Tag Archives: movies

Reading the book after watching the movie. [UPDATED]

I still remember watching the “Lonesome Dove” miniseries on TV in the mid-1980s. My parents let me stay up past my bed time to watch a couple of episodes, although when it got violent I was no longer allowed to watch. I saw enough to be moved emotionally and in my imagination. I was hooked on that story. “Lonesome Dove” follows the story of a handful of old Texas Rangers who decide to drive several thousand head of cattle and horses from south Texas up to Montana, as yet unsettled.

I’ve watched the series a number of times since, having bought it on VHS in university (and since then the DVD version and recently a remastered wide-screen version). About two weeks ago, I picked up the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Larry McMurtry on which the miniseries was based. I’ve owned the book for years, but at more than 900 pages, it’s quite intimidating to start. This time I was immediately hooked and managed to read through the whole thing in less than two weeks. It’s a wonderful novel, with well-rounded characters. A great tale of the trials and tribulation of this motley cattle crew. 

What struck me was that the miniseries—at least, as it exists in my memory, since it has been about a decade since I watched it last—was incredibly faithful to the book. So much so, in fact, that right from the beginning, in my mind the characters in the book looked and sounded liked depicted by their respective actors (Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in particular). In some cases, a book is spoiled by watching the film version first, but I can think of a number of cases where I’ve read the book after its film version and thoroughly enjoyed the book. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if the film was one I particularly enjoyed, my experience of the book is enhanced by the viewing.

Lonesome Dove. As I read I began to realize that both Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones played their roles perfectly, but I don’t know if I can say that retrospectively. I might think this simply because I’m reading their performances into the novel.
– Pride and Prejudice. I don’t know if I would have read this one if I hadn’t seen the A&E miniseries (the Colin Firth one) first.
A Prairie Home Companion. There is no novel version. But there is a screenplay published in book form. I read it after watching the movie and loved it.
True Grit. I’m about a third of the way through this one. The recent Coen Brothers’ version is what’s in my mind as I read (in fact, my copy of the book is the movie tie-in version). I’ve read that the Coen Brothers’ version is more faithful to the book than the 1969 John Wayne version.
– No Country for Old Men. Another Coen Brothers film, based on the Cormac McCarthy novel. Also a very faithful adaptation.

I used to insist that it was better to read the book before watching the film version. But looking at the above examples, I’m inclined to say that reading a book after watching its movie version is a much better experience than watching the movie version after reading the book.

The Lord of the Rings films were good adaptations of the books, though as the years pass I think less and less of the performances (with the exception of Saruman and Denethor). That’s because they don’t live up to my mental vision of those characters. The Hobbit films are terrible adaptations of a childhood favourite, but are otherwise well done and for the most part entertaining (although I can’t stand all the battles). The Da Vinci Code is a unique instance of me being neutral on the film vs. book question. I could say that the film wins by a hair because the writing in the book is terrible. But then the book was an incredible page-turner, which the movie didn’t match with engagement/tension.

And then there’s Simon Birch, the atrocious “adaptation” of John Irving’s wonderful A Prayer for Owen Meany. (Although, reading up on the film a bit more now, I realize that the film doesn’t bear the title of the book because Irving thought it was too unfaithful an adaptation, but because Irving didn’t think the book could be successfully adapted to the screen and therefore sold the rights with conditions about the name. In which case, perhaps I should take it a little easier on the film.)

UPDATE: As it turns out, reading the book has in a small way ruined the “Lonesome Dove” TV miniseries. In an unexpected turn of events, my fond memories of the miniseries which were revived and relived through the reading of the book took some of the “magic” away from the miniseries.

Lucy

Dixie and I watched Luc Besson’s new film Lucy a couple of days ago.

The philosophical question behind it is interesting: what would humans be like if we used more of our brains? This question is based on the suggestion (which my oldest daughter tells me is false) that humans only use about 10% of their brain capacity.

Lucy addresses this question with the story of Lucy, who unwittingly and against her will finds herself involved with a Chinese drug ring, who surgically implants a bag of a powerful new drug in her stomach. The bag is unintentionally punctured and the high concentration of the drug entering her blood stream begins to “awaken” her brain to its full capacity.

Besson’s answer to this question is, unfortunately, the standard fare. In film, more of our brains for some reason always means what we (in our current state of minimal brain usage) would consider superpowers—telekinesis, telepathy, etc. I’ve never understood why such an assumption is made. I suppose it makes for a more “exciting” film, but what possible connection could there be between neural synapses and moving inanimate objects from a distance?

Even more curious, in Besson’s vision a human with increased brain usage becomes increasingly robotic. This gift—if it can be called that—is ultimately about gaining knowledge, even to the point of omniscience and a godlike status. At the same time, this “super”-human is almost completely without compassion. This new god-creature is only interested in passing on its vast newly-gained knowledge, even as people are dying violently around it.

Beyond the superpower clichés, the film lacks direction. It’s never clear exactly what Lucy is doing or why: is she saving the world? is she seeking vengeance for this unwanted gift of brains? or is it really unwanted? Who knows. There are interesting hints at a new stage of evolution/new creation, which have potential, but they are never explained or explored.

I found it to be quite a bleak vision. Perhaps that was the point. Or perhaps Besson simply needed an interesting plot-line to fuel some CGI fun. I’m not sure. I’d like to see a film in which increased brain power results in more compassion and a human simply becoming more human.

To Rome with Love (Review in a Nutshell)

Dixie and I saw Woody Allen’s new film, To Rome with Love, tonight. The film spans a day or two in the lives of four couples who live in or are visiting Rome. It’s not getting great reviews: its metascore is 55 and Rotten Tomatoes has declared it rotten with a 45% rating. I can see why. It was funny throughout, and the story lines are clever at several points, but the film lacks the energy and edginess of Allen’s best work. To Rome seems somewhat meandering and slapped-together.

But I’m with Roger Ebert on this one. He gives it 3 stars out of a possible 4 and says:

“To Rome With Love isn’t great Woody Allen. Here is a man who has made a feature every year since 1969, give or take a few, and if they cannot all be great Woody, it’s churlish to complain if they’re only good Woody.”

It’s a poor film when compared to other Woody Allen films; that it comes on the heels of last year’s wonderful Midnight in Paris doesn’t help.

And as I watched the film, I began to realize something. The plots of the four independent stories, some of which border on the absurd, are closer in feel to the material in Allen’s books of short stories, essays, and plays from the 70s and early 80s than to what one has historically found in his films. For instance, the Roberto Benigni’s story line, in which his character, who is a normal, almost dull individual, becomes famous for no other reason than having become famous, put me immediately in mind of “The Metterling Lists,” a satirical essay analyzing the laundry lists of a man named Metterling. Those books were a delight, but that kind of thing may not translate well into film.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel only tells the truth about tea and biscuits.

Dixie and I went and saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on Saturday. We were easily the youngest people there. I realize that the target demographic is probably retirees, but I was nevertheless quite astounded at (impressed by?) the number of people that fit the demographic in the theatre. I felt a little out of place. Dixie felt right at home. She sat next to an older lady who thought Dixie had come with some of the seniors (from a nursing home, perhaps?). “Nope,” Dixie said, “I’m on a date.”

Anyway, it was a nice story overall and interesting setting, but I didn’t think the movie told the truth in several places. Lots of individualism and the American dream transplanted to India, and those stories are untrue as far as I can tell.

But here is one place the film did tell the truth:

Indian Man (referring to English Breakfast tea): You call it “builder’s tea”?

Evelyn (Judi Dench): Yes. We dunk biscuits into it.

Man: Dunk?

Evelyn: Means lowering the biscuit into the tea and letting it soak in there and trying to calculate the exact moment before the biscuit dissolves, when you whip it up into your mouth and enjoy the blissful union of biscuits and tea combined. It’s more relaxing than it sounds.

Indeed. Biscuits (particularly the Maria ones) are a delight when dunked in tea.

A book and a movie

I handed in a paper today, one which has been looming over my semester, bogging me down, for several weeks now. Contrary to what I had expected, the “loominosity” hasn’t lifted.  This might be because the paper was fairly open-ended, so I had to set boundaries to it which seemed somewhat arbitrary to me.  It feels incomplete, but it probably would feel that way no matter how long I worked on it. So I handed it in.

Maybe that looming feeling relates to something else. Whatever it is, I don’t like it.

Maybe it’s the time of year. Strangely enough, I find early spring kind of depressing and bittersweet.  The melting snow, the mud, the cool temperatures.  I went for a bit of a walk the other day which was actually uplifting.  Maybe in spring my soul longs for solitude. Maybe that’s it.

Anyway, last week I managed to watch one of the Academy Award contenders for Best Picture: A Serious Man. It’s a modern retelling of the story of Job and the film is as open-ended as that Biblical book (as well as their film, No Country for Old Men). But the lack of clarity or resolution is, I suspect, partly the point of the story, so it didn’t frustrate me as it might have.  It’s a darkly funny film and the acting is terrific.  It’s entertaining and thought-provoking and bears repeated viewing.  4/5 stars.

Also, last week I read most of James Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church. It was an excellent book, which argued for what has been called “ancient-future” worship: appropriating the traditions and practices of the ancient (or even simply premodern) church into a postmodern context.  Smith is a proponent of “Radical Orthodoxy“, which is a position he argues for in the book, and he has piqued my interest in that movement.

My only critique of the book is that it focuses too much on the “emerging” church and the “postmodern” church, which, in my mind, seems to pin the movement to an “ism” rather than as an authentic form of church without strict ideological allegiances (such as “we are a postmodern church”). However, I suspect that one of the reasons he insists on doing this is because part of function of the book is a critique the so-called “postmodern church” which Smith argues is actually thoroughly modern (simply a revamped version of the “seeker sensitive” model).

I highly recommend this book, particularly for those who are skeptical of postmodern thought and its relation to the Christianity and the church.

Are you the singing bush?

Around junior high, The Three Amigos was one of my favourite movies (along with Uncle Buck and The Great Outdoors).  It’s a classic slapstick comedy starring Martin Short, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin (who, Dixie notes, would have been the Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell of that day).  I could quote it nearly back to front.  It made a resurgence in my college years out tree planting, where every now and then someone would shout, “It’s a sweater!”.

I made a mistake when Dixie and I just started dating.  I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow I found myself renting and watching The Three Amigos with a group of Dixie’s high-school-aged girlfriends.  It was a bit of a humiliating experience. I would guffaw every now and then, but they sat through the whole thing stone-faced. One of them fell asleep.

I recently was reminded of the film and looked it up.  I can get it for $7 on DVD from Amazon.  I’m thinking it might be a worthwhile addition to our collection, regardless of what Dixie (and her friends) may think.

Thanks a lot, faceless Cineplex exec in Toronto

Dixie and I had a date night planned for tonight. Our first date in a couple of months. We got babysitters for the kids and were planning on an evening out: dinner and a movie. We managed to have the dinner. Then we drove to the movie theatre to see Clint Eastwood’s new film, Gran Torino. As we approached the theatre, Dixie noticed a piece of paper on the theatre door.

“A notice on the door. That’s never a good sign,” she said.

We approached the door. “See?”

The notice: ‘The 6:40 showing of Gran Torino is cancelled due to a pay-per-view concert showing.’

Unbelievable. That movie was most of the point of the whole night. And there is nothing else worthwhile seeing in the theatre right now: Mall Cop, Inkheart, Bridewars, Hotel for Dogs and Underworld. They chose to cancel the one Oscar-nominated highly regarded and well-reviewed film showing in town to show this pay-per-view concert, which, with all due respect, isn’t even someone famous.

I went inside and inquired about the concert. The guy showed me the poster.

“Why did you guys chose the one Oscar-nominated film for this?”

“It’s not our choice. Some guy in Toronto makes these decisions. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

“Has anyone bought tickets?” I asked.

“No.”

“What happens if no one buys a ticket?”

“Nothing. We show the concert. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

In the few minutes we were there we saw at least 4 families or couples come to the theatre, read the sign and turn back. One family had driven an hour to the city specifically to see Gran Torino.

It makes absolutely no sense. They have a chance to make some money selling tickets to a film which many people still want to see, but instead they will show a pay-per-view concert to an empty theatre. From the looks of it–the printed note on the theatre door, and no mention of the concert on the marquee (but a 6:40 showing of Gran Torino still is)–this was a last minute decision by the Toronto executive. This also means that nobody in town knows about the pay-per-view concert (although the website is now changed to it) and they are not likely to sell even a single ticket to the showing.

Frustrating. Makes no sense at all.

Dixie’s normally the one to send strongly-worded emails to corporations, but I think I will be the one to do it this time.

Now what do I do with the evening? Dixie’s pumped about doing office work (boo!). I’m trying to decide if I should be responsible with this newly acquired time and do some homework or if I should just watch TV and get some entertainment out of this evening.

On answered prayer…

My favourite moment in Evan Almighty, in which God (Morgan Freeman) tells Evan Baxter (Steve Carrell in a reprise of his Bruce Almighty role) to build an ark.  Early on in the film, Evan is obsessed with his career, so his wife prays for the family to become closer.  Soon after God’s call to Evan, however, she feels Evan’s bizarre behaviour is pulling them apart.

So she takes the kids to stay with a relative so that Evan can seek help.  On the way, they stop for a meal and God appears to her as a waiter.  This is part of their conversation:

Joan: But my husband says God told him to do it [build the ark]. What do you do with that?

God: Sounds like an opportunity. Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If they pray for courage, does God give them courage, or does he give them opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for their family to be closer, you think God zaps them with warm, fuzzy feelings? Or does he give them opportunities to love each other?…Well, I got to run. A lot of people to serve…

Appaloosa

Hey, thanks for showing up for the movie, nobody.

I kid.  I announced my attendance at the the-yay-ter too late in the day for anyone to notice.

Well, what of Appaloosa?  I’m trying to decide what to rate it, so I’m looking through my archives to see what I’ve rated the other westerns I’ve seen in the last couple of years.  My ratings of previous westerns;

  • 3:10 to Yuma a 4/5
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 3.5/5
  • Seraphim Falls 2.5/5
  • It looks like I never gave Open Range a rating, but it would definitely be lower than what I rated Yuma or Ford and at least as high as Seraphim Falls.

(In retrospect, I’m wondering if I was a little too generous with 3:10 to Yuma and not generous enough with The Assassination of Jesse James.)

I love the myth of the American West—dusty little towns and dusty, grizzled, gun-toting men with sun-baked faces who stare death in the eye on a daily basis.  In this respect, Appaloosa filled the bill, as it were.

And for once I didn’t think of Aragorn when Viggo Mortensen was in the scene.  He did well in his role.  And Ed Harris, who I often find too stiff and brooding as an actor, was quite open and loose from time to time in this film.  And it’s hard to go wrong with Jeremy Irons.  Renee Zellweger’s face seems to get tighter with every film she does (one of these days she’ll close her mouth and her face will rip off—nothing personal, that’s just how it looks to me), but she did well as well.

It’s a standard western: bad guy ruthlessly runs town, his posse flaunting all law and order; good guys with dark side (but no posse) come to clean up town; there is a lady; there is some shooting (or a whole lot of it); there are some scenic vistas; there is a showdown; it looks like the good guys have won; oh, but wait, the bad guy is back; no, now the good guys have actually won; and off into the sunset.

Mind you, this is not a bad formula.  In fact, it’s one of the things I love about westerns—you kind of know what to expect going in.  However, it’s nice for it to be freshened up every now and then, which is one of the reasons Unforgiven was so good.  Appaloosa did not really freshen up the western, as far as I can tell—except maybe the Renee Zellweger-Ed Harris “love story”.  The film reminded me quite a bit of Open Range and 3:10 to Yuma.

I did enjoy the film.  It had a nice pace and a great cast.  I’m reluctant to compare it to the films I mentioned in the last post, although I can see a bit of the relationship between Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in “Lonesome Dove” in the relationship between Viggo and Ed.

Since ratings are expected now, I’ll give it a…um…aargh.  I hate this part.  (I’m looking back at my archives and my ratings are all over the place, lacking any consistency.)  Umm…3/5 3.5/5

UPDATE: I’m too much of an indecisive softy to rate films effectively.  I just changed my rating to 3.5/5 and now I’m thinking possibly even a 4/5, but I daren’t up it by a full point.

I also felt bad about my comment about Renee Zellweger’s face since I clicked “publish”.  It is purely an observation of her facial progression through several movies and not meant to cut her down.  Of course, I immediately think crazy thoughts such as, What if Renee Zellweger reads this post. Which doesn’t really matter…except…What if I meet her some day!

I wonder about myself sometimes.