Throwback Thursday: Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)

For all of the strengths of a superhero, there is a weakness. It is therefore expected that their antagonist will use that weakness against them at some point.

The 1999 film, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me is the sequel to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) uses a time machine to travel back to the 1960s to steal the mojo of Austin Powers (also Mike Myers). With the help of CIA Agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham), Austin has to both save the day and get his mojo back.

I love this movie. Myers took what made the first movie the brilliant comedy that it is and explodes it tenfold. It is quotable, hilarious and one of the most perfect spoofs I’ve ever seen. Though it’s been years since I’ve seen it, I can still quote it.

The issue I have with the film is two-fold. Though Felicity is on par with Austin both sexually and as an agent of the law, she is also a love interest. Though it is par for the course for female characters, it kind of takes off some of the shine of her badassness for me.

There is also Fat Bastard (again, played by Myers). Though I am perfectly aware that this is a satire, I cannot overlook that he is a punchline merely because of his size.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Where the Crawdads Sing Book Review

Combining genres is never easy. It takes a skilled writer to effortlessly blend each genre while making sure that the narrative is cohesive and easily understood by the reader.

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, was published in 2018. Coming of age in the 1950s and 1960s, Kya Clark had to raise herself. Reviled by her neighbors in the small southern town she calls home, she is called the “marsh girl” and learned early on that the only thing she can rely on is nature.

In late 1969, local boy Chase Andrews is found dead. Many suspect that Kya is behind the murder. Like many rumors that are not based on fact, these people have no idea who the real Kya is. Though she has been independent since she was a child, the now adult Kya is ready for the possibility of romance. Two young men enter her life. They both make promises of love and devotion. What she does not know is that she will learn some hard lessons and be accused of taking one of their lives in the process.

Part murder mystery, part coming-of-age tale, and part ode to the natural world, this book is amazing. Kya is one of the best female protagonists that I have come across in a long time. She is intelligent, sensitive, strong, and fearless. Her bravery in light of the lies told about her and the accusations by law enforcement is mindblowing.

One thing I really liked was Owens highlighting how destructive racism and prejudice was and still is. This is represented by the only black characters, Mabel and Jumpin. They own the local general store and are one of the few people in town who are in Kya’s corner. Like Kya, they know what it is like to be ostracized and hated. Unfortunately, this small, but important narrative thread is left out of the film.

What got me was the ending. It made me question if I really knew Kya and if the jury perhaps made the wrong decision.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Where the Crawdads Sing is available wherever books are sold.

This Burns My Heart: A Novel Book Review

Marriage is sometimes more than a matter of choice, it is a matter of compromise. The problem with that is that if we compromise too much, we give our power away.

The 2012 romantic drama, This Burns My Heart: A Novel, by Samuel Park, was published in 2011. Soo-Ja Choi is a young lady coming of age in the 1960s. The Korean war is in the not too distant past. Though she wants more than to be someone’s wife and mother, she caves to the traditional culture that she has been raised in. Instead of marrying the boy she loves, Soo-Ja agrees to say “I do” to marry another young man whom her parents approve of. She believes that he will give her the freedom she desires.

Within a few years, her marriage becomes hollow and empty. Soo-Ja’s focus turns to her daughter, whom she hopes will have the freedom she never had. Though she is loyal to her husband, she has not stopped thinking about the one that got away. As they keep bumping into one another, she starts to question if she has a future with him after all.

I enjoyed reading this book. Park’s characters and narrative are fully formed. It was also a learning experience as I know next to nothing about Korea, or what was occurring at that time. It’s almost Persuasion like in the depths that the story goes.

Though it is not the best novel that I have ever read, it is engaging, well written, and a reminder of women cannot and should not be contained in what is considered to be an “appropriate” role in life.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

This Burns My Heart: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

Flashback Friday: Loving (2016)

Progress does not always come from legislation. It comes from human beings who stand up for themselves and what they believe in.

The 2016 film, Loving, is based on the true story of the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving vs. Virginia.

In the 1960s, Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) are young newlyweds. The problem is that Richard was White and Mildred was Black. In many parts of this country at the time, interracial marriage was illegal. After their arrest, they fought for their right to stay married and to be recognized as a married couple.

This movie is so good. It tugs at your heartstrings, makes you believe in love, and makes you grateful for the sacrifices Richard and Mildred made.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Throwback Thursday: Big Eyes (2014)

Art knows no gender. That does not mean, however, that a female artist is going to get the same respect/reception that her male counterpart will.

The 2014 film, Big Eyes, tells the story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams). In the early 1960s, Margaret was a divorced single mother who was trying to get by via her art. She is soon swept up off her feet by Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz). After marrying Walter, Margaret continues painting. What she does not know is that her husband is claiming that the work is his. In doing so, he is getting attention for both the success and failure of the paintings.

When she finds out the truth, she knows that she has only one option. Reveal the truth and rely on only herself to get by.

Directed by Tim Burton, this film falls very securely within the theatrical vision that audiences have become accustomed to. Adams and Waltz are perfectly cast. My problem is that I quickly got bored. Within a half hour of watching this movie, I felt no need to continue on. I hate to say that I was bored, but there is no other word to describe it.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

I Was Anastasia Book Review

For more than a century, the fate of the Anastasia Romanov has remained a mystery. Was she murdered with her family in 1918? Or did she find a way to escape the massacre?

Ariel Lawhorn‘s 2018 novel, I was Anastasia, both asks and answers this question. It starts in the late 1960’s with a woman named Anna Anderson. The press has been hounding her, determined to get the truth from her. The book then flashes back and forth through time from the end of the Romanov rule to the 1920’s when a young woman is pulled from a canal. Though she claims to be Anastasia, there are many who believe her to be a con artist, a mental patient, or both.

The best word to describe this book was promise. It is a promise that failed. The ending was confusing and the author did not provide the response to the question she posed at the beggining of the novel.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

Cruella Movie Review

The question of nature vs. nurture is a tempting one to ask. Does our upbringing dictate who we are and what we believe? Or is it our perception of ourselves and the world around us?

Cruella was released yesterday on DisneyPlus. Estella/Cruella De Vil (played by Tipper Seifert-Cleveland as a child and Emma Stone as an adult) has been a rebel and an outcast since she was young. Raised by her single mother, she is left parentless at 12. Arriving in London with only her dog as a companion, she finds family in the form of thieves Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry). Ten years later, they have become a trio.

But Estella wants more out of life than petty thievery. She wants to be a fashion designer. Fate sends her the opportunity she is praying via the Baroness (Emma Thompson). The Baroness is the queen of the English fashion scene. She is also self centered and selfish. What starts out as a door opening to the job of her dreams turns Estella/Cruella into a version of the person she wants to destroy. The question is, can our heroine keep up with the image she has created while being true to herself or will she sell her soul in the process?

Cruella is one of the best films of 2021. It is so much fun to watch. The music (classic 1960’s and 1970’s tunes) is perfectly chosen. Both leading ladies are at the top of their game. The introduction to Thompson’s character is only bested by Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) in The Devil Wears Prada.

What I loved is that this movie it proves that a female led movie does not require a romantic narrative to be successful. There are male characters who have a significant role in the narrative, but their relationships with the Baroness and Estella/Cruella are of a professional and/or plutonic nature.

Among the Disney prequels that have come out as of late, this is the best one. Though there is the argument of an easy cash grab, there are more than enough Easter eggs to keep fans of the original film happy. Expanded beyond the original narrative, it is a loving homage to its predecessor while standing on its own two feet.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Cruella is available for streaming on DisneyPlus.

Susan, Linda, Nina, and Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR Book Review

The founder of anything, specifically when you are a member of a group who has been disenfranchised is more than the creation itself. It is breaking boundaries and making it easier for future generations to follow in your footsteps.

Cokie Roberts, Susan Stamberg, Nina Totenberg, and Linda Wertheimer were all born into an era in which the expectations of women were limited. They could have followed the prescribed path of marriage and motherhood. Instead, they took what was then the less traveled path and became journalists. Their combined story is told in the new book, Susan, Linda, Nina, and Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR. Written by Lisa Napoli, it was published earlier this year.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the career doors were starting to bust open for women. At the same time, the concept of radio was also changing. In April of 1971, NPR aired its first broadcast. As with many new businesses, they had open jobs to fill and were not as picky about who they hired as more established enterprises. As the years passed, these women became formidable and respected, changing the game and giving new voice to those who in the past had been silenced.

Though it is a little slow to start, when it takes off, it really takes off. It is a fascinating read, What I found interesting, is that this book is not just the individual stories of these women. It is the story of how women in general have come a long way in only half a century.

As a fan of NPR and avid listener of my local station, WNYC, it is a good read that is well worth your time.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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