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Archive for the ‘movie’ Category


Hello Blogosphere!  It sure has been a while since I’ve written on this blog.  A couple of quick updates…

  • I have been doing a ton of writing this year.  Several essays, a couple of short stories, and of course, my middle grade novel.  I may not reach my yearly goal of 12 personal essays, but I’m not too far off.
  • I am finish up my children’s novel for Nanowrimothis year and I am almost done!  I will finish Nano successfully for the first time this year.
  • My weight loss blog is doing very well.  I have lost 127 pounds with only 46 more to go.
  • My overall health is great.

Now, onto what I really wanted to write about today…

catching fire

I saw the new Hunger Games movie last night.  I am a huge fan of the books, which I re-read in preparation to see this movie.  Anyone who has read my blog in the past knows that I am definitely an advocate of reading the book before seeing the movie.

That said, let me start my review.

Any time a book is adapted for the screen, there will be changes in how the story is told.  Film is a completely different medium, after all.  Events that can take pages or chapters to describe in a book can be done more effectively with imagery and music in film.  Conversely, a character’s inner dialogue, which can be so revealing in a book, can often be lost in film. Some film makers often use voice-overs to fill that gap, but done poorly, voice-overs can ruin an otherwise good movie.  Francis Lawrence did not use voice-overs, thankfully.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  I thought it was a good adaptation from book to screen.  There were changes, of course, but I thought they were very true to the source material.  I think anyone who is a fan of the books will love it.  Anyone who hasn’t read the books but liked the first movie, I think will like it as well.  But be prepared, this is not your typical feel-good, holiday movie.  This movie is very emotional and has a very mixed ending.  Some good, some bad, a lot of heart-break, and a cliffhanger. Overall, I give the movie 4 out of 5 stars.

*******SPOILER ALERT BELOW!!**********

Some things that I thought were lost in this retelling:

  • Katniss’s inner dialogue and the way she analyzes each situation or thinks through the problem at hand.  Don’t get me wrong, Jennifer Lawrence does a fantastic job, but it’s hard to translate that inner struggle sometimes.
  • A sense of time.  The film sometimes felt a little rushed.  There was no sense of the time that had passed between events.  In the book there were 6 months between the 74th Hunger Games and the victory tour, A couple more months between the tour and the announcement of 75th HG, the Quarter Quell.   Then a few more months until the actual games themselves.  In total, between the 74th HG and the 75th, there was a full year.
  •  We lost the wedding dress montage.  Thankfully.  In the book, a lot of prep goes into Katniss & Peeta’s engagement and wedding.  The citizens of Panem have the chance to vote on her wedding dress and there is an entire episode where she is filmed trying on dress after dress.  Thankfully, unlike the citizens of Panem, we were spared that spectacle.
  • We lost the preparation Peeta, Haymitch, and Katniss did before the games.  We also lost learning more about the other tributes through the research Peeta & Katniss did ahead of time.

That said, I do not think any of this distracted from the quality of the movie, particularly if you have not read the books.

What I loved about the movie:

  • Nothing was sugar-coated. Katniss is clearly suffering from PTSD from the last games throughout the movie.
  • The emotional connection she feels towards her family, Gale, Peeta, the other tributes, Cinna, and other people she cares about is palatable.   This keeps the movie from being just an action film.
  • I love the inclusion of showing events from Snow’s p.o.v. and Heavensbee’s p.o.v.  I think that adds a real depth to the film and ratchets up the tension.
  • Conversations with her sister.  They are few and far between in the movie, but when they do happen, you can see the connection they share.  You also know that her sister is quite clearly becoming her own person and does not need Katniss to protect her any more.
  • The friendships she begins to form with the other tributes during the games.  They work together and save each other over and over.  At one point she turns to Peeta and asks, “How are we ever going to be able to kill these people.”
  • The scene in District 11 when Peeta & Katniss speak about Thresh & Rue.  Very emotional.

I really enjoyed the movie.  That said, I was not jazzed with the ending.  I know that it was pretty true to the book, and it was a hook to get you into the 4th movie, whenever that is released, but I still found it unsettling.  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy had cliff hanger endings as well, but they always ended on a somewhat hopeful note.  Francis Lawrence could take a page out of Peter Jackson’s playbook and give us a little more to hold onto.  I’m not saying have a happy ending, but this is the start of the revolution.  Ending the Capitol’s stranglehold on the districts, while complicated emotionally, is a good thing.

Yes, the movie ends with Katniss, Finnick, and Beetee being rescued from the arena, while Peeta & Johanna are captured by the Capitol.  District 12 is in ashes.  Thousands are dead.  Everything is in disarray.  But the revolution has begun and there are hints that the citizens of Panem can really hope they are able turn the tide and take control of their own fates. That, at least, is something to hold onto.

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So, the Oscars start in 20 minutes.  I saw all but one of the movies nominated.  I have not seen Beast of the Southern Dawn, which I am disappointed about.  I really wanted to see that.  So, real quick, here are my predictions for the top 6.

Best Movie: Silver Linings Playbook

Best Female Actor in a Leading Role: Jennifer Lawrence

Best Male Actor in a Leading Role: Daniel Day Lewis

Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role:  Anne Hathaway

Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role: Robert Di Nero

Best Director: Ben Affleck David O Russell

I saw Les Mis today.  Spectacular movie, but way to freaking long.  It’s not their fault entirely.  Victor Hugo’s original work was over 1600 pages.  But Silver Linings Playbook has just stuck with me.

Anyway, enjoy the show!  Hopefully, I can get some tweets in!  🙂

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As I have mentioned several times in the previous posts, I am in favor of reading the book before seeing the movie.  That said, I did see the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby many years ago before ever reading the book.

I know.  I’m so ashamed.  

In my defense, I was still in high school I think, and I really only watched it because I totally love Robert Redford.  I was just a little girl when the movie was made, but by the time I was in high school, he was already way too old for me.  Nonetheless, I had total teen fan-girl crush on him.  Now, I know that is no reason to watch a movie based on a book that critiques the social mores of the 1920s, but hey, I was a shallow teenage girl once upon a time ago.

I have to admit that I do not remember much about the 1974 film, except that I did not like Mia Farrow.  I thought her portrayal of Daisy Buchanan was just terrible.  She was flighty and flakey and no depth whatsoever.  I felt she just flitted about, dancing and singing whenever someone talked to her and basically acted like an airhead.  Not to mention that she totally broke Robert Redf…er I mean Jay Gatsby’s heart twice.  Oh, and yeah, I do intend to completely ruin the plot, so if you have not read the book or seen the 1974 version of the movie and know nothing of the story, you might want to stop reading this until after December.

Having read the book, my opinion of Daisy Buchanan has not improved at all, but I am even more unhappy about Mia Farrow’s performance.  Daisy Buchanan is an utterly shallow person.  She is selfish, unaccountable, obtuse, and dishonest, traits which are hidden by her beauty and overwhelming wealth.  To play her as a flighty airhead who is just too confused by love and trapped in an unhappy marriage and  just doesn’t really know what to do about it, I think unfairly downplays the complexity of her character.

Now, I can understand why she married Tom Buchanan instead of Gatsby.  In the movie, it is clear she did not marry Gatsby because he was poor.  In the book, it is unclear what she knew of his financial standings.  He tried everything he could to cover up his poverty and let her think he was wealthy.  Then he left town and went to Europe, leaving Daisy alone and broken-hearted.  Granted, he went to war, but when the war was over, he did not return to the US, but instead went to Oxford where he apparently did not attend the college.  Jay had not made his fortune yet and did not want to return to Daisy a pauper.  In his absence, Daisy met Tom Buchanan and probably any number of endless suitors.  Tom was handsome, rugged, confident, rich, and most importantly, present.  While he may have been a bit of a brute, a racist, and an all around jerk, he did love Daisy.

Daisy was a young girl, probably just out of her teens, naive, anxious to fall in love and get married.  Tom Buchanan, in his youth, was everything a young girl in her situation could hope for.  Gatsby was, quite frankly, not around to marry.

As an adult, Daisy was rash, careless, shallow, and above all, rich.  She carries on an affair with Gatsby leading him to believe she never loved Tom.  She always loved Gatsby.  And though she promises to leave Tom for Gatsby, I don’t think it’s clear whether she would actually follow through with that promise.

Tom in turn, treats Daisy like she is a child, is a bit of a brute, carries on lurid affairs not even trying to conceal his infidelities from his wife.  Yet, when he finds out about Daisy’s affair, he sort of loses his mind.    In addition, he’s a small-minded bigot who is callously indifferent to the suffering of other people and the problems he creates for them.

The story is told through the eyes of one of Daisy’s distant relatives, Nick Carraway.  He is obviously from a family of means.  He’s a Yale graduate, a veteran of The Great War, and is a bond salesman.  He does not live the life of a wealthy man, but as a somewhat  above average working man.  He lives in West Egg New York and is Gatsby’s next door neighbor.  He is pulled into Gatsby’s world through his friendship with Gatsby and his relation to Daisy.

At the beginning of the book, there is a lot of mystery around Gatsby.  He throws lavish parties that all the best people attend, but he almost never makes an appearance himself.  There is no shortage rumors about who he is and how he made his wealth.  The rich and important people who attend his parties and enjoy the fruits of his supposed ill-gotten gains have no qualms about disparaging him at every turn.  Tom Buchanan is no exception.  In fact, as the story progresses, Tom makes it his goal to expose Gatsby for a fraud, probably because he rightly suspects his wife of having an affair with Gatsby.

Nonetheless, it becomes clear through the course of the novel that no matter how wealthy, Gatsby will never be able to really touch the inner circle of acceptability among the truly wealthy.  At one point in the novel, Nick refers to Gatsby as a Trimalchio.  This is a term I actually had to look up.  It is from the Satyricon by Petronius.  I read the Satyricon on college and one would think I know this word. Sadly, I did not recognize it.  The word means a freedman who has worked his way to wealth and success by the fruit of his own labor.  Among the truly wealthy, this means Jay will really never fit in with them.  This is fine with Gatsby for the most part because the only person he cares about reaching is Daisy.  But the distinction is important to Daisy.  Tom may be a brute.  She may be trapped in an unhappy marriage.  She may even really love Jay Gatsby.  She may really want to leave Tom.  She does not, however, want to leave the comfortable trappings of a respectably wealthy society.  Regardless of what happens at the end of the book, it is my belief that she never would have left Tom for Gatsby.

The real story in the book is not the love affair with Jay and Daisy.  The real story is the excesses of the super rich; their careless indifference to the world around them; the exclusivity of their inner circles that cannot be penetrated by the newly rich and other impostors; and their unaccountability to their crimes and the lives they destroy in the wake of their fun and drama.  The romance between Gatsby and Daisy and Tom’s affair with Myrtle are merely the best example of this.

The two victims in this book are Jay Gatsby and Myrtle Wilson.  They were both trying to enter this exclusive world by two different paths.  Both failed miserably.  The hero, if one can be found here, is Nick Carraway.   The story is told from his perspective.  He illuminates this crazy lopsided world for us and tries to make some sort of sense of it while offering his own sort of commentary.

I am really looking forward to Baz Lurhmann’s version of this story.  The novel is lax in lavish description of Gatsby’s parties and the rest of the world the wealthy embody.  This lack of description can leave a director a great deal of latitude to make things as wild and as crazy as they like.  After watching his version of Romeo and Juliette and Moulin Rouge, I know Lurhmann is up to the task. I just hope he does no just turn the movie into just a tragic romance, but can also capture the social critique that comes through in the novel.  We shall see.

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I have been thinking about doing a blog post about some of my guilty pleasures in the form of books I could read over and over again or movies I could watch ad nauseum.  I have a small list in my head of comfort books and movies I could use to make up that blogpost.  I was formulating the post in my head when the greatest movie of all time came on TV tonight.

The movie is Stage Door made in 1937 and stars Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers, and Eve Arden just to name a few.  This is a great movie and it is filled with the top female actresses of the time.

My mother made me watch this movie when I was a little girl.  I used to watch old movies from the 40s, 50s, and 60s on Sunday mornings when I was a kid.  Katharine Hepburn was quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses.  I was familiar with movies such as Desk Set, A Lion in Winter, and Bringing Up Baby.  Not to mention the groundbreaking films Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

My only knowledge of Lucille Ball came from the re-runs of the Lucille Ball Show.  And I didn’t know that Ginger Rogers even existed. without Fred Estaire.

Oh, and this is where I give away the plot of the movie, so if you’d rather be surprised, stop reading now.

This movie is exquisite.  With a primarily female cast, it takes place in the 1930s NYC in a boarding house for actresses called The Footlights Club.   The house is filled with young, hardworking, penniless, aspiring actresses fighting and scraping for the chance to be discovered.  In walks Terry Randall (Hepburn) a socialite who is set on trying her hand at acting.  She is certain that by applying her intellect to the trade, she could be a great actress.  The truth is, she’s a terrible actress as her wealthy father suspects.  He agrees to allow her the time to “find herself” while behind the scenes, he buys a part for her to give her the vehicle to fail and thus return home.

The part he buys could have gone to one of the other girls in the house.   A young actress named Kay Hamilton, played by Andrea Leeds, hoped for the part that was handed to Randall, who of course has no idea.  Opening night of the play, Randall’s big night, Kay commits suicide in her grief.  Ginger Roger’s character, Jean Maitland, spills the beans to Randall just before the play begins, letting Randall know in no uncertain terms that it’s her fault.  Randall is forced to go on stage with all her shock and grief and gives an unbelievably touching performance where she utters the famed line, “The calla lilies are in bloom again…” and she’s a huge hit.

 

In death, Kay Hamilton makes Terry Randall the actress they all hope to be.

 

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This weekend I downloaded on iTunes and watched the movie Melancholia.  I love odd movies and this movie seemed to fit the bill.  I opted to purchase the movie outright instead of renting it.  I have rented movies from iTunes before only to purchase the movie a couple of days later.  I just knew that I would like this movie, so I figured why waste the money, just purchase it now.  My sister tells people that the longer, stranger, and boringer the movie is, the more likely it is I will love it.  In fact, if there is any way a movie can be made so it is like watching an historical documentary, omg I love it!

Well, OK maybe that’s not entirely true, but I do love a variety of movies.

So, what did I think of Melancholia?

 

Let’s just say I should have rented it.  What went wrong you ask?  The visuals were stunning.  The storyline was potentially fascinating, giant planet (Melancholia)  headed towards earth, supposedly only to do a fly-by and not crash into earth, we promise, pinky-swear, right hand up to God.  Insert compelling cast of characters and watch their lives unravel as the clock ticks down to the inevitable outcome and bam you have a hit.  Potentially awesome movie.  Except it wasn’t.

Why didn’t it live up to the hype?  Characters.  The creators of this movie took a potential win and threw it into the path of Melancholia by creating a host of characters I simply could not care about.  And that is supremely disappointing because I was disposed to love this movie.  Instead I found myself praying Melancholia would smash into Earth just so the movie would end.

My brother disagrees with me and thinks it was a great character study about the two sisters.  The one who spent the movie as the solid, stable sister holding the whole family together who falls apart at the end versus the crazy sister who pulls it all together at the end.  Yeah, that could be interesting if I cared enough about the two sisters to even remember their names for this post.

Which brings me to the point of my post.  Creating believable characters that people can care about.  I’m not talking about making people love your characters, because let’s face it, there are a lot of pretty unlikeable characters in literature, movies and TV.

When writing characters, however, you have to give your readers something to hold onto to, that ephemeral quality that your readers can identify with that draws them into the story.  Generally, this is easy to do with protagonists.  For example, Harry Potter, the lonely orphan child in the cupboard under the stairs, treated badly by his Aunt, Uncle and cousin, who longed for a better life with the loving parents he never knew who also happens to be the greatest wizard the world will ever know.  Compelling right?  I suppose a lesser author could have mucked that up, but thankfully, on the 7th day, God created JK Rowling.

But just as important as creating great protagonists, an author must create a believable, complex antagonist that we can love to hate.  Let’s face it.  Where would Harry be without he-who-must-not-be-named aka Voldemort.

Let me give you two examples of compelling antagonists that I think have that “it” factor that can help draw the reader in and add a level of depth to your story.

Voldemort – Harry Potter Books

Voldemort is the quintessential evil bad guy, but not just because he did evil things.  Yes, he did do bad things.  He killed Harry’s parents and tried to destroy the wizarding world all the while plotting Harry’s demise.  Evil, evil man, yes.

But what makes Voldemort a great antagonist is his humanity.  All of the things we can identify with in Harry also exist in Voldemort.  Like Harry, he was an orphan child, alone in the world, hoping for a better future.  Like Harry, he finds out that he is special because he can do magic.  Like Harry, he can speak to snakes.  Like Harry, he was the greatest wizard of his day.  Harry even identifies with Voldemort on a certain level and struggles with his own identity trying to figure out how he could have so much in common with his nemesis.  He struggles to grasp how they can have such similarities and yet be so different.  What makes Harry good versus what makes Voldemort evil?  Who is to say Harry won’t end up going down the same path?

Voldemort is great not because he helps Harry overcome evil in the world, but because he helps Harry overcome the evil inside himself.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter – Silence of the Lambs

Do I really need to say anything about him?  Creepy, genius, eats his victims, strange moral center, a truly scary person.  Why do we like him so much?  Even now, just thinking about him, my skin is crawling.

Dr. Lecter is intelligent and refined.  He speaks calmly and slowly, looking you directly in the eye.  He studied psychiatry and thus knows human behavior and how to manipulate people.  He knows what he does and what he says repulses and frightens you, but his behavior draws you in and disarms you nonetheless.  He treats you with respect, so you are inclined to offer the same respect to him.  And then he calmly and brutally kills you and eats your liver with a side of fava beans a nice chianti.

This makes him one of the scariest characters in literature and the movies.  But what really makes him a great antagonist is that he can be all these things and show deference and respect to Clarrise Starling.  He challenges her to think about the evidence in a major unsolved string of murders and helps her catch the killer.  All the while, he is able to compel her to share very intimate details of her psyche.  Nonetheless, when he escapes custody, Clarrise is certain he will not come after her because, as she says, “he would consider that rude.”  And he confirms this by telling her he does not “plan to pay her a visit because the world is more interesting with her in it.”

So the scariest person you have ever met, who has managed to get inside your head and learn what makes you tick, and  has let you know what he is capable of doing to you is walking the streets free as a can be but  says he respects you enough to leave you alone.  I would never sleep again.  In fact, after writing this, I might not sleep tonight.

 

It is vitally important to make sure your readers or viewers care about your characters.  The characters are why we read the story, or see the movie.  The characters tell the story.  The characters help us care about your story.  It is through the eyes of your characters that we sometimes find out something about our own lives.  They don’t always have to be likable, but I think they always need to be great.

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Did that make you cringe?  Yeah, me too.

With Emmy-Oscar season upon us, I have been thinking a great deal about my love of movies, which often leads to thinking about my love of books.

I love to read.  I’m not a fast reader, nor would I qualify myself as a voracious reader.  But I feel comfortable saying that I probably read more than the average bear.

I also love the movies.  I do not limit myself there either.  I love the sappy rom-com as much I love heady, intellectual documentary or biopic.  I crowd into theaters with the masses to watch the big summer block-busters as quickly as I do to see the latest Oscar contender.

For me, reading books and watching movies are not necessarily mutually exclusive activities.  As any Twi-hard Potter-maniac will tell you, seeing the movie is simply the natural extension of reading the book.  I love having  stories and characters from books brought to life through movies.  Yes, there are always disappointments, the second Bridget Jones movie for example. But then movies such as Lord of the Rings are a wonder to behold.

So, imagine my horror when a friend said to me, “There’s no point in reading Lord of the Rings, there’s a movie now.  Besides, the books are too long anyway.”

My answer:  Read the book(s).  The book is always better than the movie.  I have never come across an instance where the movie was better than the book.  Never once.  Furthermore, reading  opens the creative center of the brain, forcing you to imagine the scenes and people in the stories.  Movies are fun, yes, but watching a movie lacks the interaction the reader has with the story and the author.

I also find that many movies based on books are not true to the book.  Plots are sometimes changed, characters changed or several characters are merged.

The problem with making a book into a movie is often time.  Movies cannot plod along plot points, description and dialogue, certainly not in a 90 minute period.  Fortunately, movies have many more devices to tell a story available to them that books do not.  Movies can use music and imagery to tell a story in a way text cannot convey.  I can forgive losing a character or a plot point if the story is told creatively or told in an interesting manner.

Let me give you two examples from two movies that I love.

Lord of the Rings:

The Lord of the Rings trilogy I think was brilliantly portrayed in the movie as written and directed by Peter Jackson.  Yes, some of the story was changed, but I thought he did a great job of distilling the main point of the movie down into an enjoyable movie experience.

One of the things I most enjoyed was how he used imagery to tell the story.  In the second movie, LOTR The Two Towers, the story begins with Gandalf falling in Khazad Dum to what is assumed his death.  There we find out that he fell, but did not die.  He fought the Belroq monster until he hits the water.  At which point, Frodo awakens from a dream.  Later in the movie, Strider, Legolas and Gimli meet Gandalf in the forest and then we learn the rest of the story, told partly through dialogue and partly through imagery.

In the book, the reader does not have any inclination that Gandolf will return until about almost the halfway point when Strider, Legolas and Gimli meet him in the forest.  He then explains in great detail what happened to him in Khazad Dum and beyond.

Here’s the problem…who has time for a 15-20 minute monologue in a movie?  The Lord of the Rings movies are already 2 1/2 to 3 hours long.

I love how Jackson handled that.  His use of imagery and dialogue did three things for me in this instance.

  • He dropped a hint that Gandalf was returning to the story.
  • His use of imagery – dream sequence at the begining of the movie connected it to the first movie reminding everyone about where we left off.
  • He condensed the monologue from the book into a 1 minute conversation that told Gandalf’s tale quickly to move the story along.

The Age of Innocence

I’ll start with this movie by stating the obvious, Martin Scorsese is a genius.  Of course, one expects someone to say that when refering to some of his other heavy hitting movies such as Goodfellas or Raging Bull or Taxi Driver.  All excellent movies without question.  The Age of Innocence, however, is one of my favorite book-to-movie adaptations.

First off, the adaptation from book-to-movie is the best I have ever seen.  To my recollection, Scorsese left out one character and kind of merged her with another character.  Then he glossed over the wedding and wedding breakfast scenes from the book.  Not crucial scenes in my opinion.

His use of imagery and voice over were just genius.  He brought to life the early 20th century with his use of color, scenery and costume.   His use of voice over captured the conservative sense of conformity and rigidity in the higher archical society that was turn of the century New York City.

He did what many film makers have tried to do for decades.  He took a piece of literature and successfully translated it from book to screen.

So, why read the book?  You tell me.

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