Monday, January 18, 2016

TV REVIEW: Mercy Street - Episode 1

"Blood isn't blue or gray, Miss Phinney, It's all one color." 

I've been excited for Mercy Street since I first saw that it was coming out--Confederates and Unions working together? Hospitals? Pretty clothes? Sign me up! It premiered last night, and I was extremely impressed. 

First of all, I'm pretty sure this show won't run in the same circles as, say, Downton Abbey and Poldark. It's grittier (blood! blood everywhere!) and American. I know, you didn't think that Masterpiece Theater was allowed to show American programming, did you? Apparently that's a thing. 

Mercy Street opens with a young woman named Mary Phinney (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a woman I have never heard of. But her name sounds like she actually time-traveled from 1860!). She wants to be a nurse in a respectable Northern hospital, but her outspoken opinions on slavery earn her a position in a far less amiable place. A hotel has been set up to house both Confederate and Union soldiers--whomever happens to be dumped there. Naturally, this opens the door for all sorts of prejudices and lessons to be learned about serving the wounded with a clear head, no matter how different they are from you.

I sense a loveeee storyyyy!
(Plus, that dress is beautiful.)
Stitching binds people together. (Hahahaha that was a pun.) 
Mary Phinney and Dr. Jedidiah Foster.
He looks like he's been through a lot, but his waistcoat is pretty, so that makes up for it.

The characters impressed me right off. For me, a drama is mostly reliant on its characters--if I don't like those, there's really no point in watching it. Miss Phinney is headstrong and a pure Northerner. She comes off as very knowledgeable, especially in the face of the sheltered Southern Belle, Emma, but later realizes that she's rather naive in her own right. Dr. Foster is less concerned with race, social class, and national division and is more focused on simply taking care of patients. He's into new-fangled medical procedures, like injecting morphine to take away the effects of "soldier's heart" (physical manifestations of PTSD). 

Emma watches on as morphine makes a play. (I couldn't find a good full-length shot, but LOOK AT THAT DRESS!)

Emma, the daughter of the rich Southern family that owns the hotel/hospital, starts out her role as the fresh-faced girl and, I expect, will turn into a dedicated nurse. "There comes a time when a woman must put childish things behind her," says Miss Phinney to Emma, who takes it to heart. I foresee a lot of good character development for her, as well as a strong friendship with Miss Phinney. Oh yeah, and more fabulous clothes. The Civil War era has never been my favorite as far as fashion goes, but if the rest of the fancy dresses are anything like this white puffed pastry of perfection, I'll be very pleased.

Samuel Diggs and Aurelia Johnson. I sense another loveeee storyyyy! Though probably a sadder one.

There are also several interesting African-American characters, some of whom are slaves and others servants. Samuel Diggs has already proved himself to know a thing or two about medicine, and it'll be really interesting to see how far he gets to take it. He's already saved the life of one man, though he didn't get to take the credit. 

It's only the first episode and we've already seen heartbreak, chemistry between the main characters, and a lot of missing limbs. There are six episodes in this season, so there's still five more hours of fun to be had! No word yet on whether there's going to be a second season or if this is more of a one-shot miniseries. Either way, I feel like I'm going to enjoy it immensely. 

Mercy Street shows on PBS Sunday nights at 10/9c after Downton Abbey. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jane Eyre (2011): Review

Warning: Spoilers ahead! 

"Hey Mom," I said. "Let's watch the newest Jane Eyre. It's finally on Netflix."

"Okay," she replied.

Kidding. It wasn't actually that simple. We split it over a couple of days because we watch things late at night and I kept having to go to bed. Luckily, I had seen it once before (the rewatch was to show it to my mother) and this didn't inhibit my watching experience.

The first time I watched it, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but the second time is what really did it for me. Similarly to when I watched North & South, which is now one of my absolute favorite period dramas. The first time I saw it, I could have cared less, and by the third time considered it utter perfection. (I'd do a review about N&S, too, but it would mostly be comprised of unreadable squees.)

Let me start out by saying that I am a certified Jane Eyre addict.

I own two versions of the book (one of them being K.M. Weiland's wonderful writer's edition) and have seen nearly every TV/movie adaptation. I know my Jane Eyre. So you should totally trust everything I say on the topic. ;)

I'mma split this up in a couple parts.


It is my personal belief that Jane Eyre is one of the hardest movies to cast because of the complexity, age difference, and just plain oddness of the main characters. The skill needed by both the script writer and the actors to properly bring it to life is massive. 

Mia Wasikowska is, hands down, the best Jane I have ever seen. Mia is best known for her titular role in Alice in Wonderland, where she gets enchanted by a mad man and eats some mushrooms (So, basically Jane Eyre with added hallucinogens). She has a peculiar little face; pretty, but rather like a Da Vinci painting, mysterious and alluring. She really does look like a sprite who would have friends "among the green men". The brilliance in Mia's casting rested on the fact that she was, in fact, about 19 when they filmed the movie. Aka, Jane's age. Aka, ACCURACY. Most of the Janes I've watched look far too old for the part, which takes away much of the character's depth. The reason Jane was remarkable was that she was so young and yet had such strong convictions. 

It wasn't so much Mia's face that won my affection, it's what she did with it. Her expressions were spot-on, and even though Jane naturally has a quiet, solemn expression, Mia used her eyes to tell us the emotions that Jane felt underneath the mask. I particularly noticed this during the scene where we meet Blanche Ingram (general pain in the side and on her way to steal Jane's man). Observing them together is obviously incredibly hard for her, even though her face never moves a muscle as she sits on the dais like a good little governess. 

Michael Fassbender impressed me, as well. Mr. Rochester is almost as hard to cast as Jane, and although I had another person in mind, I think they did the version a service by entrusting the role to this man. I'm not one of the purists who insists that Rochester has to be unpleasant to look at, so I wasn't complaining about Michael. (Besides, Timothy Dalton was the best Rochester there ever was, and he was certainly not hard on the eyes.) He has very strong features, broad forehead, chin, etc. which is what I believe Charlotte Bronte intended. He was also about 34 when this was filmed, which means that, again, he was Rochester's age. 

Michael offered a softer version of Rochester that reminded me a little of Toby Stevens' version. He wasn't raving about the house, he didn't brood incessantly, and they showed him going about his daily business on the grounds (I'm not actually sure it's accurate to show the master working with his bros servants, but I didn't much care because it humanized him so much). Films often make him overly stoic and rude, when his character is really very multi-faceted. He does brood, he does have mood swings, and he is violent at times, but let's not forget that the man dressed up as a gypsy woman simply because he wanted to know what Jane was thinking (and also get a rise out of his uppity lady guests at the same time). That's not the trait of a man who takes absolutely no joy out of life. In fact, one of Rochester's most driving traits is that he wants so desperately to be happy that he will go to any means to achieve that happiness. 

I'm lumping all the other actors together because to put up a picture for all would be silly and take up the rest of your afternoon. Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax was an excellent decision, and added dimension to an ordinarily very flat part. I loved the lines near the end when Mrs. Fairfax shows just how much of a true friend she was to Jane: "Why didn't you come to me? I could have helped you." Giving Adele extra lines to tell the vampyre woman story was excellent foreshadowing and exceeded Adele's usual character limits, as well. All of the cousins were well-done. This movie was a typical example of "name all the British actors you've seen before", one of my favorite games. ("I spy with my little eye...Holliday Grainger!")

(Proximity: 3 inches)
Of course, the actors had to have a script to read and some directing. Both were splendid. Cary Fukunaga, a relative newcomer to the directing world, had excellent vision for this film. 

The cinematography was stunning--the lighting, the whole atmosphere of Thornfield Hall and the grounds, the moors...all of it. So much yes. I am a major sucker for good cinematography--to me, it really makes or breaks a movie. I loved the soft morning light in the "Rochester Very Nearly Gets Roasted" scene, pictured above. Prettyprettypretty.


The movie was up for an Oscar in Costume Design in 2011. It didn't win, but that just goes to show how much went into these outfits. I read a fascinating article about the accuracy of the costumes down to the stockings and underclothes. If there's anything I love more than cinematography, it's costumes. I can't actually say I adored any of the costumes, considering that the 1840's wasn't exactly a hotspot of gorgeous dresses, but the designer still did a wonderful job. One of my favorite bits was actually Jane's wedding undergarments--I always love to see what's underneath the poofy dresses and they were so pretty. 

Favorite Scenes

The thing that this movie did amazingly, incredibly, 100% perfectly right is all of the "extra" scenes of Jane that don't have anything to do with the main plot, but rather, are used to show her character. They actually take the time to allow Jane to express her emotions in private moments. My favorite example of this is when Rochester put the purple flower in her hair and, even though she's not sure about his intentions at that point (oooo mysterious ooo), she retreats to a private structure, takes the flower out of her hair, and smiles at it, fingering the petals and being generally like an actual love-sick teenage girl. They showed her intense fear at being locked in a room with a bleeding Will Scarlet Richard Mason. They showed her reacting to the close encounter with Rochester after she put the fire in his room out. It was little things like that which made Jane so much more relatable, just like she is in the book. 

The structure of the movie deviates from any other I have seen and is actually very clever. Instead of opening at Jane's childhood and moving chronologically, the movie starts with her being rescued from the moors after running away from Thornfield. It is universally acknowledged that a single woman without a lot of time on her hands is not in want of long, boring scenes about St. John and Friends, so the directors got most of those out of the way in the beginning while they had your attention. It was a wise move and much better than cutting the cousins scenes out altogether, which is what they did in the version that shall not be named  William Hurt version. 

Another part I loved was the scene where Rochester begged Jane to stay after the whole wife thing was revealed. The way they wrote it almost made me break down sobbing because it was just so sad. It was the first version that made me truly sympathize with Rochester because it's the first version that has really made him seem human to me. And not just human--young, haunted and betrayed by both his past and his present and now clinging to an idea of the future that seems so close and yet is so far away. 



As glorious as this movie is, there were some very notable issues...

1. Adele's presence in Thornfield Hall was never actually explained. Usually, we have Rochester take Jane on a little story-telling jaunt through the garden and they chat about Paris debauchery. In this version, Adele's just...there. They tell us that her mother is dead, but why she's with Rochester, nobody seems to know or care. 

2. THE MASON-DONE-GOT-BIT SCENE. I had to put that in all caps because it is the one thing that really, truly made me mad. I love this scene and I love Harry Lloyd. He's a great actor. So why didn't they give him any lines as he was lying there bleeding to death?? Mason is supposed to say some of the scariest lines in the entire movie: "She told me she'd drain my heart." Which is KIND OF IMPORTANT INFO. But he doesn't get to say a single word. And Rochester never asks Jane if she's faint over blood, either, just ushers her into the room all like "clean dis up mmmk jane? thx." And is it just me, or was the wound in a weird place? 

3. This didn't actually bother me, but it bothered my dear Mum, so I figured I'd give it a mention. The movie ended with a one-liner from Jane and a black screen. Mum wanted it to end with the explanation that Bertha Mason had gone splat on the pavement for good and Jane and Rochester married and Rochester got his sight back and what have you. I can see the artistic merit in cutting all that out, but maybe they could have had like, a postscript slide or something. 

4. We never actually learn that Jane has cousins. And I can see why they did that, too, I guess, but it's kind of really important to Jane's character. Learning she has family after being an orphan her whole life changes her, just like becoming wealthy does. But why would you say anything about Jane's family life when you could have an awkward kiss between her and St. John? Tough choice, I know.  

The sad part is, solving these problems would have been so simple: just make the movie longer. 15-30 minutes would have done nicely--that way, you could have had all the extra scenes I fangirled over in the previous section AND the important plot points that make sure the story isn't uber-confusing. 

But now I'm putting all my snark aside. Overall, I found the movie utterly enchanting and it's safe to say that it is my new favorite version. It left me feeling like: 

So go watch it. Now. It's on Netflix. And probably in your library. Or, you could steal it--I won't judge you. 


Monday, March 2, 2015

What Would Your Character Save in a Fire?

Currently listening to "Things We Lost in the Fire" by Janet Devlin 

I've never been one of those people who could do character analysis sheets before they started writing the book. Or rather, I've never been able to do them well...I leave so many slots blank that I might as well have never started the thing. I have to write the first draft and learn about the characters through that before I can answer questions like "What was their mother's sister's aunt's husband's goldfish's name?".
(It was Artemis.)

That being said, at some point, I do have to figure out major things about them like their backstory, motivations for their actions, and what they value most in life. Today, I challenge you to look at your characters and figure out the following: 

If a fire broke out in your character's home/workplace/castle, what is the first thing they would think to save? 

Would it be a person? A pet? A beloved jacket that they've had since they were ten years old? If you're having trouble figuring out what's important to your character, answering this question may help you out. 

Here's a few variations of the question that I'm now coming up with on the spot, because sometimes when I get my brain moving it doesn't turn off: 

Would your character sacrifice themselves to save that valued item?

If your character couldn't save that valued item, how would they react? Would they grieve, or simply shrug it off as an annoyance? 

Who set the fire in the first place? Was it...*gasp*...your character? 

Now go forth, writer. Allow your muse to take hold of your mind and take its sweet time about letting go. 


Friday, February 27, 2015

A New Era Dawns

When I was 11, I started a blog. 

That blog was everything to me for several years, but I found that as I was growing up, my blog was falling behind. Eventually, I stopped posting on it altogether, choosing to pursue other interests. I've been going through a lot of changes in my life recently and I realized that I actually missed blogging! But instead of going back to the old blog, which felt like a step backward, I decided to venture out into unknown territory.

This new blog bears the same name as the old one, because it's become my brand (I really ought to have it copyrighted, eh?). Other than that, it's going to be fairly different from my old one. I still collect dolls, but I'm no longer interested in having a blog devoted to them--instead, I plan on writing about my life, my novels, and anything else that catches my eye. 

I would like to welcome everyone to the new era of Quinny & Co.!