 2011 Movie

jane eyre 2011 movie

I watched the 2011 Jane Eyre movie with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. The movie makers seem to agree with me that the first and third part of the book are rather boring, since they cut them really short. In fact the ending felt really abrupt. It was pretty good movie though, and worth watching in my opinion.

I’ve been following Mia since The Kids Are All Right and I think she’s a little under appreciated as an actress (while Jennifer Lawrence is probably over-hyped — I don’t get how the whole world seems to get almost over obsessed with her). Mia fits her role well as “plain” Jane, while Michael Fassbender is great as Rochester. Fassbender is bit of hit and miss for me, but here he’s really perfect as rough rich Rochester. Approval from Mee!

More About the Courses

To share with you a bit about the reading in the Fiction of Relationship course, these are the books in the schedule:

Module One (all free on the Internet)
Abbé Prévost’s Manon Lescaut (1731)
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847)
Herman Melville’s Bartleby (1853) and Benito Cereno (1855)
Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” (1915) and “A Country Doctor” (1919)
Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse (1927)

Module Two (have to buy)
William Faulkner’s Light in August (1932)
Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones (1956)
Tarjei Vesaas’ The Ice Palace (1963)
J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999)
Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987)

Seemingly a bit mental, I joined another class on coursera: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, that requires reading of the following:

  1. Grimm — Children’s and Household Tales (Lucy Crane translation with Walter Crane illustrations)
  2. Carroll — Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
  3. Stoker — Dracula (This reading is somewhat longer than most of the others. You may want to begin it in advance.)
  4. Shelley — Frankenstein
  5. Hawthorne & Poe — Stories and Poems (Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse includes “The Birthmark,” “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” and “The Artist of the Beautiful” and his Twice-Told Tales includes “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”; The Portable Poe includes all the suggested Poe stories and poems
  6. Wells — The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, “The Country of the Blind,” “The Star”
  7. Burroughs & Gilman — A Princess of Mars & Herland
  8. Bradbury — The Martian Chronicles (not available for legal, free download)
  9. LeGuin — The Left Hand of Darkness (not available for legal, free download)
  10. Doctorow — Little Brother (This reading is somewhat longer than most of the others. You may want to begin it in advance.)

I’m positive that I won’t be able to go through all those (the Fantasy and Science Fiction one especially requires TONS of reading – I’ve checked the length of each), but the courses really pique my interest about reading some of the books mentioned.

If you’re inclined, you should be able to just check out the lecture videos, because they’re both excellent. I love both professors. They seem to be really passionate about teaching and the text, and you do get more understanding by listening to their discussions of the books / short stories. I got really inspired to read more, especially the classics. Most important of all, it’s all FREE! Thank you coursera :)


Beat Girl and the Scene of Indie Cinema

Beat Girl poster

Last week I was invited to the private advanced screening of Beat Girl at W Hotel at Leicester Square just next to the M&M World (don’t know why I mentioned that, but I passed the hotel so many times before but never got in). After screening of the movie there was Q&A with the casts, writer, and producer — probably the first kind of press event that I went to. I’m no stranger to Indie cinemas though, as I love my indies as much as I love my blockbusters.

Beat Girl tells the story of Heather, a classical piano student in a mission to get to her dream school. Life is tough though. With the death of mother, Heather needs to move in with her estranged father and half-brother, both of whom aren’t emotionally supportive, and half-bro is especially not welcoming. After a shoplifting rescue of the brother, Heather meets Toby, the owner of a CD store who happens to be cute and a rather successful DJ. Short of money and hearing how much a good DJ could earn in one night (that’s £1000), she starts taking DJ lessons with him.

Here the two worlds start to clash. The late nights prove to be disruptive to morning classes. And classical piano student does DJ-ing? Outrageous! How dare she! How will Heather handle the tension and pressure between her day and night world? The question whether to follow what one loves against the expectation bestowed upon one is hanging throughout the movie.

 Beat Girl

Afterwards we had Q&A with Louise Dylan (Heather), Craig Daniel Adams (Toby), Melanie Martinez (writer), and Nuno Bernado (producer). First thing I noticed was that the girl and boy playing Heather and Toby are both so much more good looking in real life! — they almost looked completely different for some reason. Very odd. And Craig Daniel Adams talks in Scottish accent in real life which sounds so cute (what’s so irresistible about Scottish and Irish accent?), that is suppressed in the movie.

I threw question about the inception of the story, and it was soon obvious that the story is the brainchild of the producer Nuno Bernado based on his personal experience when he was young. Melanie Martinez the writer came over when the story was pretty much set, then she wrote it and probably fleshed it out more.

I always have great interest in the making of a movie — Indie or otherwise, probably more so for Indie. To be able to come up with a full length movie with small budget is such an achievement. Also working so close to the movie industry, I do have quite a few friends who try to and actually make small films. It is something quite close to my heart.

Beat Girl

There was some talk about comparison with Save the Last Dance (the movie which I absolutely loved back when I was in high school!), but Beat Girl is probably targeted for a younger audience. It is a gentle coming-of-age movie about following your heart.

Beat Girl also reminded me a bit of a Certain Indie Movie that also has music as its majority theme — Once. Once is Irish, made with even smaller budget (Once – €130K, Beat Girl – €500K), it has gone to win Oscar for Best Original Song and be critically and commercially successful. It’s just recently made into a musical that has taken Broadway and West End by storm.

Compared with the two older movies (both of which I loved very much), Beat Girl admittedly falls a bit short. For a music theme movie, I thought the soundtrack isn’t strong enough. And for an Indie movie, it is not edgy enough — it is all a bit too gentle and too safe.

Beat Girl

Another point of interest is the promotion of the movie. Beat Girl uses all kinds of social media channels, including Pinterest (Beat Girl Pinterest page) which they started even before the movie was out. I thought this one was particularly brilliant. You can use Pinterest to make some kind of story board, flesh out your story ideas, and gauge the audience, before going to make the real thing. There are also book written after the screenplay and game based on the movie. The last two I’m not so sure of. It seems like the energy could’ve been spread a bit too thin for something that wouldn’t work at all if not done properly. (I know, I am a reader and a gamer :)

We do need more Indie cinemas and people making more movies. All the gadgets available to everyone now are already better than the professional gadgets 10 years ago. Technically everybody can make movies and what with the Internet leveling the playing field. In the future we would be able to sell movie anywhere around the world via the Internet.

Lower barrier. More people. Wider market. Exciting time.

Beat Girl coming out in the UK on the 10th of May 2013 and 29th of May in the US.

We Have the Oscar Winners!

oscar 2011

Oscar Live @ Fox Studios

This afternoon we had the 83rd Academy Awards shown live at Fox Studios Australia. Simple lunch was provided, along with drinks, tables, chairs, couches, and picnic rugs. My colleagues and I strolled along and spent extended lunch watching the show.

Imagine my delight when I heard Shaun Tan has won the Best Animated Short Film! There was definitely some shouting and throwing hands in the air! You might have followed when I mentioned his short film for the first time, when I reviewed the picture book, and again when it was nominated for 2011 Oscar. Ooh how I love it when I get to love something/someone far before everybody makes fuss.

“Our film is about a creature that doesn’t get any attention so this is quite ironic.” Tan said on stage.

This is an interesting article from ABC about the inception of The Lost Thing.

Apart from that, The King’s Speech won Best Picture and Best Direction, Colin Firth for Best Actor (The King’s Speech) and Natalie Portman for Best Actress (Black Swan). Both supporting actor and actress were for The Fighter which I haven’t watched (Christian Bale and Melissa Leo). Best Original Screenplay: The King’s Speech, Best Adapted Screenplay: Social Network. Best Art Direction and Best Costume: Alice in Wonderland. Best Animated Feature Film: Toy Story 3. Best VFX and Sound: Inception. Just the ones on top of my head.

A rather predictable, but quite satisfying year!


2011 Oscar Commentary

the lost thing dvd

You know how I have a thing for Shaun Tan. So you can imagine how happy I am to find that The Lost Thing (which I posted about mid last year) has been nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the 83rd Academy Awards! Granted it is competing with Pixar’s Day & Night (if you saw Toy Story 3 in the cinema, the short would’ve been screened just before) which I think might be one of the best short animated ever, so it’s a toughie. But I’m happy nonetheless!

day & night

Moving on to my favorite category: Best Animated Feature Film. Pixar movies have been nominated, and more often won, every single year since the award category was started in 2001, so it’s no surprise that Toy Story 3 is there. In fact, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t win. Toy Story and Toy Story 2 were out prior to 2001, so they never had a chance to win an Oscar. The series deserve to get one, don’t you think? Also Toy Story 3 is nominated for Best Picture this year, one of only three animated movies ever to be nominated for Best Picture (first was Beauty and the Beast in 1991 and Up in 2009). The Illusionist (French, from the guys who brought you The Triplets of Belleville) is a nice inclusion. How To Train Your Dragon is said to be the best DreamWorks to date, so that’s no surprise too (no Shrek 4!).

On a side note, I watched Tangled yesterday and enjoyed it immensely. It has everything you want or expect from a Disney movie: the songs, the happy ending. With Disney you know it’s going to be safe, everybody is gonna be happy at the end, which is not a bad thing! I do wish they go back to making awesome 2D style films like they used to. With the highly acclaimed Tangled, does it mean Disney is making a comeback? I surely hope so. The omission at the award kinda bugged me a bit.

Now on to Best Picture. There are ten nominees:

  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech
  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter’s Bone

What a great list. Just watched Black Swan last weekend so it’s super fresh in my mind. A disturbing psychological thriller with ballet as center stage. What a great combination. Go Natalie Portman. Watched the advanced screening of The Kids Are All Right on free tickets many moons ago, before all the critics’ acclaims and the buzz. The film was nice. I love it when you go with no expectation at all and be pleasantly surprised. Because of some bad timing I missed Inception and The Social Network at the cinema, but I’m dying to see those. The King’s Speech was just out in Australia, so I haven’t got a chance to catch that. Would really like to see 127 Hours too after seeing the awesome trailer and knowing James Franco is playing (not yet out in Australia).

For Best Actor and Actress in Leading and Supporting Role, Michelle Williams nomination for Blue Valentine made me desperate to see the film. Saw the trailer and bits and I’m curious, especially that she’s playing with co-star Ryan Gosling. Love those two folks, can’t wait to see them together.

Another one I should note is Jacki Weaver for her role in Animal Kingdom, a true blue Aussie movie. Jacki’s nomination signifies the first time in 14 years that an Australian actor has been nominated for playing an Australian character in an Australian film that’s set in Australia. (Last time it was Geoffrey Rush, who won the Oscar for his work in Shine.) (from popsugar) So that’s a biggie. Animal Kingdom received very high acclaims here. I don’t however have urgent need to see it as it deals with Australian underground life. Not exactly my type of movie. Can you blame me? For mafia movies, I just make exception for Godfather.

The Academy Awards will take place on Sunday 27 February with Anne Hathaway and James Franco (nominated as Best Actor himself for 127 Hours) as youngest Oscar hosts. Take a deep breath everyone.

The Anticipated Movies of 2011

Movies based on books that I look forward to this year: (all books have yet to be read!)

1) Cloud Atlas (book by David Mitchell)

There isn’t much information on this one yet apart from rumours of impressive cast. Imdb says it’s out in 2011, but knowing how imdb works, don’t really count on it.

2) Jane Eyre (book by Charlotte Bronte)

First knew from Claire. Mia Wasikowska is playing! After watching her in The Kids Are All Right and Alice in Wonderland I can’t wait to see more of her performance. Check out the trailer.

Jane Eyre

3) The Invention of Hugo Cabret (book by Brian Selznick)

Martin Scorsese seems like an odd choice to direct this film based on children book, but we never know. I have flipped through the book before and the charcoal illustrations in it were astounding. Can’t wait to see how they would visualize it in a movie.

Hugo Cabret

4) The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (book by Georges Rémi)

Actually I don’t know if there’s a Tintin book based on this particular story. I read Tintin books when I was small and lost track which one is which. The film is worked on by our neighbouring studio in New Zealand, the same studio who did Avatar with James Cameron (who happened to visit OUR studio last week, just saying… yes, THE Cameron). Directed by Steven Spielberg, using the same mocap technology with Avatar, I’m intrigued.

And now for the most exciting one of all!

5) Winnie the Pooh (book by A.A. Milne)

winnie the pooh

With Australian bad luck we might get the movie played here in 2012, but no matter, I’m going to wait. Did you get teary too watching the trailer? Did you? The 2D traditional animation is so perfect (I’m gonna scream if another person compares it with Yogi Bear). And the music! So true!

Oh simple thing, where have you gone? Why don’t we go somewhere only we know?

You will get more Pooh from me this year!

Did I miss any movie I should know about? Let me know!

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the DayAs I entered the novel, a sense of familiarity quickly came to me: the distinctively British language, eloquence and subtlety. I knew I was in good hands, of someone who really knows what he’s doing. My first Ishiguro was When We Were Orphans (ridiculous plot, but again, delicious British style), my second being Never Let Me Go (clinical clean language, intriguing plot), and I have to agree with many people (and the Booker judges) that The Remains of the Day is the peak of his greatness.

Stevens is an old-fashioned butler who has been working his entire life at an old style English house (mansion to be exact, or castle? Anyway, it’s huge). Being a butler is not just his job, it’s his entire life. He has extreme pride for what he does, who he works for, and who he is for his profession. Because of his extreme, rather odd views of things, he is somewhat socially imbalanced, and that causes him to be caught in all kinds of interesting situations with the people around him.

The basic premise is not what I would call my kind of story as it deals with upper class society in a wealthy country, albeit it’s the butler who gets the spotlight. Having said that, I was totally absorbed into Stevens’ thoughts and life from beginning to the end. This is a book that is heavily based on characters rather than plot, and what a great characterization Ishiguro has done. Everything about Stevens is so believable, so well-developed. And the ending will surely take your breath away. It did mine. It was so tragic, so devastatingly heartbreaking.

Jess, my book fairy who passed me the book, described it as “pitch perfect” and I couldn’t agree more. What really stood out for me, apart from the language, was the technique. It felt like Ishiguro has painstakingly rewritten and edited the book, again and again, honing it to perfection. No word was wasted, no gesture was not meaningful, no speech was unnecessary. It was so clean, so lean, so articulate. Yes, it was pitch perfect!

As the basic story is not one that is close to my heart, it probably won’t end up as my favorite book of all time. (Maybe it will maybe it won’t. Only time will tell.) But as a novel, it is amazingly accomplished. Give me another Ishiguro’s anytime of the day. I’m sure I’ll end up reading all his books eventually. I would therefore give The Remains of the Day the perfect 5 stars. I’m not sure if that makes sense. Can you think of a book in which the basic story is not close to your heart but you think it works perfectly as a novel? What’s the next Ishiguro would you recommend? The Unconsoled, An Artist of the Floating World, or A Pale View of Hills? Any that you feel strongly about from the three?

5 stars
1989, 258pp

First Line
It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days.

Memorable Passage
“There was, for instance, the question of cost. For even taking into account my employer’s generous offer to ‘foot the bill for the gas’, the costs of such a trip might still come to a surprising amount considering such matters as accommodation, meals and any small snacks I might partake of on my way. Then there was the question of what sorts of costume were appropriate on such a journey, and whether or not it was worth my while to invest in a new set of clothes.” ~ p10

Read the Book, See the Movie, The Man Booker Prize, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Reading the World

Also reviewed by
Steph & Tony Investigate!
| Arukiyomi

The Film (1993)

remains of the day film

The film was nominated for 8 Oscars in 1994 for Best Actor, Actress, Costume, Art/Set Direction, Director, Picture, Music, and Writing. (too bad it didn’t win any. But their competitors of that year were Schindler’s List and The Piano. Tough competition!)

Stevens the butler was played by Anthony Hopkins beautifully, as well as Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton the housekeeper. The movie stayed very true to the book, it captured the mood very well, and the important scenes were played better than what I imagined while reading.

The setting in Darlington Hall was amazing. I got to see everything that was hard to imagine by myself: the summer house, dining room, kitchen, servants’ quarter, drawing room, library, etc. There were even a couple of nice extra touches that I don’t recall being mentioned in the book, like secret passages for the servants to go from room to room without being intrusive (so fun!) and the myriad of labeled bells connected to different rooms.

The Remains of the Day is a wonderful movie. Really well done. And for me the tragedy was even more apparent than in the book. Highly recommended.

Rating: 8/10

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