A Truly Awful Movie-Going Experience

A little less than a week ago, I finally succeeded in dragging M to see “Beautiful Creatures.” I read the book last year (along with two of the three sequels) and I enjoyed it, so I was anxious to see the adaptation.

My first problem:  there were teenagers behind us talking though the entire movie.  Onto bigger and better problems.

This movie was absolutely nothing like the book.  The jacket description was more true to the plot than this screenplay. It is as if the filmmakers took the characters (most of them) and the setting (more or less) and added their own plot to it.  The movie was not so much “adapted from” as “inspired by.”

If I had put that aside, this was still a terrible movie.  The acting (with the exception of one scene) was atrocious, the writing was clearly hurried, and the special effects were laughable. The costumes and sets, I’ll admit, were beautiful, but they were nothing like those in the book.

There are two parts of this that really upset me.  First, this movie was so bad that it ruined the books I’ve already read, and it erased any desire I had to read the fourth and final book of the series. Second, and more importantly, this movie has made me deathly afraid of adaptations.  As an avid bookworm, I’ve always been cautious about adaptations, but the stakes have been raised. Assuming that my resolve does not falter (and it may) I will give adaptations – at least those of bestsellers – just one more shot with “Catching Fire,” from the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy.

I would like to point out that there are good adaptations out there.  The “Harry Potter” series, while not my favorite, was passable.  “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men,” both from the books by Cormac McCarthy, are excellent.  “The Hunger Games” was reasonably good. The BBC miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice is the gold standard, although it didn’t have the time constraints of a film and was more or less word-for-word from the novel. I am firmly decided, though, that the book is absolutely always better.

Review: “A Discovery of Witches,” Deborah Harkness

Rating:  4/5

This is definitely a mini-review, since this is the first book of a series.  I will almost certainly discuss this book in more depth after I’ve read the entire series.  (I just took a research break and discovered that the third and final book of the series has not yet been published, or in fact finished written, so that could be a while. As an aside to the aside, I find this very encouraging for reasons I’ll discuss later in more depth.)

I am usually a while behind on trends.  I get interested in books that are popular the more I hear people talk about them, and eventually I give in to my curiosity, but I’m slow on the uptake.  I have heard quite a bit about A Discovery of Witches in passing over the last few months, and I was uninterested until I started this challenge and picked it up on a whim in Barnes and Noble.  All I really knew about it was that it was somewhat popular, and I only read the description on the back cover.

I’ve described A Discovery of Witches to a few friends as “a mix of Harry Potter, vampires, and Beautiful Creatures, but with adults instead of teenagers so it’s not too angst-y.” I maintain that it’s the best description I can come up with.  This isn’t great literature by any stretch of the imagination, but it is highly entertaining and there is much worse out there.

For the first few chapters, I didn’t think I could make it through A Discovery of Witches.  I thought the writing was horrible and I was somewhat averse to the subject matter.  Once I got drawn into the story and the writing improved, though, I could barely put this one down.  It was well-paced and written so that there were plenty of moments when the words on the page seemed to disappear and I, as the reader, was transplanted into the book’s world.

The best thing, by far, about A Discovery of Witches is Harkness’ use of characters.  Each is vividly rendered and clearly has a purpose to play.  Each character has a definite counterpoint and I’m excited to see where the second book of the trilogy takes them.

Without the next two books, that is about all I can say.  However, I mentioned that I am encouraged that Harkness has not yet finished writing the final book.  This is because I think that a lot of the new series are rushed at the end.  I think that authors get anxious to be finished, or be paid, or to move on to other stories, and they don’t craft a compelling ending without plot holes that planets could get lost in. So, I have high hopes for the next two books of this trilogy.

Review: “The Silver Linings Playbook,” Matthew Quick

Rating:  4/5

I decided to read Matthew Quick’s The Silver Linings Playbook after I saw the movie on a whim and thoroughly enjoyed it. (Sidenote:  I wasn’t sure for the first twenty minutes or so, but once the protagonist threw Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms out of a window, I knew this was my kind of movie.)

The protagonist and narrator of The Silver Linings Playbook is Pat Peoples, who is released from a “neural health facility” at the outset of the novel, which subsequently follows his progress down his road to recovery.  If this had not been first-person narration, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it; the narration was far and away the best part of the novel. Several years ago, I read Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which features first-person narration from an autistic teenager – Pat’s narration was similar.  He is the essence of an unreliable narrator – he is universally known to be extremely unbalanced and he is missing years of memory until fairly late in the exposition.  He is, however, a likeable character and he is trustworthy – which is always a fascinating trait to encounter in an unreliable narrator.  Although I wanted to believe implicitly everything that he wrote (it is eventually revealed that the narration is Pat’s diary), I knew that everything in the novel was seen through a “Pat-filter,” which had to be taken into account.

The other remarkable feature of The Silver Linings Playbook is the characters and Quick’s depiction of them (keeping in mind that they are, of course, depicted through the “Pat-filter”).  Pat goes home to live with his parents after his mother retrieves him against medical advice from the hospital.  The reader gets to see the interaction between Pat’s middle-aged parents and how it impacts Pat’s own recovery.  Many of the scenes between Pat and his mom are extremely touching without approaching sappiness. The two other main characters are Pat’s therapist, who has some of the best scenes in the novel, and the female protagonist.  The best feature about both of these character is the dialogue between them and Pat.  Quick has managed to give both pairs of characters a rapport (very different from one another) that I think is difficult to achieve in writing.

Of course, since I read the book after I saw the movie, my impressions of the characters and settings were already fairly fixed.  I saw the actors from the movie as the characters and I’m certain that this impacted my impression of the written dialogue.  However, the dialogue in the movie is not word-for-word from the book, so this effect was limited. The book and movie were of course similar (the movie was a very good adaptation), but there is enough difference for each to have merit completely independent of the other.

(Incidentally, I highly recommend The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.)

50 Book Challenge: The List

1.  The Swan Thieves, Elizabeth Kostova complete

2.  The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick complete

3.  A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness  complete

4.  The Map of Time, Felix J. Palma  complete

5.  American Gods, Neil Gaiman  complete

6.  The Mortal Instruments:  City of Bones, Cassandra Clare  complete

7.  Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness   complete

8.  The Mortal Instruments:  City of Ashes, Cassandra Clare  complete

9.  The Mortal Instruments:  City of Glass, Cassandra Clare  complete

10.  The Mortal Instruments:  City of Fallen Angels, Cassandra Clare  complete

11.  The Mortal Insturments:  City of Lost Souls, Cassandra Clare

12.  Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin

Unordered

  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan
  • The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Under Consideration:

  • Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

Review: “The Swan Thieves,” Elizabeth Kostova

Rating:  4.5/5

The Swan Thieves is the second book I’ve read by Elizabeth Kostova; the first was her debut novel, The Historian.

The Swan Thieves opens shortly after an artist has attacked a painting in the National Gallery of Art and gotten himself committed for his trouble. The painting is unharmed – a scuffle with a guard is the only actual altercation.  The artist refuses to speak to anyone, and the novel follows the journey his psychiatrist goes through in his attempt to treat him.

There are several storylines through the book – the psychiatrist’s narration, narration by two women from the painter’s life, and correspondence and eventual narration between a 19th century painter and her mentor. This makes it a much more ambitious undertaking for Kostova than The Historian, which was eloquent but straightforward in its methods.  I appreciate the logic in having the two women narrate their own stories, and it was well done; however, for some reason I cannot quite put my finger on, I would have liked to have forgone those asides and seen those women’s stories as interpreted by the psychiatrist.  The 19th century plotline, on the other hand, I think was handled perfectly as it was – there was no other way that it could have been done to the same effect.

All in all, my only disappointment with The Swan Thieves was that I expected it to end differently.  Many points in the novel cast doubt on the psychiatrist’s sanity, and they did not play out as I expected.

This was a refreshing read for me because it was the first book I’ve read in quite some time, maybe even since I completed my degree in English Language and Literature, that had significant literary merit.  It was a fascinating read and it definitely kept me on my toes – there was a constant back-and-forth as to whether or not the narrator was reliable.  I must say, I love an unreliable narrator, and the uncertainty was even more intriguing.  On the other hand, I can’t be sure how much of that was intentional on the part of the author and how much was a result of my interpretation.

It took quite some reading time before I encountered a character in this novel that I actually liked and/or sympathized with; it was difficult for me to keep reading through that, but the skill of the writing and the intrigue of the narrator kept me going.  Eventually I did find a few characters to like, and that was the point at which the book went from interesting to page-turning.

Am I Just a Pessimist?

I just came from eating lunch in the food court at school.  At the table in front of me, two girls were sitting with a young man (early twenties, as far as I could tell).  I didn’t see how that transpired – whether he walked up to them after they sat down or came over with them – and I don’t see that it quite matters, anyway. I wound up eavesdropping on their conversation.

He was telling them a hard-luck story:  he got kicked out of his house (I caught something about parents, roommates, and cousins, so who knows), he got in a fight with a friend (or cousin?), and he walked all the way to Memphis from Moscow (which he claimed was four hours away but isn’t).  He asked them if they’d heard about jobs in the area, and as I was leaving, he was mentioning something about selling bean-bag chairs.  As I said, I was eavesdropping while eating and reading, and I could very well have missed details. I thought about looking for security or going to the information desk about this guy, but I decided against it – the girls didn’t seem to mind the company for some reason that I can’t comprehend.

I was sure – I AM sure – that this was some kind of scam, but I don’t want to devote any more time to thinking about it (which I will if I let myself) than it takes to write up the experience. My concern is just that maybe thinking that says more about me than it does about this presumptive scam artist. (There is no doubt in my mind, but my point still stands.) And furthermore, if that is the case, does it say more about society than it does about me?

House of Cards

For several weeks now, my parents have been recommending that I watch a Netflix production called “House of Cards,” starring Kevin Spacey.  One day recently, my husband texted me, saying that he “found a great show on Netflix that you’d LOVE.”  When it turned out to be the very same show, I was astonished.

I started watching it a few nights ago, and I’ve only watched a few episodes so far.  It is directed by David Fincher and stars Kevin Spacey, Kate Mara, and Robin Wright.  The show itself is a political drama, which is far from my usual fare, but the writing is fabulous and the acting does it justice the vast majority of the time.  The episodes are long at about an hour each, but the pacing is excellent and there is enough intrigue to keep my attention (I very rarely watch TV without doing something else at the same time).  I am excited to see what the next episodes bring.

I am new to the Netflix produced series game – how do they afford these A-listers?  And what is the format?  Will there be seasons as there would be on television?  Also, is Netflix now competing with HBO, AMC, etc. for productions, or are they scouting their own?