Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thursday 13 #8 (123rd ed.)--Favorite Movies Based on Books

(or, in a few cases, short stories)

Now, many of these movies have not won awards nor received critical acclaim; they make my list because they told a good story, as presented. Since I’ve read only 6 of the original books, I can’t really speak to the authenticity of the screenplay in most of these cases.

1. Green Mile--I watched this at a friends’ house, and had to fight off ferret attacks to my feet throughout. I don’t believe the varmints colored my opinion of the movie, but they definitely added a surreal atmosphere to Stephen King’s storytelling. The books were originally published as serials, but have since been compiled into one volume. I have a copy of the latter on Mt. TBR, but have no immediate plans for it on the schedule.

2. Practical Magic--Bullock and Kidman were wonderful in this, and Stockard Channing was icing on the cake. Great soundtrack, too. I believe this was my first Hoffman movie; I’ve since read this and several more of her books, and I enjoy her style of magical realism.

3. Princess Bride--From what I’ve heard in my circles, this movie became a cult classic almost immediately after its release. I’m not one of “those people” who have memorized the dialogue, but I think I’m about due for another viewing. I know people who hunt down multiple copies of the book in order to infect/introduce it to their friends.

4. Stardust--I really enjoyed this one (especially Clare Danes’ performance), but it didn’t do as well at the theaters as I’d hoped. I think that, while it was released around the time of the Plieades (a nice tie-in to nature), it was otherwise poor timing. If they’d waited for the Geminids (going on now), however, I think it would have gotten better turnouts. Well, there’s always DVD sales. I first encountered this as a serial graphic novel (I can’t call this genre a comic book with a straight face, or without worrying about a trouncing from a friend in the industry), then as a standard novel, of which I desperately need my own copy.

5. Contact--Jodie Foster really picks some winners to be in, and she’s smart about waiting years between films for the right script to come along. Matthew McConaughey has a supporting role, but I sure don’t remember his being on-screen all that much. The original book was by the popular and controversial scientist Carl Sagan.

6. What Dreams May Come--Funny this is the only favorited movie starring Robin Williams. His body of work is vast and varied, but this was the best one that fits this category. I thought the movie was an extremely interesting discourse on how we affect our afterlife (or next stage following death, however you lean philosophically), not to mention the almost calorific use of color. Haven’t read the book yet.

7. Stand By Me--Based on King’s short story “The Body”, this movie touched me for its quest theme (even though the quest itself was pretty danged morbid), and for its portrayal of friendship dynamics. Oh, and this one also has a great soundtrack. True to the King style, it had just enough grossness to make me go “ew!” without actually putting me off my popcorn.

8. Carrie--I really tried to avoid repeat authors here, but I couldn’t manage it; here’s the third King on this list. Now I don’t know if this says more about my taste in movies, or if this would happen anyway, as the statistics are simply high in King’s favor. I can’t remember which I did first (read or watch), but I know they were very close together. I was one of the outcasts in high school, and this movie made me realize that eventually, the mean kids would get their karmic due.

9. October Sky--This movie, based on “Rocket Boys”, was one of the better inspirational-type films I’ve seen; not too sappy, not too far down the downtrodden path. It was also one of the few that my husband and I could fully agree on, without compromising.

10. The Hours--I read this one a few years before the Streep/Moore/Kidman film was released, and I found the movie to be reasonably true to the original story. The performances were good, and pretty equal to each other. With a story like this, it was important that none of the main characters make their piece stand out too far from the others.

11. Charlotte's Web--I am, of course, referring to the original (1973) animated film from my childhood. I’m not certain I’m ready to see a live-action/CGI version when I still have such fond memories of the first. I hope I still have a copy of the Garth Williams-illustrated version of the book (he also illustrated the Little House series by Laura Ingalls-Wilder).

12. Brokeback Mountain--Wow. What a story! I’ll confess that I prepared myself for a few good crying bouts; mostly silliness over seeing one of my favorite actors batting for the other team. I instead managed to bawl myself stupid during certain scenes, not because of the original imagined reason, but because I realized that NO ONE was EVER going to love me like THAT. And then I cried because denying people the right to love who they will is so many kinds of wrong, I can’t see straight to think about it. I am actually going to have to watch it again because I was crying so hard, I missed parts of some important scenes. I’m planning to read my copy of the book sometime next month.

13. Apollo 13--OK, I really did not put this one here to be cute. It simply worked out this way, as I was going through my search results in reverse alphabetical order. Multiple outstanding performances from the cast, riveting true story, and great effects re: setting in the craft.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Miracle, and Other Christmas Stories, by Connie Willis

In this collection, science-fiction author Willis gives us 8 Christmas-themed stories, some of which build on traditional stories: A Christmas Carol, the Nativity, and Miracle on 34th Street. I enjoyed these very much (not a bad one in the bunch, IMO), as I've gotten a bit jaded over hearing the same old mushy tales over the years. A few of these had an actual science-fiction flavor, which I especially appreciated, as this is what I was expecting from Willis.

Not a book for the too-traditional-minded; most of these stories need a notched-up openmindedness to truly enjoy them. While there were some very nice lessons, I found only one truly quoteable passage among them: "There are things you don't ask for because you know you can't have them, and then there are things so far outside the realm of possibility, it would never even occur to you to want them."

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Tuscan Childhood, by Kinta Beevor

By the time I was one-third of the way through this book, I realized that the title was a bit misleading. There is more about Beevor's adult years documented here than childhood ones, but the constant theme is more about the area, the land, and the people, so not quite living up to my primary expectation was easy to forgive.

The travel descriptions, both in- and out-of-country were well-done; I had a very good feel for the scenery and the physical experience, and, the historical and geographic knowledge shared here definitely heightened my appreciation for my ancestor's homeland. The thing that makes this travel book special is that it was written by someone who has lived her research; and yes, you can tell the difference.

Also emotionally moving was her portrayal of the scope of wartime (political birth, hardships, and rebuilding). I have to say that I personally feel fortunate that my family emigrated to America well before this time, but I also have to wonder how well my distant cousins survived.

The list of Beevor's family and friends reads like a Who's Who of the literary and art circles of the time. In some sections, it seemed as though every other page had some reference to an author, artist, or book I wanted to follow up on; this book could really have used a good indexing.

The sad end to the "castles" truly made me melancholy for everything that's been lost due to war.

Here are some of the references and quotes I wanted to especially note:

"... we learned about the 'dance of the seasons', and how one should follow the rhythm of the year and its changing produce. One harvest followed another, domestic and wild crops alternating, each stimulating fresh dishes and all producing more than enough for immediate needs, so that the wise could dry or conserve enough to last until the following year. The earth, capable of producing such a perfect variety in the wild--garlic, mushrooms, chestnuts and truffles--possessed its own sacred mystery."

"They played Scoppa, which required the traditional Mediterranean pack of 40 cards with 4 suits--coins, goblets, swords and clubs (cavemen's clubs, not the conventional trefoil)--each running from one to seven plus a jack, queen, and king."

"Poggio Gherardo provided the setting for the first three days of The Decameron, when a group of young Florentines fled the plague of 1348. Boccaccio... had grown up only a few hundred yards away."

"Vernon Lee, alias Violet Paget, with her cropped hair and men's clothes with stiff collars... was particularly kind and gave me copies of all of her books, and more surprisingly, a loom, as if I were a character in one of her Tuscan fairy tales."

"Aunt Janet [Ross]... trusted [Giuseppe] Volti's opinion without reserve. It was he who provided all the recipes for her outstandingly successful book on Italian vegetable cookery, Leaves from our Tuscan Kitchen, first published in 1899, and still in print today in a version revised three quarters of a century later by my nephew Michael Waterfield."

Saturday, December 8, 2007

What the Dead Know, by Laura Lippman

This book is the first I've read from this award-winning author, and I can see why her writing's been honored. Even though the clues to the mystery woman's identity are pretty clear early on, Lippman still manages to drive the plot so as to keep the reader second-guessing herself throughout the remainder of the story.

Lippman also writes family dynamics very well. Her treatment reminds me of Caroline Cooney's Janie series; the criminal, tragic disruption of the Bethany family accelerates the cracking of their happy facade. One has to wonder how any family can survive a blow such as this.

I think the only less-than-fully-believeable aspect of the story (however crucial it was to the plot) was the Dunham family conspiracy. Even given the father's past career (or perhaps especially because of it), I find it difficult to buy into the great lengths to help the protagonist. I also find it amusing that she thought of her new family as normal.

Overall, I found this to be a good read, and a quick one. I'll definitely keep an eye out for more titles by Lippman.

Disclosure: I received this book from Harper Collins in exchange for a review.

Painted Truth, by Lise McClendon

It's been a few years since I finished Bluejay Shaman, so I thought I'd move along with this short series, and this on also helps me toward the Seconds Challenge, which ends soon.

With this book, I learned a little about the art world (and again feel grateful I've nothing to do with it), and a little more about arson investigations (although I'm sure they come off better in real life). The mystery itself got a bit out of hand, however, and the relationship closure was awfully harsh. I found the protagonist to be little more stereotypical than necessary--I find it hard to believe that Nordic stoicism won't call a slut to the carpet for knowingly using the wrong bed. Ew! I'm also getting impatient with characters who tough it out through concussions. For Pete's sake, can't authors write some believable recovery time?

There are at least 2 more books in this series, which I'll see through unless the next book (Nordic Nights) sends me into fits.

Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe

Another self-imposed classic, listened to during housework, Baby Einstein dvds, and travel to and from various errands. I know that there have been 2 different movie releases of this (in 1996) the U.K. version being more true to the book than the U.S. version. And, of course, Netflix doesn't carry it, so it may be a good while before I can see this story played out onscreen. No matter.

Defoe does a more than fair job of describing Moll's life cycle. I found it strange, however, that she chooses to reunite with only one of her several children, and that only because she hopes to secure her mother's fortune. In this novel, money seems to be all, and even though she falls upon the occasional hard time, she's uncharacteristically lucky, and ends her days well above her original station.

Moll's story is an early forerunner of today's crime novel. She gets away with (in the eyes of the law, at least) a great many thefts, whorings, and other scams, until finally caught, sent to Newgate, and sentenced to death, which she manages to evade thanks to a religious sponsor. Also, Moll's travels between the high and low societies emphasize her own shallowness regarding money. Hers is a classic psychological tale wherein money equals security and to what lengths an obsessive personality will travel to that end.

Although I'm not sure whether or not Defoe meant to do this, I can see a faint hint of primordial feminism in Moll's actions. This, apparently, is further explored in Defoe's novel Roxana:The Fortunate Mistress, which I'll read at some point, perhaps next year.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Christmas Letters, by Lee Smith

A short little book that chronicles a family's history (covering 5 generations) through yearly holiday-time (news)letters. A long with the good times and bad, the author also shows the progression of technology, religious adherence, and societal expectations.

Far from being a perfect family, those portrayed here have very authentic problems, trials, and failings. Of course, we do not get to know the characters very deeply, as only so much reality can go into a Christmas letter. Many of the letters include a recipe; funny [because I am a real recipe hound], none of them were noteworthy enough for me to copy before I send this on. I'm guessing they are Very Southern in nature, and I've yet to really find that particular cuisine enjoyable. YMMV.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Cider House Rules, by John Irving

Having read the book (long) after I'd seen the movie, I can see why Irving might have had good reason to not give his full authorization/blessing to the screenplay of Simon Birch (based partly on A Prayer for Owen Meany). The two versions of CHR are pretty disparate. I definitely preferred the book for its bigger scope, its better-developed characters, and the historical context of women's rights regarding pregnancy. My only caveat regards the extremely graphic nature of the abortion procedures. The squeamish reader may need to skim over these passages; they do, however, make a dramatic impact within the story, and, in my opinion, are very integral to it.

Many of the situations (regarding orphans and abortions) discussed in this book help make a very strong case for choice. With the precarious position this choice has in our country, even after so many years of safety, perhaps it is time for another wave of readers to get inspired by CHR, or perhaps one of the movie channels could air the movie (which doesn't do such a bad job of addressing the issue); I doubt any of the honchos of the broadcast networks would have the guts to show it.

Noteworthy quotes:

p. 10: "There was the human body, which was so clearly designed to want babies--and then there was the human mind, which was so confused about the matter. Sometimes the mind was so perverse that it made other people have babies they knew they didn't want. And when other minds thought they wanted babies but then couldn't (or wouldn't take care of them... well, what were these minds thinking?"

p. 93: "Adolescence, is it the first time in life we discover that we have something terrible to hide from those who love us?"

p. 96: "But if you love no one, and feel that no one loves you, there's no one with the power to sting you by pointing out to you that you're lying."

p. 339: "When you lie, it makes you feel in charge of your life... you feel as if you have cheated fate--you own, and everybody else's."

p. 397: " 'Every time you throw a snail off the dock, you're making someone start his whole life over.'
'Maybe I'm doing him a favor.' "
[I thought this quote was quite telling of Homer, as at this point, he still refused to perform abortions]

p. 569: "The thing about being in love, is that you can't force anyone. It's natural to want someone you love to do what you want, or what you think would be good for them, but you have to let everything happen to them. You can't interfere with people you love any more than you're supposed to interfere with people you don't even know. And that's hard... you want to be the one who makes the plans."

Books cited: Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Little Dorrit

Endangered Species, by Nevada Barr

I am enjoying this series, especially the change in setting with each book. I feel as though I'm getting a little geography and flora/fauna lesson along with my attention-stretching. I am far enough in to care about Anna, especially when I think she needs a good shaking for not getting the medical attention she so obviously needs, and for taking her "lone ranger" persona way too seriously.

I know that the title refers to the loggerheads that open and end the story, but I couldn't find the deeper connection in the plot--I suppose Barr keeps her titles simple for a good reason. Maybe I'm just trying too hard, but I thought that the plot would have more to do with the wildlife; then again, Barr isn't exactly following a pattern, so I suppose I need to stop expecting that.

I'm looking forward to the next one in line (Blind Descent, which I think I have on one of these shelves, somewhere), but I also know that it will be a while, given all the other reading I've assigned myself.

In other reading progress, I finished a big chunk of Cider House Rules, and now have less than 100 pages to read for tomorrow. Christmas Letters is up next.