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  • I read a lot, and I have a lot of opinions, so I can't believe I haven't made a list like this before. If you are even a little bit like me or you want to get a peek into my psyche (you probs don't), these are the books to read.

Posts Tagged ‘James McAvoy’

Will someone put the Duchess’s hair out?

Posted on December 15th, 2010 by annakjarzab

So last night I watched The Duchess. You remember The Duchess? It came out this year (I think…?) and it starred the Period Piece Wonder, Kiera Knightley, Voldemort himself Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper (who will never be attractive to me ever, even ripped or in a wig or not in a wig), and lots of children because OMG so many children in this movie! People had a lot of children back then, especially when they were randomly having quasi-polygamous marriages and/or affairs every five seconds. The good old days!


Anyway, if you don’t know, The Duchess is about Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, who lived at approximately the same time as Marie Antoinette, was friends with her, and had a lot in common with her (fashion, gambling, a famously tabloidesque lifestyle, complete ridiculousness when it comes to money in general), but the movie doesn’t touch on that at all, which is really too bad, but it had a lot of wigs to set on fire, so we have to forgive it. So many wigs, so little time! There were a lot of wigs in this movie, ALMOST as many wigs as children, plus if you count the Whigs who were in this movie, the number goes up, so. I can tell this “review” is already getting out of hand.

Georgiana (pronounced George-AY-na, because I don’t know why; when I first heard it, I was like, “Hm, that actor is pronouncing it weird,” but then they all pronounced it weird, when they weren’t just flat out calling her “G”, so that’s that, I guess) was married at a very early age (17, which is actually not that young for back then, seeing as Marie Antoinette was married to Louis when she was fourteen) to the cold, boring Duke of Devonshire. The Duke is unimpressed with his wife and more interested in his dogs, especially when Georgiana only manages to have two daughters (not counting the daughter that he fathered with a maid that she then had to take care of!) and no sons. He is not happy about this, as evidenced by the fact that they traveled in different carriages that one time, and also that he decides that Georgiana’s best friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster, who has been tossed out of her house and kept away from her children by her abusive husband and now lives with them, is going to be his second wife–not just his mistress, but basically ANOTHER WIFE! Georgiana is mad for about five seconds, but then gets over it, because she’d really like to take a second husband–Charles Gray (EARL GRAY, like the tea), who is a Whig politician who hopes to be Prime Minister some day. This is where Dominic Cooper comes in, completely unconvincing as a politician, a Prime Minister candidate, a person living in the 1780s, or a man you would ever want to have an affair with ever. The Duke, as you can imagine, is hypocritically NOT ON BOARD with this plan, but then he tells her that if she gives him a son she can do as she pleases. FAMOUS LAST LIES!

So Georgiana gives him a son and she assumes that then she should be able to conduct her life however she pleases. Her sister-wife, Elizabeth, gets Gray to come over and give G the business, and they have an affair until the Duke finds out and is, again, and not surprisingly, NOT ON BOARD. He threatens that if she doesn’t stop seeing Gray he’ll destroy Gray’s political career and also keep her children away from her as long as he lives and breathes. First she picks Gray, but then quickly decides that’s crazy and picks her kids, ending her affair with Gray, but not before SHE BEARS HIS ILLEGITIMATE CHILD in some drafty house in France or whatever and is forced to give it away to Gray’s parents who raise her as Gray’s sister. Fabulous! Royals are so good at family values, you guys, it’s amazing we don’t still have more monarchies.

There’s a softball “bittersweet” ending and the obligatory biopic text-on-screen informing us that Gray did eventually become Prime Minister, Georgiana died early (48) and with her blessing her sister-wife became the only wife (a.k.a. the new Duchess of Devonshire), and that Georgiana visited her illegitimate daughter Eliza in secret (which, from perusing the Wikipedia page, seems to be kind of not true? Since Eliza didn’t know G was her mother until after G was dead? But why quibble).

This movie was problematic for so many reasons. I’m not Dr. Biopic or anything, but I think they’re supposed to, like, explore the character and internal struggles of the people they’re biopicking* instead of basically presenting a time line of sadsauce moments in their life and going LOOK HOW SAD and also how many wigs can we set on fire? Because guys:


This was the point where I thought, “Okay, this movie is hella stupid.”

Say whatever you want about the Sophia Coppola Marie Antoinette that I love so much, but that movie had style, man. It was pretty and silly and interesting and vibrant and fun to watch. This was just a tableau of Kiera Knightley in some dresses and wigs (only some of which were set on fire!) making constipated expressions that were supposed to denote anguish. I mean, yes, it sounds like G got screwed in many ways (especially the marriage department, because woof), as women tended to do back then, but also she had a pretty sweet life. She was crazy rich and it wasn’t like Dominic Cooper Gray was her only lover, she went to tons of parties and hobnobbed with the elite, and she got to wear a lot of cool dresses and wigs (only some of which were set on fire!). I’m not trying to be unsympathetic here, but if you’re going to call the movie The Duchess, perhaps you should spend more time exploring who she really was on a deeper level than you do on telling us the Duke really really loved his dogs. We get it! He thinks his dogs are the best! Fair enough, dogs are awesome. But it’s really not the focal point of the movie, or it shouldn’t be, unless you changed the movie title to The Duke and His Dogs, in which case go for it, but I doubt anyone would pay to see that movie.

I think probably Georgiana was a lot of fun, to be honest, and they don’t show that at all. Despite how grotesquely rich and out of touch she was, given how she was also so political, people loved her! She had lots of friends and was very popular, but the only nod to the fact that G was the life of the party was: A. When sister-wife Elizabeth (pre-sister-wifedom) tells Gray (pre-affair) that “The Duke is the only person not in love with his wife,” and B. when her wig gets set on fire (do I have to tell you that she was drunk at the time? Well, she was). Did she never have fun? Wasn’t she maybe a little bit vain? Why was she so political and how instrumental was she in actually getting people elected? I just don’t buy this presentation of Georgiana as this Ultimate Tragic Female, in the way that I don’t buy Marie Antoinette as one, though I certainly understand that not everything in her life (especially that bit at the end) was easy.

The Duchess isn’t really a bad movie, it’s just not a very good one. Like The Other Boleyn Girl, it seems to serve only to give us a lot of pretty period outfits to look at, which is nice and all, I appreciate that, but if it can’t be deep, it should be fun, and it was neither. Still, it’s available on Netflix Watch Instantly, so if you have a spare two hours and need something to put on in the background while you’re sorting laundry, it’s a pretty decent option. Or you could watch Penelope, which is also on Watch Instantly and stars James McAvoy and which I also watched last night, for the eleventy billionth time (exact number). You know what The Duchess could’ve used? James McAvoy.

*Not a word.

Take what you want and pay for it, says God

Posted on July 14th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

This has been a nice, relaxing weekend. WALL-E was, predictably, adorable, although for some reason it didn’t exactly strike as much of a chord with me as it has with other people–maybe it’s because I like dialogue so much I can’t stand it when there’s no talking in a movie for forty-five minutes. But the animation was spectacular, the story was cute, and WALL-E was full-on the sweetest little robot you ever saw on screen. Still, I probs don’t need to ever see it again.

Wanted, on the other hand, blew my mind. I loved every freaking second of that movie, also predictable, because it stars the lovely, amazingly talented, HOT James McAvoy. It’s also insanely violent, and while that never fails to make me cringe it was done in such an interesting, humorous, off-the-wall way that even I enjoyed it. I think what makes the movie great, besides the talent and the flawed-but-engrossing story and the kick-ass action sequences, is that it has such a personality to it. You feel–at least, I felt–that only one person could ever have made this movie, and that person is Timur Bekmambetov, who must be an absolute psycho in real life, but an entertaining, brilliant psycho.

I also got a lot of time to read this weekend, which has been really awesome. The only social engagement I had (outside seeing Wanted with my roommate), was brunch with some old friends from Chicago, both of whom work in publishing in some way or another. We went to the Sunburnt Cow in Alphabet City, which has all-you-can-drink mimosas and bloody marys, and some really excellent food–we will definitely be going back there, despite the fact that it is SO FAR from the train.

I spent all weekend reading The Likeness. It would be wrong to call it a sequel to In the Woods, but perhaps it is in spirit–the narrator this time is a main character from the last novel, Cassie Maddox, who takes a little getting used to. I really, really loved Rob Ryan, the completely fucked up but lovable narrator of In the Woods, and it was tough being back in his world and having to let go of the fact that he’s no longer germane to the story. Cassie has her reasons for avoiding him, but naturally he pops up in her thoughts from time to time, as does Operation Vestal, the investigation that brought Cassie and Sam O’Neill, another Murder detective, together, broke Rob and Cassie apart, and separated Cassie from herself in more than one way.

God, if I could just be as good a writer as Tana French. The woman has talent coming out of her pores, her language is so excellent and yet completely unpretentious. I don’t know that I’ve ever admired a living writer so much–her deftness with words is really remarkable. Anyway. So I missed Rob, but Cassie is a likable person, and the story is just so different from In the Woods, but retains the personal connection between the detective and the crime that made the previous book so intense. I wouldn’t say I loved it as much as I loved In the Woods, because the connection I felt to that book was so surprisingly strong, but The Likeness is very, very good and I think, with its less vague conclusion, more people will like it than liked In the Woods.

It also made me think a lot about one particular thing–is there anything more sinister than a group of impossibly close, young, intelligent friends in a murder mystery? Is there? It’s a really common trope, if you think about it–The Likeness is but the most recent example I’ve come across, but there’s the classic The Secret History by Donna Tartt, or the more recent group of Bluebloods in Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics. The Likeness revolves around just such a group, which Cassie, who looks creepily like the victim of a stabbing, infiltrates in order to uncover who really killed her when the police can find no leads or suspects. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The hard part

Posted on June 25th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

Wow, where the hell have I been? Tumbling, for the most part. You can always catch up with me over there, although what you read might be disproportionately about James McAvoy, but you don’t mind that, do you? Great! The other answer to the above question is: writing. Yes. I am writing. Joyfully. Ecstatically. Quickly. Painfully. Why painfully? Oh, no reason. I’m just at the HARDEST PART of the first draft–the big reveal. Why oh why do I write mysteries? The way that the climax and resolution come about is key, because you want to make sure the reader doesn’t figure out what happened before the characters do (unless, as a reader, you’re into that sort of thing, which I am but I cannot do because I am terrible at solving mysteries), so it can’t be head-bangingly obviously, but then again you don’t want the readers to be like, “Huh. I never in a million years would’ve seen that coming and find no evidence in the preceding chapters to back it up. Great. Fifteen dollars well spent. NOT.” Blurgh. I can’t say much more about it here, obviously, but I just wanted to voice my frustration. It’s been going so smoothly, but now it’s time to pull out all the stops and just write it, which is advice I give to anyone working on a first draft (first drafts are ugly and inconsistent! don’t worry! you can fix it all later, just write it down!), but it’s always a little hard to give yourself permission to write the not-good stuff. Not that I think this is not good, it’s just complicated and will need a lot of smoothing over.

The good thing about writing MB is that I have been able to recognize as I was writing it exactly what big ticket items need to be fixed in post-rough-draft edits. I feel like I can step back from the process and go, “Hm, that character shifts gender between chapters, so gotta resolve that,” or even bigger stuff, like more emotional exploration of main characters. I know that so many people write bloated first drafts and then cull, but I actually write skeletal first drafts and then add. Maybe this is because my books are plot-driven (I hate saying that because then it sounds like there’s a lack of characterization, but it’s true: the mystery carries the story along, and characters grow and change because of and around it)–I just bust my butt trying to get the plot on the page, then I work on getting it right, then I work on character, which is the actual hardest part, the most amorphous when it comes to getting the “It’s done” feeling, but is also the most rewarding so I don’t mind that.

Anyway. The hard work is in front of me, in so many ways, but the first hurdle is just finishing, just throwing my shoulder up against the door and breaking down that wall that’s keeping me away from my ending. Rough drafts are the hardest, as they always, always say, and I’m not quite sure they get easier with experience, although you’d have to ask a far more seasoned writer than myself to get that answer.