Category Archives: book to film

The Great Gatsby 2013

The Great Gatsby ~ Every time I think of this Baz Luhrman flick, I can’t help thinking about the “Entourage” fictional version Gatsby. Maybe if I keep thinking that, I can also manifest another fake movie from the show, Aquaman, ’cause that one I really want to see.

At first, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to see this new version of Gatsby. I remember vaguely reading it as a teenager, and then being made to read it in college. I remember watching a TV version as an ABC movie of the week back in the seventies and being bored to tears.

The Great Gatsby is a lot of tell vs. show, along with subtext and metaphor that if you don’t get, your English teacher or professor will have a seizure. It’s also full of unlikable characters. It serves its purpose, like say Catcher in the Rye, don’t get me wrong, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Then there’s the problem of the director. Baz Luhrman, for me, is a creator of extremes. I think his Romeo + Juliet is a work of brilliance, yet his critically acclaimed Moulin Rouge! revels in the mud of my bottom five. I hated it. And because of it, I approach any further Luhrman work with contempt, derision, and caution. The Great Gatsby, seemingly in a similar vein to those two previously mentioned films, is definitely no exception.

I did not hate this version of Gatsby, but I didn’t love it either. It falls somewhere around my impression of the 1970s one, less than impressed, and bored. The leads are strong and perfect had this been in hands of any other director. Luhrman resorts to camera tricks, fast motion, modern music, and even 3-D trickery, and all any of it does is sour and dilute the classic story. Don’t waste your time, unless you’re a fan or morbidly curious.

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Re-Reading The Shining

I am reading “The Shining” again for the first time in thirty-five, thirty-six years. Amazing how far author Stephen King has come, and so odd to see simple wording and point of view errors he would never make today. It is also something to marvel to read a simpler King, but also what may be a more sinister King.

Back in 1977, I started reading the big hardcover version of “The Shining” first, which my mom had borrowed from my book enabling big sister. It seemed like a historical romance from that cover, almost giving off a “Dallas,” “Dynasty” or sweeping John Michener vibe. There was the big hotel on the front (and back) cover looking almost similar to Tara from Gone with the Wind, painted images of the man, the woman, and the child, and the hedge animals. My sister needed her copy back, so then I bought the paperback at the local grocery store. That was a gray book with a blank boy’s face on it, and that’s the copy I still have today.

I remember plowing through it rather quickly, on the front porch swing during the days, and in bed before sleep, which defiantly came. This was King’s third book, chronologically at least, and I’m pretty sure I knew he was something special even then, that he was subversively teaching me writing skills and techniques. All that and he was a joy to read.

And what attracted me most of all, was that he wrote about writers. There’s the interviewer in “Carrie,” Ben Mears in “‘Salem’s Lot,” and now Jack Torrence. I could relate, and now I was hooked for a lifetime. Both my own and King’s, as writers would continue as protagonists and even antagonists for dozens of novels to follow, notably the nebulously aligned Harold Lauder in my favorite King novel, “The Stand.”

The young Stephen King plays fast and loose with perspective and point of view I’ve noticed. As an editor (and yes, I know how presumptuous this is), there are more than a few things I would have corrected in the book regarding POV. Let’s just say, he did get better. Much better, or at least as good as one of the best selling novelists of our era can be.

Young Danny’s perspective and understanding of things is a puzzle of complexity. Does he know and understand because of his psychic abilities? Or does he for the sake of storytelling? King walks a very fine line here, most times opting for the latter, and weaving a tighter more terrifying tale for the reader.

There is one difference I noticed in my Nook copy of “The Shining” however. The word REDRUM written in a graphic in my original paperback copy of the book, but not in my Nook copy. It was missed. Back in the day, tricks like that, raised and/or cut out covers, or the multiplying flies above chapters in “The Amityville Horror,” made books in the late 1970s a little bit more special.

There is also the matter of Jack Torrence’s alcoholism. At the time “The Shining” was released the public was unaware of King’s own struggles with old devil drink. This fact in retrospect lends a frightening realism to what was already horrific in the book. We knew King was a teacher, spent time in Colorado, but now, we can’t help but wonder… was he abusive as well? Dare I ask – did he harm his wife and family? Just how autobiographical is “The Shining”?

King has always made the distinction with Stanley Kubrick ‘s film version, that he had written a book about a haunted house, but the director made a movie about domestic violence. What if he protest-eth too much? What if King insisted on that because Kubrick hit too close to home? My intent is not to make accusations, mind you, but to report the extra dimension facts about the author’s life bring to the work. It certainly made some of it uncomfortable to read.

The sequel to “The Shining” has been a rumor that has floated around for years. It became just a little bit more real when Kung finally gave it a name, “Doctor Sleep.” When he wrote it and announced a release date, then things got hot. “Doctor Sleep” is scheduled for release today, and there’s also a preview at the end of my Nook copy of “The Shining” as well.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter ~ Based on the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the screenplay, this mash-up of the horror and historical genres is a lot better than it has a right to be, and yet, it should have been, and could have been a lot better.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a pretty good vampire slayer flick, and a half-decent horror flick. It tries very hard, sometimes almost desperately to make the historical part fit, and actually makes some pretty rational points about the philosophy of slavery throughout the history of mankind, and in the mind of man himself.

The problem is that the initial premise of the film, hell, the source material itself, is just ridiculous. Think about it. The idea that our celebrated sixteenth President had a secret identity hunting and killing vampires is just ludicrous – and it’s played straight, deadly straight. What’s missing is a sense of humor. Just a bit of whimsy or even a wink at the audience would go a long, long way toward improving this flick.

The movie is well done, as I said, and the fight scenes are pretty cool. The final train fight and the earlier stampede chase is especially dynamic. Benjamin Walker is excellent, and darned earnest, as the President, and I look forward to seeing him in other stuff. Turn your brain off, and just enjoy, and it’s not a bad movie at all.

Total Recall

Total Recall ~ I thought it might be worth taking another look at this 2012 remake of the 1990 scifi classic, especially in the light of seeing Iron Man Three and Star Trek Into Darkness, as well as anticipating Man of Steel later this month. All of these films have one thing in common. Everything you think you know is wrong, here’s the new spin, enjoy the irony and the fun references to what you thought was going on.

Anyone walking into Total Recall, or any of those other flicks, is going to get what they thought they would, and that’s part if the ride. And rollercoaster ride is principally what Total Recall is. It barely ever stops from start to finish, the action is full on forward, barely giving the viewer time to catch their breath.

Those expecting star Colin Farrell to play Arnold Schwarzeneggar are to be disappointed. This flick is both a remake of the 1990 film and loosely (as loosely as the original) based on the Philip K. Dick story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Keep in mind, the original protagonist was based on Richard Dreyfus so Farrell is not right either. As far as cast goes however, only he and antagonist, Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad,” really shine.

The setting is different, rather than Mars, this is set fully on Earth, even as Earth as a tunnel through the world from London to Australia features solidly. It’s still a dystopian future, and our hero still has memory issues and may not be who he thinks he is. Same s#!t, different day, if you’ll pardon the expletive.

The references are plentiful and amusing, as long as you’re not a purist to the first movie, or the story. Just sit back, turn off your brain and enjoy the ride. I loved the flying car chase, amped up unbelievably over the one in The Fifth Element, and the more original vertical/horizontal elevator chase. Bring seat belts!

And if you’re a fan of Philip K. Dick, don’t forget about the Radio Free Albemuth Kickstarter, as mentioned on this week’s GAR! Podcast.

Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra ~ I remember Liberace from my childhood. I remember him from the 1966 “Batman” TV show (in syndication, I’m not that old), where his appearance as villainous twin brothers equaled the series’ highest rated episodes. Such was the power of Liberace. He was not only a fabulous piano player, and a faaah-bulous showman, he was a huge star, and a serious draw when it came to stage and screen. When Liberace was on TV, for various reasons, you had to see it, and his stage show, whether in Vegas, New York, or LA, it was always a sensation.

While it wasn’t talked about back then, I think everyone knew Liberace was gay, it was oddly accepted he was different in that way. Liberace was wholesome entertainment. When I heard HBO was making a movie about him, I feared the worst. Especially after recent hack jobs on Phil Spector and Alfred Hitchcock. HBO knows how to make quality television series, but the folks who make their movies are out of control.

When I heard it would be about Liberace and his last lover, Scott Thorson, I knew it would be another smear piece. Thorson’s book of the same name was a memoir in much the same vein as Mommy Dearest.

Then I heard about the casting, and I was intrigued. Michael Douglas as Liberace, and Matt Damon as Scott Thorson. Wow. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it? Here’s the thing, they pull it off, they pull it off mind bogglingly well. When I see a flick with a big name star, if I can stop calling them by name, and believe they are the character, that’s impressive to me. For instance, Meryl Streep and Mel Gibson are always Meryl and Mel to me, but here, this was Liberace and Thorson. The actors’ performances are stunning.

True or not, those performances are scarred by the outrageous and flamboyant story. It may have happened that way, and they may have worn those clothes, but the absurdity of the situations take away from the quality of Douglas and Damon.

It also doesn’t help that the rest of the cast is filled out by comedians and actors doing their crazy best. Rob Lowe, Dan Ackroyd, Scott Bakula, and Debbie Reynolds, among others, are at their insane peak, equal to Douglas and Damon.

Should you watch it? Definitely. Behind the Candelabra is both time capsule and freakshow, and most importantly a manic showcase for the actors involved, and nowhere near the usual trainwreck we have gotten recently from HBO Films.

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook ~ You might have noticed its been quite a while since I posted about any movies currently in theaters. Well, it’s been a while since I’ve been out to a movie. Tonight, after dinner with good friends we haven’t seen in a while, we decided to hit a flick last minute. I wanted Die Hard or The Hobbit, but the ladies settled on multiple Oscar nom rom com drama Silver Linings Playbook.

What a pleasant surprise. I didn’t know all that much about it beyond the noms for best picture, best actor Bradley Cooper, best actress Jennifer Lawrence, best supportings Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver, and best director David O. Russell. Surprisingly all of the noms are well deserved, some might not win, but all well deserved.

Based on the book “The Silver Linings Playbook” by local teacher turned novelist Matthew Quick. That alone lends credibility to the locale of the flick – Philadelphia, as well as the passion for Eagles football so important to the story. That story has bi-polar Patrick (Cooper) trying to repair his life and get his wife back, even though she’s moved on while he was in a mental hospital. Enter Tiffany (Lawrence) widowed and equally flawed, trying to get him back on his feet.

Cooper and Lawrence are no strangers to Oscar, and recently she has gained serious genre cred as Catniss and young Mystique. I think Jennifer Lawrence’s best years are ahead of her, and right now she’s better than most other actresses her age. I loved her here. DeNiro and Weaver are just as good as Cooper’s parents. The whole film is full of terrific performances, including Julia Stiles, Shea Whigham of “Boardwalk Empire,” Anupam Kher, and believe it or not, a completely non-annoying Chris Tucker.

This was a great flick, I definitely see a couple (at least) Oscars coming its way this weekend, but let’s face it. It’s no Die Hard. 😉

A Christmas Story 2

A Christmas Story 2 ~ This review should have been timely to the season, but Netflix never delivered the disc until we reported it undelivered. Not their fault, and I’m really not complaining. They’ve given our household superior service for at least a decade. One would just think with their delivery technique becoming obsolete, their technology outdated, and their selection diminished – they might just try a but harder is all.

On to the movie, and the review. I was very wary of this flick when I first heard about it. I am a huge fan of Jean Shepherd, both his numerous TV series and movies, and his books and stories. The original A Christmas Story was brilliant, as was its underrated and largely forgotten first sequel My Summer Story, also known as It Runs in the Family. From all indications, only the characters are the same in A Christmas Story 2, and it does not include any of Shepherd’s work, or charm.

From the opening of the film, I was ill. The narration, the voice of the adult Ralphie, formerly that of the late Jean Shepherd, was now taken by screenwriter Nat Mauldin, doing a shamefully bad and consistently out of breath Shepherd imitation. So bad is this almost never-ending narration that it completely distracts from, rather than holding together the film. I found myself wanting to tell him to take a break, catch his breath, we would wait. Yeah, it’s that bad. And the narration sets the tone, as everyone is doing a cheap imitation of the original movie.

The story is set six years after the first A Christmas Story, and has much the same plot. Ralphie wants a car instead of a BB gun. The catch is he wrecks the car and has to pay for it before his old man finds out about it. The acting is painful, and the actors should be ashamed for raping the corpse of Jean Shepherd. On the good side, the film does present a reasonably good facsimile of 1940s middle America. I guess that’s where the money went.

Steer as far from this shameful rip-off as possible. You will get a million times more enjoyment watching the original for the hundredth time than you will trying to watch this crap just once. Seek out the real Jean Shepherd in print, audio, and video – and forget this garbage.

Charly

Charly ~ Back in high school we had to read the short story version of “Flowers for Algernon,” we could read the novel by Daniel Keyes too, if we wanted, for extra credit. It was the tale of a mentally retarded man who is ‘cured’ by the miracle of science.

In 1968 it was made into the film Charly, which won Cliff Robertson an Oscar in the title role. I’ve never seen it in its entirety until now. What a pleasant and emotional surprise. Robertson’s transformation from simple to complex, shall we say, is amazing, but then again, he’s always been a terrific actor.

Claire Bloom is straight and adequate, somewhat of a cipher. She is neither good nor bad as Charly’s teacher/girlfriend. The late Ravi Shankar produces an intriguing and decidedly non-Eastern score.

The director Ralph Nelson, who also did Father Goose, Lilies of the Field, and Soldier Blue, is one of the reasons Charly stands out as a film. His odd and original use of split screen, and picture in picture techniques mark the movie as different.

Toward the end, when the story and ending becomes clear, it takes on a Rod Serling vibe, as if it were an extended episode of “The Twilight Zone” or “Night Gallery.” It’s sad and troubling, but good is a story if it does evoke an emotional reaction, right? Great flick, recommended.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi ~ Well, it may not be the live action version of Calvin and Hobbes, but the moral of the story is Don’t move to Canada.

I saw Life of Pi the day after I saw Skyfall, marking not only a return for me to seeing movies in theaters after a while, but also seeing two visually stunning films back to back. The visuals are amazing. This is notably the first film I have seen in 2D, that was available in 3D, that I have regretted not seeing in 3D. I spent a good amount of time saying, “Wow, that would have been incredible in 3D.”

Told in flashback, in the framing sequence of a man telling a writer of a life-changing event he experienced as a younger man, Life of Pi is about perception. Pi’s family, who owns a zoo in India, decides to move to Canada, with the animals, via a shady Japanese freighter. Shipwrecked, Pi finds himself alone with a tiger on a lifeboat at sea for months. His survival is at the core of the tale, and director Ang Lee makes it all worthwhile with this incredible piece of eye candy.

There’s a kicker at the end, that in the film disappointed me, but had I read the book the movie is based on, I might have hurled it across the room. Yeah, it’s like that. Good thing I didn’t read the book, I’m sure it would have infuriated me. It is the stunning visuals in the film that talk my anger in off the ledge.

Young Pi, played by Suraj Sharma, is fantastic in a role using primarily gestures and facial expressions – and acting for the most part alone, with and against a completely CGI tiger. Yeah, that blew me away. There’s no tiger, it’s all CGI. But that tiger is a hell of an actor too. The adult Pi is played by one of my favorite Indian actors, Irrfan Khan, who folks might know from The Amazing Spider-Man or Slumdog Millionaire, but who I loved in HBO’s “In Treatment.” His performance is both solid and subtlety brilliant.

Life of Pi must be seen, preferably on the big screen, and preferably in 3D. This film will be in contention for several Oscars this year. See it.

And oh yeah, don’t move to Canada, or at least not the way Pi did.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution ~ Combining two themes I’ve been writing about here and elsewhere this year, I look at a Sherlock Holmes movie from the 1970s. Having never seen this one before, all I remember of hearing about it was the much ado about Holmes’ drug use. That’s not that big a deal however as it’s from the books, and therefore canon.

The film sets its tone immediately with the opening credits, which reminded me unfortunately of those of Monty Python and the Holy Grail from the year before. This was to be a comedy then. The story purports that Moriarty’s evil was a drug induced paranoid delusion of the detective’s, and that he needed the help of Sigmund Freud to get well. In hypnosis sessions, the ‘true’ origins of Sherlock Holmes are revealed.

The cast is filled with major star power including Robert Duvall as Watson with an impossible English accent. Alan Arkin as Freud, the underrated Charles Gray as Mycroft (a role he would play again in the PBS Jeremy Brett Holmes series), and Nicol Williamson as the simpering, almost imbecilic Holmes are all brilliant, and that’s not even mentioning Sir Lawrence Olivier as the maligned Prof. Moriarty. It’s not the way I want to see my Holmes, but there’s no denying the great performance.

The film is based on the first of three Sherlock Holmes books by author and director Nicholas Meyer, who also received an Oscar nom for the screenplay. He is obviously a huge Holmes fan, and all three of the books were designed to fill in the blanks of the detective’s life, as well as dismiss some of the canon he felt didn’t quite fit. Sadly, the later included Moriarty.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is a beautifully shot, wickedly performed, and well designed mystery adventure, well worth watching, but it’s not the kind of Sherlock Holmes story I want to see. I guess, in the end, I’m a traditionalist.