The Great Gatsby, the film

This past long weekend was filled with sleeping, great food, and relaxing endeavors to take my mind off of work. And, was it needed! I felt like after surviving Thanksgiving meal-cooking as well as the crowds on Black Friday I could reward myself with a Saturday inside watching good movies, decorating for Christmas and just enjoying some relaxing time. In an attempt to find a movie to entertain me, I stumbled across “The Great Gatsby” (the Leonardo version) and grumbled but started watching it.

I will be honest, I did not read great reviews about this film, nor did I particularly like the cast. It has been a while since I read the novel, but I do vaguely remember the characters and what I envisioned them to look and act like. Regardless, I started watching the film and was completely engrossed from the beginning.

“The Great Gatsby” tells of the great J. Gatsby, his rise to wealth and power, as well as return to his love, Daisy Buchannan who is married to Tom Buchannan. Daisy’s cousin is Nick Carroway who lives next door to Gatsby. Essentially, Gatsby is in love with Daisy, does everything in his power to get her to leave her philandering husband and Nick is stuck in the middle. That’s the shortened version of the tale, but when you get down to it, that’s all you need to know.

Now, here is no greater tragedy than when a film does not represent a novel in full. Luhrmann did a fantastic job in keeping with the novel’s symbolism, characters, and settings. I vaguely remember watching the older version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow and not liking those characters and the settings. But, this version’s sets really looked like what I envisioned when reading the novel. Moreover, the symbolism that Luhrmann used, especially with the eye doctor’s glasses billboard was perfect. It drove the point and symbolism of “God is always watching” home.

Luhrmann entwined the plot with a modern take of music, dancing, and special effects which at times were a bit much but generally were quite well done. One could definitely feel the parties at Gatsby’s similar to that of a club or Rave for that matter, in which that kind of music is appropriate. Moreover, the modernization of the music gave the general plot a level of relatability to the population today. The old versus new money debacle does not play as big of a part in today’s society as it did in the 1920s, so to combat that Luhrmann did an excellent job in weaving modern songs with the scenes.

There were only two things I didn’t particularly like with this film: the length and Daisy (Carey Mulligan). The movie was just too damn long, with artistic sections of staring at Leo’s eyes for minutes unnecessary. Or the scene with him throwing shirts at her in slow motion; ok, after the first ten shirts we get it! But, a film loses a lot of its soul in the audience when they get bored. A good 30 min could have been cut. Also, I will preface this discussion with how much I despised Daisy’s character in Fitzgerald’s book. It was purposeful, but she gave a bad name to women. She allowed her husband to cheat (yes, she allowed, for she could have left him). When Gatsby finally wanted to come clean with Tom and have her leave him, she couldn’t choose. Moreover, in the scene where she talked about her daughter and hoping she would be a “fool” in the future, was just aggravating. I can’t totally blame Mulligan for her portrayal of a character I despised, but I didn’t think she pulled her weight when in a scene versus the other three actors. In fact, Jordan Baker (played by Elizabeth Debicki) held her own much better than Mulligan.

If you are a fan of Fitzgerald’s work I would suggest watching the film. If you are a fan of Luhrmann’s work, I would suggest watching the film. If you are neither, don’t waste your time. Just youtube the party scenes for those are the best, but for someone who doesn’t understand the plot or symbolism, those are the most entertaining out of the whole film.

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Pink Gradient Nail Design with Glitter

I haven’t done a nail design post in a long long while. And I think I chose the best one to wait to write about!

This one is simple, but takes some time for you need to wait for the polish to dry to proceed to the next step. Also, it looks awesome from far away because of the gradient finish, as well as glitter effect.

The best thing about this design is it is applicable to any color scheme and fading of nails: green, blue, purple, even a cool white to gray to black would work. Moreover, the glitter application is simple, but you have to be careful in case you glob it on (and glitter takes a while to dry FYI).

I started with a light baby pink as my base color. Two coats of this painted the entire nail. Then I let this dry. Then I took a darker color pink and got as much of the polish off of the brush. I then carefully painted 1/3 up from the nail bed with a darker pink successively getting darker going to my nail tip.

I then did the same thing with a hot pink color. This was a bit more difficult because dark colors are harder to fade since they have more pigment. But, I think it worked!

For the glitter, I brushed very little glitter over the medium pink and painted more and more toward the tip. Then I took, as if I was doing a french manicure a thick coat of glitter on the tip of the nail.

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I hope you enjoy and let me know your comments!

August: Osage County

Staying at home watching a film on a Saturday night with a cold does not sound like the optimal way to spend a weekend night. Personally, I’d rather read with a cup of tea and subtract the “with a cold.” Anyway, if I’m home bound and don’t have the mental capacity to read, I might as well watch a great film. And that is exactly what I did last night. “August: Osage County” is an amazing film, dark and ominous, with a superb cast and a fairly creepy, yet crazy story line, that it keeps the viewer engrossed for its 2 hours.

The film is set in sweltering Oklahoma where a couple, Violet (Meryl Streep) and Beverly (Sam Shepard), have lived for most of their lives. In this home, they raised their 3 daughters: Barb (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), and Karen (Juliette Lewis). The film surrounds the disappearance of Beverly, which forces the three sisters to all come home. Not only do the girls come home, but also Violet’s sister and husband (Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper) as well as their son Charlie (Benedict Cumberbatch). Barb brings her husband and daughter along for the ride (Ewan McGregor and Abigail Breslin) and I guess you could say that this is the ultimate family reunion. In the end, they find Beverly committed suicide off of his boat in the lake and the film then turns to the repercussions of all the daughters being home and family dynamics.

I do not normally list actors in my posts about films, but the above really drives the point home of the super cast that was assembled for this film. I cannot stress the importance of this, in that each actor played their character amazingly and emphasized their unique perspective and characteristics. Moreover, this film was not only about how a family responds to a loved one’s death, but also family dynamics. And lets just say a circus has less family dynamics than this bunch. I really cannot put to words the complexities of this group of individuals. Violet is a drug addict, Ivy is in love with Charles (her first cousin, who has his own secret), Barb and Bill are separated and most likely will be divorced, Steven (Dermot Mulroney and Karen’s fiancee) wants Jean (Barb’s daughter) to smoke pot with him and then tries to make the moves on her, and Mattie Fae hates her own son Charles. And that’s just the major portions of the family fights that happen.

Honestly, this film was 2 hours of non-stop drama and I loved it, but it was the ending that really was the most outstanding. I have not seen an exceptional amount of films in my day, yet the ones that I have seen usually result in “happy endings.” Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes happy endings are great and make you feel all warm and cuddly inside. But sometimes you need an unhappy ending and boy did this film provide that. This is a **spoiler alert** but everyone in turn hates each other by the end of the film. Karen and Steve leave after Steve is attacked by the “Native American” worker for giving Jean pot. The truth comes out that Fannie Mae had an affair with Beverly and Charles is half brother AND cousin of the three girls so Ivy has been sleeping with her half brother. Lastly, Bill and Barb choose to get divorced and Barb is left with Violet and then they have a fight and Barb leaves. Essentially, Violet has destroyed the family. This was a great ending to a really great film, granted it was dark (oh so very dark) but oh so amazing at the same time.

One comment I do want to talk about before I end this point is a theme by which I have lived my life and one that was quite evident throughout the film. There are drastic similarities between Barb and Violet. It comes to blows at the end, in which Ivy says that Barb is looking in a mirror when she looks at Violet. In the middle of the film, Violet talks about her mother and when Violet was a child wanted a pair of boots. Her mother gave her a pair for Christmas covered in cow poo, mud, and utterly destroyed and laughed for weeks after that. Violet’s mother was an angry woman, Violet raised her daughters as an angry mother and they all left (except Ivy, and even then Ivy was the disappointment) and one could see Barb’s interaction with Jean and how she was continuing the cycle. Bill cheated on Barb with a younger woman, yet Jean continued to favor her father over her mother because Barb was a mean-spirited woman and was repeating the cycle of her mother and grandmother. My theme to live by: if you know how a person is, and do not think highly of it, do NOT be like that person. Stop the trend, stop cycle, just don’t fall into the same traits. This theme transcends family, and could be considered in everyday life. You don’t like your boss at work and feel like he/she doesn’t know how to lead, take that and learn from it. Very applicable to things of everyday life.

In the end, the film was amazing and I cannot really put into words how awesome it was. Everyone deserved recognition for playing such unique and complex characters. If you are in the mood for a great film, and are in the right mindset it would be a great piece to watch.

Monuments Men, the film

I wrote a post about Monuments Men by Edsel a while ago (http://wp.me/p4H2Re-19), and just recently had access to the film so I could place the actors and plot to the novel. In general, the novel was mediocre, a little long winded when it came to facts, dates, and places. I hate to say it, but it needed more pictures. And yet, this is why it made a really great film! I will clarify, better than average film.

Now, I may be a science geek during the day, but one of my favorite things to do is look at art. I really enjoy contemplating what an artist was thinking when they made such masterpieces, and one of my favorite classes as an undergrad was art history. I learned so much and have fond memories of the class and my professor who had such a passion for teaching, specifically teaching art, it was infectious. You knew she loved it, so you in turn loved it. In fact, one of the pieces she covered in her class was the Ghent Altarpiece, which is one of the masterpieces saved by the Monuments Men. I teared up when I saw the Nazis in the film stealing the piece, and when the Monuments Men saved her I was so so happy.

The movie was made in honor of the individuals who risked their lives by going into occupied territory during WW II and saving as much art and historical architecture as possible. The team split up and was placed in key areas of the war to save different aspects of European art (Belgium and France as examples). While in these places, the officers tried to coordinate with non-scholarly officers to save the buildings and artwork from destruction. Understandably, many officers refused to save buildings instead of their soldiers’ lives. This theme makes sense, but at the same time is a travesty. To the uneducated eye, art is just a picture. But to future generations, it means so much more: historically, characteristically of the time that it was made, and symbolic.

I will have to say, Clooney and Damon were quite good in the film, but it was the supporting cast which really made the film enjoyable. Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, and Bob Balaban really made the film magnificent and portrayed their characters well. In the novel, Edsel doesn’t really go into the character traits that the Monuments Men had (and it may not be known), but seeing the personalities of the actors really provided a tangibility of the officers.

There were two general parts that I did not like in the film. One of them was Cate Blanchett’s character. Reading the book made clear her role in the Monuments Men fight against Germany, but the film really downplayed her role. She essentially gave Damon a list of artwork and he took the list and used it to match art. It was almost an unnecessary time sync in the character and plot development that could have shortened the film (which they needed) or just cut her out completely. The other part that bugged me was the ending of the film and how all of the artwork was found in the salt mines. It was almost as if they came to the mine, saw it was closed, opened it, then rescued all the artwork and done. Edsel devoted so much more of the book to this that it was a bit saddening to see such a huge portion of the art saved during WW II to not be explained well.

In the end, I give props to Clooney for making a film that was historical and enjoyable. I really do hope that many Americans learned a thing or two from the film, if anything something about American history. This piece of history was not well-known prior to the film, let alone prior to Edsel’s book. These men truly saved a lot of history and they should be thanked. Their memory will live on cinematic history from now on, which is a great, great thing.

Cloud Atlas, the film

I almost started this post off with: “Everyone knows I’m a list person.” This is not far from the truth, in fact, definitely is the truth, and I do love my lists. The gratification one gets from crossing items off a list is so fulfilling, I cannot even begin to say how amazing it feels. Anyway, list generating is a topic of discussion for another day. But, it draws me to my main point; a long time ago I printed a list of the 100 greatest novels of all time. Now, this list is part traditional literature: Tolstoy, Bronte, Austen, Melville, and so on. Yet the other part of it is comprised of lesser known works, many of which are new age novels (written within the last half a century). Example: Harry Potter series. Another novel on that list is Cloud Atlas. At first, when I read the description on wikipedia, I was interested but it definitely did not jump out at me as one of the novels first to be read off the list. However, that changed when I read an article in the New Yorker discussing the Wachowski siblings (one brother is a transgender and now a female).

The article touched on how the Wachowskis got in touch with the author and how they made the film based off of the novel, taking the author’s concepts, ideas, and thoughts into mind at every step. So, from here, the film really is a true representation of the novel since the filmmakers took what the author had to say to heart, which as we all know, is usually not the case. Anyway, I remember that I really enjoyed the article, specifically the portions discussing the actors and their various roles in the 6 plots and who plays who, etc. Clearly, the article peaked my interest.

From here, I bought the book (of course at an inflated price since the film was coming out) and read it immediately. The novel is split into 6 plots, each with their own chapter. It is also organized in an interesting manner in which the author begins at the earliest plot and tells half of that plot in one chapter following it by a separate plot in succeeding chronological time. Five plots are partially told followed by a sixth that is told in its entirety then the plots are completed and digress in time. I remember while reading, I enjoyed some plots more than others, probably because I could relate more to the ones that took place in times that were close to the 20th century, while others, especially the futuristic plot, was a bit lost on me.

To return to the film, this novel was a challenge to read, but I think incorporating it into a film made it a bit simpler to see the themes that the author wanted to convey through the novel, but was a challenge to take away. Actors played roles of various characters throughout the plots, and some of them had birthmarks. Also, the themes of the characters were all the same; in that, Tom Hanks always played a heroine, Halle Berry the damsel, Hugo Weaving the evil one. This made for continuity, that I remember, was a challenge to follow throughout the novel. If anything, having the same actors portray various characters really drove the central theme of the novel home (something that I felt was severely lacking throughout the book): one’s path may cross in a lifetime and continue to cross throughout centuries.

Not only were the story lines clear, but the actors were amazing at portraying their characters. I felt like Hanks did an awesome job, and Weaving was just amazing. The Wachowskis must surely love to work with him after his part in the Matrix Trilogy as Agent Smith. He is such a versatile actor, and lays excellent evil characters (but also classically good ones: Elrond LOTR). I felt like Halle Berry was a bit miscast as the female lead, but she did a good enough job. The film, however, really was great in considering the supporting characters. The same actors appeared in each portion of the plots, but they really were supported by their fellow actors that were the glue to the plot lines. Honestly, I’d watch the film for the supporting cast and the scenery. I vaguely remember the New Yorker article saying that the film was shot on site at a plethora of locations, and you can definitely tell. The scenery was beautiful!

Anyway, if you can stand to sit for almost 3 hours, I would definitely watch the movie. The film is a bit better than the book, but you should probably read the novel anyway. It’s novel in the fact that no author has yet to provide a storyline in the manner that Mitchell does, and is quite unique. Hope you enjoy!

 

The Shadow Queen by Rebecca Dean

As most of you readers know, I love my historical fiction. The process of making a historic figure have real characteristics and relatability to people today is an art, and really makes for an enjoyable reading experience. It also makes learning about history exciting and realistic and not just about textbooks.

I recently deviated from my “usual” historical fiction of Elizabethan era-style novels, and rented a novel online from my local public library entitled The Shadow Queen by Rebecca Dean. The novel told the story of Wallis Simpson from her childhood as a young Baltimore, MD socialite to the woman a king would abdicate his throne for.

Wallis, whose real name is Bessie grew up with her mother, aunt (mother’s sister), her uncle (father’s brother), and grandmother. These were her only relatives, and her father’s side of the family was extremely wealthy. Wallis’ uncle supported her throughout her childhood until he made her choose between riches and ever seeing her mother again. Feeling disdain for her uncle, Wallis chose to leave a more challenging life and not live off of her family’s inherited wealth, but rather marry. Funny, because she first married a Navy pilot, Win Spencer, who turned out to be a drunk and beat her mercifully. She got a divorce from Win, only to marry a diplomat-type, Ernst Simpson. Simpson is the man she left for Edward. Above is a very, very brief description of the life of Simpson as told by Dean, but there is A LOT more to the novel.

Dean weaves a great novel of intrigue, and making it exceptionally clear the kind of person Wallis was. She was head strong, knew what she wanted in life, and was quick-witted. Dean composes a compelling story and focuses the novel primarily on Wallis’ childhood and her first marriage to Win (approximately 70% of the novel). She also focuses on Wallis’ friendships, with fellow socialites and family members, and how these relationships formed Wallis’ opinion and outlook on life. Dean wrote in a fictional friend to Wallis, Pamela, who was an amazing character. Almost like Wallis’ sassy side if you will. Wallis also had a very interesting relationship with her mother and uncle. Her mother was married three different times, two of which ending in her husbands’ untimely deaths. Wallis’ father’s family always disliked Wallis’ mother and tried to break the two apart, but Wallis never budged. I really enjoyed learning about the intricacies of Wallis’ family and that this formed her opinion of a marriage and following her heart. Lastly, Dean was great at socialite intrigue, and how the individuals of high status conversed with each other in all areas around the world: DC, China, England, Florida. All the different character and their interactions really paved the way for an interesting plot line.

Now, for what I was not especially fond of. Probably the only thing that exceptionally bugged me was the inconsistant pace of the overall novel. As I said the first ~70% was focused on Wallis’ life from about 10 through her first marriage. This got a bit tedious and old hat, especially the portions of when Win beat Wallis (sickened me, and was a little overkill to use that much detail). After divorcing Win, Wallis met her second husband, lived a happy life for a bit, then met Edward and fell in love. The novel ends right as she meets Edward. There is no mention of their lives together, how Edward’s family reacted to Wallis, how Edward abdicated the throne. The novel is Shadow Queen which alludes to the inclusion of information concerning Wallis’ bid for the throne, but Dean never mentions this. That’s the whole premise, and what I really wanted to learn about. The other more annoying thing, but not as much as a negative, was the conclusion that Dean came to that stated that Wallis was a hermaphrodite and was a virgin throughout her marriages (perhaps one of the reasons her first marriage ended so terribly). In researching this topic, there is very little evidence for this (granted, I didn’t do much investigating). But, a question I pose to you: Why would one of the most eligible bachelors in the world leave his throne to be with a woman he could not be intimate with? Hate to be a bit crass, but it’s true. I don’t think the world will ever know the real answer to that question unfortunately.

Overall, the novel was really interesting and well-written, but written in a simplistic manner to make it easy for common readers to pick up and learn a bit of history. I knew Wallis Simpson was divorced, but not twice divorced, nor did I know she was beaten for so long. She led a terrible life in the beginning, but lucked out big time in finding her true love. That’s the big take-away from this story; just wait for that special someone. Once you find them, they will give up their kingdom for you.

Giving a Presentation 101

I’ve given a few professional, research-oriented talks in the past couple years while in attendance at international conferences. Not only this, my department hosts speakers on a weekly basis, so analyzing how people give presentations, their presentation style, and the manner by which they conduct themselves with the audience is somewhat of interest to me. I came to the conclusion that I’d like to contemplate the subject of presentations in this post because I just gave a talk to my entire department (nerve-racking) and it was really well received, which pleases me.

I was one of three presenters and each of us had our own way of presenting which was a great way to showcase all of our unique skills to the department and students much younger than us. My presentation was similar to that of ones I have given before, in which the audience cannot see the speaker, but only the slide show. So I stood primarily behind the lectern, used the mouse heavily, and spoke to the audience but kept behind the lectern for the entire talk. Alternatively, my female colleague stood in front of the lectern and used a pointer to specifically point to each of the items she was speaking about. My male colleague stood behind the lectern and also used a laser pointer to specifically reference each part of his presentation. Both of my colleagues had some videos that helped in the explanation of their scientific theories, while used animations and subtle transitions throughout my presentation.

Our speaking styles were also very different from eachother’s, and I think this primarily stems from our different personalities. I spoke to the audience as if they were friends and I was trying to convey what we were doing in our research group that was at a level understood by all. Alternatively, my female colleague used more scientific-heavy vocabulary in her discussion. My male colleague was much more quiet and had exactly what he wanted to say memorized prior to his talk, so his presentation came off a bit stiff, and in some cases he forgot what he was going to say which threw him off balance. I would not recommend memorizing exactly what you are going to say for a presentation. Most people, in the instance of high stress, suffer from “brain farts” in which they forget everything they are supposed to say. As an alternative to this, if one memorizes the major thematic statements that one wants to emphasize per slide you won’t forget, just present them in alternative ways.

Now that’s the different perspectives on giving presentations; what about being an active audience member? I will preface this discussion with the inclusion that some departments are different from others in that chemistry usually allows for a speaker to give his/her presentation followed by a round of question and answers, whereas business interrupts the speaker whenever an audience member feels the urge to question something. In my opinion, I enjoy listening to the story that the speaker weaves and then coming to my own conclusions given all of the information and data and taking that and asking questions. During the presentations of me and my colleagues, I was allowed to finish my talk and one student and a faculty member asked individual questions. Alternatively, my female colleague was interrupted by a faculty member with a question. It threw the speaker’s flow off, and her answer was a bit “duh!” if you get my drift, mainly because the question was a bit assumed. Anyway, I find taking notes helps think about the problems being posed throughout the talk and coming up with your own answers is helpful as well.

Last concept I want to touch on is slides and what’s the easiest way to make your slides visually appealing and  well-understood. I like simple slide layouts, a white background with a bold header is perfect, in my opinion. On the flip slide I LOVE animations. Personally, they allow for the speaker to have some help in discussing their topics and focusing their talk. Instead of one slide with a million things going on, the ability to have figures show up as your talk about them really helps in training the audience’s eyes as well as focusing the speaker’s discussion points. Even if you do have animations however, a complex slide makes it fairly challenging for both the audience to grasp the key concepts of the talk and to tell a story. A presentation is a glorified story, and the speaker is the story-teller. So thinking about a presentation, the figures, and how to convey big picture concepts in a manner relating to a story really aids in a successful presentation.

This post was a bit longer than I anticipated, but I had quite a few thoughts to talk about so I hope you take what I say as one person’s advice and use some of it or none of it. The ideas work for me, but everyone’s unique and I will be the first to accept it, so hope you enjoyed and hope this was a thought provoking discussion!