Category Archives: Review

If You Follow Me, Would You Go?

Marina is adrift in her life. She runs from the numbness of her father’s suicide to Japan. She is in Shika, Japan for one year to be an English teacher. She thought she could escape her past, but in Japan her past found her.

In Malena Watrous’s If You Follow Me, she presents Marina, a young woman of 22 who follows her lover to Japan to teach English. In the book, the character references going to Japan because she wasn’t sure what else to do with her life. Marina is this raw, emotional character who leaps from the pages of the book and sucks in the reader.

Marina lives in Shika, an equivalence to rural Georgia, with Carolyn in a small disastrous flat that was occupied by American missionaries before them. The two inherit random junk from past inhabitants – including a monstrous refrigerator called an Amana that reeks of rotten beef. Among having to adjust to culture polar opposite to American culture, Marina receives almost daily letters from her supervisor Hiroshi Miyosh about their gomi, or trash. In Japan, there are very strict rules about the disposal of any type of trash. Only on certain days, certain parts of trash can be thrown away and must be placed in a special bin. Soon, Marina is convinced all of the neighbors watch her waiting for her to make a “gomi trash mistake”.

Soon, she begins teaching English at the local schools. She finds the students difficult to connect with because, at first, she only teaches the secretarial students. The students are all female, except for one male student Haruki, who locked himself in his room for four years. She tries creating worksheets to teach the students, but they are all disinterested. Frustrated, she tries to reach out to her Japanese colleagues to curb her loneliness, but she only feels isolation because of the language and culture gap.

Faced with more challenges, Marina begins teaching at the local elementary school that helps to find other people besides Carolyn. The art teacher allows her pupils to draw Marina while Marina gets to know the other students. Particularly, one Korean student who barely speaks Japanese attracts her attention because her inability to speak to the language. There is something about the girl Marina can’t shake – her loneliness, her connection to another foreigner or her inability to fit into Japanese society. Either way, Marina begins to really question why she went to Japan: Was it because of Carolyn? Was it her running from her dad’s suicide? Or was it something else?

At this point in the book, Marina really begins to ask herself what she is going to do with her future. After a shared kiss with her supervisor, she begins to doubt her relationship with Carolyn and the two begin drift apart. Marina flip-flops between teaching the elementary students and a class of teen-aged boys who work in the local power plant. They challenge her every day because no matter what lessons she presents in English the boys don’t care. They drove another female teacher from the school because they sexually harrassed her. After an interesting lesson about sexual education and a slip up with a banana, Marina realizes she must stop being timid and stand up for herself in a very loud way.

I skimmed a shelves of books looking for something new to read when this one leaped out. I looked at the back expecting to have another easy chick lit book to break up the endless science fiction novels I’ve been reading for a literature class. After getting 50 pages in, I couldn’t put the book down. There was something raw and clingy about Marina throughout the book. The “gomi trash” mistakes are a humorous part of the novel, but it was more about the themes of finding one’s self and the attraction of a foreign country. Marina is 22, and so am I. She turns 23 in the book and I am on the cusp of turning 23. Marina has an anxiety about the future and what she is going to do with the rest of her life, and so do I.

Watrous addresses the fear of being at a strange in between age that doesn’t seem to have much significance in American society. In one passage, Marina and Carolyn are talking about being 23. Carolyn begins, “At age 25 for some reason, lovers in Japan get together to eat sponge cake on Christmas Even. These sponge cakes go half off on December 25, when no one wants them anymore. At twenty-five, an unmarried woman is referred to as a Christmas cake.” Who wants to be known as a Christmas cake by the age of 25?!

I won’t ruin the ending for the readers, but it was refreshingly new and pleasant to read besides the umpteenth science fiction book.

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Milan Fashion Week: Armani and Bottega Veneta

After viewing these fashion shows, I was ecstatic to see COLOR! Finally, two designers use a palette not entirely made of neutral tones of black, gray, beige or white. Armani was my favorite show of the day because of the multiple bright colors and playful attitude of the clothes.

Armani

Bottega Veneta

This dress is for my fellow blogger, Sarah.

This dress is my favorite. There’s nothing like red to make an outfit pop!

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Milan Fashion Week: Dsquared, Gianfranco Ferré, Jil Sander and Versace

It’s day two of fashion week in Milan. On February 26, Dsquared, Gianfranco Ferré, Jil Sander and Versace revealed their fall fashions.

Dsquared

Dsquared’s line was my favorite out of the day. I love the stark contrast of black and red used subtly interlaced on the lipstick, dresses and tights. The majority of the clothes were black business suits with a 1940s and 1950s cut.

Gianfranco Ferré

This line featured a lot of black power business suits and neutrol tones of white, beige and gold. The gold dress is the boldest fashion choice by Gianfranco Ferré this season.


Jil Sander

Personally, I didn’t care for any of this designer’s clothing. I choice two of the more interesting samples. The first is a black plaid dress outfitted and the second a plaid suit that was replicated in many dark fall colors.

Versace


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How Jane Austen Ruined My Life

Okay, so Jane Austen really didn’t ruin my life. I didn’t come across her novels until I was a freshman in college. I never had to study her works during my British Literature class in AP, or had seen any of the film adaptations. My exposure to Austen had been a half an hour with a dog parading as Mr. Darcy when I was nine.

Does this image look familiar? If not, it’s from the PBS show, “Wishbone.” It was about a dog that reenacted famous literary works like “Don Quixote”or “Ivanhoe” and simplified the book for kids. (“What’s the story, Wishbone?”)

Ever since meeting a close Janeite  (a Jane Austen junkie) friend my freshman year of college and seeing “Pride and Prejudice” starring Keira Knightley, I’ve been hooked on all things Austen. Who can resist the terror, drama and suspense of rooting for a heroine of a  lower social ranking and a man of fortune becoming united in love while overcoming odds against them? (A bit of sarcasm there…)

While browsing through rows of books, I happened upon one called “Jane Austen Ruined my Life” by Beth Pattillo. That sounded like an interesting title and on the cover is a woman dressed in red, holding a letter and looking either utterly distressed or constipated. After reading the description on the back, I knew I had to read it.

This book follows the life of Emma Douglas. She was a professor of English literature with a specialty in all things Austen. She had her fairy tale happy ending with a world-famous John Milton expert and thought she had the life. Her fantasy life ended one day when she found her husband  spread-eagled on her kitchen table with her teacher’s assistant. She arrived at Gatwick Airport with two bags fleeing the dissolve of her marriage and allegations of plagiarism on behalf of the other woman.

Emma thought she would find refuge in Hampshire, England where her cousin lived. Upon entering the house she found her ex-best male friend standing half-naked in the foyer and her cousin gone off to Paris for a tête-à-tête. Her life became a literal roller coaster as she takes up the offer of a mysterious widow called Mrs. Parrot. Mrs. Parrot offered Emma a chance to see original long-lost letters from Jane Austen that divulged information about the hermit author that few had seen before.

Emma took off across England to Austen’s England from her home in Steventon to Bath to Lyme Regis to find out Austen’s secrets and uncover a few of her own.

It’s very much like Austen’s own novel “Emma”, the namesake of the main character. It’s a fast chicklit read, but one that demands the attention of anyone in need of a light read or something comical involving the famous Jane Austen.

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That bizarre kid called ‘Keith’

Think about your life now. What’s going on with it? What’s the best thing? What’s the worst thing?

Who is one person that you’ve met that totally turned your life upside down and you were never the same?

For Natalie, that person was Keith.

I was up late organizing my room after moving back with my parents. I typed in Netflix’s address and the first suggestion for a movie was “Keith”. Upon reading the summary for the film I thought I’d give it a chance, but I’m glad I did because it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in a while.

The plot is easy. Popular girl who has everything (looks, sports, grades, boys) gets chosen by this boy to be his lab partner. The teacher says everyone was randomly placed together, but they weren’t. It was all Keith’s doing.

Keith, played by Jesse McCartney, is a strange guy who leaves bowling balls on people’s front steps and likes to create fictional stories that would leave anyone’s head spinning. He’s cocky, has a chip on his shoulder, an outsider and is harboring a secret. His favorite thing is an ancient banana yellow truck.

Natalie gets sucked into this world and it changes everything about her. One meeting to fill out a lab report expands her life in ways she never dreamed before. She wanted to go to Duke on a tennis scholarship and to be an editor of a magazine. She had the good looking boyfriend and perfect grades. She had her entire life mapped out until Keith started arranging meeting times to hang out at 4 a.m., 5 p.m., whenever he felt like it.

They develop a bizarre friendship and later a relationship based on experiences and reactions that are explained at the end of the film. Without giving anything away, I say just watch it.

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‘Invictus’, Rugby and Learning to be the Captain of your Soul

“Invictus” (meaning “unconquered”), directed by Clint Eastwood, is an empowering and breathtaking film about a subject that is still difficult to discuss in a public forum – racism.

The film opens in 1990 with the release of the newly elected South African president Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) from his 27-year stint living on Robben Island. He was imprisoned because of being an anti-apartheid activist and he was accused of acts of sabotage.
Invictus

The opening scene is enough to replicate the social ambiance of the time period to the audience. There is a group of young black boys playing soccer on a field with a high, dilapidated metal fence and children wearing what could be called clothes, though their “clothes” are rags. On the other side of the road, a group of Caucasian boys play rugby on an emerald green lawn in sparkling white uniforms. Their coach remarks on Mandela’s release as, “Boys, remember this is the day our country went to hell.”

On the other hand, the general consensus is that Mandela is there to unite the bitterly divided country during his first term in office. On one side, there are the black compatriots who have been oppressed and disenfranchised. On the other, there are white Afrikaner nationalists who want to keep hold of system that repressed their fellow countrymen. He attempts to amalgamate South Africa upon the split of social values and issues of human injustice by transforming the horrid Springboks rugby team into national heroes.

The team is a symbol of separation and racism, but Mandela views this as an opportunity to inspire the people. He sees the Springboks as a way to keep the white population interested and happy because they would be lost if their team was abolished, like the major sports association wished to do. He also sees rugby as a solution to fuse politics and sport together to create a united new South Africa.

The first half hour creeps by as the audience goes through the initial process of meeting Mandela’s staff and experience the social divide along with him. It’s slow, but this was Mandela’s way of showing his positive attitude to bring everyone together. He treats all of his staff with a smile and showers them with appreciation. In one scene, one of his bodyguards insists while they push the crowds away, that they are to smile at the people.

Freeman plays the part with a quiet strength, but with a strong conviction. His portrayal of Mandela brings the character to life for the audience.

The pacing of the film picks up quickly once Mandela invites the captain of the Springboks, François Pienaar (Matt Damon) to tea to inform him of his intentions to obsessively support the team for the greater cause to the nation. Not only Mandela, but Pienaar wants the rugby team to capture the heart of the nation and win the 1995 World Cup.

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Damon gives an outstanding performance and has a great on screen chemistry as the supporting actor to Morgan Freeman. He mastered the difficult South African accent that is a complex fusion of Dutch, English and French. He blends in well with his fellow actors on the rugby team, but still maintains a leader’s role without being too domineering. His role is not as prevalent as in other films, but he displays an attitude of support and strength not only for Mandela’s cause, but for his team as well.

I was very pleased with the interpretation of the events that occurred and the explanation of rugby. I knew a little about the sport before the film, but one gets enough knowledge to have a comprehension of what’s occurring during the game. Another aspect that really struck me was the inclusion of a native battle cry, the Haka, during the New Zealand All Blacks vs. the South African Springboks. If one doesn’t know what it is beforehand, this gesture is quite terrifying, but it was great to see the representation of New Zealand’s native culture.

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Don’t Stare too hard at ‘Goats’

Director and producer Grant Heslov brings a psychedelic, drug-induced comedic outlook at life with “Men Who Stare at Goats.”

The film is about reporter Bob Wilton(Ewan McGregor) at a ho-hum newspaper and who is fed up with the dullness of his life. After interviewing a local man claiming to be a former “psychic soldier” and his wife leaving him for an one-armed man, Wilton jets off to the Middle East in search of his next big story. Wilton is convinced he should produce stories as a war correspondent, but is often left behind. One evening at a hotel restaurant he encounters Lyn Cassady(George Clooney), a strange figure who says he’s part of a secret U.S. military wing called the New Earth Army. This unit is described as “warrior monks” who fight war with their minds by using psychic abilities, can pass through solid walls and stop goats heartbeats by staring at them. Are you lost yet?

Wilton is intrigued and follows Cassady into the desert on a mission that Cassady isn’t even sure of. It is slowly revealed to the audience the two are tracking Cassady’s former psychic teacher Bill Django(Jeff Bridges). They must also battle the psychic warrior who made the entire unit fall apart, Larry Hooper(Kevin Spacey).

Viewing the trailer at another film, I thought this film looked really intriguing. It has a great assortment of cast (McGregor, Clooney and Spacey). After watching it, it seemed like two hours of torture. The storyline started out normal enough until Wilton met Cassady. The events of the duo seem too strange to believe, or even comprehend at times. In one scene, Wilton and Cassady are driving through the desert when Cassady says he is “cloud bursting” to keep himself in shape. He stares at a large, puffy cloud and it disburses before his eyes. A few second later, Cassady hits a large rock along the highway when there was nothing else to hit. Another instance is when Django promotes the use of LSD and marijuana so the New Army can “free themselves” from the world. A lot of people have used LSD, but really?

I had trouble engaging with the story and keeping my attention focused on the film. The plot was very jerky and disconnected.

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