Friday, January 23, 2015

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Last year my parents watched this movie and suggested that I should watch it, too. At first I wasn't sure...I mean, it wasn't exactly on my list of anticipated movies and I didn't even know what it was about, other than a vague idea of some guy imagining things. (I also knew that it was a loose remake of an old movie starring Danny Kaye, but I've never seen that one and Danny Kaye isn't really one of my favorites.)

So I was pleasantly surprised when I watched the movie and realized that I kind of loved it. :) It was so much better than I had expected.

I have a soft spot for movies about underdogs. Not that Walter Mitty is an underdog exactly, but he does get treated badly by the bearded jerk at his job. Walter is an ordinary, somewhat dull guy, but he's also good-hearted, which is obvious from the way he treats his mom and sister. Basically, for the first part of the movie, he's incredibly awkward, which I find really endearing.

This movie is hilarious in a subtle way. It's not goofs and pratfalls, but it makes me laugh from the opening scene (oh, how I can relate to over analyzing everything). I love the Dumbledore joke and all of the other random parts (like the somewhat creepy Benjamin Button thing and the shark attack).

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is such a visually gorgeous film! There's a big contrast between the scenes set at the magazine office where Walter works and the places where he has his adventures. The office is sleek and cold and shiny...and then there's Iceland. Green and vibrant and otherworldly. It looks like one of the most beautiful places on the planet! Apparently most of the locations in the film, even those that are meant to be Greenland and Afghanistan, are really Iceland. And now I really, really want to go there. (Also, Icelandic sheep!)

I love the end of the movie. And I love how Walter changes over the course of the story. He starts off as such an awkward, insecure guy who lets people walk all over him, and by the end he's so much stronger and more sure of himself, though still in a quiet sort of way.

If you haven't seen this movie, you should definitely check it out. It's funny and unassuming and sweet and inspiring. Also: Iceland.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Yarn Along

Reading: I've just started on a new book (from the list of travel books that I want to read): Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson. I only finished Anne of Avonlea yesterday (loved it!), so I'm not far enough into this one to say much about it yet.

Knitting: After a short break, I'm starting this cowl again. I first cast on weeks ago and I was nearly finished with it when I realized it wasn't going to be as big as I wanted and that it wasn't going to use up all of this skein. So I frogged it (goodness, how I hate ripping out any amount of knitting!) and started again, casting on more stitches. I love the color of this yarn (tosh dk in the medieval colorway)...purple is one of my favorite colors, but for some reason I rarely knit with it.

{Yarn Along is a weekly link up hosted by Ginny where you can share what you've been knitting and reading.}

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Travel books I want to read.

I'm a homebody. But at the same time, I like to see new places, and there are a few places that I would love to visit at some point in my life. Mainly England. Most of my favorite books were written by British authors, most of my favorite movies were filmed in the beautiful English countryside, and most of the shows I watch are from BBC. I want to visit a castle and see the moors and go to Jane Austen's house and get my picture taken with a TARDIS.

Anyway...lately I've been craving travel books and travel shows. I don't know whether it's the time of year or the fact that we haven't really been on a vacation in about four years, but I just want to live vicariously through others' travels right now. :)

I love the idea of travel memoirs more than just straight up guidebooks (because guidebooks don't do you a lot of good if you're not actually planning a trip). And by the way, when I say travel memoirs, I'm also including books written by someone about their time living in a place. Like Julia Child's My Life in France, which is about her and her husband living in France for years, not merely passing through. (I love that book, by the way.) Basically, I include anything written by someone living in a place where they weren't born and raised.

These are some of the travel books I want to read...

How the Heather Looks, by Joan Bodger. This book sounds perfect for me. Back in the 50s or 60s, a family went on a trip to England to find places that inspired classic children's literature, like the Winnie the Pooh books or The Wind in the Willows. It sounds so sweet and right up my alley, as someone who has a particular love for English children's literature. :)

A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside, by Susan Branch. A print-up of this woman's travel journal that she created during a two-month trip to England. There are photographs and watercolors and it sounds really charming.

Londoners, by Craig Taylor. This isn't necessarily a travel book. It's just a book featuring the stories of a variety of different people who live in London.

Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland, by Sarah Moss. Ever since watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, I've become a bit obsessed with Iceland. So I want to read this one, which is about a woman who moves from England to Iceland. And speaking of books set there, I really, really want to read Burial Rites. It's a fictionalized account of the true story of a young woman who was accused of murdering two men back in 1829. It sounds a bit more morbid of a book than I would typically choose. But supposedly it's so atmospheric that it makes you feel like you're there in Iceland, and I've heard nothing but good things about it. I'm hoping to read it this year.

Bill Bryson is pretty well known for writing humorous travel books. He's also well known for being super sarcastic and negative at times. So far I've only read one of his books, the one he wrote about his experiences on the Appalachian Trail: A Walk in the Woods. Honestly, the profanity and disdain for Christianity is what turned me off from that one more so than the sarcasm. But I'm still hopeful about the rest of his books. I bought the five that I want to read from Thriftbooks for really cheap so at least if I end up not liking them, I didn't waste a lot of money. :) I want to read: Notes from a Small Island (about England), Neither Here nor There (about other European countries), The Lost Continent (about small town America), I'm a Stranger Here Myself (about returning to America after living in England for decades), and In a Sunburned Country (about Australia).

A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway. I have a love-hate relationship with Hemingway. I need to read more of his far I loved one (The Old Man and the Sea) and hated the other (To Have or Have Not, though the movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall is good). Anyway, I'm a bit fascinated with his personal life, depressing as it is, so I'd like to read his thoughts on Paris in the 20s.

C'est La Folie and Je T'aime A La Folie, by Michael Wright. These are memoirs of a man who left London to live in rural France. They're supposed to be really charming and funny.

Paris, My Sweet, by Amy Thomas. Paris and desserts. Yes...that's all you need to know, right? :)

Paris In Love, by Eloisa James. Another memoir about a woman who moves with her family to Paris.

Writing about all of these has made me even more excited to read them! :) I own eight of these, so where to begin?

By the way, I haven't read lots of travel-ish books yet, so I can't exactly give many recommendations. My Life in France, by Julia Child, is really good. A bit slow towards the end, but I'm completely fascinated with Julia seems like she was such a lovely person. That's still one of my favorite memoirs (if you're interested: my review). A Year in Provence was pretty enjoyable. I loved The Wilder Life, which is a sort of bookish/travel memoir about the Little House on the Prairie series (review here). But, as I've mentioned, I didn't really like Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, though I did enjoy learning more about the Appalachian Trail.

Do you have any recommendations for travel books?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Knitting: Miette cardigan.

The Miette cardigan was one of the first projects I ever put in my queue on Ravelry. And I finally got around to knitting it!

I started on this cardigan back in August as part of Shannon's Summer Sweater Knit Along. Miette is a cropped cardigan in worsted weight yarn, so theoretically this sweater should have taken 2-3 weeks at the most. Ha. I had to start knitting for the festival, followed by my niece's birthday gifts, so I didn't finish this sweater until the beginning of November. And then it took me over two months to actually get photos of it!

When I started this sweater, I only planned on making one simple change: moving the bust dart decreases to the side so the shaping would be much more subtle. My gauge was a bit off, which ended up balancing out, but it caused a problem when I got to the end of the raglans and separated for the sleeves: the sweater was too tight under my arms. Because of that one little problem I had to rearrange things for the rest of the sweater, but I won't go into that here. (More details on my project page, which is linked below).

So basically, I had to do a lot of math (which I'm awful at) and figuring and frogging back one of the sleeves, just to get the sweater to fit like it should have originally. But that's okay because I took good notes (in case I knit this one again) and I'm happy with how it turned out!

I definitely don't want all of my sweaters to fit this snugly, but I'm relieved to see that I can actually knit a sweater that's not several inches too big. (My other two sweaters turned out a lot larger than I intended.)

Miette is a pretty easy sweater. It's mostly stockinette with raglan sleeves (which I love), twisted ribbing (which I don't enjoy knitting but love the end looks so neat compared to regular ribbing!), and a simple lace design around the neckline, button bands, and the bottom of the sleeves and body.

Black is far from the most exciting color to knit with, but I was trying to be practical. I wanted this sweater to wear over my dresses to church, and most of my dresses have black in them. The yarn is KnitPicks' Wool of the Andes in the coal colorway.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows {Book + Film}

*Note: This post may contain spoilers for the whole Harry Potter series.*

I'm going to have to get a little nostalgic with this one. :) Out of the entire Harry Potter series, the last book is the one that I remember most vividly reading for the first time. That's probably partly because it's the most recent one (I was 16 when it came out). But it's mostly because the HP series meant so much to me growing up. I grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. So I realized even then that it was important, this big part of my childhood coming to an end.

I remember that weekend...the book was released at midnight Friday night. My mom was going to yard sales the next morning, and I rode along so I could run in the store and buy the book early that morning. I started reading it then and I was finished by Sunday night. I stopped reading to eat, sleep, and go to church on Sunday, but that was the first (and only) time I've ever read such a huge book in such a short amount of time. I remember wanting to read slower to absorb every little detail but still wanting to rush through because I had to know what was going to happen. We were staying up the road with my grandmother that week (it was during the time that she wasn't able to stay by herself), and I remember reading on her front porch swing. I remember every part of the story that made me cry. (And there were quite a few of those, ha.)

Okay, enough reminiscing. Here are my thoughts on the book as I reread it...

This is my favorite book of the series. It really is a perfect conclusion, and after reading so many unsatisfying "last books," I appreciate that. There's so much happening that it almost feels like a couple of different much has changed from the beginning of the book to the end! Even though a big part of the story is the "journey" with the trio, and that's the sort of thing that has the potential to drag on, it never felt that way to me. The slower times are broken up with bits of action, and even in the slower bits, the characters are still changing and interacting. (Sometimes not a good thing. I've said this before, but I hate it in any of the books when Harry and Ron or Ron and Hermione aren't speaking to each other!)

There are so many parts that still make me emotional: Dudley's goodbye to Harry, Kreacher's change of loyalties, the revelation of Snape's true character, and just a lot of little things that make me tear up. And then of course there are plenty of big sad events. Anyway, I'm just really happy with how J.K. Rowling wrapped everything up, but it feels impossible to "review" this book.

I like the epilogue less the more I read it. I used to love it, but now it feels cheesy and a bit like a happily-ever-after that you would have written as a kid...when you'd be more likely to want to name your children after every single person you ever looked up to.

And if it was hard for me to review the book, it's going to be even harder for me to review the films. Because I've already reviewed them on the blog before, years ago right after seeing them in theaters. I'll just briefly give my thoughts here, and then below I'll link to my original reviews in case you want to read more. :)

I watched both parts of the Deathly Hallows in one evening, and whew, it was quite an experience. These two films feel different from the rest, just like the book. I jotted down notes as I watched, so I'm just going to go through things in order.

Part 1 starts off with a heartbreaking montage, which includes Hermione leaving home and wiping her parents' memory of her to protect them from Voldemort. (I do wish we had been able to see Ron's ghoul, though. It would have added some humor!)

I'm really disappointed with the Dursleys' goodbye scene. I wanted Dudley and Harry to have that odd bit of resolution like they do in the book. I do love the seven Potters scene though. Those transformations are well done and it's so funny. ("We're identical!") Later, I love it when George walks in on Harry and Ginny and sticks his toothbrush in his ear (former ear?)'s just the most random and hilarious thing. :)

The Harry/Hermione dance is a little weird, but at the same time it feels realistic somehow. I've always loved their friendship. Have you noticed that they never really fight? Usually in the books when the trio is fighting, it's Harry vs. Ron or Ron vs. Hermione.

The animation for The Tale of the Three Brothers is gorgeous! But otherwise I'm always a bit disappointed with the whole visit to the Lovegood's home. My one problem with this film is that in several instances, certain things aren't nearly as impactful as they were in the book. That might just be a personal thing, though. When I read the book, I got chills at certain parts, like Kingley's message that arrives via Patronus at the wedding and when the trio realizes that Luna's dad is hiding something. The shock of realizing something terrible was incredible in the book, but in the movie it's just sort of...meh.

(Also, Dobby's death isn't nearly as moving in the film as in the book. I tear up more in the movie when everyone welcomes Harry back to Hogwarts than I do when Dobby dies!)

The scene at Gringotts is pretty awesome. And I have to say that Helena Bonham-Carter's acting is so good there. She manages to look like Hermione and use Hermione's facial expressions and mannerisms while being Bellatrix. That blows me away. (Also, the actors and actress who play the trio at the Ministry of Magic are great. They capture the mannerisms of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, too. The one who plays Harry is especially good.)

Three more little things: Professor McGonagall is the best except for that one cheesy line ("I've always wanted to use that spell!). I think Maggie Smith might just be one of my favorite people. (I watched The Grand Exotic Marigold Hotel recently and that cemented my love for her and Judi Dench.) Fred's death is heartbreaking, maybe even more so than Lupin and Tonks, probably because their whole relationship was really glossed over in the films. And Voldemort hugging Draco Malfoy is one of the most awkward things ever.

Overall, I think these two films are good adaptations. There are several things that I wish they had done differently, but the films really capture the atmosphere and feeling of the book. (This is one book that actually needed to be broken up into more than one movie. Unlike Mockingjay, The Hobbit, etc.)

So that wraps up my reread of the Harry Potter series and my rewatching of all the films! It took me about five months, but was such a wonderful experience and I almost feel like I got to discover one of my favorite series all over again. :)

P.S. You can find all of my previous Harry Potter reviews here. And here are my original Deathly Hallows film reviews: Part 1 and Part 2.