Recent Reads: Seating Arrangements, Home Front, and The Girl Who Played With Fire

seating arrangements, home front, the girl who played with fire

Seating Arrangements (Maggie Shipstead): For some reason, I tend to read a ton of books like this – books where a group of over-privileged, dysfunctional white people gather at some idyllic New England setting (always on the water) for a big event (typically a wedding) that reveals just how screwed up they all are. Given that, it’s clear I like the genre – but I didn’t like this book very much. The story is told through the perspectives of various family members but especially focuses on the patriarch, Winn, who is one of the most pathetic and out-of-touch characters I’ve encountered recently. The focus on Winn ruined the book for me; had Shipstead developed some of the book’s more likeable figures instead, I think I would have enjoyed this more.

Home Front (Kristin Hannah): If you ask me, Kristin Hannah is the new Jodi Picoult – she writes books that are incredible readable, that you can’t put down, and that you still nonetheless realize are a bit heavy-handed and cliche. Home Front, about a female helicopter pilot who is deployed to Iraq, felt a bit like Army Wives to me – that is, cliched and something that would appear on Lifetime (okay, I’ve never actually seen Army Wives, but this is what I’d imagine the show is like). I admit that I did tear up at multiple points, but overall I thought the book slipped into corniness too often. I’ve also noticed that Hannah’s stories tend to feature certain recurring characteristics: broken relationships between spouses, uber-bratty teenage daughters, and letters from loved ones received after their death. This doesn’t make Hannah’s books bad, per se, but I feel like she should try for a bit more creativity rather than falling back on the same devices.

The Girl Who Played With Fire (Stieg Larsson): This book started out really slowly; I’d say the first 200 pages or so were rather uneventful. For instance: did we really need to hear so much about Lisbeth’s solo travels, particularly given that they didn’t have much relevance to the main plot line? However, once the central mystery was revealed, the story kicked into gear and the book became difficult to put down. The Girl Who Played with Fire was also fascinating in its reveal of Salander’s past, helping explain why she is the peculiar way she is. Overall, the book was uneven, but the exciting latter half made it a pretty good read.

(Reading 27 new-to-me books is part of my 27 for 27 list. These are books #10-12. Look here for books #1-3, #4-6, and #7-9)

All images via Goodreads

Recent Reads: On Chesil Beach, The Art of Fielding, and The Newlyweds

It’s summertime (for grad students, at least), and that means I finally have time to read for pleasure once again, which is a glorious feeling. Here’s a look at what I’ve been reading lately:

on chesil beach, the art of fielding, the newlyweds

On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan): This was a strange little novel; it’s just over 200 pages and I’ve owned it for years but never managed to read it despite its brevity. The book takes place over the course of one night – the main characters’ wedding night – with flashbacks to how they met. To get through this book, you have to resign yourself to the fact that it’s not about a plot (nothing much really happens), but more about creating a sketch of the two main characters, of their emotions and quirks and inexperience. Overall, I kept getting the sense that I was supposed to find the book much more profound than I actually did. In fact, the only part that struck me as particularly thought-provoking came on the last page of the book, with this line: “This is how the entire course of a life can be changed – by doing nothing.” That’s good stuff. The rest of the novel? Not so much.

The Art of Fielding (Chad Harbach): At one point last summer, seemingly all of my friends were reading this book (and raving about it). Needless to say, I had high expectations going in, and this is the rare book that met them. I was a bit hesitant that this would be too much of a “baseball book” for me, but it’s not at all – yes, baseball is a huge part of the story, but the book seems to use it more as a metaphor for life in general, which I liked. The book tells the story of five people – three baseball players, the school president, and his daughter – at a small liberal arts college is Wisconsin. Harbach creates five well-defined and memorable characters, and I was totally rooting for all of them, messed up though they were. I also loved the novel’s ending, which is becoming something of a rarity for me these days; it wasn’t wrapped up perfectly neat and tidy, but the resolution was quite satisfying.

The Newlyweds (Nell Freudenberger): This novel tells the story of Amina and George, who meet online and wind up marrying, with Amina emigrating from Bangladesh to Rochester, New York to be with him. Having just taken a course on immigration law, I was distracted the entire time I was reading this novel – I kept thinking about everything I’d learned from class about citizenship and visa requirements (cough, cough, law nerd). In any case, I was initially fascinated by the strangeness of George and Amina’s relationship and by Amina’s attempts to adjust to life in the US. I finished the entire book in a day, unable to stop reading because I had to know what would happen next. Ultimately, however, I was disappointed – Amina became increasingly unlikeable, and the novel seemed largely unresolved at the end. I couldn’t help but think there was so much more story Freudenberger could have told about the fate of George and Amina’s marriage.

(Reading 27 new-to-me books is part of my 27 for 27 list. These are books #7-9. Look here for books #1-3 and #4-6)

All images via Goodreads

Recent Reads: Sweet Tooth, Winter Garden, Firefly Lane

I made it one of my goals this year to read 27 books (for my 27th year…get it? So deep), and I’m currently about two books behind the pace I need to keep. However, the end of the semester is in sight (thank god), so hopefully I’m about to become a reading machine (of non-legal books) once more. Anyway, here’s a look at books four, five, and six:

sweet tooth, winter garden, firefly lane

Sweet Tooth (Ian McEwan): I’ve read lots of McEwan’s work, and he has a style that I find distinct – and that I enjoy – but that I struggle to describe. Maybe it’s that, even when describing mundane events, the prose is so smooth and detailed that I can easily become engrossed in it? I’m not sure, but I do like his writing. And I liked Sweet Tooth, although the I found much of the book slow moving and I felt like many of the references to events in 1970s England were matters I couldn’t fully appreciate or understand. This book was a slow burn, but I especially liked the last chapter which, through a neat narrative trick, makes you rethink much of what came before.

Winter Garden (Kristin Hannah): This book tells the story of two daughters learning about their mother, Anya’s, past in Russia. It strongly reminded me of another book I read recently, The Storyteller, in that both novels revolve around an elderly woman telling her descendants a horrific story about surviving an atrocity during WW2 (here, the Siege of Leningrad; in The Storyteller, the Holocaust). And as with The Storyteller, I found the historical portion of the novel much more compelling than the novel’s present; even though it’s difficult to read about the conditions in Leningrad, you won’t be able to put the book down. I was ready to declare that I loved this book until I got to the very ending…there’s a “twist” that seems unnecessary. The book should have ended a few pages earlier, with the conclusion of Anya’s story and her reconciliation with her two daughters. The development that follows is ridiculous and cheapens the story’s power.

Firefly Lane (Kristin Hannah): After reading two Kristin Hannah books back-to-back, I can definitely say I liked Winter Garden much better than this one. The problem I had with Firefly Lane was that it’s a story about two best friends, and one of them is extremely unlikeable. It’s hard to enjoy a story where you find one of the main characters to be selfish, insensitive, and just annoying. This book also reminded me a lot of Judy Bloom’s Summer Sisters – two best friends, one “good” and one “bad,” and a guy who seems to love both of them at different times. However, Summer Sisters was much better executed and more compelling; this novel seems lacking in comparison. Firefly Lane is an easy read, and it’s entertaining enough, but I didn’t like it much.

(Reading 27 new-to-me books is part of my 27 for 27 list. These are books #4-6. Find books #1-3 here.)

All images via Goodreads

Seeing “Once” on Broadway

once 1

This might sound cheesy, but to me, one of the most magical things in the world is seeing live performances on stage. Whether it’s a big, showy Broadway musical or a more straightforward play, there’s just something wonderful about being in a theater and seeing the actors before you onstage. It always amazes me that actors get up there and give about eight performances per week with such enthusiasm that I, in the crowd, honestly can’t tell whether it’s the 1st time or the 457th time they’ve performed their part. That’s talent and passion and dedication, and it’s awesome to see right in front of you.

I’ve been lucky enough to see lots of great musicals and plays, but I have to say that my most recent experience, seeing Once on Broadway, quite possibly tops them all. I’ve already used the word “magical” in this post, but I think it applies here again, as Once definitely has a touch of magic about it. The music is phenomenal, the performances are fantastic, and the story is poignant. An excellent combination, in my book.

My family saw the musical on Easter Sunday, catching a matinee after brunch. As we arrived at the theater and waited in line to enter, we learned a fun fact from the friendly Irishman standing in line behind us – the theater’s stage is decorated like a bar, and before the show and during intermission, the audience is welcome to come onstage, buy a drink, and listen to cast members play some music. I tried to covertly take a picture of the scene before the show (photography is prohibited at all times, but I promise I did not use flash!), but it didn’t turn out great and doesn’t capture at all how cool the atmosphere was inside the theater. Photos never really do, do they?

once 2

I knew going into this experience that the music would be wonderful, as I was familiar with the original movie upon which this is based. Nonetheless, I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed hearing all the songs. It was so cool to see all the actors onstage, playing their violins and guitars and accordions and dancing little Irish jigs and just looking so happy to be playing the songs. The music is flat-out incredible, in my book. And the show itself – though sad at times – is a great story. In case you can’t tell, I cannot recommend this one enough! Go see it. Go.

This is my last post from my recent trip to New York. In case you missed them, here are the others: NYC Instagrams, The High Line, Grimaldi’s, The Brooklyn Bridge, and Lexington Brass.

Mini Movie Reviews: Zero Dark Thirty, Side Effects, and

zero dark thirty, side effects, admission

Zero Dark Thirty: This movie, about the search for Bin Laden, was fascinating and suspenseful. Like almost everything I’ve watched lately, it felt too long, possibly because there are two really compelling parts to this story: the actual search, and then the mission itself. Either of those stories on its own would have made for an interesting movie, but together they were pretty lengthy. Despite that, this movie is quite good – in large part due to Jessica Chastain, who basically stars in every movie nowadays (and not without good reason). As Maya, the CIA agent who ultimately finds Bin Laden, Chastain simultaneously portrays someone who is bad ass enough to stick to her convictions, but who also seems as confused and unsure of herself (and the methods she employs to find the truth) as any ordinary person would be. Grade: A-

Side Effects: I thought I would enjoy this movie more than I actually did; from the previews, I was hoping for some twisted-but-fascinating psychological drama. Instead, I got a movie that was mostly quiet and slow. There was nothing bad about the film per se – it’s well-acted and suggests some thought-provoking questions about modern medicine – but it just underwhelmed me. It also wasn’t too difficult to figure out what the big “twist” at the end was. I kept hoping for some cool reveal but, nope, it turned out pretty much how I suspected it might. Finally, I feel like between this movie and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I’ve now seen Rooney Mara portray the same character twice – the vacant, vulnerable, sullen girl. I hope she does something different for her next role. Grade: B

Admission: Where Tina Fey and Paul Rudd lead, I will follow, but I wish this movie had been better than it was. Admission is pretty much your standard issue romantic comedy, and while I love me some romantic comedies, I wish it had been a bit more inventive or clever than it was. Also, Fey’s character, Portia (who works as an admissions officer at Princeton) does something toward the end of the movie that I found pretty irredeemable, and that sort of turned me off from the film. However, despite Admission’s flaws, watching Paul Rudd be adorable for 1.5 hours is well worth the price of a ticket. Grade: B+

Image Sources: 1 / 2 / 3

Recent Reads: Gone Girl, The Midwife, and The Storyteller

gone girl, midwife, storyteller

Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn): This was the most addictive book I had read in a LONG time (probably since I speed-read through the Hunger Games trilogy a few years back). It’s also a deeply unsettling but meticulous psychological portrait of a marriage and two very (VERY) messed up people. And even though I was expecting some twist, was looking for the clues, was sure all was not what it seemed, when it finally happened – when the other shoe dropped midway through the book – it still shocked me and blew me away. Fantastic read.

The Midwife (Jennifer Worth): After Call the Midwife became one of my favorite television shows last fall, reading the book on which it was based was a natural next step. What’s fascinating about this book is that Worth is writing about a time that was really not so long ago – 1950s London – and yet the world she describes seems completely foreign. Reading about the job of the midwives and the impoverished yet colorful community in which they worked is totally fascinating. Worth has written two other books about her experiences as a midwife, and now I want to read those too.

The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult): Like Gone Girl, this is one of those books that you can’t put down – I was completely enthralled. The story is a gripping one; I especially found the portions of it told by Minka, a Holocaust survivor, to be the engrossing (and, though it might go without saying, the most haunting). Because it’s a Jodi Picoult novel, there was naturally a twist at the end, and because I knew it was a Jodi Picoult novel, I was anticipating the twist and actually figured it out pretty quickly. Between that predictability and between the novel’s rather abrupt ending (I wanted to find out more about what happened to Sage and Leo!), I can’t fully love this book. It was really good, but not quite great.

(Reading 27 new-to-me books is part of my 27 for 27 list. These are books #1-3)

(Images via Good Reads)

Why Can’t Television Shows Just Die Gracefully?

(Stop reading if you haven’t seen last night’s episode of Downton Abbey. Seriously. Stop.)

Back when I wrote this post about Arrested Development, it occurred to me that basically every single TV show I’ve ever loved has declined in quality over the years (the exception being Arrested Development itself, likely because it only lasted three short seasons – and even then, it had the debatable Charlize Theron arc). It seems all shows follow a familiar pattern: they tend to hit their creative peak around the second season, and then it’s just one long decline into mediocrity.

By way of illustration, let’s conduct a brief survey of the trajectory of some shows I have loved over the years:

  • Friends: For sentimental reasons, this is probably my all-time favorite show, but even I can concede that running ten seasons was excessive. The peak years were seasons 2-4 (season 4, in particular, stands out because of the trivia game and Chandler in a box). After that, the show became a never-ending series of increasingly implausible contrivances to keep Ross and Rachel apart. Sure, it was nice to see them finally get together at the end, but it would’ve been nicer still if I hadn’t had to wait ten damn years for that moment.
  • Alias: Seasons 1 & 2 were brilliant: the show was smart, fast-paced, exciting, and super-addictive. Then Alias went off the deep end by having Sydney “die” and Vaughn remarry the evil Lauren. I’m actually still not fully over that one. Vaughn, how could you?!?
  • The Office: Season 2 of The Office is, quite possibly, my all time favorite season of any TV show, ever. But the show declined in quality quickly, and I quit watching altogether sometime shortly after Pam and Jim got married. Now, the show is a shell of its former self, and I’m still baffled that they thought it was a good idea to continue after Steve Carrell left.
  • Lost: Much like Alias, this had a brilliant first two seasons. Then it delved into crazy mythology and became largely incomprehensible. I watched this through until the end, but by the time everyone reunited in that damn church, I had no freaking clue how we got there or what it all meant.
  • Grey’s Anatomy: Remember when this show was a perfect blend of medical ridiculousness and gut-wrenching melodrama? Those halcyon days when Izzie cut Denny’s LVAD wire, when Christina ran out on her wedding to Burke, and when Meredith did her “pick me, choose me, love me” speech? Then do you remember the days after that, when Izzie had sex with Denny’s ghost, Izzie and George “fell in love” (as if), and Izzie performed surgery on a deer in the Seattle Grace parking lot? Come to think of it, maybe we can blame this one entirely on Katherine Heigl.

Anyway, these are just a few examples – I can think of more (Gilmore Girls, The West Wing, Weeds, etc.). But all this is to say that it’s an obvious trend, and one that I know I’m not the first to point out. I get why it happens – if you’ve got a successful, money making show, I suppose any good TV executive would want to keep the money train rolling. I just wish it didn’t work that way. I wish TV shows were allowed to live out their natural creative lifespan and then die gracefully, well before we were treated to ridiculous spectacles like ghost sex on Grey’s and time jumping on Lost. Quite simply, I wish creativity trumped money. I mean, sure, I’d be bummed when an awesome show went off the air after just a few seasons, but in the long run, isn’t having a few great seasons more satisfying than watching something you once loved slowly devolve into really, really crappy television?

So, why am I talking about all this now? Well, recent developments on Downton Abbey have reinforced the idea to me. Namely, last night (or last December, if you watched it in the UK) Mary and Matthew had a baby, Matthew sped off in his fancy car to share the news with the family, and then you can guess what happened next: oopsies, he got in a car wreck, and before you know it, you’re watching the fake blood dripping down Dan Stevens’s face as a legion of Downton Abbey fans across the nation weeps. Womp womp:

dead matthew crawley

But here’s the thing: it didn’t have to play out this way. I remember, back when Downton first premiered, that there was talk of Julian Fellowes doing three seasons. Then the show’s popularity skyrocketed, and suddenly that plan went out the window. But what if it hadn’t? What if we had been treated to three well-plotted seasons, all working toward an endgame? The show might have been truly brilliant, but we’ll never know. Instead, the last two seasons have grown increasingly sloppy and haphazard, and now we have season four to look forward to, where we’ll watch the show cope with the loss of one-half of its defining couple. Plus, who knows how many more seasons we’ll have after that, and what crazy twists they’ll bring with them. (Note: This is not to say I’m above watching all of this unfold. I’m too invested now, so I’ll stick with the show to the end. Plus, even at its worst, I love Downton more than most things on TV).

I’ve read criticisms from outraged fans who actually blame Dan Stevens for leaving the show. This makes zero sense to me. In fact, I think he’s figured out something that most of the other folks involved with the production have not: that sometimes, it’s best just to call it a day. Maybe Stevens is the smart one for getting out now, while the show is still culturally relevant, as opposed to several years from now, when the magic will have worn off.

Did you watch last night’s episode of Downton? If so, what did you think of the loss of Matthew Crawley? And do you agree that it’s about time to wrap this show up?

(Image via The Daily Mirror)

Red Carpet: SAG Awards 2013

The SAG Awards are a funny little awards show: they’re televised, but not on a major network; they’re prestigious, but not on the same level as the Oscars. You almost get the sense that the actresses are sort of waiting until the Oscars to break out their big “statement” gowns. As such, the fashions last night were pretty low key – not that that would ever prevent me from talking about them. Of course.

Best Dressed:

best dressed

  • Naomi Watts: Simple but striking – I think the beading on the front is gorgeous, and I love her hair. Props to her for being my only repeat Best Dressed from the Globes (a very prestigious distinction, obviously).
  • Marion Cotillard: Leave it to everyone’s favorite French import to be one of the only women to make a daring fashion choice last night. I adore this look from head to toe; big bows are always a risky choice, but this one looks just right. I also love the fullness of her train, and her hair is straight up awesome.
  • Jennifer Garner: Seeing them side-by-side made me realize that Garner’s dress is basically the gold version of Naomi Watts’s. I suppose that means I could fault them both for being boring, but instead I’m going to argue that they’re equally awesome. Same comments as Watts: simple but stunning, great beading, lovely hair.

Honorable Mentionshonorable mentions

  • Amanda Seyfried: There were a lot of basic black and navy gowns on the red carpet last night; I was bored with most of them but not with Seyfried’s. I think it’s the train that saves her here, plus I love the funky necklace and the side-swept hair.
  • Viola Davis: She looks amazing in every color I’ve ever seen her wear, but I think this is a particularly good one for her. There’s nothing revelatory about the design of this gown – it’s your standard Grecian-inspired dress – but she’s making it work.
  • Tina Fey: The perfect combination of quirky meets intellectual meets retro glam. I love her belt – it adds just the right amount of visual interest to the gown.

Worst Dressed: worst dressed

  • Jane Lynch: Kicking of my trio of worst dressed nominees (who coincidentally all wore black) is Jane Lynch, wearing a gown with a very unfortunate top half. Are those metal studs dotting her gown? Ugh.
  • Sigourney Weaver: Another tragic top half: it looks like a black sheet is just pinned to the front of her body, making her appear completely flat and boxy. Just totally unflattering.
  • Julie Bowen: It’s baffling to me that someone as beautiful as Bowen consistently makes such odd fashion choices. Here, her violation is choosing a leather gown with funky shoulders – it just makes for a weird look.

Miscellaneous Fashion Awards of Note:

field, chastain, dockery

  • Best Color: As I mentioned, there was a flood of navy and black gowns at the SAGs last night, so it was nice to see such a gorgeous shade of purple on Sally Field. The dress itself is also quite beautiful; all awards season long, she’s done a fantastic job of dressing in a way that’s age appropriate but not matronly.
  • Best Matching Dress & Hair Combo: I loved the color of Jessica Chastain’s gown, and as I was looking at the photo, it suddenly dawned on me why: it complements her red hair so well. Overall, this look is a winner – but, is it me, or is her dress just a bit too tight?
  • Best Gothic Glamour: I don’t think the striking black gown and heavy dark makeup combo would work for everyone, but Michelle Dockery is pulling it off. However, is she flashing some side boob? How very un-Lady Mary of her.

jones, lawrence, hathaway

  • Best Risk-Taker: If there is one person who is consistently bold with her fashion choices, it’s January Jones. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t – and tonight, I think her look fell somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. The black strap around her neck is throwing me off here, and her hair is just a bit too much. But props to her for always experimenting with her look.
  • Most Boring: I’m not ever sure what to say about Jennifer Lawrence’s dress. She looks great, but in a very safe way. With that neckline, she needed more of a statement necklace, or something to give this look a little pizzazz. Really glad she won, though.
  • Most Disappointing: I’m still waiting for Anne Hathaway to have her knockout fashion moment this awards season; she disappointed me at the Globes and she disappointed me here too. I was annoyed by the sheer netting on top, but when I realized she was wearing a sheer overlay skirt too, this look became irredeemable. You better pull through at the Oscars, Annie.

kemper, shipka, pare

  • Most Unnecessary Bow: Remember a few paragraphs back when I said that, while Marion Cotillard’s looked nice, bows were a risky proposition? Well, Ellie Kemper illustrates why: her side bow distracts from what is otherwise a perfectly lovely gown.
  • Most Adorable: I love Kiernan Shipka – this gown is just too cute. She’s like Sally Field, but on the opposite end of the spectrum: someone who dresses appropriately for her age, while managing not to look too childish.
  • Best Retro Glam: Whenever I see Best Dressed lists after an award show, Jessica Pare is almost never on them; she seems to fly under the radar a bit. I love her, however – she seems to pull retro fashion inspiration from her own show, and that works for her.

michelle, byrne, cuoco

  • Most In Need of a Tanning Intervention: Dear Lea Michele, please lay off on the spray tanner – it’s not your friend. As for your dress: I like the color, but overall it’s a bit too plain.
  • Silliest Princess: I’m not sure what to make of Rose Byrne’s dress; it almost seems like a combination of a childish princess and a 1920s garden party attendee. Something about this gown just rubs me the wrong way. I also wish that the ruffles were only on top; the fact that they trail all the way down the dress is driving me crazy and seems like overkill.
  • Worst Hair: This is a perfectly passable dress, but Kaley Cuoco’s hair is just inexplicable – it manages both to look too puffy and too flat at the same time. And while I’m on board overall with the recent trend toward bangs (you get ‘em, FLOTUS), I don’t thing bangs are Cuoco’s friend.

fischer, bledel, danes

  • Personal Best: I have never been a fan of Jenna Fischer’s red carpet choices (I think she tends to dress way too conservatively), but this is a real high point for her. She’s dressed modestly, but she doesn’t look frumpy, she looks sleek.
  • Most Disconcerting Couple: Rory Gilmore is dating Pete Campbell in real life?!? I can barely get over this fact, but I will say that I liked Alexis Bledel’s dress – it’s a good color choice for her. Also, Kaley Cuoco, take note: this is how bangs are done.
  • Worst Makeup: I’m ambivalent about Claire Danes’s dress, but the makeup she’s sporting is just plain wrong. More specifically, her lips resemble the color of Kate Winslet’s after she spent hours floating in icy waters (and hogging that damn door) after the Titanic sank.

Did you watch the SAG Awards? And if you did, who wore your favorite looks?

Downton Abbey: S3, E2

edith & anthony

Last week on Downton Abbey, we saw the Crawley house abuzz with preparations for Matthew and Mary’s wedding. This week, Lady Edith finally got her turn as the staff prepared for her wedding with Sir Anthony Strallan. Further reminding us that all she wants is to be loved (by somebody, anybody, for the love of God!), Edith said, “Something happening in this house is actually about me.” Pathetic, to be sure, but you can’t deny that the girl is self-aware.

Everyone in the family – but particularly Lord Grantham and the Dowager – was down on the planned marriage. Funnily enough, however, they didn’t seem to have any qualms about Sir Anthony when they invited him over for dinner in Season 1 and encouraged Lady Mary to get friendly with him. Is this a sign of the fickle nature of the Crawley family? Naw, I’m going to go with the hypothesis that it’s some sloppy writing on the part of Julian Fellowes. In any case, the wedding day arrived and nobody except Edith – not even Sir Anthony – seemed very pumped about it. Edith got ready, donning a sweeter gown than Mary wore (a rare victory for Edith). Speaking of Mary, she made one of the meanest “nice” statements ever, telling Edith that she was very happy for her today – but that she knew they’d probably go back to hating each other tomorrow. Sisterly love!

Edith made it to the church and down the aisle but, alas, no further. Anthony got cold feet, telling her that he wanted more for her than to be chained to an old man like himself for the rest of her life. Noble, perhaps, but wouldn’t it have been more gallant of him to come to this realization before she got all dressed up and was humiliated in front of her family and friends? In any case, Edith (understandably devastated) returned home and ran up the stairs with her gown’s train trailing behind her, pausing to dramatically throw her veil over the balcony (symbolism, guys!). And the next day, while refusing Anna’s offer to bring her breakfast in bed, Edith delivered one of the saddest lines of the series: “Spinsters have to go down to breakfast.” Womp, womp.

In other upstairs news, the Crawley family also had to deal with their impending poverty. For them, this meant donning their spiffiest picnic wear (seriously, they all looked damn good) and heading to one of their smaller estates, which Mary dubbed “cramped” (of course she did). To me, it looked like they’d simply be settling for living in a mansion instead of the mega-mansion they currently live in, but for the Crawleys, this was clearly devastating. I mean, they would have to downsize to only eight servants! Oh, the shame.

picnic time!

However, due to one of the show’s most contrived plot contrivances ever (and, though I love this show, that’s really saying something), the family was saved from the simple life. Matthew conveniently received a letter from the late Mr. Swire, indicating that he wanted Matthew to have his fortune even though he knew Matthew wasn’t going to marry Lavinia. Matthew, being Matthew and therefore infuriatingly noble, refused to read the letter. After some sneakiness by Mary, however, he finally came to terms with his new windfall and decided to save Downton. Hurrah!

Meanwhile, downstairs, the Thomas/O’Brien war was in full force. As I mentioned last week, I still don’t understand why these two are mad at each other, but their feud is pretty fun to watch. This week, they continued plotting against each other, dragging poor, hapless Molesly into the battle for this round.

And in other downstairs news, Daisy appeared to have quite the developing crush on Alfred, the super tall butler. Also, Anna continued to play detective and something happened to Mr. Bates in prison but, honestly, I’m so bored with this storyline that I can’t even bring myself to care about what exactly went down.

And, finally, after months of waiting for her test results, Mrs. Hughes went to the doctor, who (apparently) told her she’s cancer free. She looked understandably happy about this development, but it was good old Carson who seemed the most elated, cheerfully singing as he polished the silver. Seriously, when are those two crazy kids going to get together?!

Dowager Countess Quip of the Night:

dowager

Fashion Moment of the Night: The Crawley sisters at Edith’s wedding & Mary at the Downton Place “picnic”:

crawley sisters

As mentioned above, I thought Edith’s wedding dress was prettier than Mary’s wedding dress – the train in back and the veil/headband were especially nice. However, Mary and Sybil also looked great for Edith’s wedding, getting their pastel on to fabulous effect. Their dresses were lovely, but I’m super obsessed with their hats.

Downton Abbey Series 3

Mary’s picnic wear was also awesome – I loved the brown dress and, once again, the hat totally made the outfit. I want to picnic with the Crawleys!

Acting MVP of the Night: Laura Carmichael as Edith. Girl totally sold Edith’s despair and made (yet another) cheesy plot twist into something poignant.

Best Moment: Cora’s Awesomeness

cora

Is it just me, or has Cora become one of the – if not the – most likeable characters on this show by far? From the way she immediately promised to take care of Mrs. Hughes to her comforting Edith, Cora provided two of the sweetest moments last night.

Worst Moment: Look, we all know Downton’s bread and butter is ridiculous plot turns and twists and improbable contrivances. But Matthew receiving a letter from the beyond has got to be the all time most ridiculous of ridiculous coincidences on this show. Plus, his never-ending sanctimonious attitude toward not taking Lavinia’s “tainted” money is just so old. Yes, Matthew, we know – you have such noble principles and ideals. Vom.

Burning Questions for Next Week: Would life really have been so bad at “tiny” Downton Place? Will Edith stay a “spinster” forever? And are we sure Mrs. Hughes doesn’t have cancer? Something about the way she had Mrs. Pattmore deliver the news to Mr. Carson makes me suspect she’s not out of the woods yet.

(Images via Huffington Post UK, Radio Times, and Rickey)

Mini Movie Reviews: The Impossible, The Hobbit, and Life of Pi

the impossible

The Impossible: This movie is gut-wrenching and difficult to watch – but definitely worth it if you do. It tells the story of one family coping in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and, even though I knew going in that they all survived, I was still on the edge of my seat the entire time. The performances here are fantastic – Naomi Watts is getting lots of Oscar buzz, and rightly so, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why there aren’t more people talking about Ewan McGregor, who’s equally wonderful. However, my favorite performance of all belongs to Tom Holland, as the eldest son. He takes the lead in the movie and provides some of the most emotionally affecting moments – I was incredibly impressed. Grade: A

the hobbit

The Hobbit: I don’t think I’m quite the target audience for these movies – I’ve never read the books, I don’t particularly enjoy the fantasy genre, and I find myself bored during long, drawn-out sword battles. Still, despite all that, I must admit that The Hobbit is kind of charming in its own way. The ragtag band of dwarfs is pretty funny, Martin Freeman is charming as Bilbo, and the scenery is fantastically beautiful. My major complaint is that there isn’t much plot here; I’ve read criticism of the decision to split one book into three movies, and based on this movie, such criticism seems warranted. There were a few too many pointless meandering diversions along the way, but still it’s a fun journey overall. Grade: B

life of pi

Life of Pi: I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this movie, but I loved it. First, it’s beautifully made – the visuals are gorgeous and each scene looks meticulously put-together. Second, it’s just a really great story; I was totally sucked in, even though most of the time it’s just a boy (Pi) and a tiger. In that sense, the movie reminded me of Castaway – except I found this movie much more compelling. As with The Impossible, even though I know how the story ended (the adult Pi is telling the story, so it’s obvious from the outset that he makes it), I was nervous every time the tiger growled or sharks circled the raft. Just great storytelling – and now I can’t wait to read the book. Grade: A

(Images via Indiewire, Forbes, and Slate)