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French “Beauty and the Beast” Adaptation was Totally Worth the Wait

Long about three years ago, I stumbled upon a trailer for a French adaptation of Beauty and the Beast starring Lea Seydoux as Belle and Vincent Cassel as the Beast.

I thought the trailer looked amazing and decided to put it in the Netflix queue. Well, it took Netflix three years to actually make this movie available. Don’t ask me why; it was annoying. But the good news is that it finally became available, and I finally got to watch it, and it was completely worth the wait.

This version is more in line with the French fairy tale–Belle’s father is a merchant who takes a rose from the Beast’s garden; the Beast issues an ultimatum that if the merchant does not return, he will kill his entire family; Belle takes her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner; Beast tries to get Belle to fall in love with him; Belle must learn to see the man behind the monster. Because the story is already so well known, however, the writers added a few extra twists to surprise the people who know and love this tale as old as time.

For example, Belle had extra motivation in taking her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner. In this version, we learn that Belle’s mother died giving birth to her, and Belle blames herself for causing her mother’s death (she also suspects her siblings think the same thing even if they’ve never told her to her face). Her unwillingness to be the cause of her father’s death, too, is what prompts her to return to the Beast’s castle in her father’s stead.

The Beast’s story is the one that sees the most changes. While staying in the castle, Belle’s dreams show her how her captor was once a prince, a prince whose love of hunting was rivaled only by his love for his wife (yes, you read that right. The Prince was married before). The ultimate goal that the Prince pursued was the Golden Deer, but his wife asked him to give up his quest because she didn’t like spending so much time alone in the castle while he was off hunting with his buddies. At first the Prince agrees to give up searching for the Golden Deer, but he later breaks his promise and continues his pursuit. When he finally corners and shoots it, the terrible truth is revealed–the Golden Deer was the true form of his wife, who was really a wood nymph (dryad?) who took human form because she wanted to experience love. As she lay dying, she begs her father, the god of the forest, to spare the Prince’s life. Instead of killing the Prince, the forest god curses him to remain trapped in the form of a beast until a woman’s love should set him free…but since the only woman who loved him was currently dead, that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Oh, I should also mention that the wood nymph was pregnant, so in addition to being trapped in animal form, the Beast had to live with the guilt of knowing he was responsible for the deaths of his wife and unborn child.

I have to say that I really enjoyed this version. I wasn’t sure what to expect since I had heard mixed reviews of it, but it was incredible. The biggest complaint seemed to be that the love story between Belle and the Beast didn’t feel very well formed, but come on, people–this is a fairy tale. In fairy tales, people usually get married after two days; no one seriously expects fairy tale romances to be an accurate reflection of reality! Also, I think several complaints came from people who were expecting something more in line with the Disney version of the story. The fact is that Disney was not the first to adapt this story, and they won’t be the last. And as far as adaptations go, this 2014 version is definitely one of the better ones. In fact, part of me wonders if I’ll find the live-action Disney version underwhelming after this sumptuous, stunning film.

Eh, I’ll probably still like it. But after watching this and Jean Cocteau’s 1946 masterpiece, I’m starting to think no one can adapt this story quite like the French.

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Following up with St. Augustine’s “City of God”

Back in National Blog Post Writing Month, I mentioned that I was working my way through St. Augustine’s City of God with the idea that once I had finished it, I would write about it here on My Turn to Talk. I actually finished it back about a week before Christmas, but I got busy with a lot of other things and didn’t get a chance to write the post. But now that things have quieted down a little bit, I find I actually have the time to write about my thoughts.

City of God turned out to be a really good book to read during the Advent season because I came away feeling as if I had just been on a really intense spiritual journey. It might sound corny to say that, but it’s true. St. Augustine sets the truths of the Catholic Faith in front of you with such passion and clarity that you can’t help but get swept up in his writing. Plus, his writing feels as if you are covering all of human history, the past as well as the future. There were many times when I could identify with some of the scenarios in the Church and the world in general–heck, a lot of times I forgot this book was written nearly 2,000 years ago; so much of it is still relevant today. It was a refreshing glimpse of a world where people meant what they said and weren’t going to back down from the truth.

I mentioned that there were times I forgot the book was written so long ago, and that wasn’t just because of the familiar scenarios in the Church and the world. A lot of the scientific stuff that St. Augustine mentioned were things that we still teach in our classrooms today, which surprised me a little. Apparently the people who lived back then weren’t nearly so uneducated as historians like to claim they were. Yes, there were a few things he got wrong (he wasn’t sure if there was a continent on the other side of the ocean, and if there was, he didn’t think people could live there), but there were other things he got right even if he didn’t use the same terms we use today (he mentioned a man with two heads and multiple limbs which sounded to me like a case of conjoined twins). Also, he talked a little bit about a race of people that had the bodies of men but the heads of wolves–he had heard stories of their existence and was trying to determine if they had immortal souls or not (his answer was basically, “If they are descended from Adam, yes, they have immortal souls; just don’t ask me how they got the wolf heads”)–and for a while I was like, “Hey, werewolves are real, and St. Augustine talks about them!” (What can I say; I’m weird; I get distracted when saints say there might be real werewolves.) Oh, and there was another part, too, where he casually mentions that the first Good Friday was on March 25, and my reaction was along the lines of, “Dude! Do you know how many internet debates have been waged over that date!? And you’re just casually dropping it here like it’s no big deal!?” Yes, poor St. Augustine got subjected to my running commentary. I can only imagine I caused him to facepalm several times.

Random geeking and commentary aside, I appreciated the, well, universal quality the book had–like I said, it felt relevant even though it was written thousands of years ago. It was a great book, and I’m glad I decided to read it.

It did cause me to consider, though, that a lot of the saints left great works of literature behind them when they died. What am I going to leave? This blog. I doubt it will help my cause for canonization (they’ll probably decide against canonizing me on the grounds that I just called St. Augustine “Dude”). But at the same time, it made me realize just how divinely inspired St. Augustine had to have been in order to write City of God. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it was really God who wrote the book; He just had St. Augustine write the words down for Him.

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Doctor Who Review: The Return of Doctor Mysterio *Contains Spoilers*

Considering this was the only new episode of Doctor Who we could expect to see this year, writing a review of it was kind of a no-brainer. I did miss having new episodes to review each week, so I looked forward to having a chance to write down my thoughts on the 2016 Christmas special. It’s been exactly one year since our last new episode–was it worth the wait?

“The Return of Doctor Mysterio” sees, well, the return of Peter Capaldi as the Doctor with Matt Lucas reprising his role of Nardole from last year’s Christmas special, “The Husbands of River Song” (yes, there is an explanation as to why he is back in one piece after he was beheaded last year). After his twenty-four-year night with River on Darillium, the Doctor reattached Nardole’s head to his body and offered him a place aboard the TARDIS–with both Clara and River gone, he didn’t want to travel alone (although he denies this reason). They turn up in New York City investigating Harmony Shoal, suspecting it’s a front for alien activity. Their investigation leads them to cross paths with Lucy Fletcher, a journalist trying to get background information on Harmony Shoal’s real purpose, and the Ghost, a masked superhero who has made it his mission to protect the city from all threats. Plot twist–the Doctor and the Ghost have met before. Twenty-four years ago, there was a little boy named Grant who had a conversation with a madman on a roof, and during the course of the conversation, he accidentally swallowed a Hazandra gemstone. Known as the “Ghost of Love and Wishes”, this gemstone has the ability to grant any wish–to a young boy with a love of comic books, it gives him super powers. The Doctor made Grant promise never to use his powers, but Grant saw an opportunity to help people, and he took it.

This wasn’t the best of the Christmas specials, but it was very good, nonetheless. There was much poking of fun at common superhero clichés and wry commentary. What I noticed, though, is that Moffat seemed to have toned down his writing this time; it seemed less frantic and manic than previous specials. Frankly, I think the story benefitted from that change of pace–when Moffat slows down and takes the time to work out the plot, his writing is much better. Also, I hope we get to see Grant and Lucy again in the future; they were fun characters. They started as parodies of Superman and Lois Lane but turned into characters I genuinely cared about.

Something else that struck me was a change in Nardole’s character–he seemed wiser, somehow, and seemed to have a good understanding of the Doctor. I’m not sure if that wisdom came from having a drastic perspective shift from being beheaded or if it came from many previous travels, but he definitely understands the Doctor’s pain and wants to help him heal. The Doctor certainly trusts him, or else I don’t imagine he would have taught him how to fly the TARDIS. But Nardole is showing he can be more than an inept bumbler, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out in season 10.

And speaking of season 10…

Allons-y!

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Eight Turns 20!

Today is the 20th anniversary of the (in)famous Doctor Who TV movie. It was a British/American co-production that the powers-that-be hoped would jumpstart a brand new Doctor Who series in America. Of course, things didn’t happen that way; it would be another nine years before our favorite Time Lord would permanently return to television (nine-year wait for the Ninth Doctor, I just realized that), but it was still a memorable venture into the Whoniverse.

“Oh, yeah, sure, memorable for saying the Doctor is half-human. Memorable for being the first time we see the Doctor kiss his companion. Memorable for Eric Roberts’ terrible performance as the Master.”

Okay, first of all, I will go on the record as saying I actually liked Eric Roberts as the Master. He was sly, scheming, maniacal–everything a good Master is supposed to be. Granted, he was no Roger Delgado (my favorite Master), but I still think he carried off the role and generally did a good job. Honestly, sometimes I think most of the grief Roberts was getting came from the fact they had the audacity to cast an American as the Master. The horror.

As for the half-human thing…yeah, I got nothing on that one. Neither does the show, apparently, because it was the first and the last time the Doctor was described as being half-human (although Steven Moffat alluded to it in season 9). And it’s important to note that Paul McGann was against the Doctor’s having a romantic relationship with the companion and protested very loudly, even purposely messing up the kiss scene!

But think of all of the wonderful Big Finish audio adventures that never would have existed if there hadn’t been a TV movie! We may never have gotten to enjoy Paul McGann as the Doctor! There never would have been this regeneration scene (which happens to be one of my favorites)!

Happy birthday, Eighth Doctor. We may not have gotten enough of you on our screens, but we love you anyway.

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A Sampling of Science Fiction

May 25 was, I believed, merely Towel Day, a day for celebrating all things Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Lo and behold, I learn it is also Geek Pride Day, a day for celebrating all things geeky and not just for the Guide. Well, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to write about some of the science fiction novels I’ve read over the years (and trust me, I’ve read a lot). Many of those novels helped to shape me into the person I am today, and others were ones I enjoyed simply because they told a good story. Chances are you’ve already heard of most of these, but maybe there will be a surprise or two for you.

  • Dune: Any list I create of favorite science fiction stories will always have Frank Herbert’s immortal classic at the very top. Of Dune, Arthur C. Clarke famously opined, “I know nothing comparable to it except The Lord of the Rings.” This is perhaps the simplest–and best–explanation to give when someone asks you to describe the plot. The tale of how Paul Atreides becomes Muad’Dib, the Kwisatz Haderach, as well as the leader of the entire Fremen people captivated my imagination from the very first moment I read it. However, its lessons about politics and the nature of power are what really add a third dimension to the story, and at the end you can’t help but feel–or maybe it’s just me–that Paul’s victory seems more than a little hollow.
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz: If Dune is always at the top of my list, Walter Miller’s apocalyptic thriller is never far behind it–and not just because of the heavy Catholic content, either. It’s the story of the Monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz and their quest to preserve the world’s knowledge after a nuclear war nearly destroys the planet. Civilization slowly rebuilds itself, and the Order of Leibowitz attempts to guide it onto a path that will ensure a nuclear war will never happen again…but man never learns from his mistakes. Throwing off the monks’ guidance, humanity finds itself on the brink of a disaster worse than the last one, and this time there may be no survivors.
  • The Bright Empires Saga (The Skin Map, The Bone House, The Spirit Well, The Shadow Lamp, and The Fatal Tree): Stephen Lawhead’s five-book blend of science fiction and historical fiction weaves the intriguing tale of Kit Livingstone, your average 30-something Londoner whose great-grandfather happens to be a time traveler–and he just so happens to need Kit’s help to retrieve the Skin Map, a map tattooed on human skin that is the only safe, reliable guide to navigating the different time zones of the universe. But the scheming Lord Burleigh is close behind them, and as Kit, his great-grandfather, and their friends all rush to stay ahead of him, they realize that the Skin Map not only tells them how to navigate time–it leads them to a place that will allow them to alter time itself. It sounds cliche, but what really makes this series stand out is Lawhead’s intricate and detailed descriptions of all the different times and civilizations the heroes and villains visit. The vivid details make you feel as if you are visiting these places–be it ancient Egypt or 1800’s England–right alongside the characters.
  • Starship Troopers: Robert Heinlein’s futuristic military epic has long been a favorite of mine. On the surface it might just seem like another coming-of-age story wherein the protagonist, Johnnie Rico, changes from boy to man while in the army, but there are so many rich, complex layers beneath the surface. It’s got politics and social commentary and is one of those stories that forces you to think about what you are reading. Even if you don’t agree with everything Heinlein presents, you may still find yourself admiring some aspects of the future he outlines in this story.
  • I, Robot: Isaac Asimov is pretty much the science fiction author to end all science fiction authors, so how do you choose just one of his stories? Simple–you pick one of the ones he is best known for writing (although some people may associate him more with Foundation). I, Robot is set in a future where robots have become commonplace, but as a young journalist interviews the legendary roboticist Dr. Susan Calvin, he learns exactly how primitive they used to be and how powerful they have become…and they have the potential to grow even stronger. There are several parallels with how technology develops in the book and how it has developed in the real world, and it can make you wonder what the next step will look like and how it may affect us.
  • 20,000 Leagues under the Sea: This classic Jules Verne novel is one of the first science fiction books I read, and it’s still a favorite of mine. The mysterious Captain Nemo, his amazing submarine, and the wild and unpredictable adventures outlined in the book grabbed my attention and got me excited to seek out other science fiction authors and stories to see if they were just as exciting.
  • A Swiftly Tilting Planet: Most people know Madeleine L’Engle for A Wrinkle in Time, but I always preferred A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third book in her Time Quintet (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time). Charles Wallace, now 15, teams up with the time-traveling unicorn Gaudior to stop the rise of Madog “Mad Dog” Branzillo, a mad South American dictator who intends to launch his country’s nuclear missiles and plunge the world into World War III. Their mission is to change history so that Branzillo never comes into power–better yet, that he is never even born. But time is not on their side, and they’re not even sure how they can stop Branzillo if they can find him at all.
  • Frankenstein: Mary Shelley’s famous tale of the mad scientist who seeks to create life in his own image is considered by many to be the first example of modern science fiction, so I decided to include it here. My particularly favorite parts were always the philosophical debates between Frankenstein and his creation, and I think that some of the points they argue are especially applicable in science today. And here’s a little bit of trivia for you–there really is a Frankenstein Castle in Germany, and at one point it was the home of John Konrad Dippel, a scientist who was rumored to be doing experiments with death in an effort to discover the secret of eternal life.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Hey, it’s still Towel Day, so I couldn’t very well let it go by without giving a shout-out to the Guide. The cover on my copy describes it as “a wildly funny novel about the end of the world and the happy-go-lucky days that follow”, and it’s pretty hard to top that description. Stay hoopy, my friends, and always know where your towel is.

Well, that was an exhausting list. There were others I could have included–FYI, Planet of the Apes is a novel and an amazing one at that–but I think it’s long enough for now. And I think it’s pretty clear that I’m a geek. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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Some Thoughts on “Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos”

This Sixth Doctor serial from 1985 has quite the reputation among Whovians; people seem to either love it or hate it with no middle ground. I have heard it denounced as the worst of the Colin Baker era if not of all of classic Who‘s twenty-six years, and I have heard it praised as an underrated and under-appreciated gem. As I’ve learned with so many of the Sixth Doctor’s other stories, the only way to form an honest opinion about this episode was to watch it for myself.

The Doctor and Peri land on the planet Varos to procure a fresh supply of the mineral zeiton-7, which is vital for the TARDIS’s operations. When they arrive, they are shocked to learn that Varos is a 1984-like planet with an oppressed population, spying guards, and entertainment that consists solely of watching prisoners being tortured. And because it’s Doctor Who, it’s not long at all before they get involved in a resistance that aims to free the people from their oppression

Yes, it’s a plot that’s been recycled a lot in Doctor Who‘s history. That being said, this was probably my favorite interpretation of that plot. I lose patience with a lot of these grungy, heavy, Big Brother stories, whether they’re in Doctor Who or not, because they are so blatantly trying to emulate George Orwell’s 1984. 1984 is a classic all its own and can never truly be copied, but Doctor Who took a cliched story line and made it unique. Part of what made the setting work so well were the characters, especially Sil and the Governor. I was already familiar with Sil because I had previously seen “The Trial of a Time Lord”, so it was really interesting to see Sil’s first Who appearance. What surprised me the most was that he seemed like such an important personage in this episode while in “Trial” he came across a little fish trying to be important.

As fascinated as I was by Sil, it was the Governor who really captured my attention. Here was a man who had lost all hope and was thoroughly disgusted with his culture but saw no way out. I was convinced he was going to die for his principles in some noble manner, so I was pleased to see that he didn’t die, that he listened to the Doctor’s advice and was able to lead his planet into a prosperous new era.

Long story short? “Vengeance on Varos” does not deserve all of the hate it receives. Yes, it is dark in tone, but a lot of the 80’s episodes were dark, so it seems unfair to single this one out specifically. It starts out a bit slowly, but when the plot picks up, it really grabs your attention. I wholeheartedly recommend this installment of classic Doctor Who; you’ll be missing out on something special if you pass it by.

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So I’ve Discovered “The X-Files”…

…and I’m trying to figure out how I’ve gone so long without realize how good this show is. I’ve always known it as the weird show about aliens–which, in all honesty, it is, but it’s also really good.

I started watching the rebooted series when it premiered a few weeks ago, mostly out of curiosity. I remembered seeing commercials for the original show long ago, but I had never watched it; now that it was coming back, I decided to see what it was like. Yes, it’s strange and full of off-the-wall conspiracy theories, but the strangeness and conspiracy theories are packaged in good writing. To top it all off, the other day I watched the pilot episode of the original X-Files series, and I have officially decided that qualifies as A Very Awesome Show.

I must say that the decision to carry on with the original characters and scenarios reminds me of how the BBC brought back Doctor Who in 2005–both series picked up where they left off (more or less), and they kept the same theme song. I think this helps to illustrate how both Doctor Who and The X-Files are not supposed to be reboots in the usual sense; they are extensions and continuations of the original shows, which, of course, encourages fans to come back and watch.

Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve seen of The X-Files so far, and I suppose it and Legends of Tomorrow will be helping to fill the TARDIS-shaped void in my life that comes from not having new Doctor Who episodes until Christmas.

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