Friday, October 30, 2015

The Quest for Forgiveness: Have We Finally Reached the End of the Book?

So I dropped off the face of the earth for a couple weeks, but here's a Friday blog and MAYYYYBE someday more blogs will be headed your way! I hope! Anyway...

Last time, Brianna discovered this mysterious soldier was her long-lost adopted brother, which was ridiculous, and everyone was happy.

Brianna's upcoming wedding to the adult man who fell in love with her when she was a high school sophomore is being planned, and she even repurchases her grandparents' ocean home she loved so much. It had been sold to pay off debt, but she buys it back so she can have her wedding there.

Her wedding is apparently beautiful, though she really only has her family and her bodyguards there because these are the only friends she has. We spend about 3 pages talking about how beautiful her wedding is, and it's all very generic and cliched, and that's the end of the chapter.

In fact... that's nearly the end of the book.

What we have left is epilogues. But if I recall correctly, the epilogues still have some delightfully terrible stuff in them, so on we go.

We begin with Sonya. Sonya gets engaged to Sexual-Harassment-Harry almost immediately after Brianna gets back from her one-week honeymoon, so it seems every woman in this book is part of the "Let's get engaged to people we haven't been dating because this is always a great idea" club. Brianna donates money so Sonya can be a lawyer again (finally!) but only do pro bono adoption cases. Eventually Sonya and Harry adopt children themselves and everyone's happy.

We're told about the fates of Brianna's not-Conrad bodyguards, which I could not care less about because I couldn't even remember their names. Bruno apparently becomes the chancellor of Germany's head of security. Jonathan and Cathy become Brianna and Conrad's bodyguards and... chefs? Nothing like hiring the only friends you have to cook for you in your luxurious Caribbean retreat.

Eric and Gabriella (Brianna's adopted brother and his wife) move to Texas, where he starts a Christian band, and then his epilogue segues into a personal ad:
His favorite things to do were moonlight walks on the beach with Gabi, and hunting shells with his children.
Ethan moves into his beach home in Corpus Christi and starts a music publishing company which is like 75% Brianna's music. Then he gets married and lives happily ever after.

And now, finally, to Brianna.

Well, first of all:
One year after her wedding, Brianna Bays faced the press again to make an announcement. She and her husband, Conrad, would be permanently moving to their home in the Caribbean.
Which is a bit confusing because two pages earlier we had this:
A couple times a year Sonya and her family would fly to the Caribbean, or the Texas retreat to visit their close friends, Brianna and Conrad Thompson.
Which led me at first to believe that Sonya's visits to the Caribbean were completely unrelated to any visits to Brianna, thanks to that awkward comma and to not telling us about the Caribbean move until two pages after this. But then as I continued reading I began to think Brianna was living in both homes. But apparently no. Sonya just visits the Texas retreat to see them, which must be disappointing since they're not there. You'd think she'd have learned after going there like twice.

Bruno's section mentions a yearly reunion of the group, and I wondered at first if maybe *that* was what it was referring to, but, nope, that happens in the Caribbean. Maybe Sonya just wants to visit Ethan.

All right. So, terrible continuity aside, there is a section of the epilogues I have major problems with:
Later that year, she bore twins, a boy, and a girl. They named their daughter after Brianna’s mother, “Mira Grace.” Their son they called, “Ethan Jeremiah.” 
Brianna Bays was gone forever. She was Mandy Dawn Thompson now. 
She would never act or perform again, but she would continue doing what she loved best— singing. While she no longer sang for thousands of fans in concert halls around the world, she would perform a limited number of concerts for charities and churches.
Brianna Bays, who has been so obsessed with music her whole life, abandons her career to take care of her kids.

Now let me make this clear. I have NO PROBLEM with moms choosing their kids over their career. People can do what they want. I don't think that makes her less of a person or a weak woman or anything like that, that's ridiculous.

I just think it's wildly out of character.

Shall we review some of the things Brianna has said about music in the past?
“I have my music— that’s all I need.” 
“I find music eases my soul. Ethan... my father, said I have the talent to make music by the way I feel.” 
“I’ve always found comfort in my music. I guess you could call my music my drug of choice.” 
“My music drives me every day— the next song, the next tune, the next lyrics. . . . I don’t think haunt is the right word. However, they do seem to control me. I hear them repeatedly. When I put one down on paper, the next one begins. They just never seem to end.”
Over and over again, the book paints Brianna's relationship to music as something incredibly special and important and comforting to her. Music is her LIFE. Even after she becomes a Christian and finds Ethan, music is still one of the most important things in her life. And as someone who has a very close connection to art -- and not even as close a connection as Brianna seems to have -- I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to almost entirely give up a career doing something I loved that much.

Not that it couldn't have been the right choice for her. Not saying that at all. But the book paints it as the *obvious* right choice. She has no doubts, no concerns, she doesn't miss it once it's gone. The book doesn't even bring up that it *is* her choice. It's almost as if by having the babies, she automatically contracted herself to stay home and take care of them because that's what women do. And with all the work this book has done emphasizing that Brianna's music is her whole world, to dismiss this without even a question makes it seem like her music was never even really that important to her in the first place.

(I'm also not sure what they mean by saying she does concerts but never performs again. What counts as "performing" and what counts as "singing"? Is this new stuff acoustic? No dancing? Tiny venues only?)

Incidentally, no news on what Conrad's doing. Has Brianna made enough money that they're both just going to retire on that (after she's finished buying Caribbean islands and funding an entire law firm out of pocket for Sonya), or is he now living pretty much 24/7 as a retirement bodyguard for some other famous pop star as he did with Brianna?

It's just frustrating, because if there was anything I connected with Brianna with, it was her love for music, and immediately giving up the thing that the ENTIRE BOOK was about her loving so much... is really anticlimactic. It'd be like Natalie Portman in Black Swan giving up ballet via a 5-second clip at the end or Salieri from Amadeus ending the play with the line, "You know, I think actually I've decided to become a plumber." It. Doesn't. Fit.

But all that ranting leads us to our very, very last line:
As for Brianna Bays, her Quest for Forgiveness was fulfilled.
As is ours. And I am finally free from the obnoxious Mary Sues, the ignorant rants disguised as passionate speeches, the glaringly obvious lack of research, and the hilarious dialogue that is nearly impossible to say without laughing.

...Until I grit my teeth and plunge into The Quest for Freedom, of course.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Quest for Forgiveness: The Mysterious Soldier Who Must Be Lying

Last time, Conrad proposed to Brianna when neither one of them had openly said they were romantically interested in the other. He also made a big deal of reminding her that he fell in love with her when she was 16, so that was all the creepy.

Today's chapter is called "A Shocking Discovery," and I honestly can't remember what that shocking discovery is, so this'll be all kinds of fun. I'll be as shocked as all of you!

The chapter opens with Brianna visiting a hospital for American soldiers in Germany and visits them all and is sad because they are hurt. She is introduced to one specific 19-year-old soldier whose prognosis is extremely bleak. He wakes up just long enough to ask her to take a message to his wife and kids back home. (The message is that he loves them.)

She talks to the guy for awhile and he talks mostly about how much he regrets having gotten his now-wife pregnant at fifteen. He gets super bitter when Brianna says she's an actress and tells her she should try being a soldier, but she eventually Mary Sues him into liking her anyway.
“[W]ho doesn’t know of the great Brianna Bays? Please forgive me, but I have a bullet lodged inside my brain that’s playing havoc on my memory.”
"Only a bullet in my brain could possibly have kept someone from recognizing BRIANNA BAYS."
“You sure can play a mean guitar... for a girl.”  
She smiled.
Ah, sexism. How charming.

Anyway, the soldier goes on telling about how he and his wife eloped when she went off to college, and then his band got busted for drug use, so he got the option of joining the military instead of going to jail. He then gets even MORE bitter when she says she'll pray for him:
“I finally left home and lived on the streets. How could you possibly understand?” He shifted his gaze back to her. “I bet you own five houses around the world.”  
Brianna took a deep, steadying breath. “As a matter of fact, I own seven houses, but five of them are for sale.”
This exchange completely cracks me up. If Rothdiener's trying to make Brianna come across as humble and compassionate, it's totally not working. She just sounds snarky as can possibly be.

The soldier then goes on to talk about how he "lied, stole, and even almost killed a man" while living on the streets. But I can't figure out WHEN exactly he lived on the streets and had time to do all this. He was in his stable home getting his girlfriend pregnant at 15 (his son is three and he's 19, so they were probably both 15, not just her) then he was in a band when he was 16 and hit the road after his girlfriend's parents broke the two of them up. His band got super successful, he got married, they got busted for drugs, he joined the military, he ended up here.

When exactly did he live on the streets? Before he was 15, so his girlfriend was dating a homeless teenage runaway and her parents only objected when he got her pregnant? After they were together but before he joined the band? Somehow while he was in the band? After the band broke up but before the military when he had a wife and kid? NONE OF THESE MAKE SENSE.

I think Rothdiener wrote two separate "Brianna magically cures soldiers with her amazingness" scenes and then mushed them together so one soldier has these mysterious extra years in his life during which he was living on the streets almost killing people. Just like Brianna had those mysterious extra years where she got a black belt in karate.

Brianna tells him about Jesus and tells him she'll only deliver his message to his family if he reads the Bible and forgives his abusive parents. Lovely. He agrees, though. They banter for a bit about why there is evil in the world if God is good, and then she goes, and then...

The young man was startled when he spotted the heart-shaped mark on her forehead.  
Brianna smiled and turned to leave.  
He stared at the celebrity as she walked away.  
After only a couple steps, the soldier desperately cried out, “Janna?” . . . “It is you, isn’t it? Janna, it’s really you.” He began to thrash around, emotionally out of control, trying to reach her. He shouted, “It’s me, Eric... your brother!”
In case you don't remember, the last we knew of Eric was this:
"Eric ended up getting a fifteen-year-old girl pregnant, shirked his responsibilities, dropped out of school, and ran away. He joined a street gang in L.A. where he killed a rival gang member. Then he just disappeared. Rumor has it... he was killed in a street fight over drugs."
Let's compare that to what he himself just said he was doing after the pregnancy:
“I played guitar in a rock band when I was sixteen, but when I wasn’t permitted to see Gabi, I hit the road. . . . The band spent a year in California, and then went to New York. Had a successful gig there. I managed to save enough money to fly back to get Gabi and Weston.”
So... that year in California with the band was when he joined a street gang and killed a rival gang member? Or "almost killed," as Eric put it? He was out in California with his band, lived on the streets, joined a gang, killed a gang member, and then went with his band to New York, where somehow people just magically couldn't find him despite the fact that he was trying to publicly make a name for himself and should not have been that hard to find? Was the rest of his band in a gang too? Was his whole band a gang all to themselves? Was the rest of his band homeless? What is going on here?

There are two different versions of this story here (three if we count Ethan's story, Eric's band story, and Eric's on-the-streets story which doesn't fit with the band story in the first place). I am pretty sure Eric just made up his band story, because it's the one of the three that doesn't belong. He probably never even had a band.

I peeked ahead in this chapter to see if Eric offers any, "Oh, so you thought XYZ happened to me, but ZYX did instead!" comments, but nope. They all just celebrate and cry and yell miracle. Eric recovers completely from his injury. Brianna flies to Germany twice a week while still touring the rest of the world just to check up on Eric.

And that's where that chapter ends. We only have two more chapters and five more pages left. We are SO CLOSE to being done with this horrible excuse for a book.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Top 100: Amelie

The Top 100 is a blog series where I rewatch and rerank the movies that were in my Flickchart top 100 at the beginning of the challenge. I'm watching them in a random order to be as unbiased as possible in terms of reranking.

This week I rewatched Amelie, originally at #49 on my chart. That's awfully high for a movie I only saw once ten years ago. So it was about time I rewatched this and determined whether it deserve to be in my top 50 of all time.

Amelie is the story of a young woman who grows up very isolated and decides, as an adult, to try to make other people's lives better, even though she feels in many ways she can't relate to them. That's definitely a very relatable premise to me as someone who has often felt "outside" of the rest of the world, socially. As always, we'll begin my review with my live-blogging... which, admittedly, I didn't do much of. I didn't have that many thoughts on this movie as compared to past rewatches.

  • The opening credits make it seem like it's going to be a much darker movie than it actually is. Huh.
  • First time I saw this I knew nothing about Jeunet.  Now I can see his touches in all of this movie.
  • The first significant dialogue from characters happens 12 minutes in.
  • The use of sound in this is interesting. The silence after so much chatter felt very profound.
  • This is very meandering. But what a fascinating cast of characters to meander with.
  • This isn't a great sign. I'm only 45 minutes in and feel done with the movie.
  • I'm not tweeting much because I don't have that much to say. The movie is interesting but definitely not wowing me like when I was 18.
  • At the time I would have identified much more strongly than I do now with Amelie's friendlessness and lack of social understanding.
  • I really enjoy this "only two possibilities for him being late" sequence. It is delightful.
  • I'd forgotten the answer of the mysterious photo booth man.

And that's the extent of my recorded thoughts as I watched the movie. So let's delve into my official rewatch review.

Like other Jeunet films I've seen, this movie uses over-the-top dramatic acting and camera shots and effects to convey a bit more fantastical look at the world. In City of Lost Children, this was more ominous, as the entire world felt a bit unsafe. In Amelie, it's more whimsical -- the characters here are not threatening, but amusing, and we, along with Amelie, see them from the outside looking in without getting a very strong understanding of who they are. Just snapshots. But I'm not sure a lot of these characters would hold up to deeper scrutiny, so it's just as well we only see glimpses of them.

Where this film does capture me is in the latter half, where Amelie's extreme shyness continually keeps her from meeting the man who she is so drawn to. She contrives puzzle after puzzle leading him to her, only to back out at the last minute and slip a note into his pocket or his book into his bag instead without ever making actual contact. And the final scenes with Amelie and Nino racing around on his motorcycle are truly beautiful, giving a sense that these two odd ducks have finally found their perfect partner, someone who accepts who they are and, for Amelie, will maybe be the first person to actually know who they are.

That is a lovely and, to me, compelling concept, but the rest of the movie isn't quite as delightful to watch. Like an ensemble film, some of the stories are more interesting than others. I loved Lucien, the slow-minded fruitseller who took a constant stream of verbal abuse from his boss. I liked the garden gnome who traveled the world. I liked the mystery of the man in the photo booths and the reveal of the answer. But I was uninterested (and occasionally disturbed) by the stalker ex-boyfriend. I didn't care about the failed writer or the woman whose husband left her. And Amelie herself didn't click for me until about the halfway point.

I remember being wowed by the visuals the first time I saw it, and that didn't happen this time either. The muted colors and unusual camera angles made the movie feel darker than I wanted it to feel. It fit perfectly with the melancholy opening, but once Amelie had grown up and moved on, the darker visual tone stayed. Maybe it was showing us how her upbringing still lived her life for her, but to me the visuals seemed mismatched to the story.

This definitely isn't a bad movie. It's very enjoyable. Amelie is a uniquely conveyed character, and most of the stories are fun to watch, and the ending is gorgeous. But it's the first one in this challenge where I didn't have any "wow" moments. Not a single line or scene that really blew me away. Maybe it was a movie that spoke to me back in my late teens, but it appears it doesn't now.

With all that said, I'm sure it's not going to stay at #49 on my chart (that would be incorrect), but let's see where it does end up landing.

vs. The Circus (1928) - A Charlie Chaplin flick I don't remember much about, except I think I liked it. However, I *know* I liked Amelie, so it wins this one.

vs. Rurouni Kenshin (2012) - I think Amelie will still take this one because its story is told in a more unique way. I liked Rurouni Kenshin thematically and visually, but Amelie's quirkiness is just a tad bit more enticing to me.

vs. Whiplash (2014) - I loved Whiplash, especially its electrifying final scene. Nothing in Amelie held my attention the way those last 20 minutes did. Whiplash wins, dropping Amelie to #299.

vs. Schindler's List (1993) - I'm really glad this matchup happened, because I was mentally comparing Amelie to Schindler, as the other movie thus far in this challenge to drop drastically. (As well as the only other one so far I'd only seen one time.) But Schindler did have some wow moments. It was flawed, but there were some breathtaking scenes, and I didn't find scenes of that caliber in Amelie. Schindler wins this round, dropping Amelie to #447.

vs. Roxanne (1987) - I probably SHOULD choose Amelie here. It's clearly a more artistic movie. But I am so attached to the story of Cyrano, and Roxanne is a good modernized version that captures what I love about the original. It makes me feel more than Amelie did. Roxanne wins, dropping Amelie to #521.

vs. Quartet (2012) - I'll let Amelie win this one. Quartet is good but not great, and Amelie's creative storytelling pushes it a notch above.

vs. Shall We Dance? (1996) - I very much want to rewatch this one. I remember liking it a lot, but do I like Amelie better? I think we'll give Amelie the benefit of the doubt here and wait for a someday rewatch of Shall We Dance? to change its location.

vs. Waking Ned Devine (1998) - This movie is delightful. Is it as delightful as Amelie? It definitely made me laugh more. And it probably made me care more about the characters. Yeah, I think Waking Ned Devine is going to trump Amelie here, which pushes Amelie down to #530.

vs. Leap of Faith (1992) - Leap of Faith is probably too low here. I was fascinated by this story, which was much more profound than I expected it to be. Steve Martin wins over Audrey Tautou for the second time, pushing Amelie to #534.

vs. Notting Hill (1999) - Richard Curtis' writing is always funny, and the two stars are charismatic, but this movie never did all that much for me, so I'm going to give it to Amelie, which also didn't wow me but it attempted a bit more.

vs. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) - Hmmmm. I liked Mad Max, but I'm not sure I would have felt the same about it if I hadn't seen it in the theater. This is a really tough call. I think Mad Max is going to win for now because I don't remember being antsy while watching it the way I occasionally was with Amelie.

This gives Amelie a final ranking of #535, which is the lowest any movie in my original top 100 has fallen thus far. Sorry, Amelie!

My next movie from the top 100 that I'll be rewatching is my original #44: Rent (2005). I'll be writing about it no earlier than October 19th, so if you want to watch or rewatch a long with me and leave your own comments when I post that blog, go for it!

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Quest for Forgiveness: This Romance Chapter Is Not Romantic

Last time, they transported Brianna's mom back to the U.S. and then Brianna went on tour, and now she's in Paris and she and Conrad are about to go for a walk. I think romancey things happen here. The romance writing in this book is the worst, so I don't anticipate that this will be a fun ride.

So Brianna and Conrad start off this chapter by going to the Eiffel Tower and racing each other up the stairs, because apparently there's nobody else here to see it that day. Conrad marvels at Mary Sue-ness:
He was always amazed at her physical fitness.
He catches her on the second floor (a little less than halfway up the Tower, according to my research) and they stare into each other's eyes for awhile before just looking at the view. Conrad is nervous from staring into Brianna's eyes so he tries to talk about French history, and it is Brianna's turn to be impressed.

Conrad asks Brianna if she has any opinions on anything, and she says not unless she can write about it. She talks for a little while about how her music drives her every day and is pretty much her whole life. (This will be important for you to remember later, readers. IIRC, there is a distressing retcon around the corner.)

Conrad then asks her if she'd put as much effort into a relationship as she does into her music, and she refuses to answer at first and just touches his face instead. Then she says, yes, she'd put her all into a relationship and slow her entertaining schedule, which, I mean, is probably a good idea just for her health, given that I'm pretty sure she's been touring full-time for almost a solid two, two and a half years at this point. She has to be exhausted.

Uh, then this happens:
Conrad released her hand, and slipped out of sight.  
Brianna turned to see where he had gone.  
Conrad, the man who had protected her since the beginning of her career, was on one knee in front of her, holding a spectacular diamond ring.

Granted, she has been flirting with him for several years (though she's REALLY bad at it), but, people, you do not just run off and propose to people when you haven't even openly admitted you have a romantic interest in them. That is such a terrible idea.

When Jacob and I first started dating, we were in a pretty marriage-obsessed environment of Christian college kids and, no joke, I started getting asked about our marriage plans like two months in. We ended up with this running joke that he was going to propose to me any day now, but every time after we made that joke, I reminded him that if he did that I would say no. It took about a year of dating him to decide I wanted to marry him. If he had just straight-up proposed to me that first day he told me he liked me, I would have laughed out loud because I'd have thought it was some weird joke because proposing to people you've NEVER BEEN INVOLVED WITH ROMANTICALLY is a thing that only works out well in rom coms, and I make fun of it then too.
“Brianna, as your bodyguard, I have been near you day and night, hardly ever leaving your side the past seven years. The moment I saw you, I fell madly in love with you.[”]
Um, 'scuse me, can we all take a second to remember that when Conrad first met Brianna, she had JUST turned 16? The book claimed he himself was "in his early twenties," but given that he had had time to not only have a significant military career but also firmly established himself as a bodyguard to the stars, I'm pretty sure he has to be older than that, so maybe he just looked like he was in his early twenties and was really like 30. Either way, for him to cheerfully confess that as an adult he fell in love with a barely-16-year-old... it's far less romantic than this moment is apparently supposed to be.
“This morning I asked your father for your hand in marriage, and he kindly gave me his blessing. It meant a lot to me when he said he would be proud to have me as his son.”

So this has to be an offshoot of the more extreme versions of the idea of Christian courtship. For most people I know who talk about courtship, they mean 1) their dating is focused on finding a marriage partner, not just for fun, and 2) they make a lot of use of parents or other authority figures to guide and advise them during this time. Occasionally it means the couple only interacts in the presence of other people. I don't have a particular problem with any of this if this is how people want to do things, even though I think it wouldn't have worked particularly well for me.

However, there is an offshoot of this in which relationships are formed in a way that is uncomfortably close to an arranged marriage. The kind in which the woman's preferences aren't of particular interest to anyone, and benchmarks in the marriage are arranged between the man and the woman's parents.

This doesn't feel like that because he talked to her father about proposing. My husband did that too. This feels like that because he talked to her father about proposing before he had even talked to her about romance at all. It's like he saw her in a shop, decided he wanted to buy her, and negotiated with the shopkeeper without ever talking to her about it. It just icks me out.

But clearly the book advocates this kind of unsettling arrangement, because Brianna happily agrees.
“I fell in love with you the first time I saw you, too. . . . I knew you were the right one, but I had to get my life in order first. I’m sorry it took this long.”
"...I'm also sorry we didn't get married when I was 16"? She didn't have to get her life in order as much as she had to become a legal adult. Frankly, I'm not even sure she could have gotten married when they first met. In Tennessee, where she was living, she'd need approval affidavits from her parents, who weren't around and she wouldn't have tried to locate them anyway, so I'm not even sure who could have signed for that. These are the kind of questions that come up when you gloss over the fact that an adult man fell in love with a girl who would've been a high school sophomore.

That's the end of this chapter, and thank goodness, though the next one is called "A Shocking Discovery," so that's gotta be good.