Bout of Books 17, Day 1 Challenge

For #BoutOfBooks 17, the first challenge (hosted by Writing My Own Fairy Tale) is to post about my most and least favorite film adaptations of books. This is actually a little difficult for me, as I learned long ago that I very rarely enjoy both the book and the movie (or show), so I tend to pick one and then never bother with the other. There are exceptions, of course. (And they are often associated with a reading challenge, which also explains why I have yet to write my book review for Pope Joan.)

This may not be entirely fair, but for most favorite, I am going with a film that I enjoyed but a book that I could barely begin, let alone finish. Seabiscuit (2003). Seabiscuit Poster It’s been far too long ago for me to give you a movie review at this point, but I distinctly remember being pleasantly surprised that I liked a movie about horseracing so much. Back then I had pretty much zero interest in the topic. I was eager to read the book — and then so terribly disappointed. A few chapters in, I had to chuck it. It was good only as a cure for insomnia. (I should probably mention that the vast majority of Goodreads reviewers disagree with me on this point.) So props to the filmmakers for turning a really boring book into a highly entertaining and critically acclaimed film.

For least favorite film adaptation, there are many to choose from, but I’m going to go with my gut and say Rebecca (1940). Rebecca Poster Yep, the Hitchcock classic. I know, I know, there are so many more terrible movies from books. And I hated Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) so much that I have since refused to watch any Hitchcock adaptation of du Maurier’s work. But du Maurier’s Rebecca is a novel near and dear to my heart, one of the few books that I have re-read multiple times. Like many readers, I tend to make a movie in my head while I’m reading, and there were several scenes about which I felt very strongly. I had a remarkably vivid vision of how the ball, in particular, should look. And Hitchcock flat ruined it. Not just that scene, but that’s what makes my blood boil even now. It’s a good thing for him he was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean, because I wanted very much to dig up his corpse and mutilate it.

Some Thoughts on Some Movies

I don’t really have enough for a full review of any of the movies I’ve watched recently, but I feel like sharing about some of them. Zootopia_Flash_and_Priscilla

Sometime in January or February, we finally got around to seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you are at all interested in seeing it, you probably have already done so, and I’m not such a Star Wars geek that I flatter myself that I have anything significant to add to the various conversations surrounding the new film and its place in the canon. So, yeah, I really, really liked it a lot. It wasn’t perfect, but Abrams did a fine job of it, I was pleased with the characters and casting, and it sure as anything beat the hell out of the prequels.

Speaking of the prequels, some of you may be unaware of this thing called the Machete Order. But don’t click that link if you have ::gasp:: never watched any of the Star Wars movies. In that case, I’ll just tell you straight-up that the recommended order for watching the first six episodes of the saga is IV, V, II, III, VI. Yes, completely skipping episode I (the first prequel). If you have watched at least the original trilogy, go ahead and click through for Rod Hilton’s explanation of why he feels this is the best order in which to view the films. I’m inclined to agree with him overall, but I still feel a bit odd about actively recommending any of the prequels.

Not long after that, we went with some friends to the opening night of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I don’t often go to opening nights or weekends anymore, mainly because in my old age I’m becoming less tolerant of crowded venues. But most of our group were part of a book club that read the book, and this was the first real opportunity I’d had to check out the new cinema bistro in town. And it was refreshing to see cosplayers in Georgian garb instead of spandex. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good feel for the new venue, as several of us had a hard time finding the place and the previews were already going by the time we got in. I never did find the button to put my footrest up.

I said our book club read the book, but I suppose it’s more accurate to say it was a book club selection. I have tried twice now to read it but haven’t gotten very far. It’s an amusing concept, but it only goes so far, and the inserted zombie bits don’t feel smoothly integrated into the Jane Austen story. In some ways, I suspect the movie is actually better than the book. I went in with very low expectations, and I was rewarded with an entertaining pseudo-period romp. I did find it odd that about half the cast seemed to be in on the joke and did a great job camping it up, while the other half seemed to be laboring under the impression that they were in a Masterpiece Theatre production. Even odder, though, was that this just made it all the more fun. Anyway, this movie is worth seeing for Matt Smith’s Mr Collins alone.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a fun Bollywood version of P&P, check out Bride and Prejudice. Bonus: Naveen Andrews! Though he has this irritating habit of being fully clad throughout the movie.

I was kind of burned out on superhero movies, so I didn’t really have any desire to see Deadpool, despite all the hype. But then I saw an actual preview and decided it looked like it might be a little different. So we went during opening weekend. And stupid people brought their young kids. Really? Cinemas should have bouncers. Anyway, the movie was a lot of super-violent fun. I don’t really keep up with the Marvel characters and all their reboots and prequels, so I’m sure I missed a lot of the inside jokes, but it was still a great ride. It is quite graphic and raunchy, though, so don’t see it unless you are prepared for that.

Last weekend I watched Silver Linings Playbook on Netflix. Great performances, good story, but wow, really hard to watch. Particularly for me, as Bradley Cooper in this puts me in mind a great deal of an old friend of mine from high school. It’s worth it, though.

Then a few nights ago Flash (If you know Brian and have seen at least the sloth trailer for the movie, then you understand.) took me to see Zootopia.  This is the best kids’ movie I have seen in a very long time. Beautiful animation, a noir-ish mystery, and great messages about prejudice, all bundled up with a sense of humor that has something for everybody.

Film Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

I watched this quirky sf rom-com last night, and my sleep suffered for it. I cannot simply take it at face value as so many reviewers seem to be doing. Am I really the only viewer whose brain kept going around in circles, pondering the time travel concepts? Maybe that’s what I get for being married to an amateur theoretical physicist all those years. But I know from my own writing that there is a ton of stuff — research, back story, tangents, spin-offs, subplots, etc — that never makes it onto the page. Surely it’s the same with movies. How much of this story never made it onto the cutting-room floor, let alone the screen? There is so much going on there that is just hinted at in this movie that I have to suspect there is much, much more to this story than is readily apparent on the first viewing.

Yes, I am going to have to buy the DVD when it’s released and analyze the bejeebies out of this film. I have lots of pet theories, but I think I need to watch this at least once more before sharing any of them. But let me just ask this: Did the Kenneth in this film seem to have time-travelled before?

Setting aside the intricacies of the space-time continuum for a few moments, I have to say I adored this film. It was sweetly funny without being cloying or insipid, and its balance of geeky physics and human connections was perfect. All of the characters were interesting, each giving some unique insight into loss and regret. And if the writing was well done, the direction and performances were exceptional. This was the realest-feeling movie I’ve seen in a long time, and I mean that in the best sense.

I know this film has limited distribution, but please go see it if you have the opportunity. Then come here and discuss it with me. Tell me if I’m as crazy as Kenneth. Or crazier.

Fear of the Dark

You have probably heard by now that the midnight premiere of the new Batman movie at a Colorado cineplex turned into a massacre early Friday morning. And you have probably heard about the fear now surrounding other showings of the movie. Cinemas throughout the nation have increased armed security, particularly at screenings of The Dark Knight Rises, and many cinemagoers have stated that, at the very least, they are having second thoughts about going out to see the movie, future midnight premieres of other films, or movies in general. This saddens me. No, actually, it frightens me.

I am thankful that there has already been a response to this reactionary, if well-meant, fearmongering. It is especially at times like these that we cannot afford to let fear rule our lives and decide our fates. Does it make sense to stay alert and aware of what is going on around us? Yes. I’ve worked in public safety long enough to know that can go a long way to heading off disaster. Does it make sense to stop and reflect on what we might do if faced with a disaster? Of course. Planning, training, and preparedness are the things that help first responders remain calm and effective when the unthinkable occurs. Adopting a similar attitude can save precious seconds even for those of us who are not professional heroes. But focusing on the fear itself gives it power. It can paralyze us. It can demoralize us. It can kill us.

It’s early days yet in this particular incident’s investigation, but certain items that have come to light really make me question the fearful fallout we are experiencing and even promoting in the name of “caution.” We don’t know much about the gunman’s motivations or his apparent descent into madness, but it seems fairly clear that he acted alone and was not part of some larger organization or plot.  So why are we giving this one man’s deranged outburst the full TSA treatment? Not that I think the TSA approach is particularly effective in the “war on terror,” whatever that may be, and not to downplay the horror of the attack or the impact of the enormous losses incurred in this tragedy,  but what exactly do we think we are protecting ourselves from by putting so much energy into defending Batman audiences? Copycat shooters? Honestly? That may be the official line, but what we are really scared of is our own shadow.

Why else does so much of the commentary this weekend revolve around the darkness of the film’s themes? Why are media outlets rushing to pull the movie ads from the airwaves? Do we really feel ourselves so weak-minded a population that we think any reminder of the dark, dank corners in humanity’s soul will topple us from the precarious perch we have named Sanity? I am constantly having to remind myself that my day job gives me a particularly skewed perception of the human condition. My days are filled with narratives peopled by felons, drunkards, paranoid schizophrenics, junkies, liars, run-of-the-mill jerks, and corpses — and the poor cops who have to translate their stories into something fit to put before the DA. Some days it is downright depressing. Yet here I am, exhorting my fellow humans, be they goodhearted sweethearts or good-for-nothing scoundrels, to acknowledge our dark side but not flee from it. This fear of the unknown will feed on itself if we let it. Ignoring it will not make it go away, but that seems to be a common theme in the wake of this incident.

I do understand the pulling of movie trailers (for a different film) that show a scene in which someone enters a theatre and starts shooting. That’s not a matter of fear; that’s just demonstrating a little tact. What is frightening me is the finger-pointing, this idea that blame can be assigned to artistic depictions of the darkness of humanity and that those who create or consume such works are somehow more dangerous and/or endangered than “normal” folks. What I have come to realize, though, is that there is no “normal.” Normalcy is a bedtime story we tell ourselves so we can get some sleep despite all the monsters lurking in our closets. As humans, we have been harboring the dark within ourselves since we came into being. We simply differ, on an individual basis, as to the degree and the manifestation. When we encounter such an extreme exhibition, such as that of James Holmes, it would behoove us to, instead of running from the dark, drag it out into the light of day, get a good look at it, poke and prod it, and figure out what makes it tick. And this is precisely what many artists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians devote their lives to. They create mirror worlds for us to examine, and when their monsters seem — or become — too real for us to shove under the bed, we plead with our gods to save us. And it seems that one of our favorite gods is Censorship.

I’m not necessarily talking about official panels who pass down decisions on what can be created and distributed through legal channels. I mean trying to pretend that showing evil is itself an evil thing. Even without laws or regulations, this means that the creatives we should be relying on to reveal the contents of the dark are instead learning to self-censor in order to avoid being vilified by the “normals.” And it means that the teachers we should be relying on to show our youth how to recognize the dangers of the dark are instead expurgating their most valuable tools in the name of keeping children “safe.” Ah, safety — another fairy tale we tell ourselves. This world is not safe, and we are not safe creatures. Bad things will happen, and humans will do bad things. Some worse than others. But only if we seek to understand the darkness — in ourselves as well as in others — will we truly be able to defend ourselves from it taking over our world.

Film Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I’ve heard the book is much better than the movie, so I have purposely put off reading the book. I think this helped me enjoy the movie for what it was, a fun mash-up of vampire horror and alternative history. It wasn’t overtly steampunk, but there were certainly several nice steampunk touches, especially in the vampire wardrobes. And of course there’s a huge steam train sequence. 

The pacing seemed to be a bit off, which probably resulted, at least in part, from the adaptation process. Very few full-length novels make the jump to the big screen well, and I’ve always wondered why more filmmakers don’t concentrate on adapting shorter works. At any rate, it will be interesting to see how or if my opinion on the plotting changes after I’ve read the book. I also wonder if Speed’s character will seem more consistent to me in the novel. Yes, yes, I understand the plot twist involving him. I’m talking about some of the more subtle things in his attitude.

Well, I guess I will just have to read the book before I can say a whole lot more about the movie. But if you’re in the mood for a fun vampire flick with lots of blood and some great action scenes, you could do far worse.