March 31, 2012

The many faces of: Snow White

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 looks at the blood on the snow, she says to herself, "Oh, how I wish that I had a daughter that had skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony.”

Soon after that, the queen gives birth to a baby girl who has skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony. They name her Princess Snow White. As soon as the child is born, the queen dies.

"Snow White" is a well-known fairytale, famously noted down by the Brothers Grimm in 1812, and adapted many times since.

In each version, the story centres on a princess whose stepmother the Queen is jealous of her beauty. Each will feature Snow White as fair skinned, with the darkest of dark hair, as well as the dwarfs that offer her shelter; the all-seeing mirror on the wall; and the dreaded poisonous apple.

Probably the best-known version to today’s audiences, is the classic 1937 animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. As with all Disney adaptations, however, some liberties were taken with the story to ensure that it didn’t scare the children witless.

For example, elements of the Brothers Grimm version that were omitted from the Disney tale include the Queen’s insistence that the huntsman bring back Snow White’s lungs and liver, and the heated irons that the Queen is forced to dance in for punishment.

With two new adaptations being released this year – Mirror, Mirror starring Julia Roberts and Snow White and the Huntsman starring Kristen Stewart – it will be interesting to see the path that is taken by each.

Will they walk the tried and tested trail, or will they try to break new ground with this beloved fairytale?

In the meantime, here is a run-down of some of the famous depictions of Snow White – which is your favourite?

Lily Collins as Snow White in Mirror, Mirror (2012):

 Kristen Stewart as Snow White in Snow White and the Huntsman:

The depiction of Snow White in Shrek the Third (2007):

 Sarah Patterson in the 1987 fantasy film Snow White:

Snow White a la Disney (1937):


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March 26, 2012

The many faces of: Carey Mulligan

Carey Mulligan is one of my favourite actresses. Ever since she giggled her way through Joe Wright's 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, I was charmed - all of her work seems so effortless.

Kitty Bennet was her first acting role. Since then, she has amassed a great body of work, and many of the films happen to be adaptations. Here is a run-down of some of these roles, where she has lent her face to a famous, literary character.

As Daisy Buchanan in the 2012 adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby:

As Irene in Drive  (2011), based on the novel by James Sallis:

As Kathy in Never Let Me Go (2010), based on the 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro:

As Jenny in An Education (2009), based on an autobiographical article by Lynn Barber:

As Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey (2007), based on the novel by Jane Austen:

As Rachel in And When Did You Last See Your Father? (2007) based on the 1993 memoir by Blake Morrison:

As Violet Willett in The Sittaford Mystery (2006) based on the 1932 detective novel by Agatha Christie:

As Ada Clare in Bleak House (2005), based on the novel by Charles Dickens:

As Kitty Bennet in Pride & Prejudice (2005), based on the novel by Jane Austen:

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March 24, 2012

May the odds be ever in your favour: How ‘The Hunger Games’ compares from book to film

How would you describe the perfect film adaptation?

For me, it is a film that respects the integrity of the original novel. Deviations from the plot are fine, as long as they enhance the story in its new medium. It is true to the novel, but not a slave to it – adaptation, not reproduction.

With this definition in mind, the film The Hunger Games comes fairly close to perfection. As stated by the author of the original trilogy, Suzanne Collins, the “book and the film are individual yet complementary pieces that enhance one another.”

The novel was a breath of fresh air. It took me two nights to read, and I wished that I didn’t have a day job so that I could finish it sooner. The story was fast-paced and riveting, the characters were intriguing, and the hint of a love triangle had my romantic side swooning.

Gary Ross did a splendid job in bringing the story the big screen. As the film played out, I was in awe at how so many of the scenes seemed to have been directly pulled from the page, and from my memory. As much as I don’t mind the odd creative difference, it’s such a relief when a filmmaker’s vision matches your own imagination.

Jennifer Lawrence perfected the character of Katniss Everdeen. She is strong and willful, and of course beautiful – but thankfully she shows none of the self-loathing and often plagues the inner monologue of her literary equivalent.

Liam Hemsworth is so hunky that you instantly forget Suzanne Collins’ description of Gale’s straight black hair and olive skin. Josh Hutcherson’s performance is also admirable, but like in Katniss’ heart, he is no match.

The true standout performances of the film come in glimmers, as expected, from the legendary Woody Harrelson and Lenny Kravitz. Again, they are not the actors that you would picture when reading Collins’ words, but they make the characters splendidly their own.

Once you have jumped on the bandwagon, it’s very hard to jump off again – so I find it very difficult to fault this film. By opening up the story beyond Katniss’ point of view, the film avoids all of the constraints of first-person narrative; the vivacity, colour and sparkle of the Capitol is a visual feast; and the rocky hand-held camera work gives the film an edgy, documentary-like feel.

So, clearly, I’m a fan. I also took my boyfriend to see the film with me – he’s a non-reader, who approached the film without very little expectation, except for the fear that I was dragging him along to another Twilight.

Except for the mutant dogs that could “magically appear” in the landscape – which were “a bit stupid” – and his lamentations that the game maker’s shouldn’t have aimed directly for Katniss with the fireballs, he was also suitably impressed.

Coming from a fan of action flicks, I thought it was a high compliment that he could enjoy the censored fight scenes, the suspense, and the girl-power message.

A must-see movie, and – dare I say it in March – the film adaptation of the year!

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 Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

March 19, 2012

Mixed Reviews: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Based on the 2006 novel by Paul Torday, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a British romantic comedy starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt.

McGregor’s character is a fisheries expert and Blunt’s is a consultant, working on behalf of a Sheikh whose dream is to – you guessed it – bring salmon fishing to the Yemen.

Rotten Tomatoes describes the characters as “an unlikely team [who] will put it all on the line and embark on an upstream journey of faith and fish to prove the impossible, possible.”

So far the reviews are mixed. Out of 69 ratings, 44 are positive – giving the film an overall rating of 6.2/10. And the experts had a lot to say…

Scott Bowles of USA Today said:

“Despite sporting the worst cinematic title since The Chumscrubber, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen hooks some charming laughs and a quaint romance by not delving too deeply into its subject matter.”

Mary F. Pols of Time Magazine said:

“Salmon Fishing was a novel first and you can see how all these juggled balls could stay in the air on the page, but in movie form, many of them just seem extraneous.”

Ann Horday of the Washington Post said:

“Somehow managing to be both twee and edgy, the absurdist but gently winning romantic comedy Salmon Fishing in the Yemen works a strange kind of wonder.”

John Anderson of Newsday said:

“While both Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor are enormously appealing actors, Hallstrom has made a movie that pretends it is something it's not -- namely, an intelligent romantic comedy.”

It will be released in Australia on 5 April 2012. 

March 17, 2012

You is kind, you is smart, you is important: How ‘The Help’ compares from book to film

In Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, when Skeeter Phelan sits down at Aibileen Clark’s dining room table for the first time, she asks two key questions about her life as an African-American housemaid in Mississippi in the 1960’s.

Question 1: “Did you know when you were a girl, growing up, that one day you’d be a maid?”

Question 2: “Did you… ever have dreams of being something anything else?”

In the novel, Aibileen’s answers are simple and abrupt: “Yes Ma’am. Yes, I did” and “No Ma’am I didn’t.” But in the 2011 film adaptation, directed by Tate Taylor, Aibileen is not so certain.

Standing at her kitchen sink, Aibileen’s eyes are full of lost hope and sad resignation – her answer to Skeeter’s second question was only a slight tip of her head, an acknowledgement that yes, she had dreams for a better life.

The change is small, yet significant. It sets the tone for the entire film.

Where Stockett stayed true to the harsh, brutal realities of the South, Taylor opted for some Hollywood romanticism and idealism. Where Stockett weaved her story through an ever-present darkness, Taylor injected some light.

The time limitations of film always necessitate the sacrifice of important back-stories and plotlines, but Taylor went to the extra length of watering down some of the darker sides of the novel.

The story of Skeeter’s own maid Constantine, in particular, is heavily glossed over. Then there’s Skeeter’s relationship with Stuart, which is simplified to no more than a brief fling.

Skeeter’s relationship with her mother also takes on more light than shade in the film – which results in a much more likeable and morally upright Charlotte Phelan – and Minny Jackson’s abuse at the hands of her husband is hidden from the audience’s eyes.

While some fans of the book may lament these changes, I was grateful for them. It’s one thing to read about the lives of these women, but it’s a whole other thing to see the pain etched in the lines of each character’s face.

If each humiliation and heartbreak was to be played out on the screen, page by agonizing page, this film would have made for a very depressing viewing experience. As it is, even with the light of the Mississippi sunshine streaming through, there are still scenes that will have you rubbing away an ache in your throat.

The lows could scrape the bottom of any barrel, but it is the highs of this film that keep the audience entranced. Thank heavens for the quirky Celia Foote, who is a breath of dizzying fresh air in the film, just as she is in the novel; and praise be Minny Jackon’s chocolate pie, that will consistently rouse the most demoralized audience into fits of laughter.

Thanks also to the new and improved Charlotte Phelan – there was nothing more gratifying in this film than her insults, which sent Hilly Holbrook skipping right off the front porch.

For me, the power of both the film and the novel came through their honest depiction of the human characters, flaws and all. Stockett has a great talent of writing the voices of her characters – Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter were projected so clearly off the page, that one barely needed the chapter headings that identified which character would be sharing their perspective.

In the film, it is the acting that projects these characters forward and makes them real. Viola Davis is superb as Aibileen and Octavia Spencer deserved the Oscar for her portrayal of Minny - other clear standouts were Bryce Dallas Howard and Sissy Spacek, you had dynamic chemistry as the warring mother and daughter duo, Hilly Holbrook and Mrs Walters.

When Aibileen reassures Minny that “we ain’t doing civil rights, we just telling stories like they really happen,” the audience is reassured along with her. Although fictional, it is the personal stories that make this story matter, because they feel so real.

This story is as important as it is entertaining, as enlightening as it is heartbreaking. Read the book, watch the film – devour both, in any order.

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 Hunger Games

March 16, 2012

You’ve gotta be in it to win it, right?

Just sharing the news that I have entered my humble little blog into The Sydney Writers' Centre’s ‘Best Australian Blogs Competition’.

The competition is open to any Australian blog, of any size, topic and level of popularity… Wish me luck!

Tell us what you really think: Anne Rice

Prior to the release of Interview with the Vampire (1994) Anne Rice very publicly criticized the casting of Tom Cruise in the role of her character Vampire Lestat:

“The Tom Cruise casting is just so bizarre, it’s almost impossible to imagine how it’s going to work. I do think Tom Cruise is a fine actor, [but] you have to know what you can do and what you can’t do.”

Once Rice saw the film, she changed her tune:

“There is one problem created by the compelling charm of Tom’s performance, obviously. Since he isn’t all that nasty, why does Louis hate Lestat? How can he?”

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Tell us what you really think: Audrey Niffenegger
Tell us what you really think: Michael Lewis

Thanks to our source:
Put the book back on the shelf: 13 book-to-film adaptations that the authors hated

March 11, 2012

What will be made of ‘The Book Thief’?

Don’t you love it when you read a book that’s a real page-turner – you become completely engrossed in the characters and the story and you think, this would be great as a movie – and then you hear, it is being made into a movie!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a fantastic book – set in Nazi Germany during Hitler’s reign, it follows the path of a young girl, Liesel Meminger, as she is abandoned by her mother, witnesses her brother’s death, and is placed in the care of a foster family.

The characters are unconventional, yet endearing; the story is tragic, yet desperately heartfelt; and the story is told from a wholly unique perspective that I expect will be difficult for filmmakers to translate from the page to the screen.

You see, The Book Thief is narrated by ‘Death’ – an all-seeing, all-knowing character that has his hands full in Nazi Germany. Death takes a particular interest in Liesel Meminger, and provides a close commentary on all of her plights and endeavours.

Downton Abbey director Brian Percival will be at the helm of the adaptation – it will be interesting to see what he makes of Death… Will he take the tried and tested route of a cloaked spectral being, hovering over a quivering Liesel with a pointing, skeletal hand?

And who will land the plumb role of Liesel? She is nine-years-old when the story kicks off, and the young actress will need to convey some very heavy emotional material that would even be a challenge for Meryl Street.

Definitely an adaptation to watch.

March 10, 2012

The casting quandary #3

One of the biggest sources of contention for fans, when their favourite books are adapted to film, is whether the cast lives up to their expectations.

Does the main character suit the author’s description?

Is the lead man everything that you imagined him to be?

The film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help has received critical acclaim for its casting. Viola Davis was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Aibileen Clark, and Octavia Spencer won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Minny Jackson.

What do you think? Were you as enamored with the casting as the Academy?

Elizabeth Leefolt is described as: “She not just frowning all the time, she skinny. Her legs is so spindly, she look like she done growed em last week. Twenty-three years old and she lanky as a fourteen-year-old boy. Even her hair is thin, brown, see-through. She try to tease it up, but it only make it look thinner. Her face be the same shape as that red devil on the redhot candy box, pointy chin and all.”

Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is described as: “Real tall and skinny. Her hair be yellow and cut short above her shoulders cause she get frizz all year round… She wearing a white lace blouse buttoned up like a nun, flat shoes so I reckon she don’t look any taller. Her blue skirt gaps open in the waist. Miss Skeeter always look like somebody else told her what to wear.”

Hilly Holbrook is described as: “Miss Hilly got a round face and dark brown hair in the beehive. Her skin be alive colour, with freckles and moles. She wear a lot of red plaid. She getting heavy in the bottom. Today, since it’s so hot, she wearing a red sleeveless dress with no waist to it. She one a those grown ladies that still dress like a little girl with big bows and matching hats and such. She ain’t my favourite.”

Minny Jackson is described as: “Minny short and big, got shiny black curls… Minny could probably lift this bus up over her head if she wanted to.”

Aibileen Clark is described as: “Aibileen smiles at me from the sink, her gold tooth shining. She’s a little plump in the middle, but it is a friendly softness… Her skin is dark brown and shiny against her starchy white uniform. Her eyebrows are gray even though her hair is black.”

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March 3, 2012

Tell us what you really think: Suzanne Collins

"I’ve just had the opportunity to see the finished film of The Hunger Games. I’m really happy with how it turned out. I feel like the book and the film are individual yet complementary pieces that enhance one another. The film opens up the world beyond Katniss’ point of view, allowing the audience access to the happenings of places like the Hunger Games control room and President Snow’s rose garden, thereby adding a new dimension to the story."
- Suzanne Collins

March 2, 2012

Coming Soon: John Carter

Being released this week is 'John Carter',  an epic  action-adventure based on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, of 'Tarzan' fame.

The film tells the story of former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly involved an alien conflict of epic proportions. It is a world on the brink of collapse, which inextricably leads Carter to rediscover his humanity.

Check it out...