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Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Magical. It’s the only way to describe the feeling of watching the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast. The modern, live-action adaption was fun, and lively, and magical.

The film features Emma Watson as Belle, a young woman who doesn’t quite fit into the small French town where everything always remains the same. It plays very closely to the original film, but reimagines the world a little and plays with the realness of it. Instead of giving the backstory before the film starts, for example, it starts out with a showy dance number at the Prince’s ball – the fateful one where he is cursed to become a beast.

The animation of the film was stellar, as was the music. Several new musical numbers were incorporated into the telling of the film, which added depth to the story and characters. The story was also more self-aware than its 1991 counterpart; it has fun (LaFou’s character is a great example of this), and small adjustments were made to fix plot holes. One example of this is when Belle transports the injured and much-larger-than-her Beast back to the castle after their encounter with the wolves – “You have to help me,” she tells him. “You have to stand.” There were still a few plot holes (as with most fairy tales), but they did well with this recreation.

The entire film was very well-cast. Emma Watson is a fantastic Belle; Dan Stevens did a great job as the Beast; the entire ensemble cast of townspeople and castle staff were all wonderful. BUT. Josh Gad as LeFou, and especially Luke Evans as Gaston, were absolutely perfect. When they first appeared on screen and Evans began to sing, it was just him. He was Gaston.

Beauty and the Beast tosses out a number of stereotypical storytelling techniques that many fairy tales rely on. First, Belle doesn’t wind up being “saved” by the Beast/Prince. She does fall in love, but I would argue that she saves him. Then there’s the whole handsome-guy-as-villain. As my brother said, in any other Disney movie, Gaston would be the hero. He’s handsome, skilled, and charming, if a little full of himself. But in this film, more so than the original cartoon version, he is not just a non-hero, he’s certainly the villain. He goes far beyond vain and disrespectful of Belle; he also attempts to murder her father and get him tossed into mental institution. It was also good to see a wider variety of ethnicities and an expansion of gender roles in this film (women also attacked the castle, for example) than in the first one. I know there’s still a long way to go in these areas, but progress!

Before watching the movie, I read an article that argued for the use of voice doubles – trained singers to take the place of actors in musicals, which seem to be growing in popularity again. Although I had it on my mind, I tried not to be biased while watching. But – even though I love Emma Watson – I do think the film could have used some dubbing from a singer with a bit more range and experience. Perhaps it’s not something anyone would notice if they weren’t looking ahead of time – someone who saw the movie can let me know, maybe? – but maybe it’s something to be considered in future films. I feel like I’m nitpicking because it wasn’t a huge deal, but I have to be fair.

So yes, I’d say watch this movie. Watch it with your kids, watch it with your friends, watch it by yourself. One article I read said fans of the original movie are most likely to be critical of a remake, but I didn’t find this to be the case. I simply enjoyed the chance to experience the magic all over again.


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Review: Better Than Before

Well, Gretchen Rubin has done it again. Better Than Before is definitely joining the ranks of Rubin’s books that I’ll be reading over and over again.

Yes, I’m a little slow (Better Than Before was published in 2015), but seriously, if you’re interested in habit formation or even just knowing yourself better, do yourself a favour and add it to your list.

Written in the same easy-to-read manner as The Happiness ProjectRubin’s habit book also combines anecdotes and research in an accessible, hands-on way. However, it wasn’t the habit-forming strategies and tips in this book that changed my life.

In Chapter 1, she introduces her Four Tendencies, a framework she identified in her research on how people form habits – and why some habits and behaviours are easier for certain people. There are four ways people respond to expectations, with a distinction between internal and external expectations. I read her description of an Obliger (someone who meets external expectations but struggles with inner expectations) and felt several important puzzle pieces collide into place.

It would seem I’m someone who needs to build external expectations into everything. Setting goals for myself might not be good enough, if there’s nothing outside of me keeping an eye out.

I’d started to grasp this – doing creative challenges with my sister or hunting out gym partners (privately raging when they turned out to be unreliable). I was figuring it out, to some extent. But who knows how long it would have taken me to realize that this applies to all expectations – all my personal creative projects, all my health-related habits. It also made me feel a lot better. My lifelong struggle to meet my own expectations isn’t due to my own laziness or procrastination (although there is some of those); my struggle is because I have a hard time making myself do anything on my own (!!!). All I have to do is build in external accountability to everything.

Life-changing information aside, Rubin’s book is divided into five logical sections: self-knowledge; pillars of habits; the best time to begin; desire, ease, and excuses; and unique, just like everyone else.

This structure takes the reader through learning more about what makes them tick, before learning some of the major habit strategies, then how to begin. The fourth section goes into a little more depth with habit strategies, before the book finishes with a reminder to be yourself, and a word on habit-building in relation to other people.

If you want to learn a little more about yourself, read this book. If you want to learn a little more about the people around you, read this book. If you’d like to learn how to build a new habit – or get some strategies for ditching a current habit – read this book.

In short, Gretchen Rubin does not disappoint with her earnest dive into the science of habits. She draws you into the science and the research and you can’t help but catch some of her enthusiasm, even while you learn about yourself.

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Review: Lean In

Reading Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 Lean In felt very timely for me.

Although I’ve been vaguely intending to read it for some time now, it just hadn’t happened. Then I happened to hear a radio interview with Sheryl promoting her second book; the subject matter of resilience sounded very important and Sheryl herself was a very likeable person.

I have a thing about consuming in order, so I got Lean In and have her second book, Plan B, requested from the library.

If I’d read Lean In when it came out, I don’t know whether it would have had the same impact for me. Now was the perfect time for me to read it – although I’ve been in the workforce for years, I’m now working in my chosen field. I’m not as shy or timid as I was years ago, and am struggling with my ambition and goals and career path.

Lean In examines the difficulty women have in advancing their careers. She looks at why: both internal and external factors. Citing many papers, studies, and other sources, Sandberg paints a compelling picture of how tough it is for women to thrive and reach top positions in the workplace. She also talks about the challenge of being a mother and continuing to work, and how success makes women less likeable – to both women and men. All in all, a pretty sobering picture.

However, despite the research and the personal anecdotes, Sandberg balances hope. She provides suggestions for women to take their careers into their own hands (lean into your career, how to negotiate despite gender bias) and gives examples of how small changes can make a huge difference. I was struck by her sensitivity toward mothers, and she goes out of her way to insist that not everyone wants to continue a career after becoming a parent and that’s okay – the goal is to have that choice. Similarly, she wants men to be able to choose stay-at-home parenting and receive the same respect as if they were in a career.

If I were to sum up the book in one sentence, it would be: We have a long way to go for gender equality, but we can get there.

Her thoughtful and sensitive approach to the challenges women (and men) face in addressing and working toward gender balance, combined with her optimism that yes, things can change, make this a great read. (Lean In hit number one on both the Amazon and New York Times bestseller lists, so clearly, I’m not the only one who thinks so.)

[Note: It feels like a while since I’ve done much writing. I want to get this published, but I feel out of practice. Thanks for your patience as I get back to my skillz.]