The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman

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I didn’t love this book as much as I expected to, but I liked it enough. Buttercup never seemed to be more than a damsel in distress, and her relationship with Westley didn’t always seem healthy. She was much less interesting than the side characters. My favorite characters by far were Inigo and Fezzik. Especially Fezzik. He’s very loveable. The over-the-top exaggeration of things like Buttercup’s beauty and Inigo’s fencing skill is a key part of the story’s style, but can get a little grating.

It’s hard to ignore the movie in reacting to this book. The main thing that the movie cuts away is the metafictional aspect where Goldman tells about his process of adapting “Morgenstern’s” text, summarizing the boring parts he cut out and his legal battles with the author’s estate. These passages are cute and funny in a wry way and were obviously impossible to transfer to film, but I don’t think the story loses much without them, especially since the movie retains the “bedtime story” frame, which allows for metafictional observations too. Those metafictional comments are probably the most original and unique parts of the novel/film.

I think the film adaptation of The Princess Bride makes a better film than the novel is a novel. Which makes sense, because Goldman is more famous for screenwriting than fiction. But it also makes me wonder if I’d have felt differently about the book if I’d read it first instead. The best scenes and lines from the book are in the movie, so they were kind of spoiled for me in reading, but the same effect doesn’t seem to happen in reverse. When you’re watching a movie and you’ve read the book, you know what’s coming but you’re still interested to see how it happens and what it looks like. This experience reinforces my conviction that it’s important to read the book before watching the movie adaptation.

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Gone Girl: The Movie

My husband and I took a rare date night to see Gone Girl, against the advice of some people who said it would make us doubt our marriage and look at each other differently. Spoilers ahead.

The movie is a very faithful adaptation of the book, so I largely had the same reactions to it that I had to my original reading of the book. There were two changes I noted. The context for the amazing ‘cool girl’ speech was changed. In the book, it’s part of Amy’s diary, presented to the reader before we know that Amy has faked her disappearance. So readers are primed to sympathize with it, and it is very sympathetic indeed. But in the movie, it’s a voiceover while Amy drives away from her life with Nick. Knowing that the woman saying these things is twisted enough to frame her husband for her murder changes our view of them entirely and takes away the ring of truth I found in them originally.

The other change is that I thought the ending of the book was somewhat happier in that it presented an upside of Nick being trapped in his marriage with Amy. It showed how Nick was given the chance to redeem himself through devotion to a loveless marriage and his child. Finally he has a chance to be the good guy, and it really seems like he’s going to live up to it. This interpretation of the ending seemed missing in the movie.

I had the same problem with the movie that I had with the book: no one ever voices the idea of how rare it is for women to lie about rape, or says how reasonable it is for cops to suspect the husband of murder because that’s so frequently who it is. I guess just showing the incredibly intricate plotting Amy has to do to overcome the inherent doubt people have of rape victims’ stories is supposed to make this message clear, but again, if that’s the point, ideally I’d like it made explicit.

I will say that I thought the casting was absolutely perfect. In the book Nick Dunne describes himself as looking like a total tool, like a douchebag ex-frat guy, looking smarmy when he doesn’t mean to. Ben Affleck and the awkward handsomeness of his inappropriate smile: inspired.

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Some reviews of the movie I read said some smart things I thought worth sharing. Megan Garber in The Atlantic says it’s a horror story about the known unknown of marriage. Since we can never predict how our partners will change as life unfolds, we never know if we’ll be stuck with someone who will turn us into our worst selves, and that is a really really scary idea. Alyssa Rosenberg says, “part of the fascination of “Gone Girl” is that Amy Elliot Dunne is the only fictional character I can think of who might be accurately described as simultaneously misogynist and misandrist.” On Vox, Todd Van Der Werff calls the movie feminist because of a painstaking analysis of shot composition and the way Amy takes control of the narrative and ‘wins.’

Vulture’s Amanda Dobbins says the movie adaptation makes the story more misogynistic than the book because it takes away most of the focus from Amy and gives it to Nick. She also includes a quote from Gillian Flynn that puts her writing in the context of the debate about female characters and likeability: “I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains — good, potent female villains. Not ill-tempered women who scheme about landing good men and better shoes … not chilly WASP mothers … not soapy vixens (merely bitchy doesn’t qualify either). I’m talking violent, wicked women. Scary women. Don’t tell me you don’t know some.” This review includes a great summary of the ways this book/movie can be interpreted: “Depending on your reading of Gone Girl, the book — to borrow some of its language — is either (a) a gothic portrait of marriage; (b) a confession of a mythically unstable woman; (c) a misandrist revenge fantasy; or (d) a misogynistic summary of all the ways that a woman can falsely accuse a man.” I think that’s the reason I’ve been fascinated by the story, there’s so many ways to look at it and see something new. Like a car accident, I can’t look away.

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Luhrmann

the-great-gatsby-poster1I haven’t read The Great Gatsby since high school, but I remember enjoying it then, and I love Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic style, so I was really looking forward to this movie. I enjoyed it as much as I thought I would; it was a fun time at the movies. The greatest attraction of the movie is probably the gorgeous, over-the-top party scenes. Fitzgerald wrote the best party scenes in literature, and Luhrmann films the best party scenes in cinema. It seems a perfect match. What I wouldn’t have given to have been an extra on that set!

The movie seemed more romantic than the book, focused more on Gatsby’s longing for the life he could have had with Daisy than on his corruption or the Buchanons’ dissipation or Nick Caraway’s lost innocence in witnessing their drama. The tea party scene where Gatsby sees Daisy alone for the first time is played like a romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant. Gatsby is foppish and clumsy out of adorable nervousness, and it’s played for laughs. Leonardo DiCaprio was surely made for this role. He looked the part perfectly, from his monogram ring to his shiny shoes. My favorite scene of his might have been his innocent, boyish, but sadly deluded insistence that Daisy will call. Carrie Mulligan did nothing to alter the feeling I had from the book that Daisy was utterly unworthy of Gatsby’s devotion, that she is a vapid cipher of a character. I’m not sure what she could have done about this as an actress, though, as giving Daisy depth would have necessitated a lot more revision and change to the story itself.

The film created a frame in which Nick Caraway was writing about Gatsby to explain him to a psychiatrist. This created a literary feel to the movie through words written and typed and voiced over. I liked the literariness of it, but I always wonder about making a character, even and perhaps especially a first-person narrator, into an author figure. Fitzgerald is not Nick Caraway, and Nick is not Fitzgerald, and it seems a little misleading to imply otherwise, especially when you consider that a large percentage of the audience is likely to believe it. My only other complaint about the movie might be that it beats you over the head with symbolism even more than the book does, and that’s saying something. We could have understood the green light without the third explanation, thanks.

Les Miserables movie

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The new film version of Les Miserables is amazing. I was excited about it, and it lived up to my expectations. It’s an incredibly, startlingly intimate film, with many of the major solo songs filmed in extreme close-up with long, uncut shots. They just sing straight at the camera. I’ve never seen another musical do anything like that; singing on set instead of in the studio paid off big time. These moments are balanced with panoramic battle scenes and gigantic sets, showing off the things that film can do and a stage production can’t. It was super smart of the director to focus his energy on taking advantage of his medium that way.

I’m glad I finished the novel before this film came out. There were a few small references to the novel that I’d never seen in a stage production: an elephant statue, Marius’s grandfather, Enroljas’s death. The subplots and history lessons that had been cut from the musical stayed cut, of course, and the show was still almost 3 hours long, so there was no room for them anyway. But it was still fun to recognize those few little items that this film salvaged from the novel. Also, I heard that the actor who plays the bishop was the original Jean Valjean. That seems fitting as well.

I cried twice. Fantine had never made me cry before, but Anne Hathaway’s performance was so powerful that I couldn’t help it. I’d seen an interview with her where she talked about how it would be wrong and dishonest to try to be pretty while playing this character who was just falling apart and suffering so terribly. She was right, and deserves the best supporting actress Oscar without a doubt for that humility, for putting her performance ahead of her image. My second sobfest was at the ending, of course. That line, “To love another person is to see the face of God” gets me every time.

MissRepresentation

MissRepresentation, a documentary film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Jennifer Siebel Newsom started making this documentary for her daughter, wondering about what kind of world she will grow up in. It’s about how the media objectifies and demeans women, and why, and what we can do about it. The film is spliced with thousands of clips from TV shows, movies, and commercials that perfectly prove the point about how pervasive objectification is. This TED talk gives an idea of what those montages of objectifying images are like. It also gives a great overview of why this issue is so important.

The documentary also includes lots of clips of media insiders like producers, directors, and actresses discussing the industry, young girls talking about the media’s effect on them, as well as academics and prominent feminists commenting on the whole phenomenon. Despite (and perhaps because of) so many voices participating, the argument is fairly coherent and definitely compelling and urgent.

Some of the film’s best points are about the way the media insists that female leaders must be attractive as well as full of great ideas and charisma. It’s an impossible standard, and the level of scrutiny they’re under is insane. Why would a young woman want to be a leader when she knows she’ll be treated this way? When she knows it will be headline news if she gains a few pounds or is seen in public without makeup? It’s a point that’s made very well in this sad, but realistic essay by a young woman who claims that her generation’s aversion to leadership does not stem from apathy, but from a rational assessment of what public women’s lives are like. Here’s another great bit of writing on how Hilary Clinton has admirably refused to play into the media’s insistence on feminizing her through discussions of fashion, baking, and similar topics.

The film is trying to make a connection between the way women are objectified and taught that their beauty is what makes them valuable, and the dearth of women leaders in government, and I think it does not completely succeed because of abrupt transitions between the two topics. I totally believe that the two things are connected, and the evidence is there in the film, but I’m kind of afraid that doubters (those blinded by male privilege) will feel that it’s a stretch because the film’s transitions between the topics are sometimes awkward, which makes the rhetorical connection seem more tenuous than it is.

This Ted talk gives some of the main talking points of the documentary in a nutshell:

As in the Ted talk, the film’s final message is one of hope: let’s take back the media and get women in charge of it, so that we can tell our own stories and create a better vision of the future for our daughters. MissRepresentation is an enjoyable and important documentary that should be required viewing for every Girl Scout troop, media criticism class, and family with preteen girls.

The Opal Deception

The Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer

As I promised myself I would after attending Eoin Colfer’s reading and talk at the library, I picked up the fourth book in the Artemis Fowl series. This volume had all of the things I remembered from the first three books: a lightning-fast action plot, seemingly inescapable predicaments, prickly heroes sniping at each other. In this volume, villain Opal Koboi, fueled by obsession, breaks out of the asylum where she’s supposedly in a coma, and tries to start a war between the fairies and humans. On my audiobook she had a hilariously evil baby-talk speaking style. She exacts revenge on our heroes, and there’s even a death of a major character in the beginning, which serves to prove that things have gotten serious now. I think that pretty much had to happen, sad as it is, because it’s hard to sustain a series like this over so many books without having several major characters die. After the bloodbaths in Harry Potter’s last three books, no one can write a long adventure series in which no beloved characters die anymore and be taken seriously (I’m looking at you, Stephenie Meyer, with your over-hyped battle-that-never-happened in Breaking Dawn. You didn’t have the stomach to kill a single Cullen, but Fred Weasley had to die?)

One reason I like the series, and one thing that made me quit it for so long after the mind wipe at the end of book 3, was the moral development of Artemis. I appreciated how he learned and grew and became more selfless through his adventures, and it seemed such a shame to lose that through a memory reboot. At the beginning of this book, though his mind had been wiped, Artemis hasn’t totally reverted to where he was at the beginning of the series. He still enjoys stealing and doing bad, daring, risky things, but it’s somewhat tempered by his love for his family. It takes only one life-threatening episode for him to learn to trust Holly again, and his memories come back quickly once triggered. He comments on how he feels warring impulses inside him, pulling him between good and bad, and says with surprise that good seems to be a stronger motivation. At the end he’s even musing about becoming a sort of Robin Hood figure. It seems clear that this moral development is something that’s intended to spread over all 8 books of the series. One of the things that attracted me back to the series is that I heard that in book 8 Artemis truly becomes a hero. I’m interested to see what that will mean. He’s already pretty heroic in that he makes smart decisions that save everyone just in the nick of time, often risking himself in the bargain.

The characters in this series are cartoonish, but not necessarily in a bad way. They all have certain qualities that are exaggerated, played for laughs, and used strategically in the plot and as fodder for witty banter. Mulch Diggums is one big fart joke. Opal’s vanity and devious plotting are deliciously over-the-top. At the reading, Colfer said that the first book is finally being made into a movie by Disney. I wonder if it’ll be Pixar, or more traditional animation, or live with tons of CGI, or what. I think a somewhat cartoonish art style would be fitting to the humor and tone of the story, and there are certainly lots of story elements that could not happen in real life. So I guess I’m rooting for Pixar to handle this one. And after meeting Colfer and seeing how hilarious he is, I say he deserves a part or a character to voice, or at least a cameo. I could see him as Artemis’s dad or as the voice of some fairy beaurocrat.

Overall, it’s a fun book and a fun series for action-packed adventure and humor. If you ever have to buy a book for a boy age 8-13, this series is a good bet.

One Day (film)

One Day, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess

In general this was a very faithful adaptation. That’s always where I begin when I think about assessing a movie whose book I’ve read first (and I vastly prefer to read the book first). Some of my favorite lines from the book were kept, but one of my favorite episodes was gone: Dexter’s drunken letter inviting Emma to India. The movie did a good job of showing the banter and rapport and understanding that Dexter and Emma share, even when they are at their worst, and that makes you really root for them. Their humor is British and dry, very fun. Movie Dexter is somewhat less of an asshole than Book Dexter. His sometimes repulsive inner thoughts are gone, of course, and some particularly assholesque scenes are cut. More than anything he just seemed whiny, always calling Emma drunk from a pay phone in the rain, begging her to pick up or meet him or console him.

There are far too many moments of Emma putting on a strong face, pulling a close-mouthed I’m-so-happy-for-you-breaking-my-heart smile, blinking back tears over Dexter’s shoulder as she hugs him. I don’t really like the picture of a woman heroically suffering for the happiness of the man she loves, while he’s blissfully unaware. Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like I see that more than its gender reverse, so it just strikes me as unfair.

One pleasure of the film is watching the outfits get better and better as Emma’s personal style evolves. In the opening scenes, set in the early 90’s, she wears a lot of floral dresses with combat boots. Her dress in Paris is to-die-for, and she rocks a short haircut better than anyone since Audrey Hepburn. Anne Hathaway is pretty much known for geek-to-hot makeovers in movies, so when you see her in big glasses in the first scene you know by the end she’ll be rocking a new hairdo and a full-skirted dress.

I had a deep personal appreciation for Dexter’s hair in this movie, mostly because he’s wearing the style that I found most attractive on a guy when I was about 13: short in back and longish on top, but not quite long enough to fall into his eyes, kind of framing the forehead in a floppy, boyish way. Other notable wearers of this haircut are Rider Strong (Shaun from Boy Meets World), Devon Sawa in Casper, and Dmitri from the animated Anastasia.

Seeing this story on film made me somehow put it into a context I hadn’t before. It reminded me of Made of Honor, a bad romantic comedy starring Patrick Dempsey that I saw when it came out. I don’t like it when a guy is “just friends” with a girl, but sleeps around all he wants himself, but you know the “friend” is who he’s supposed to be with. And of course the girl is totally in love with him, except she’s being cool and independent and not commenting on his sex life. Maybe she’s even moved on, but he decides at the last minute not to let her. It’s like he refused to have sex with this one girl to keep her pure and save her for when he’s ready to commit, like she’s a bottle of wine he’s aging on the shelf while he drinks tons of crap from a box. Except really he’s the one that needs to mature. And the dehumanization of the other faceless women is really problematic. I wrote about this stud trope two weeks ago. I really should have included One Day in the post on the trope, but I guess some of the plot’s complications distracted me from seeing it. Emma and Dexter’s different careers and their different politics are important factors in their relationship dynamic, as well as this stud trope. And I thought in the book they had sex in the beginning, but for some reason in the movie they didn’t. Taking away the early sexual contact makes it seem more sexist to me for some reason.

In my review of the book, I said the ending seemed kind of sappy, and the movie only made it more so. The flashback to the first day Dexter and Emma spent together, after they’re parted forever, is pure hankie-bait. The music really adds to the sentimental tone, of course. Overall, I guess I’d recommend the movie for anyone who’s in the mood for a romantic comedy that turns sad at the end.