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Archive for the tag “Gone Girl”

Mixing mediums to mixed success: books and the movies

Recently, I listened to a podcast that discussed great books which turned into decent movies. Nick Hornby, by all appearances, is the poster child for successful author with novels that easily translate to film. His books High Fidelity, Fever Pitch, and About a Boy have all been made into movies that received high praise. I rather enjoyed About a Boy, but I have to say that the book version of High Fidelity was much better than the film.

And why is that? What makes a good book into a good, or even great, film? About a Boy had fantastic casting, so that’s part of it. But it also had a clipped pace and solved the “inner monologue” problem that characters in books get to use with abandon by having Hugh Grant provide the narration, which was not overly used. High Fidelity, on the other hand, practically had John Cusack speaking to the camera in every frame, which became bothersome and resembled some kind of tricky filming gimmick that I didn’t quite believe. And I didn’t like the woman cast as Laura, so the love story was a wash for me.

In fact, casting does play a big part of the whole success/non-success of book turned movie. I couldn’t bear to watch any of the Harry Potter movies because the actors cast as Hermione, Harry, Ron, etc, didn’t match the character versions from the book and my imagination. Hugh Grant, however, was perfectly placed as the half man/half boy selfish singleton living the carefree life in London. Renee Zellweger was born to play Bridget, in Bridget Jones’ Diary.

On rare occasions, a movie can even outshine the book version. The English Patient comes to my mind as an absolutely boring slog-fest of a novel, but roared and came to stunning life as a film. James Bond movies are another example of so-so stories that take on a life of their own on the big screen. Again, casting is key.

And sometimes a movie and a book come together as one and do the hard job of complimenting each other nicely. “Gone Girl” the novel I loved, but I was very skeptical of the movie version at first. If you’ve read the book, you might also wonder how they pull off the “big reveal” without it being too obvious or too cheesy. I thought the book was a wonderful interpretation of the book. The casting director responsible for putting the actress who played Margot deserves a medal. Her chemistry and relationship with her fictional brother, Ben Affleck, was key to the story. And Rosamund Pike… I can’t say enough about how much I love Rosamund Pike. The movie had big shoes to fill, and some folks I know were confused by the ending. Why would a man STAY with a woman like that? Here is where the book is a better narrative. You get more insight into Amy’s troubled and broken relationship with her parents, and you also get a clearer image of Nick “the people pleaser” who cannot let go of his hero/needs to be loved image. But the film Gone Girl did amazing things with Amy’s diary sequences and flashbacks, which made the whole movie for me.

And then there is the question question of interpretation. Obviously, a movie is a director’s (and screenwriter’s) adaptation of the fictional work. It can’t, as a visual medium, follow a book to the letter. Some crucial parts and minor characters will be reimagined, or left out altogether. The podcast crew I listened to pointed to the inconsistencies in American Sniper the film versus “American Sniper” the memoir. Here, the story deviated wildly from book to movie. “Gone with the Wind” is another novel that led to a loose interpretation in the movie version. Most notably, Scarlett O’Hara is missing some kids from her first husband. How much or how little gets changed depends on the type of story the director wants to tell. Radically changing details by no means is indicative of faulty storytelling in the novel form that gets “cleaned up” in the film version. But I do think books tell better linear stories than film. Books fill in the gaps with reminiscing, backstory, and small scenes with characters that are not pertinent to the overall arc. Trying to capture all of this in a film, going from point A to point B and following the exact path of the book, makes for a boring, by the numbers, movie.

Some of my favorite book to film adaptations:

  • Sense and Sensibility
  • The English Patient
  • About a Boy
  • The Graduate
  • Forest Gump (a nothing book that turned into a wonderful film)
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary
  • Fried Green Tomatoes

Any others that I’m missing? What do you think?

Agree to disagree… on books.

As much as I love to talk about books on my blog and with other book lovers, I must admit that I am loathe to be asked “What book are you reading?” by a stranger on the elevator or while waiting in line. I know it’s idle chit-chat, or someone just passing the time, or another fellow book lover in disguise wanting to connect, but when I’m caught off guard like that I get nervous. I’m mostly nervous about the book I’m holding and what that person will think the title says about me. I understand that I shouldn’t care, but I just do. What if they’ve read it and they proceed to tell me how much they hated it and have a slightly disdainful look in their eye at my choice? It’s happened before. And I’m caught in the middle of a dilemma: yes, this person has a right to his or her opinion and so do I. But what if it’s a book I really love and I suddenly have to defend my choice?

I absolutely believe that there should be differing opinions among book lovers about the same book. The most successful of my book club meetings were the ones where things got very divided and very heated (champagne was flung and voices were raised at one event). Still, I’m curious and perplexed as to the reason why when I completely fall in love with a book and a fellow book clubber- one who even has similar taste in books- has the opposite reaction, or vice versa.

For example, I thought “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn was one of the best spins on the modern mystery genre I have read in long time. A friend in book club hated its guts! I found “One Thousand White Women” by Jim Fergus to be a total waste of my time and then I read today that another Goodreads friend just gave it 5 stars. After reading “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant a few years back, I proclaimed it to be one of the most important and poignant reads for women. I still have yet to meet anyone else who has read it to claim that he or she found it as thrilling or profound as I did.

Is it just me? Or is it them? When you are so divided- love it or hate it- on a book, where does the criteria fall? Now, I understand that I’ve started to judge books more harshly than I ever have before. Part of it is that I’m looking at literature in a new way, since I joined a book club and have taken to read a variety of genres, and another part of me just got tired of reading crap. However, I will go ahead and rate a book 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads if it simply filled me joy, even though it might not be anyone’s idea of a literary tour de force.

But why do I still get that shaky feeling in my stomach, as if I’ve already failed, when I encounter someone who either loved or hated a book that I, contrariwise, felt so strongly about. When I saw that “One Thousand White Women” was given 5 stars, I instantly thought to myself, “How did I miss the boat? What is she seeing that I’m not?”. I find it fascinating that two people can have such completely different experiences reading the same story, yet it’s also disappointing. We can both share our joy or disgust over it, but we will never sit on absolute common ground.

I don’t like to judge others on his or her reading tastes because books we love or read often cut close to our souls. I wish there was a perfect response to the “What are you reading?” questions. Next time I spot someone on his or her way to lunch, clutching a book that I may have read or want to read, perhaps the best method is: “I see you are reading XXX. I, too, have read it. May I approach?” Or maybe I’m reading (ha!) too much into things, as usual. After all, there are worse things to fight over. I’d much rather have a spirited conversation over books than politics any day!

Book Review: “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn

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This is a gross book. Not saying it is bad by any means, but it’s just plain icky and cringe-inducing, filled with disturbing, dirty, and awfully sick people. Oh, and Gillian Flynn should probably not sit on the tourist board for Missouri anytime soon, as this is the second novel I’ve read of hers featuring a Missouri locale and she doesn’t paint it in any flattering light. Also, fair warning: If you involuntarily shudder and throw up a little bit in your mouth any time someone mentions “teeth pulling”, do not read this book.

However, all of my above initial thoughts aside, I give admirable praise to Flynn for having the guts to create such unlikeable main characters and for refusing to wrap her stories up in a tidy bow. I do not say this sarcastically, either. She excels at writing flawed people, and it’s truly refreshing to read books by a female author writing about the anti-heroes. One of the reasons I enjoyed “Gone Girl” so much was not that it was the best book I’d ever read, but that Flynn was willing to flip aside the mystery genre “rule book” and go for broke. I hated Nick as much as I hated Amy and I wasn’t too fond of his sister or her parents, either. Same goes for “Sharp Objects”- Camille Preaker is only one step above the rest of her wretched family, but she’s just as disturbed as nearly everyone else in her broken and Stepford Wife-esque home-town. She’s dismally depressed, a heavy drinker, a poor judgement of character, and has a dark and jagged (wink wink) past. So what’s to love? She and almost she alone feels genuine sorrow for the murdered girls and is doing her darnedest to uncover the truth. I do end up garnering some sympathy for her, as I did with Nick in “Gone Girl”, albeit grudgingly.

But again, I must stress that “Sharp Objects” is by no means awful, even though it’s filled with awful folks doing terribly awful things. Flynn veers into traditional mystery genre formula territory near the end of the book, and it got painfully slow and repetitive somewhere near the 3/4 of the way gone mark. Although I (strangely) found it interesting to read about such flawed and damaged main characters, the author does fall into the trap of having Camille appear as too much of an outsider. She’s nearly always the smartest gal in the room and there is much commentary on how the other Wind Gap, MO town folk- most of whom having never left after high school- are immature, self-centered, uncultured, and stuck in the past. It gets to be insulting after a time. While Camille is no way near perfect (as the reader quickly discovers) she’s also not a fair judge to anyone else, and I quickly tired of having to listen (I read this via audio book) through endless interviews with her former school mates that ultimately resulted in peevish and childish trips down memory lane. Having never kept up, really, with anyone from high school, I couldn’t identify with this reminiscing and the absurd assumption that Camille could possibly be the only one who literally and figuratively “moved on” from high school drama.

As for the “whodunnit” aspect of the book, I guessed early on who the true culprit was. This isn’t necessarily a disappointing thing; as I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of awful side stories to go around and Flynn does make good use of diversionary tactics. The unfolding of the mystery is very slow going at first but after a while the speed picks up and I was hooked. I don’t think I have ever wanted to sit in traffic so much in my life, just to get one more smidge of story. And, one of the perks of listening in my car versus reading the actual book, was that I could not skip ahead or peek to the end! A huge (and sometimes incredibly frustrating) feat for me! I had to actually work out the crime myself and couldn’t take a tiny quick look at the end of the book to see if I was right!

The epilogue attempts to wrap up the story, but Flynn keeps things from steering into a fairy tale ending. I actually loved the ending a lot. Camille finally reaches a starting point where peace can potentially be achieved and there are just desserts for the killer. Nothing ever gets resolved, really. But I think Flynn is a smart writer- when does anything in real life ever get a “completed” stamp? The journey never truly ends for these characters, which ultimately makes her books so engrossing and thought-provoking, even when the stories and characters are not always shocking or pleasant.

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