[Book Watching] Summer hits and misses – The Host, The Hobbit…

The Host

hostWith this release, all of Stephanie Meyer’s books have officially been made into movies. When I got the book, I had very low expectations, and Host-the-book exceeded them by far (okay, low bar, but you know). Unfortunately, this meant that I went into the movie expecting a good movie. That it had Saoirse Ronan, who’s played the lead in Hanna and The Lovely Bones, and a great trailer soundtrack by Imagine Dragons didn’t help at all.

The movie floundered in all the places I would have expected, if I had turned on the critical thinking sector of my brain for a half minute or so before stepping into the theater. (I hadn’t). The movie struggled to convey the difficult relationship between Melanie and the alien inside her head, didn’t have the time to show the gradual and difficult way that Wanda finally achieved acceptance, and had to speed through a lot of the emotional relationship angst that I found both so incredibly annoying and riveting in the book. I say, see it if you land on it while flipping channels or scrolling around Netflix, but don’t agonize too much if don’t.


The Hobbit

the-hobbit-an-unexpected-journey-movie-poster-1.jpgI am still unconvinced that we need three movies to cover a 300-page book, especially when almost all of the battle scenes in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey dragged on just a bit too long. That said, I will totally grant that squishing it all into one movie would have been just as bad in the opposite direction. The Hobbit was entertaining, pretty, and a lot of fun in IMAX 3D – though less impressive when I watched it on a regular screen later. The special effects, as always, were great and the extra  scenes they brought in from outside The Hobbit flowed well with the story.

I give it three canaries. Totally worth seeing once, but maybe not twice.

Beautiful Creatures

beautiful creatures.jpgI picked up Beautiful-Creatures-the-book with the knowledge that the movie was coming out in less than a month. And when I put it down, I thought, “well, gosh, how in the world are the movie people gonna pull this off?” If you’ve read the book (or our review of it), you probably know what I’m talking about. There are plots within plots, and a lot of the emotional brunt of the story is all inside small-town misfit’s Ethan’s head.

Still, the movie pulls it off – mostly by cutting characters and snipping away at pivotal scenes. But this strategy means that what is left holds together in a coherent storyline with only a few questions left unexplained. I was pretty impressed. And what the movie couldn’t do with the original story, it more than made up with the great acting. Continue reading

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[Book Watching] Not Your Typical Hobbit

It’s been years since I read The Hobbit. I considered doing so before the movie, but then realized that since the films would be stretched over three years, I might as well wait for a bit because I’ll forget the end again by the time the final installment in the trilogy came out. As a result, I couldn’t tell if scenes were actually made up in the movie or if I’d just misremembered the book so poorly.

“Was Saruman in The Hobbit?” I asked my roommate as we were leaving.

“No!” she – a rabid Hobbit/Lord of the Rings fan – replied. “No! They were just making stuff up!”

So not just me, then. Continue reading

[ Book-watching ] Sherlock Holmes is kind of an asshole

I have a confession that will likely knock me down several literary pegs: I’ve never read a single Sherlock Holmes story.

Now, that isn’t to say that I’m totally ignorant on the subject. I’ve watched the newest BBC re-visioning of the character, sat through several lectures on him in college lit courses, and–of course–pretty much have the Wishbone episode of “The Hounds of Baskerville” memorized. But as far as actually picking up the source material, I’ve just never really been interested.

But in order to fulfil my book-watching duties for Game of Shadows, the most recent installment of the Robert Downey  Jr. version of the character, I decided to suck it up and grab a recording of  The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes off Audible. I only made it about halfway through the third story before I came to the follow conclusion: Sherlock Holmes is kind of a pretentious dick.

“Well duh,” says my roommate when I unveil this revelation. “That’s sort of the point of the character. He’s wicked smart and not afraid to show off his brains.”

“But he’s a jerk!” I counter. “How did he get to be such a popular heroic character?”

“Because everyone loves a smartass.”

That I definitely could disagree with. And it explains why I like the visual versions of Holmes more. I don’t like my literary characters being smart-mouthed unless they regularly pay for such lip (see: Harry Dresden). With Holmes, it appears that he can be smart allecky as can be and never pay a price (note: as I’ve only actually listened to one-tenth of one book, this assumption may be very, very wrong). Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed Game of Shadows so much; every punch Holmes received was well-deserved.

Game of Shadows picks up not too terribly long after the events in the first film, but much has changed.  Holmes is tipping farther into the land of manic genius as he tries to unravel the person behind the rash of terrorist bombings that have taken place throughout London and other major cities in Europe.  Enter Professor Moriarty, played wonderfully by Jared Harris, who sets into motion a frantic trip around Europe to not only stop the continent from going to war, but also save what Holmes holds most dear: namely a highly perturbed Dr. John Watson.

One of the biggest complaints from the original movie was the Holmes was far too much of an action hero. Purists (chief among them being Canary the First) wanted their Holmes to be just as he was in the books: battling only with brains and never with fists. That makes for fairly boring cinema. However, I feel as though director Guy Ritchie took some of the braying to heart. There are more sequences of Holmes precisely dissecting a fight before it happens, filmed through neat slow-motion shots while Holmes gives a running internal dialogue of his predicted moves. The mystery in this film is also much more complex than the first, giving Holmes more time to shine as the brainiac he is.

There were times, though, when this giant mystery seemed to overwhelm the film. Part of what made the first movie so enchanting was the narrow focus–one case that never took the pair outside of London. The gallivanting trip across countries made for an awful lot of continual rehashing and re-positioning of plot that made a good chunk of the story seem like mere check marks on a list. Plot pieces didn’t always surface seamlessly; sometimes they had to be jerked full force into the light so that Holmes and Watson could move on to their next port of call.

That said, the movie was great fun. Jude Law’s Watson in particular was highly entertaining, with his dry humor and logic offering the perfect foil to Holmes insanity. Robert Downey Jr. is still the perfect casting for the role of Holmes (regardless of what Canary the First may think), striking just the right balance between crazy and gifted. And he’s still definitely an asshole. But at least he gets punched for it.

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Happy Birthday, Holmes! (Born January 6, 1854)

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Read More About What’s Hitting the Screens:

[ Small Chirp ] Bilbo is Back

According to most doomsayers, the world will end on the 21-22 of December 2012. If you are prompt about it, you can greet the apocalypse one Tolkien movie fuller. The first trailer for The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey is here to tantalize us a full year before its December 14, 2012 release date. Check out the trailer below:

As my roommate pointed out about halfway through our (first) watch of the trailer, we only see shots of scenes we’ve already grown accustomed to: Bilbo’s house in the Shire, Rivendell, some cave snippets that look suspiciously like the caverns of Moria. Given that we’re a year out, it’s not that surprising. It’s highly doubtful that special effects are anywhere near done and clearly the first bout of filming was done in sets that were already designed for the first trilogy.

The use of familiar sets and the voice-over narration adds a somberness (and some LotR trilogy foreshadowing) to the trailer that is not entirely in keeping with the tone of Tolkien’s book. Gandalf walks across a thin ledge. Galadriel appears, looking ethereal and distant. We see Bilbo silhouetted against the light, the ring glittering on an outcropping of rock–and we all know how that ends.

Still, there’s nothing like a teaser for this well-loved adventure story to kick start the holidays.

I can’t wait.

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Are you excited about the movie? What do you think of the trailer?

[ Small Chirp ] Whedon dives into Shakespeare

The announcement ricocheted through the Twitterverse last night. Somewhere between making the Avengers film (mmmm Thor), working on about a million Dark Horse comics, and a slew of other things, Joss Whedon has apparently been making a secret film based on Shakespeare’s play, Much Ado About Nothing.

The feat of secrecy becomes even more astonishing when you look at the cast list: Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Sean Maher, etc, etc. That so many faces from the Whendonverse managed to covert together without major fanboy alarms ringing is quite astounding. But the cast does make the prospect of the film an even more exciting one. With so many beloved actors in the mix, there are plenty of classic-literature-phobics out there who might overcome their fears long enough to see the film–maybe even long enough to read the play!

Much Ado About Nothing is a Shakespearian comedy that follows two couples: Benedick and Beatrice, who claim to not be in love and who banter and bicker nonstop; and Claudio and Hero, who can’t even speak because they are so in love with each other. Add into the equation an evil trickster, Don John, and all sorts of misunderstandings and shenanigans ensue.

What I am most curious about–besides who is playing whom–is the translation of play to film. Given that the image above has snorkel gear and a martini glass, I think it’s safe to assume that the setting will be modern. But what about the language? Will it be like the 1996 Romeo+Juliet, a film that actually managed to make the famous love story even more meleodramatic by using the original Shakeperian script in a modern setting? Or will it lean more towards West Side Story, with modern language and maybe even a few songs mixed in?

Either way, I’m pretty excited about this mystery film.