December 1, 2012

I feel infinite: How ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ compares from book to film

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those incredibly deep and moving stories that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema or put the paperback on the shelf.

The book, written by Stephen Chbosky in 1999, has been brought to life on the big screen by its author: Chbosky’s name is littered throughout the opening credits as the writer of the screenplay, the executive producer, and Director.

The result is a film that is deeply connected with the emotion and style of the original book. If the aim of any film adaptation is to recreate the feeling of a novel, this film succeeds. Completely.

The book is constructed through a series of anonymous letters, written by Charlie and posted to someone that he has never met. Each letter starts with “Dear Friend,” and is a kind of diary entry – an insight into the events of his life, and his innermost thoughts.

The letters are written with honesty, in a stream-of-conscious style reminiscent of The Catcher in the Rye.  Also like Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in The Catcher, Charlie is a typical unreliable narrator. When Charlie reads J.D Salinger’s book, he doesn’t know what to make of it – perhaps it is a little too close to home.

The reader learns very early on that Charlie is deeply troubled, and thinks too deeply for a normal kid. His letters often run off in tangents about the minutiae of life and the many things he doesn’t understand – like movie stars, and relationships, and kids eating French fries.

The first dialogue of the film is also “Dear Friend,” as Charlie sits down at his desk to write his own therapy – to write the things that he can no longer bear to think. As in the book, through Charlie’s preoccupations the audience is given an insight into important issues like bullying, teen sex and drugs – and more broadly, what it was like to be young and vulnerable in the early 1990s.

Logan Lermann is wonderful embodiment of Charlie. He conveys Charlie’s sweetness and innocence without appearing juvenile, and is able to pull-off his full range of emotions without being depressing. The central cast is brilliant, with particular note going to Ezra Miller, who shines as the effervescent Patrick.

I have heard it said that Stephen Chbosky decided to cast Emma Watson in the role of Sam when he saw her sitting on the stairs crying after the Yule Ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. If that is true, it shows incredible insight – because Watson was able to completely shake off Hermione and was perfectly believable as Charlie’s beautiful friend and fascination.

In the book, Sam and Patrick are only seen through Charlie’s eyes – although they are flawed, they are perfect. Their friendship seems to evolve organically from that first day, when Charlie just so happened to sit next to Patrick at the football game. In the film, all of their actions are much more deliberate – Charlie stalks out Patrick in the stands and he is at first befriended out of pity. Oh, and just a picky little thing: in the book, Charlie doesn't help stud. But I can see why it was used as a way to hep their relationship develop in the film.

As is done in Hollywood, the film also ramps up the romance between Charlie and Sam a little more than would be expected from fans of the book – in the final scene, one last kiss leaves the door open for Charlie and Sam to get together in the future. Whereas, in the book, our only hope is that Charlie will get to the future at all.

The story touches on some very sensitive topics, such as homophobia and child abuse – but it is done with incredible subtlety and tact. There is an important take-home message for everyone, and if you substitute the mixed tapes for Facebook, the experiences of the lead characters are easily transferable today.

For me personally, the take home message was to be kind. This story made me want to go back to high school and befriend anyone who seemed quiet or withdrawn, just in case they need it. If I could, I would go back and be more like Patrick, and tell everybody not to make themselves small, because life will get better.

The verdict:

Book or Big Screen? Both! (Sorry for being a fence-sitter, but I really can’t decide this time.)

The film is: 4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities

Coming soon: A review of Anna Karenina

November 16, 2012

I was born to be a vampire: How 'Breaking Dawn Part II' compares from book to film

There is not much point writing a comparative review of Breaking Dawn, the final novel in Stephenie Meyer’s hugely successful Twilight series, and its 2012 film adaptation.

Just one day following the Australian cinematic release of the film, fans of the series will already have seen it at least once and will know in intimate detail every line, every movement, every scene. They will have discussed every plot point, and analysed each instance in which the screenplay may have deviated from the original novel.

And yet, there are some points that I feel the need to raise.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It was suspenseful, and heartfelt, and for the first time in the entire series it gave Kristen Stewart an opportunity to shine in the role of Bella Swan.

Bella Swan the vampire is happy, strong and confident. She is no longer the morose and moaning Bella, struggling with unrequited love and low self-esteem. She has her family, she has found her niche in life, and she is complete.

This sense of wholeness, of certainty, flows through the rest of the film. It feels as though each other installment – from the initial Twilight film, to Breaking Dawn Part 1 – were just the teasers. THIS is what the fans have been waiting for, and they will not be disappointed.

There is a twist at the end, and it is fantastic! I found myself audibly, and probably annoyingly, squealing out combinations of “Oh my god!” and “No way!”

The finale of this finale is quite a treat. It is full of action, and drama – and you will be on the edge of your seat. And, better still, although it is a slight deviation from the novel, the fans will love it. When it played out across the screen, yes, at first I was surprised – but thinking back now, it is all so obvious. The new addition to the film was perfectly placed. It was meant to be.

The romance between Bella and Edward reaches its crescendo in this film – and not just in the physical sense. For the first time, I truly bought them as a couple. They seemed truly content and comfortable with each other, and it was nice to have this kind of closure as the credits began to roll.

The standout performance for me was from Michael Sheen. His portrayal of Aro is both splendid and chilling – complete with an eerie eye and a slither of the lips that is reminiscent of Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs.

I do have one criticism of this film. While the CGI has significantly improved with each film, the rendering of young Renesmee’s face is poorly done. The superimposed face of nine-year-old Mackenzie Foy on a baby’s body is particularly creepy and distracting. The actress herself though – once her face is attached to the correct body – is a delight: definitely a star to watch out for in future.

The verdict:

Book or Big Screen: Big Screen

The film is:  5. An exceptional improvement on the original

What's coming next? A review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

November 11, 2012

She will haunt me to the grave: How ‘The Woman in Black’ compares from book to film

The best compliment that I could think to give The Woman in Black, Susan Hill’s chilling 1998 novel, is that it in a number of ways reminds me of my favourite novel – Wuthering Heights.

As the novel opens, the protagonist and narrator Arthur Kipps is an middle-aged, remarried widower, living happily with his wife in a remote, Bronte-esque homestead, bordered by rough scrub, rivers, patches of wilderness and farm country.

As in Wuthering Heights, the story is told retrospectively. All of the significant events have already taken place and, unlike those that have passed, Arthur has the luxury of being able to reflect on the details of his time at Crythin Grifford more than 25 years later, and on his “own foolish independence and blockheadedness in ignoring all the hints and veiled warnings” about Eel Marsh House.

Also like Wuthering Heights, the inclement weather is a precursor to all of the story’s gloomy and paranormal happenings. A “chilling rain and a mist… lay low about the house and over the countryside” and Arthur is “cast down in gloom and lethargy” as he begins to recount his story.

Now with the plot firmly planted in the past, the reader is presented with 23-year-old Arthur in the prime of his life. His career as a lawyer looks set to prosper; he has met the woman that he will marry; and he is content and happy before being sent to arrange the affairs of the recently departed Mrs Alice Drablow.

Young Arthur Kipps is a real, pleasant and likable character – he is rational, curious and sensibly cynical. He is aware of his own flaws and follies and does not attempt to paint himself in a positive light.

The Drablow residence, Eel Marsh House, is “a tall, gaunt house of grey stone with a slate roof, that now gleamed steelily in the light.” Arthur also describes is as “isolated, uncompromising… [and] handsome.”

In adapting the book’s two main characters – Arthur, and Eel Marsh House – the filmmakers take many liberties. They are, of course, making a haunted house horror movie, and must incorporate all of the stereotypes and hyperbole that have come to be expected from this genre.

While the young Arthur Kipps of the book is innocent, optimistic, unencumbered and naïve, the Arthur Kipps played by Daniel Radcliffe is already forlorn, grief-stricken and accustomed to life’s tragedies. The handsome old house is similarly transformed into an eerie, dilapidated mansion, complete with antler chandeliers, overgrown vines, cobwebs and mildew, sheets over the disused furniture, and ominous crows cawing.

Susan Hill writes with concise simplicity and with a rhythmic pace. No word seems superfluous as she beautifully and elegantly describes the house, the landscape and the people who inhabit it. There is no need for shock tactics, as Hill builds the suspense slowly – giving just enough clues so that the reader is enticed to continue, all the while anticipating the inevitable:

“If I had been afraid at what had happened in this house so far, when I reached the end of the short corridor and saw what I did see now, my fear reached a new height.”

In the 2012 film, the horror is much more overt. From the opening scene, where three young girls suddenly plunge to their deaths from a high hotel window, it is clear that the eerie impact of the Woman in Black will be more than just an old ghost story – it will be real and tangible.

In the book, Arthur is greeted in Crythin Grifford by a mixture of quiet, evasive and sympathetic townsfolk – in the film, they are openly terrified and hysterical, and soon descend into an angry mob.

The haunting of Eel Marsh House is also much, much more obvious. In the book, Arthur was always trying to rationalise the creaking rocking chair and the cries from the marsh – wondering if they were part of his own imagination. In the film, the paranormal is much more forthcoming – from the scores of dead children in the grounds of Eel Marsh House, to the violent appearances of the Woman in Black herself.

In the book, the thrill is in what you cannot see – the anticipation, the unknowing – in the film, where the visual is everything, what you see is much more important.

The sequence of events of the novel have also been significantly altered in the film:

  • No longer a retrospective tale, the story unfolds in the present – Arthur’s wife is already dead when story begins, and he has enlisted the help of a nanny to care for his young son.

  • Kipps is told of the death of Alice Drawblow’s son before he visits Eel Marsh House, and he finds the death certificate immediately following his arrival. That, with the cross in the marshland, makes the back-story of the house immediately clear.

  • Kipps doesn’t attend Alice Drablow’s funeral in the film – the first time he sees the Woman in Black is from a distance at Eel Marsh House.

In a book, it is completely acceptable for an ending to be unresolved or negative, but filmmakers always tend to try to put a positive twist on things. In Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, Arthur Kipps never fought back against the curse of Eel Marsh House; his bravery extended only as far as staying true to his task of finding Alice Drablow’s documents despite his fear of the house. In the film, Arthur gallantly attempts to solve the mystery, banish the town of its ghost, and save his own fate.

Although the two tales end very differently, but the impact on the viewer is the same – it leaves you with a chill, a shudder, and a pounding heart.

The verdict:

Book or Big Screen? Book

The film is:  4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities

What's coming next? A review of Breaking Dawn Part II

October 8, 2012

Mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved: How ‘On the Road’ compares from book to film

Where oh where do I begin?

On the Road, the iconic, much-hyped 1957 novel by Jack Kerouac, is a truly overwhelming, exhausting read.

Perhaps due to the drug-induced delirium of the characters, the story moves at a frenetic, almost hyperactive pace. Through the first-person narrative of the lead character Sal Paradise – who is autobiographically based on Kerouac himself – On the Road constantly jumps from thoughts to actions, thoughts to actions.

The plot is framed out a rambling haze of mismatched thoughts about Sal’s adventures back and forth across America, on an epic road trip “between the East of my youth and the West of my future.”

It certainly is a road trip story, but unlike other ‘journey’ stories, the destination is not the motivation – this story is driven by the things that the characters are running from, or hiding from, or trying to bury deep down inside. The road, and the drugs, and the sex, provide the distraction that each character needs to continue through the pains of their lives.

This is a real fly by the seat of your pants adventure novel. Sal’s self-interested, inner monologue style of voice is a strongly reminiscent of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye.

In adapting this novel to the big screen, director Walter Sailes was certainly bequeathed an epic task.

Paradise is played credibly by Sam Riley. Garrett Hedlund – the actor who plays Dean Moriarty – could well be my new big screen crush. That lovely face and deep velvety voice is perfectly matched to Moriarty and allows him to convincingly get away with a whole manner of sins.

The role of Marylou was a very brave, edgy choice for Kristen Stewart – and one that she was obviously set on. It is believed that Stewart agreed to a salary of less than $200,000 after the film's budget was drastically cut, out of her love for Kerouac’s novel. And it was a good move. Out of an arguably unlikable character, she has managed to craft a sweet, endearing and forgivable character.

Never before have I encountered such a strange mix of oddball characters. Even in the small-bit roles, which went to Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi and Kirsten Dunst, there were multiple opportunities to contribute something bizarre and interesting.

It’s a very confronting film. Some scenes are truly squirm-worthy and uncomfortable, and I warn you, they are not suitable for casual Sunday afternoon escapism. It feels like a long 2 hours and 17 minutes, but it this film is thought provoking, and it does provide some good laughs, so the effort is worth it.

I have to say, I tried to love the book, but it failed to connect with me on a deep level.  It didn’t lock me in. But, having now seen the film, I feel as though I understand and appreciate the story more. The film is a useful accompaniment.

The verdict:
Book or Big Screen? Big Screen
The film is: 4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

Coming soon: The Woman in Black

October 6, 2012

Love for you is an appetite: How ‘Bel Ami’ compares from book to film

Translated from French to English, ‘Bel Ami’ means ‘my beautiful friend.’

The novel, which goes by this name, was written by French author Guy de Maupassant and published in 1885. The first English translation, which has also been referred to as The History of a Scoundrel: A Novel, first appeared in 1903.

The lead character, Georges Duroy, begins the story as a poor and lowly ex-soldier – but through his ‘beauty’ he is soon able to captivate women and climb his way, from bedroom to bedroom, toward the upper echelons of society.

The novel flows at a smooth and steady pace, and is a witty and refreshing read – even though Duroy is perhaps the most unlikable lead character in literature. On every page, Duroy oozes with ego, self-obsession and narcissism. Even when he is poor and destitute, he is equipped with a frustratingly high self-concept.

In the beginning, his sexual conquests are bumbling – he is clearly inexperienced and desperate. But as the story progresses, his flights of fancy become more frequent and exploitative – to Duroy, women are no more than bodies to be used and connections to be abused. Once he has bled all that he can from a woman, she is cast aside.

The 2012 film adaptation, starring the perfectly cast Robert Pattinson in the role of Georges Duroy, follows each plot point of the novel, blow by faithful blow. Every key point is covered, with the only notable exception being Duroy’s curled moustache.

I can see why Pattinson chose this role – if anything was to help him shed the perfect romantic image of the acquiescing and lukewarm Edward Cullen, it’s the cruel, malicious and red-hot Duroy. When he reaches his most emotional high, and Duroy gives in to a fit of rage, it is clear that Pattinson really can act, and he can do it well.

Of course, with Pattinson’s cult teenage following, it would have been counterproductive to make Duroy completely unlikeable. What works in the filmmakers’ favour here is the absence of his internal dialogue.

With the book, the reader has a direct line to each of Duroy’s shrewd and cunning thoughts. With the film, one is able to give Duroy moments of grace – perhaps his behaviour is motivated by the real human feelings of jealousy and love?

In the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, I lamented the loss of Scout Finch’s inner monologue. Not knowing her thoughts took a certain authenticity from the story – the viewer is not as privileged as the reader once was. But in the film adaptation of Bel Ami, losing this insight into Duroy’s mind allows the character to be more forgivable. You may say, more watchable.

On that point, there were certain brutalities of the book that the film stripped away – but again, this was probably also a good strategic move on behalf of the filmmakers. But in either format, this story is worth experiencing. So go ahead, be enamored by Bel Ami.

The verdict is:
Book or Big Screen? Book
The film is: 3. A decent, credible, faithful adaptation

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

Coming soon: A review of ‘On the Road’

October 4, 2012

At least I got a ring: How 'Puberty Blues' compares from book to film

“When we were thirteen, the coolest things to do were the things your parents wouldn’t let you do. Things like have sex, smoke cigarettes, nick off from school, go to the drive-ins, take drugs and go to the beach.”

From the very first paragraph, it’s clear that Puberty Blues – the 1979 novel by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette – is incredibly raw and honest.

On Wikipedia, the book is described as “a strongly autobiographical” teen novel. Although Carey and Lette write under the assumed names of Deborah Vickers and Sue Knight, this book oozes authenticity.

From the unashamedly Aussie language to the detailed ins-and-outs of Debbie and Sue’s world, you can tell that this book wasn’t written with the assistance of imagination or voyeurism – the authors actually lived it.

The book is credited as being the first teenage novel published in Australia that was written by teenagers. Carey and Lette are said to have met at the age of 12 and wrote Puberty Blues after they left school and shared a flat together.

In the world that they portrayed, there are certain rules that must girls live by – unless they want to be consigned to the social dustbin of being a prude or a moll:
  • Girls couldn’t eat in front of their boyfriends because “skinniness was inniness.”
  • It was acceptable to sit in a bikini, but never to walk around in one – “that meant she was showing off her body and was an easy root.”
  • You had to go out with a guy for at least two weeks before you’d let him screw you.
  • And perhaps the most important rule of all: Girls are not allowed to surf.

The female characters were “skinny, hair-free, care-free, and girlie,” and the male characters were assessed by the length of their blonde hair and their talent in the surf, rather than on the quality of their character.

Underage sex in the back of a panel van with the aid of a dirty tub of Vaseline was a simple rite of passage – it’s just what you had to do to be accepted by the ‘in crowd’.

It’s no wonder that the content of the book shocked the Australian public. Perhaps as a result of the naivety of the authors at the time of writing, it provides a frank, unapologetic account of all of their youthful misdemeanors.

There are cringe-worthy moments, as you worry on behalf of the girls’ safety and lament the boy’s cruelty as they take advantage of prepubescent bodies for their own gratification.

“Sometimes you’d think it was all worth it. But next day you may as well have been a baked dinner that he’d gorged, enjoyed and forgotten.”

This book provides a candid insight into the dark underside of the world of surfies and molls; the world of teen sex and drugs; and how quickly recreational fun can ruin a young life.

But it’s this rawness that makes you appreciate Puberty Blues – you take pleasure in the girls’ honesty, for how else could you ever understand their lives? And for all the tears there are an equal amount of laughs.

The 2012 TV mini-series, starring Ashleigh Cummings and Brenna Harding in the lead roles, is superbly done. From the opening credits, which depict a stunning swirl of blue crashing waves to the tune of the appropriate ‘Are you old enough?’ by Dragon – to the hilariously retrospective costumes and attention to detail 1970’s sets – its clear that every effort has been made to bring this story to life in the most faithful and devoted fashion.

The series is so committed to presenting an accurate 1970’s Sutherland Shire that it offers an interesting analysis of how far Australian society has come, and how many things have changed in the last four decades. Drink driving, sun tanning, skinny-dipping and smoking – all were accepted day-to-day occurrences on the Puberty Blues set and all are frowned upon today.

By expanding the plot to include the stories of the families, the series has cleverly created a new depth to the original story and has allowed it to appeal to a much broader audience.

Claudia Karvan (as Debbie’s mum Judy Vickers) and Roger Corser (as Garry’s father Ferris Hennessey) are as fantastic as you would expect – as are the rest of the cast. Ashleigh Cummings, in particular, shines as Debbie.

The Deb and Sue from the book do have more attitude – they already knew all the rules, they just needed a way to get into the Greenhills Gang. In comparison, the Deb and Sue of the series are learning on their feet and they reek of innocence and desperation.

A notable difference between the television series and the book can be found in the personal growth of Debbie and Sue. Although they start naïve and silly, they grow to have a conscious and actively demonstrate it when given an opportunity to help one of their own. In the book, the girls only ever turned their backs.

Garry Hennessey’s (played by Sean Keenan) character in the series is also given ample opportunity to shine. By giving him a depth of character, a troubled family life, and a conscience, he is able to give Debbie a credible chance at romance, and provides a welcome relief from the caveman antics of the rest of the boys.

The series also does – understandably – gloss over some of the heavier content of the book. The sex scenes are less vivid, and the topic of abortions, miscarriages and gang rapes are only touched on lightly – whereas in the book they are explored in a shocking amount of matter-of-fact detail.

Undoubtedly due to the fact that producers wanted to leave the story open for a second season (which Channel Ten have now confirmed is coming), the series didn’t tie up the loose ends in the way that the book did. In the book, the ultimate futures of the characters were summed up and displayed like a checklist – in the series, we are left to wonder: what will become of the Greenhills gang? Guess we will just have to wait and see.

The verdict is:
Book or Silver Screen? Silver Screen
The series is: 5. An exceptional improvement on the original

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

What’s coming next? A review of Bel Ami (I promise!)

September 11, 2012

A life without decency is hardly bearable: How ‘Albert Nobbs’ compares from book to film

Have you ever picked up a book and thought, gee, a lot of the plot points from the film are missing? I hadn’t – until I read The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs, the 1918 novella by George Moore.

It feels strange… To have a book rush by at such a swift pace. When reading Albert Nobbs, the story spews out so quickly, so urgently, that you feel tempted to flick back through the pages to make sure you have not turned a few too many.

In contrast, the 2011 film adaptation starring Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson takes the time to make a true character study. It uses Moore’s original as the framework, and then paints upon it a masterpiece.

One of the key differences, that helped to enliven the film, was the time and space that it afforded Albert to quietly and reluctantly reveal her tragic secrets.

In the film, Albert reacted fearfully – almost to the point of lunacy – when Mr Page (Janet McTerr) discovered her secret. She cowered in the corner of the room, crippled with fear. In the book her reaction was more nonchalant; as if she was relieved to finally be given the opportunity to reveal her true gender.

The film takes some details away from Albert’s past, but adds much more context to her future. By increasing the viewer’s understanding of Albert, it makes her story that much more tragic.

In the book, Albert Nobbs is described as “always merry and bright, with never anyone to speak to.” In the film, she is timid to the point of silence – she always appears meek and shy, and wary of those around her.

The literary Albert is much livelier, boisterous and outspoken, while Glenn Close’s Albert is much more somber and morose – you constantly feel sorry for her, and her miserable, lonely expression. Although she’s grateful for her job, her position, she never seems to go about it happily. Life seems to have no pleasure at all – and that’s the tragedy of the film in a nutshell.

All of the performances in the film are incredible. The role of Albert was made for Glenn Close – I couldn’t imagine anyone else who could have played it as convincingly, or as movingly.

Albert Nobbs was also a stellar, mature career choice for both Wasikowska and Johnson (and lucky ones at that, considering that Amanda Seyfried and Orlando Bloom were originally cast in their roles and only dropped out due to scheduling conflicts).

Wasikowska plays Helen Dawes – a young, beautiful and witty housemaid. In the book, the character is a newcomer to the hotel who is described as “a thick-set, almost swarthy girl of three-and-twenty.” She is more calculating, mischievous and rather less likeable than the vivacious, innocent character that Wasikowska creates.

The film added so many new, interesting layers to the story: the subplot of Dr Holloran’s (Brendan Gleeson) relationship with the housemaid Mary (Maris Doyle Kennedy); the hotel’s financial troubles and the escapades of the wealthy guests; Mrs Baker’s selfish callousness and Mr Page’s relationship with her wife.

Perhaps the most pleasing addition to the story was the scene where Mr Page and Albert gallivant along the beach in petticoats – it added an equal injection of humour and heart.

The only significant scene in the book that was omitted from the film was Albert’s dalliance down the street late at night, when she cried in the rain and caught the attention of a prostitute. This omission was a good one – the scene was hardly memorable and did nothing to add to the reader’s understanding of the story, or of Albert’s character.

The score of the film is magical, playful, and sets the tone perfectly. There is a mystical quality to this film that gives the impression that nothing is as it seems.

The sets, costumes and props are all intricately detailed – the lavishness of the upper class life is clear in every silver spoon and chandelier.

The cinematography is also beautiful – in the scene where Helen cries on Albert’s shoulder, and her tears fall amongst the glistening show, Albert’s ecstasy is tangible.

I’ve never seen a film do so much with so little of a story. George Moore’s novella provides the barest bones of a plot, which Glenn Close has expanded and extrapolated into a whole. She added heart, intrigue and thought, and created deeper, more likeable, real and interesting characters.

The loneliness of Albert’s life’s deception is heartbreaking. It will have you in knots of sorrow as well as discomfort. It makes you question, why do people live such miserable lives?

The big tragedy is that Albert spent her life in hiding. She never ran free, she was never comfortable in her own skin, and she never truly let anyone in. She led a completely guarded life – without any real human connection. Her dreams were never fulfilled. Ultimately, it’s a story on unrequited love – of the callousness of life – and of how human beings can cruelly use one another.

The verdict:
Book or Big Screen? Big Screen
The film is:  5. An exceptional improvement on the original

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

What’s coming next? A review of Bel Ami

August 21, 2012

My story is my story: How ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ compares from book to film

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2005) by Jonathon Safran Foer is a powerful novel that bravely and ambitiously conveys how two of the most tragic events of modern history can have a lasting impact on those who have lived through them.

The senior characters of the novel lost all of their family and friends and barely escaped with their own lives during the Bombing of Dresden in 1945, and then, more than fifty years later, lost another loved one during the September 11 terrorist attacks.

At its heart of this story, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is about the all-pervasiveness of grief and how, even when one survives, their life can be destroyed forever.

The 2012 film, directed by Stephen Daldry of The Hours and Billy Elliot fame, is equally brave and equally ambitious. With September 11 as its sole focus, the film does not shy away from presenting the raw emotion that is still associated with the event.

The central character of the novel and its adaptation is Oskar Schell, an extraordinarily intelligent nine-year-old who is prone to eccentricities and who plunges into a deep depression when his father dies in the World Trade Center.

In the book, Oskar Schell is a unique, memorable character; he is thoughtful, creative and brilliantly strange – his innocent, childlike voice reminiscent of Jack in Emma Donoghue’s Room and Liesel Meminger in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.

In the film, Oskar is portrayed convincingly by Thomas Horn – a 12-year-old who had no prior acting experience when was discovered as a participant on Jeoprady!

Horn does a brilliant job of conveying all the highs and all the lows at all the right times, and to the right depth; he captures many of Oskar’s eccentricities, without appearing like a caricature; and he copies Oskar’s “sing-song voice” perfectly.

It may just be my own interpretation, but I did pick up on some slight discrepancies between Safran Foer’s Oskar and the Oskar in the film – for one, Horn’s character is more headstrong, intense, loud and determined than I imagined Oskar to be. I pictured him to be quieter and to have a more delicate subtlety to his actions and behaviours. Aside from a brief allusion to his schoolyard bullying and a passing mention that he finds it difficult to talk to strangers, Horn’s Oskar Schell does not appear to suffer from the same level of social awkwardness and shyness as his literary counterpart.

Some of the more specific differences between the characters are:

  • In the book, Oskar has an obsessive penchant for white clothing, to the point that he wears nothing else. In the film, aside from the white Tae Kwon Do outfit that he wears to his father’s funeral, Oskar tends to wear bright colours, including yellow pants and an orange jacket.
  • One of the first odd behaviours that Oskar displays in the book, is making spare keys for assorted strangers. This is left from the film entirely.
  • In the film, Oskar loses a number of common turns of phrase, including “that sounds like one hundred dollars,” “it’s just that,” and saying “anyway” to move on from uncomfortable situations. He also has tendency to sound out acronyms phonetically. None of these behaviours were depicted in the film.

If the strength of the film is in its supporting cast, this film is superb – Tom Hanks, Viola Davis and John Goodman all shine with minimal screen-time. Sandra Bullock and Max Von Sydow are also marvelous.

The book is truly interactive – with marked-up, red ink filled pages; photos of door handles and other assorted objects; images from Oskar’s scrapbooks and his mind; almost blank pages with single words and sentences in the centre. These breaks from traditional prose add a dynamic, rich new element to the story and allow the reader to become completely immersed in the story.

Some of the images from these interactive pages are creatively adapted into the film – most noticeably, the body falling through the sky, which is echoed in Oskar’s imagination in the water dripping from the bathroom faucet.

But the film is not as faithful to the book’s storyline as it is to its imagery. The movie is told entirely from the perspective of Oskar – the other sides of the story, such as the perspectives of his Grandparents, are missing.

In the book, Oskar’s Grandmother and Grandfather tell their stories through a series of stream of conscious style letters. The letters, which were never meant to be read, allowed the characters to reveal themselves completely to the reader, without holding back a single thought, secret or desire.

In contrast, the Grandparents of the film have been relegated to minor characters – their stories are inconsequential to Oskar’s, and are therefore not told. One of the biggest tragedies in the book is that Oskar’s Grandfather spent his whole life pining for a lost love; a young woman named Anna who died in Dresden. Oskar’s Grandmother was not the love of his life, and she was reminded of it every day.

This subplot of the story is only hinted at in the film. The viewer knows that Oskar’s Grandfather came from Dresden and suffered a great tragedy, but the detail of this subplot is otherwise missing. It’s a shame, because this facet of the story added such an important element to the book – it caused the reader to question which is more heartbreaking: losing the love of your life, or knowing that the love of your life will forever be in love with someone else?

Anna and Dresden are not the only elements of the book that are significantly altered:
  • In the book, Oskar’s search companion is old Mr Black while ‘the renter’ follows at a distance, wishing that it were he. In the film, the renter gets his wish and Mr Black never gets the opportunity to find freedom beyond his apartment.
  • In the book, Oskar becomes confused at seeing his father’s name scrawled in coloured pen in an art store – it raises questions in his mind about whether his dad is really gone. In the film, he is always certain about his father’s death – the truth is never in question. 
  • The addition of the oxymoron battle is a nice touch on behalf of the filmmakers, which provides a vehicle for Oskar to connect with his Grandfather and overcome his fears whilst also adding a touch of comedic relief. 
  • In the film, Oskar and the renter do not dig up his father’s empty coffin. 
  • In the film, the clues that lead up to uncovering the secret of the key have also changed, and the search for the lock becomes as much of a personal journey for Oskar’s mother as it is for him.

It is depressing, but also acceptable, to read a novel where the pain and tragedy is set, unchangeable and irreparable from the very beginning. In Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, there is no chance of a happy ending. When you turn the last page of the book, the world is still bleak – and that’s okay. But it seems the filmmakers were not content without introducing a more positive resolution for the story.

In the film adaptation of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Oskar is given as much of a happy ending as possible. He is given the possibility of a relationship with his Grandfather; he becomes reconnected with his mother; he is able to overcome his own personal fears; and “solves reconnaissance mission six” by finding a hidden message from his father.

Even his mother leaves open the possibility of finding love again, saying “I’ll never fall in love for the first time again,” rather than insisting to her son “I’ll never fall in love again,” as she does in the book.

In this way, the film turns to fantasy where the book remains in the real. In real life there is no guarantee of a happy ending, and the pain that one experiences may not lead to personal growth – it may only lead to infinitely more pain.

The verdict:
Book or Big Screen? Book
The film is: 4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

What’s coming next? A review of The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs.

August 4, 2012

The elusive Albert Nobbs

Last night I saw a fantastic film, Albert Nobbs, starring the spectacular, perfectly cast Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnston. I would love to tell you how the film compares to its original, the novella The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs by George Moore, but I have not as yet been lucky enough to acquire a copy.

The Irish novelist George Augustus Moore first published The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs in 1918, within the collection A Story-Teller’s Holiday. The story was also republished in 1927 in the collection Celibate Lives.

Armed with this useful Intel, this morning I sauntered up to the counter of my local Dymocks and requested to order an unstocked title. To be honest, I half expected a copy to be magically produced in-store (when a film adaptation is released, publishers are usually quick to capitalise), but unfortunately, I was disappointed.

Not only did Dymocks not have a movie tie-in version on the shelves, its database was curiously empty of any title even slightly “Albert Nobbs” related.

I tried the iBook bookstore on my phone (I always prefer to hold a bound, paper version in my hands but, as it is only a novella, I thought I could handle the brief displeasure of reading from a 5x7cm 480x320 pixels screen), but it too produced unsatisfactory results. I downloaded the ‘sample’ versions of three George Moore collections – A Modern Lover, Celibates [Three Tales], and Celibates – only to find that none contained 'The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs'.

Arriving home, I remembered my 10.5 unused points on trusty Book Mooch. Five versions of the book were listed, but no copies were available. Finally, I turned to Amazon UK – and finally, some results.

For the Australian equivalent of $21.85, including postage, I have now secured my copy of the elusive Albert Nobbs story. Going by Amazon’s prediction, it should arrive on my doorstep in 8-12 business days.

And so, alas, this particular review will have to wait. In the meantime, I am also reading Bel Ami by Guy De Maupassant and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. The film adaptation of Bel Ami is scheduled for DVD release in Australia on September 26, so expect a review shortly after. Anna Karenina, the lavish looking film adaptation that is once again reuniting Keira Knightley and Joe Wright, is scheduled for cinema release in January 2013.

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

July 8, 2012

Shoot all the bluejays you want: How ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ compares from book to film

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of those classic novels that has a lasting an impact on the way that you view the world; it stays with you and remains a part of your consciousness long after you have finished reading.

In the league of Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Catcher in the Rye – mention the novel n a crowded room and you are sure to find at least one person who is proud to announce it as their very dear favourite.

It is so well known and so revered, that some may be surprised to learn that the novel was published not so long ago, in 1960. Two years later, in 1962, a film version by the same name was released to critical acclaim.

I had heard that the film was a faithful and respected adaptation, which – like the book upon which it was based – became a cult classic. I was surprised then, when I found it so difficult to find a copy.

Despite the assurances of the friendly staff at my local JB Hi-Fi – who assured me that, even though they do not have any copies in store, it is kept alive by “so many” DVD distribution companies – I had to re-order the title FOUR TIMES before I successfully secured my copy for $2.95.

And the trendy twenty-something with the purple hair extensions behind the counter… She felt compelled to tell me that she “LOVED” To Kill a Mockingbird, and it was her favourite book of all time.

I can certainly understand the attraction. I was truly and utterly endeared by this novel – the story is heartfelt and considered; the characters are lively and imaginative; and the message is moral and timeless.

The novel is based on the childhood experiences of the young protagonist Jean Louise (Scout) Finch, and it is Scout’s unique voice and boisterous behaviour that really pulls you in. She is independent, tough, strong-willed and determined, and her colourful language is as hilarious as it is engaging.

Atticus, too, is a character that every reader could look up to for his calm and considered demeanour; his high moral standpoint; and his caring, thoughtful and often enigmatic ways.

Again, in league with some of the greatest literary characters of all time – Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Eyre, Cathy and Heathcliff, and Holden Caulfield – Atticus, Scout, and even her older brother Jem, are all truly memorable characters.

Harper Lee’s novel centres on Scout and the ways that she passes the time with Jem and their neighbour Dill in the fictional town of Maycomb in America’s deep South. The story begins with their childhood antics, and shared fascination with Boo Radley, their elusive neighbour who never steps outside of his home.

Scout’s own personal dilemmas, such as her playground brawls; her personal clashes with her teacher, neighbours and peers; her difficulty in understanding the social etiquettes between the social classes; and her resistance to becoming a proper lady, all provide interesting and humorous asides to what soon becomes the main crux of the story – the trial of Tom Robinson.

Atticus’ defence of poor Tom Robinson is the epicentre from which all of the drama of the story revolves. It is understandable then, that the filmmakers chose to also make it the focal point of the adaptation.

In the film, Scout’s own story, and the personal growth that she eventually achieves in the book, plays second fiddle to the Tom Robinson plot.

While the story within the book is told from Scout’s childlike perspective, the film begins with a voice-over from her grown-up self, reflecting back, with the benefit of hindsight, over these important events in her life. The benefit of this smooth, velvet-voice narration was that many of the most memorable lines of prose within the book were spoken and therefore not lost in the adaptation process.

The film has a number of significant changes that are worth noting:

  • In the novel, the children must speculate at who cemented the hole in the tree, whereas in the film, Jem and Scout witness Nathan Radley filling in the hole.
  • In the film, Calpurnia does not make an appearance at Tom Robinson’s trial and the children do not get in trouble for sitting up in the galley.
  • In the film there is no Finch's Landing scene, and Miss Maudie's house does not burn down. The subplot of Mrs Dubose’s opiate addiction is also completely absent.
  • In the novel, Scout notices the man, who turns out to be Boo Radley, standing quietly in Jem’s room against the wall. In the film, he is hidden behind the door. Boo Radley also has no lines in the film, but in the book he asks Scout to take him home.
  • In the novel, Dill is Mrs Rachel's nephew, while in the film he is Mrs Stephanie Crawford's nephew. The characters of Mrs Rachel and Mrs Stephanie Crawford are combined into one character. The childish romance between Dill and Scout, and Dill’s marriage proposals, are left out of the film.
  • A number of the characters are either unmentioned or missing, including Aunt Alexandra, Uncle Jack and Little Chuck Little.
  • Zeebo and Miss Caroline are only mentioned by name, and Scout’s dilemmas at School are also only mentioned in passing.
  • Tom Robinson's father appeared in the film, but was not a character in the novel.

The film is perhaps best known for the outstanding performance of its lead actor, Gregory Peck. To Kill a Mockingbird is widely renowned as Peck’s best work and for many fans his face became synonymous with the character Atticus Finch.

Although Peck is brilliant, for me, the biggest inconsistency between the novel and the film was in his physical portrayal of Atticus. Through the eyes of Scout, her father is described in the novel as considerably old. While his age is mentioned in a similar vein in the film, Peck’s handsome, wrinkleless features do not match the withered face that I had conjured in my imagination.

In all, the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird is a complementary, affectionate tribute to the novel. The performance by Brock Peters, who played the role of Tom Robinson, is also superb, as are the child actors – with Phillip Alford as Jem another stand-out.

If any story is worthy of a new, modern adaptation, it’s this one. Hopefully, with Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby being released late this year, Hollywood will see the benefits of reinvigorating more literary classics.

The verdict:
Book or Big Screen? Book
The film is: 4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

What’s coming next? A review of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

June 24, 2012

Who’s fairest of them all: How ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ compares from folklore to film

Once upon a time, as a queen sits sewing at her window, she pricks her finger on her needle and three drops of blood fall on the snow that had fallen on her ebony window frame. As she looked at the blood on the snow, she wished for a child with skin as fair as the white snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony. Soon after the queen gave birth to a baby girl, and she was named Snow White.

Snow White originated as a seventeenth-century French folklore, and was one of the world’s most memorable childhood tales. In 1812 it was famously noted down by the Brothers Grimm, and has been adapted many times since.

Probably the best-known version to today’s audiences is the classic 1937 animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In 2012, the classic story has been revived with three new adaptations, Mirror, Mirror directed by Tarsem Singh; the television series Once Upon A Time; and Snow White and the Huntsman directed by Rupert Sanders.

In each version, the story centres on the fair princess and her evil stepmother who harbors a deathly jealousy of her beauty. There are also regular depictions of the all-seeing mirror on the wall; and the dreaded poisonous apple; and Snow White’s woodland friends, the seven dwarfs.

Snow White and the Huntsman contains all of these core elements, however, unlike most modern adaptations, the film is also dark, ominous, and in this way in-keeping with The Brothers Grimm tale.

The adaptation is a fantastical, epic, all-out action flick, part Lord of the Rings and part Brave Heart with hints of Joan of Arc. Visually, the film also stays true to its fairytale roots, in the lavish style of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

There are some obvious deviations from The Brothers Grimm version. Rather than sitting at her window sewing, the finger of the good Queen is pricked by a single red rose that blooms in the garden in spite of the frost. The good Queen also lives beyond Snow White’s day of birth and her successor, the dark Queen, holds magical powers and evil motives that extend much further beyond her own vanity and envy.

Rather than being taken to the forest as a child, Kristen Stewart’s Snow White is locked in a tower. It is not until she comes of age that Snow White’s beauty surpasses the dark Queen’s, which sets in motion her attempted murder and eventual escape.

In this feminist adaptation, Snow White does not live in the woods keeping house for the dwarfs. Nor does she pass out from having her corset laced up too tight, or having her ebony locks parted by a poisonous comb. Instead, she dons chain mail and commands the respect of an army that rides into battle to avenge her father’s death and reclaim her kingdom.

Stewart does a credible job as Snow White – she is delicate and ethereally beautiful as well as believable as a sword-wielding warrior. I only wish that Stewart would choose a role where she could shake off the Bella Swan scowl.

The dark and dreary nature of this film is a good fit – and it is understandable that this Snow White wouldn’t have much to smile about – but it would have been a welcome change to see Stewart happy. I half expected Edward Cullen to step out from the dark forest and enquire as to why she was running through the woods with a new, hunky man-friend.

Speaking of which, the role of the Huntsman was perfect for Chris Hemsworth, who was able to concurrently provoke a tear and sling an axe with all the brute strength of Thor. His accomplishment is all the more impressive when it is considered that the role was first offered to a slew of Hollywood heavyweights, including Tom Hardy, Johnny Depp, Hugh Jackman and Viggo Mortensen.

The standout performance is from Charlize Theron, who is wickedly enrapturing as the cruel, jealous Queen Ravenna. Whether standing menacingly, encircled by her crazed murder of ravens, or crawling from the black oozing pit of decaying feathers, she is terrifically terrible.

The Queen’s black soldiers are an impressive touch, although I dare say that they too evoked memories of Twilight. In battle, as they shattered into razor sharp shards of iron, I pictured the crumbling stone of Stephenie Meyer’s vampires. The film also hinted at yet another Kristen Stewart-induced love triangle, which was a tad irksome.

And yet, if you look beyond the odes to Twilight and the inevitable Kristen Stewart scowl, this film is an enjoyable piece of escapism that celebrates women, shows-off the potential for special effects, and makes a fine way to spend 127 minutes.

The verdict:
Book or Big Screen? Book
The film is: 4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

What’s coming next? A review of To Kill a Mockingbird

June 11, 2012

Time is nothing: How ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ compares from book to film

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger was given a accurate, descriptive title. The book is indeed about a time traveler, who involuntarily fades backward and forward in time, and his wife who is left behind in the present.

Unlike a sci-fi novel about the time-space continuum or butterfly effects on the past, Henry and Clare’s story deals with the minutiae of real life. It is about love and human relationships, and how such a fantastical thing – the inability to stay in the present – can impact the everyday.

This is one of my favourite novels. What I love about the story is its serendipity – Clare fell in love with Henry when she was six years old, and it was the strength of this love that regularly pulled him back to her childhood. They would never have met in the present, if he did not first visit her in the past; but he could not have visited her in the past, if she did not find him in the present.

Are you lost yet? The beauty of this book is that it doesn’t matter. All that you have to understand, believe and know is that Henry and Clare met because they were destined to. In their world, where time is circular and cause and effect are “muddled”, it doesn’t matter what came first. Like the chicken and the egg, their love is impossible to trace back to its point of origin.

The 2008 film, starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, manages to capture the complete spirit of Henry and Clare’s impossibly complicated lives. Their love is as passionate as it is painful, and the story is as heartfelt and heart wrenching as the book it was based on.

Entire characters and subplots have been cut, from Henry’s troubled ex-girlfriend Ingrid and her best friend Celia, to his “crazy Korean card-playing babysitter” Kimmy, and from Clare’s childhood friends (and enemies) to her grandma with the beautiful white hair and “eyes like blue clouds.”

All the gory details of Henry’s mother’s death are missing, as is the story about Clare’s mother’s illness, Dr Kendrick’s family troubles and the love triangle with Gomez. You will also have to read the book to find out how Henry learnt how to pick locks and pockets, and how his fifteen-year-old selves spent their time together.

Although so much is missing from the film, nothing is missed. The film focuses on how Henry’s time travels affect his relationship with Clare, and how it feels for her to be constantly left behind and waiting. Everything else is superfluous. And this strict emphasis of their relationship makes the story more dramatic.

The film doesn’t lose any of the book’s impact – when you see Henry disappear, and see the look of anguish on Clare’s face, their story feels so much more dramatic.

This book has a lyrical quality. It is truly poetic. Niffenegger paints a picture with each word and weaves each sentence seamlessly, magically into the next. Through the expert use of punctuation she also creates a staccato rhythm – without this melody, it would be hard to persist with such a nonlinear novel. As dates and ages fly around it is the prose that keeps you tied to the page, committed to working out the puzzle.

Niffenegger writes so many beautiful lines that seem to encompass the heart of the whole story:

“I hate to be where she is not, when she is not. And yet, I am always going, and she cannot follow.”

“I am at a loss because I am in love with a man who is standing before me with no memories of me at all. Everything is in the future for him.”

“Things happen the way they happened. Once and only once.”

The novel is so complex, and yet it works. The real, day-to-day elements of their lives help to ground the fantastical.

In the movie we have to wait for Henry to get to the meadow, but in the book the different ways that Henry meets Clare – and Clare meets Henry – are presented concurrently.

Each chapter, and sometimes each paragraph within each chapter, begins with either “Clare:” or “Henry:” – a narrative device to indicate which perspective is about to be shared. Also pay attention to the dates and ages – they provide important context and will keep you grounded as Henry jumps back and forward in time.

This story – whether its print or motion picture version – will inevitably lead you to question: What is fate? Is everything inevitable?

As Henry time travels, he revisits his own past and then helps to recreate it. The past only happened that way that it did, because his future self already made his contribution. In Henry’s world, the past cannot be changed:

“There is only free will when you are in time, in the present. He say in the past we can only do what we did, and we can only be there if we were there.”

The book is beautifully and brilliantly written. Every time you open its pages you find something new. And the film is its ideal counterpart – a complementary text that adds a whole new dimension to the characters and yet remains intrinsically the same.

In all fairness, I have to say, as much as I love Niffenegger’s novel, there are some deviations in the film that I prefer. The way that Clare becomes pregnant, for example, is extremely clever. The ending of the story was also improved in the film.

Nevertheless, in either incarnation, The Time Traveler’s Wife is the ultimate of love – complete and unending, and at the same time unrequited. A must read and see – take my word for it.

The verdict:
Book or Big Screen? Book
The film is: 4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

What’s coming next? A review of Snow White and the Huntsman

May 1, 2012

All glory is fleeting: How ‘The Lucky One’ compares from book to film

The film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks' books provide a divine form of escapism: perfectly brimming with schmaltz, they provide a rare opportunity to delve into an over-the-top romantic fantasy land.

The Notebook is one of my favourite films. The story is truly heart-felt and touching. In a little more than two hours, Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling gripped me completely – their romantic connection was so intense and palpable that I became wholly connected with Ally and Noah's story.

In this ‘put yourself first’ world, it is nice to immerse yourself – even if it’s for just a moment – into a world where two people are so devoted to each other, and whose futures are so completely intertwined.

The Lucky One also has all the makings of a good chick-flick. Nicholas Sparks created characters that are real and fallible and a plot that is slightly fantastical yet believable and intriguing. The writing is also sufficiently engaging and overall the book offered an enjoyable reading experience.

The film – starring Zac Efron as the troubled marine Logan Thibault and Taylor Schilling as the tough single mother Beth – was similarly enjoyable. But it did lack that, pardon the pun, spark.

I almost can’t put my finger on it… Technically, it’s hard to fault this film. It is well made in the theatrical sense; the performances are sound; and it has many of the elements of a good romantic drama. In fact, I couldn’t help but make comparisons with The Notebook: the waterside setting, the rowboat scene, the kissing in the shower/ rain…

And yet something about this film doesn’t hit the mark. I kept waiting for that ultimate moment of the romantic drama – where the despairing lovers, who until this point had been kept apart, are finally coming together; where they scene slows down and they run toward each other in slow motion; and the music reaches its climax at the moment they meet.

The Lucky One did have that moment – but what was missing for me was that triumphant feeling of relief; that flutter in the heart when your hopes for the reunion of the characters is realised.

All I can put this down to Efron and Schilling… They do credible jobs independently, but their chemistry was not believable. I couldn’t get past the thought that Efron looked too young to embody Logan’s past, and too fragile to take control of Beth’s future.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh… Perhaps this is just a case of the film adaptation not meeting the reader’s preconceptions and expectations… It wasn’t a bad film, and yet I couldn’t help but walk out of the cinema with an overwhelming feeling of meh.

The verdict:
Book or Big Screen? Book
The film is: 3. A decent, credible, faithful adaptation

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

What’s coming next? A review of The Time Traveler's Wife

April 20, 2012

Coming soon: Bel Ami

Girls, get set to swoon for the next Robert Pattinson film adaption, that promises to have the young British heart throb getting his kit off and spending much of his screen time in the bedroom.

No, I’m not talking about the final installation of Breaking Dawn – hitting cinemas in May 2012 is Bel Ami, a adaptation of French author Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel, set in 19th Century Paris.

The English translation of Bel Ami – The History of a Scoundrel – hints at the nature of Pattinson’s character. As Georges Duroy, he will be portraying an ex-soldier who forges a career in journalism by seducing a series of high-society women.

Among his conquests are Uma Thurman, as Madeleine Forestier; Kristin Scott Thomas, as Madame Walter; and Christina Ricci, as Clotilde de Marelle.

The novel was turned into several films – including Bel Ami (1939) and The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1949) – and theatre productions.

The role seems to be a good choice for Pattinson. It will no doubt appeal to his fans, who are pining to see evidence of his sexual prowess, and at the same time allows him to shed the chastity belt of Twilight’s Edward Cullen.

I love a good period drama and, going by the trailer, this film appears to have a sufficient amount of steamy, bodice-busting escapism.

Look out for my review when the film is released in Australia on May 24.

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

April 14, 2012

Guest Review: Running with Scissors

I feel very privileged to be publishing this guest review by Lana Penrose – a very talented lady who has worked as record company promotions manager; music journalist; music television producer; personal assistant to an iconic pop sensation; and author. Lana’s best-selling non-fiction title To Hellas & Back was optioned for film development in September 2010. She is also the author of Kickstart My Heart and is working on two other manuscripts. Please join me in welcoming Lana to ‘Book or Big Screen?’

Don’t you just love those occasions where a memoir leaves you feeling good and drunk?  You find yourself releasing involuntary guffaws as you merrily wobble around each page, inadvertently startling your City Rail contemporaries out of their slumber.  That’s how it was for me when I devoured Augusten Buroughs’ Running With Scissors a few years ago. I digested each page faster than an amphetamine- gobbling conspiracy theorist swilling chardonnay chasers. I laughed myself stupid. And then came the movie.

Now it is with some trepidation that we humble readers venture into cinematic terrain.  After all, how many times have we been let down? How many times have we lamented, “The book was, like, a billion times better than the movie!”  We eye off directors and screenplay writers with trepidation and ambivalence as they chew their bottom lips. If they don’t do “our” books justice, they can expect an abrupt nipple tweak!

For me, the appeal of Running With Scissors – the book – was found in its innocence and gut-tickling hilarity. My dependency was forged around the effortless narrative delivery and the quirky storyline where comedy burst from the macabre, aimed at the armpits. Even the title grabbed me, summing up the author’s unconventional upbringing in three simple words.

Running With Scissors is the story of Augusten Burroughs. Born into a fractious world in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he contends with an alcoholic father and a mercurial mother – the melodramatic and misunderstood Diedre; an oppressed poet with illusions of grandeur. She relates to seven-year-old Augusten as though he’s a contemporary and their bond is strong. But as Burroughs enters his teens and his mother all but regresses, the word “crazy” arises. It soon becomes evident that this brand of crazy goes way beyond “eccentric", “wacky” and “zany”. Diedre is out-and-out nuts; in fact she’s of the “toothpaste sandwich” variety.

Insanity soon permeates almost every character as Augusten’s life opens up to prove that truth really is stranger than fiction. Joy can be found in psychiatrist Dr Finch, with whom Augusten finds himself firmly ensconced. The good doctor offhandedly references the “Masturbatorium” adjoining his office, hooks patients on sedatives and divines hidden messages from his ablutions. His daughter, Hope, telepathically converses with a dead cat, while his long-suffering wife, Agnes, grazes on dog kibble.

As Augusten’s young mind grapples with all this and more, his whip-fast wit is evident on every page. The complexities he contends with orbit around the mind, relationships, sexuality and family dysfunction as love’s undercurrent flows tranquilly beneath the choppy surface. You couldn’t ask for more when it comes to film fodder. But … what if they wrecked it?

With DVD in trembling hand, I pushed Running With Scissors into my player, pleased to see that the right cast was rallied. Joseph Cross plays Augusten Burroughs, bemused and lovable. Annette Bening seems to have a wonderful time playing the neurotic Diedre. Brian Cox is equally superb as fruity Finch. The film also features Alec Baldwin (Norman Burroughs), Gwyneth Paltrow (Hope Finch) and Joseph Fiennes (Neil Bookman).

But … was it a fair adaptation? I hear you gasp. Well, as a devotee there were hurdles to clear. A couple of characters were dropped. (Fair enough.) The body-shape of Natalie Finch was altered. (Why?) I found my disbelief unsuspended during a couple of Bening’s sedation scenes. (I forgive her.) And some of the more distasteful truths found in the book were only vaguely implied to ensure character connection and overall quirkiness. (I get it.) It therefore … worked! (Do you feel the relief?)

I pondered how writer and director Ryan Murphy had pulled it off and decided he probably loved the book as much as I did, his passion spilling gleefully into his work. He managed to capture the visual imagery I’d imagined myself. The human frailty was perfectly accompanied by visual cues peculiar to the seventies: sharp collars, helmet hairdos, gaudy oranges, candy pinks and olive greens, as ridiculous as they were delicious. And the story came even more to life courtesy of 10CC, Elton John, Al Stewart and Manfred Mann. So in a nutshell Murphy remains nipple-tweak free.  He added sound, colour and texture to an already riveting story, his stylisation playing asset to his screenplay, which, although not a direct facsimile, loses little and elicits laughs.

For those with a penchant for dry humour, in my humble opinion, both the book and film Running With Scissors make the grade, being of particular appeal to those “toothpaste sandwich” crazy.

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

April 10, 2012

Defying common sense, logic and nature: How ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ compares from book to film

What I love most about writing this blog is that it drives me to read books that I would ordinarily overlook.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen would have never piqued my interest. Without the release of its film adaption, fronted by the equally magnificent Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, I doubt that its oddly descriptive title would have induced me to pick up a paperback, let alone read its blurb.

If, by some curious circumstance, I did end up with a copy of Paul Torday’s unassuming little novel in my hand, I think the blurb would have turned me off. Even now – having read the book and loved it – the back cover description is deceptively dull:

“When he is asked to become involved in a project to create a salmon river in the highlands of the Yemen, fisheries scientist Dr Alfred Jones rejects the idea as absurd. But the proposal catches the eye of several senior British politicians. And so Fred finds himself forced to set aside his research and instead figure out how to fly ten thousand salmon to a desert country – and persuade them to swim there…”

A middle-aged male scientist. Fly fishing. British politics. The Middle East. Snore.

Even though I have a harbored a great admiration for Ewan McGregor since he twirled around a bedazzled Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge, and have enjoyed every one of Emily Blunt’s cinematic outings, the trailer for this film adaptation also failed to raise even a flutter of interest.

And yet, I am beginning to consider myself a committed blogger. I want this humble little site to someday develop into a resource for anyone who is interested in discussing film adaptations or debating deviations in plot – whether they hold particular personal interest for me or not.

So I did pick up the book, and I did read the blurb. I even handed over $24.95 at the counter and took it home to read. And boy I’m glad that I did.

The book is very cleverly done. From the very first page it sets off at a cracking pace. Constructed through a series of documents – emails, letters, inter-office memos, memoir extracts, interview transcripts, daily diaries and newspaper articles – each element of the story is clearly presented in a format that is ideal for its facts to gradually leak, and for the motivations of its characters to strategically unravel.

It is a refreshingly original read that turned out to be about so much more than salmon fishing… The salmon is only the vehicle, the catalyst for a much broader tale. Is it a love story? Is it a mystery? Is it a political satire? Once you realise that the characters’ desire to see “shining fish running in the storm waters of a desert land” is only the beginning, you will turn each page with an eager determination to find out what the point of the whole thing actually is.

When the scriptwriters reached the end of the novel, they must have been disappointed – or least thought that it wouldn’t translate well on the big screen – because the inherent message, the meaning, the crux of the story is so very different in the film adaptation.

It begins with Ewan McGregor’s Alfred Jones, who is endearingly funny and charming. Unlike the Harriet Chetwode-Talbot of the novel, Emily Blunt’s character is taken-in by his eccentricities and smiles. Even Alfred’s fiercely independent wife Mary is a little more human.

The British Prime Minister’s pompous director of communications, Peter Maxwell, has his scarlet silk lined suits substituted for “Patricia Maxwell’s” matronly aprons, power suits and heels. At first I lamented this obvious effort towards political correctness, but Kristin Scott Thomas endears the viewer very quickly. She is delightfully oblivious to her own absurdity, and makes some welcome waves in an otherwise smooth stream.

There are so many changes between the novel and the film, both in plot as well as in purpose, but to list them would be to give away too much of each. What I will say is that where the novel opted for conspiracy the film introduced beautiful Scottish scenery... Where the novel had severity, the film injected human feeling… Where the novel sought shock value, the film aimed to meet your every hope and expectation.

Of course Hollywood had to ramp up the love story, but I didn’t expect that it would be at the loss of ALL of the novel’s political implications. Nevertheless, the film is artful, touching and beautiful. As my brain ticked off each change by the scriptwriters, I unerringly agreed with the value of each – they added to the creation of a film that viewers can invest in completely. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable film that will leave the cinema with you.

I hope this blog encourages you to read and watch outside of your ordinary, just as it has done for me.

The verdict:
Book or Big Screen? Book
The film is: 4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities

April 3, 2012

Guest Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I am very pleased to be publishing this review from Sue Ann Muller. Sue Ann is an avid reader and moviegoer from Bondi, Australia, who is currently studying with the aim of changing careers and becoming a journalist. Thanks for your contribution Sue!

Don’t wait until you are in your retirement years to see this film. It is funny, witty, and poignant and just happens to be about British retirees down on their luck looking to India to cheaply outsource their golden years.

The retirees travel to the ancient city of Jaipur, India to the charming though dilapidated Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – where the phones don’t work, taps drip all night, and spicy curries are served under the guise of roast goat dinners.

The film is a pared down version of the book These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, and gives less attention to the lives of the residents prior to their coming to India. Jaipur has replaced the high tech city of Bangalore and troublesome family members are not dealt with at all.

The cast is the best of British acting royalty. Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith play bewildered older women whose lives have left them short of money and options. They rise to the challenge of living in India, “Like Darwin’s finches, we are slowly starting to adapt.” Tom Wilkinson is a retired High Court Judge with a secret past and childhood origins in India.

Bill Nighy steps out of his usual role as the boozy, sleazy older man and instead plays a longsuffering, loyal husband in a marriage that has outrun itself, with a wife who despises India and refuses to accept its quixotic mix of beauty and poverty.

Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) plays the optimistic charmer managing the Marigold – brow beaten by his mother and torn between making a traditional marriage and a love-match.  Sonny has endearingly upbeat solutions to all the problems the Marigold throws at him. “Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, then it is not yet the end.”

Academy Award nominee Thomas Newman is responsible for a gorgeous soundtrack which is a mix of East meets West using traditional Indian instruments. It evokes the beauty, chaos and timelessness of India. The films cinematography colourfully illustrates the vividness of street life in India – noisy, smelly, exotic and teeming with humanity.

Ultimately the film is fun and uplifting. The hotel guests go to the Marigold to retire cheaply while creating a minimum of fuss but discover that life can never be boring in India and that if you are open to it life will continue to surprise and delight.

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

April 1, 2012

The Hollywood Effect

Each year, Dymocks Bookstores in Australia asks its customers to vote for their favourite books of all time. The top 101 is then compiled into a list, and prominently placed in each store across the country.

The “Dymocks Booklovers’ Best” contains everything from the classics – To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22 and Nineteen Eighty-Four – to new releases.

Browsing through the titles, I can’t help but notice how books with recent film adaptations dominate the list… The bookstore shelves are brimming with paperbacks with movie tie-ins glowing from the paperback covers.

Films obviously have a profound impact on what people are reading… A popular book might make a movie option possible, but it is the film that really sends the book flying off the shelves.

Taking out the top spot on the 2012 list – which was released in April – is, you guessed it, The Hunger Games Trilogy.

Suzanne Collins’ books were also popular in 2011 (position 5 of the list), but its status as the latest Hollywood craze has allowed it to skip past the prior top 4: The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, The Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, and Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen.

In 2012, P&P and Harry Potter have held steady at positions 2 and 3, but the hype of The Millennium Trilogy has died off somewhat – Larsson now rests at 26. It will be interesting to see how The Book Thief fares, once its film adaptation makes it to the big screen.

Other notables include The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (one of my all time favourites) in 9th place, and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R Tolkien in 10th.

The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer was always going to be on the list somewhere – in 2011 it sat in 15th position, and in 2012 it has climbed a few rungs of the ladder to 12.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is also a list regular – in 2011 it took out the 25th position, but the immensely popular Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska-fronted film of 2011 has allowed it step up this year to number 7.

When the film adaptation of The Help by Kathryn Stockett was released in 2011, the book was added to the Top 101 for the first time. It debuted at 83 and has now climbed to 8th position.

Also new to the list in 2011 – thanks in large part to the popularity of their film adaptations – were Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (30), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (55), and The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (72).

The Notebook has disappeared from the list in 2012 (which is not surprising, since the film is much better than the book!), Water for Elephants is lagging a little at 84, and Extremely Loud (which has only recently reached Australian cinemas) is doing well at 42.

In 2012, there are also some notable first-timers: Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres at 24 (due to the charming Australian film of last year), Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy at 34 (perhaps in anticipation of Keira Knightley’s coming adaptation), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre at 53 (despite the film’s mixed reception), One Day by David Nicholls at 71 (another favourite of mine), The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd at 73 (rather late, considering the film was released in 2008), and The Woman in Black by Susan Hill at 82.

Other books-with-adaptations that feature on the Top 101 include Cloudstreet  by Tim Winton (14), The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (19), Atonement by Ian McEwan (20), The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (33), We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (37), The Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris (40), The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (44), Marley and Me by John Grogan (52), Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin (83), The Road by Cormac McCarthy (88), My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult (92) and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (97). Phew!

Next year is anyone’s guess… but I think it’s fair to say that Hollywood will have some influence.