The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Reviewed by: Ashlie B.
Originally Posted: 1.1.2015

Book or Movie first:

The book, I had to read it for a Young Adult English course.

What we got into:

A future America known as Panem, deliberately segregated by districts and run as a 21st century style dictatorship, holds an annual event to remind citizens of what can happen when they try to fight against The Capital. Nationally televised, The Hunger Games, follows 24 tributes – one boy and one girl from each of the remaining 12 districts – on a journey as they are picked from the Reaping, as they train, and finally as they face one another to the death in the arena. In the 74 years since the first Hunger Games district 12 has only ever had 2 victors – however, as Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sisters place, 12 has some hope.

Katniss makes every effort to stay strong and hard in order to keep herself alive. But the odds are not in her favor. Everyone she knows seems to be colluding against her sense of survival. Without any hope to do so, she manages to win the admiration of the citizens from the Capitol, and more importantly the sponsors. Although she enters the arena with high marks from the judges (highest and near perfect) and years of experience in the woods and hunting, she suffers as any tribute might. She survives dehydration, burns, numerous attempts on her life, and tracker jacker stings before she finds herself an ally – Rue, a young girl from 11, that reminds Katniss of her own little sister.

Katniss and Rue deiced to hit the other tributes where it hurts: their cache of supplies. A group of them, dubbed careers for coming from districts with the wealth to train them early in life, allied early in the game. Together they gathered the supplies that had been left for tributes to fight over at the opening of the game and hoarded them near the lake. As Rue led the tributes on a wild goose chase through the woods, Katniss went to the lake to destroy their loot. As Katniss finds success, Rue finds herself trapped.

Katniss isn’t fast enough to untangle Rue and get them moving before a spear finds it way through the little girl, and Katniss makes her first direct kill. Uncommon to the games Katniss stays with Rue as she dies. Taking to heart something Peeta had told her while they trained – that he didn’t want the games or the Capital to change him – she gathered nearby flowers and placed them around Rue’s small frame, giving her and her district a more respectful goodby than a hover craft plucking her corpse from the arena. As a final gesture, she kissed her three middle fingers and outstretched them to the camera she was sure was watching her.

As Katniss works through her grief there is a game changing rule; there can be two victors as long as they hail form the same district. With a new sense of purpose she searches out Peeta – the boy who allied himself with careers, the boy who told Panem he loved her. Peeta suffered too, and nursing him to health was just the Star Crossed Lovers story that the citizens of Panem would swoon over.

A look at the Book:

Through first person narrative Suzanne Collins focuses on Katniss. We see her strengths and weaknesses, her hopes and fears. We understand that her sole motivation is survival, though it is not just for her; she lives to protect her sister.

It’s easy to see how terribly unfair the world is through her eyes, and how difficult is can be to fight against the injustices when there are people to take care of. As a reader you can sense that there is something bigger happening around Katniss – the Girl on Fire – but you know how little she wants to be a part of it. All she wants is to live, to take care of her family, but forces she wasn’t even aware of keep pushing her into something grander.

A look at the Movie:

The movie takes that sense of something bigger left by the book and lays it very plainly. Every action Katniss takes, just to survive, is paired with how the world or President Snow reacts. The danger that may have been tugging at the reader is confirmed, over and over again. This one girl, who just wanted to save her sister, is setting the stage for something Panem hasn’t seen in nearly 75 years. As clueless as she is about it, the world isn’t. Her mentor Haymitch, her stylist Cinna, the viewers in the districts, even some of those in the Capitol, are all to aware of how to use her and her actions.

Movie compared to the Book:

The movie is a decent adaptation. The writers knew what to keep, what to alter, and what to add to make it a whole new story. Most enjoyable where the snippets with President Snow, how he calmly tries to control a situation that can turn into a wildfire. The writers did an amazing job at showcasing the masses that just see the games as the long awaited event of the year, and of the oppressed who need a spark of hope to make changes.

My biggest complaints against the movie are how they handled setting up Katniss as the face of the revolution. Granted, this isn’t clear until late in book two, but there are hints that the angle was worked from the moment she volunteered. Her Mockingjay pin wasn’t smuggled into the arena but worn openly as a token of her district. Having the tributes from 12 holding hands at the opening ceremony was direction from Cinna, not an impromptu action from Peeta. Small things in the grand scheme, I know, but irritants nonetheless.

And the winner is:

Both are good, but the book is better. Though I appreciate the different view points the movie offered – President Snow, Gale, Seneca Crane – being there as Katniss put pieces together, worked out each situation, and tried so hard to live for herself and her family, even though so many were against her, was much more moving. Her story stays with me far longer than the movie.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Reviewed by: Ashlie B.
Originally Posted: 8.5.13

Book or Movie first:

Movie, the 1971 one.

What we got into:

Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory was The Best chocolate factory in all the world, and the envy of every chocolatier. Wonka employed thousands of people, but with every good bunch there is always a few bad apples. Because of these bad apples – spies – Wonka closed his factory, not wanting any more of his secret recipes to be stolen. For a long while the factory was quiet, until one day smoke could be seen rising form the chimneys once again. The odd thing was, no one came in, and no one went out of the famous factory. The world was amurmur trying to figure out who could possibly be making all of Wonka’s treats. Then the news broke. 5 Golden Tickets had been hidden in Wonka’s chocolate, and the finders would be given a tour, a life time’s supply of chocolate, and one lucky winner a very special prize, even better than all the chocolate they could ever eat.

A look at the Book:

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is his third attempt at a children’s book. The story has a gloomy, depressing start. We meet Charlie Bucket and his family: his parents and each of their parents. Six adults and one small child living in a two room house, much too small for all of them. With holes in the walls that let the cold in, and only one bed, occupied perpetually by the grandparents.

Charlie, along with the rest of his starving family, could use a little luck, and a giant break, and by golly they get it. A big thanks to the whomever lost their dollar, for that was just the opportunity Charlie needed to find a Golden Ticket, and forever be in supply of chocolate. That alone, and the publicity, would have kept his family from wasting away, but visiting Wonka’s factory landed him with much more than candy for the rest of his life. When all was said and done and Charlie was the only child left standing, he became the heir to the Wanka Empire: the worlds largest and best chocolate factory. This gave his family a roof over their heads with no cracks in the walls to let in bone chilling gusts of wind, work to keep them occupied, and food enough to never starve again.

Overall the story is simple and at first is quite a compelling read, but the more you go back to the story they more it falls apart under a more critical eye. More on that later.

A line from the Book:

There are five children in this book:
Augustus Gloop
A greedy boy
Veruca Salt
A girl who is spoiled be her parents
Violet Beauregarde
A girl who chews gum all day long
Mike Teavee
A boy who does nothing but watch television
Charlie Bucket
The hero

A look at the Movie: (1971)

Willy Wonka is played by Gene Wilder in this cult classic version of Roald Dahl’s book, now titled Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Though the cover and DVD opening to the movie – not the actual opening to the movie, just the one to the main menu – imply that the movie will take you on a rad-psychedelic trip, the color pallet of the actual film is much more subdued and scene appropriate.

Unfortunately the name change would make you think that the movie may turn the focus to Willy Wonka, however you are still stuck following Charlie Bucket. This is unfortunate because Charlie is a whinny little shit. “I want a ticket.” “ I don’t like chocolate.” “But I want it more than anyone else.” “But I didn’t steal your fizzy lifting drink” Waah waah waah. This kid is loathsome, and I am really annoyed that I am supposed to be cheering him on. Those details will be covered later in the article.

Gene Wilder’s Wonka is fantastic. He had pride and enthusiasm in the work he did as a chocolatier. He was a bit farcical leaning towards down right insane. It was clear he was an adult and adhered to strict business practices. And he was Jigsaw for children.

Your kid a glutenous pig? Send him to Wonka to be drowned in a chocolate river. Spoiled brat? Send her to Wonka and if she’s not too lucky she’ll be incinerated with the rest of the bad eggs.

The entire time kids are dropping like flies he keeps assuring everyone that they’ll be all the better in the end, and that’s all Jigsaw really wanted: was for people to overcome there weaknesses/sin/ whatever and become better human beings. Before the franchise decided it just wanted to make fists full of money off of torture porn.

My last comment on the movie is this: it’s a musical. Granted if you had read the book first you shouldn’t be shocked by this. For the most part the songs are catchy, and make you want to sing and dance, especially the Oompa-Loompas annoyed lyrics aimed at whichever child got “Wonka Tortured” last. The one exception is “Cheer Up Charlie.” It’s a good thing there are fast forward buttons, and buttons that just skip whole scenes, and pause buttons if you happen to be watching it on television, because this is the worst part of the entire movie and the five minutes I wasted sitting through it the first time, yonks upon yonks ago as a wee little thing, is five minutes I would very much like back.

I wish I could better articulate why I don’t like the song. Maybe it’s because Charlie is a whiney little shit, and instead of wishing him to cheer up I want him to shut the fuck up and deal with the fact that life is not fair, and odds are you are going to have to work your ass off to barely survive, and the sooner you stop moping about every possible lucky break you “want more than anyone” but don’t get the sooner you can actually take steps to be an agent of your own destiny. (Gasp for breath.) Then again, maybe I articulated that just fine.

A look at the Movie: (2005)

In the most recent adaptation Johnny Depp takes on Willy Wonka, no surprise there as the movie is a Tim Burton production. The 2005 interpretation shares the title with the book, HOWEVER, it is more focused on Willy Wonka. William has flashbacks to his childhood as a dentist’s son, with head gear and a ban on candy. This is all well and good; the telling of Wonka’s past is actually kind of interesting, and the best looking parts of the film. But why not have a name that goes with the story you are telling?

I am tempted to say that this version is not a musical, but that would be a lie. The Oompa-Loompa – yes, I mean singular, I don’t care how many times they Photoshopped the same actor into a scene to make it look like dozens if not hundreds, there is only one Oompa-Loompa – does sing. But that’s it! Which is true to the book, so much so that the lyrics are pulled from the songs first authored by Roald Dahl. Not too shabby. Not in their entirety, but enough.

Charlie, played by Freddie Highmore, is fantastic! He’s not a whiney little shit so I actually care about him, and want him to win at everything at life. Depp’s Wonka on the other hand, is creepy. But let’s move on to the next section before we go into that.

Movies compared to the Book:

Let’s start with Charlie, seeing as two of the versions are named after him. Book Charlie is just there. He’s not really active or inactive in the story, he’s called the hero, but really he is just meh. 1971 Charlie is, as said before, a whiney little shit. I am supposed to believe that because he wants something and doesn’t have the same means to get it as everyone else that he somehow must want it more. That is just false logic and bad writing. 2005 Charlie, is smart, and brave, and an actual hero. You know what he does when he gets the ticket? He wants to sell it so his family can have food to eat. 2005 Charlie wins, hands down, as the best of all three. And that’s not all either. Come the end when Wonka says he can have the factory, but is told that his parents can’t come because of Wonka’s daddy issues, Charlie says no. This kid knows his family is more important than any material wealth. Can we have a hip-hip-hooray for 2005 Charlie or what?

Next up is the Parents. There is a Mr. and Mrs. Bucket in the book and the second movie. Mrs. Bucket stays home to care for the bed ridden grandparents while Mr. Bucket works in a toothpaste factory… until he loses his job, either because the factory closes down (book) or because the factory automates and doesn’t need him to screw caps any more (movie). The first movie has just a mother – his father passed away. She supports the family by doing laundry, and Charlie helps out by delivering news papers – probably the only admirable thing about the 1971 version.

The thing is, the single parent household of the first movie doesn’t work. In every version of the story the family is so poor they can hardly afford a head of cabbage to boil with their water for supper. Four adults confined to a bed need daily therapy to keep their muscle from atrophy, help using the facilities (in this case probably a bed pan), being bathed and dressed. This would account for two full time jobs, with no vacation, sick days, or just simply a day off. Honestly, the grandparents of the first movie probably would have died a good decade earlier, or shortly after the death of Mr. Bucket; sorrow has a tendency to do that to people that are already in poor health.

The grandparents. They don’t play a huge role, they are mostly just there, probably to contribute to the Bucket family poverty. Well, accept Grandpa Joe who can miraculously walk after the Golden Ticket is found. However, there is a huge difference in Grandpa Joe of the first movie and the other two versions. In the book and the 2005 movie, the entire family is excited about the possibility of winning, of opening up a chocolate bar and seeing a bit of gold, a change in their lot in life, but Grandpa Joe is Charlie’s go to adult for encouragement. Everyone, even Grandpa Joe, is also planted firmly in reality, that the probability of it happening is so slim that it is not the end of the world if the candy bar ends up being just that. Yet in the first movie, not only does Charlie seem to feel entitled to winning, but his grandpa Joe also thinks Charlie deserves it above anyone else. It’s almost a fight for those two to find the lucky chocolate bar where everyone else sees it as the lottery it is. You put your dime in then, or two bucks now, not because you expect that minute investment to make you rich and take care of all your problems, but so that you can dream about the possibilities.

The winners. Each winner has the same name, and the same vile rottenness that does them in. Augustus is gluttonous. Veruca is spoiled. Violet chews gum – though, I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing. Mike watches television. The only one who is “punished” differently is Veruca, who in movie two pines over golden geese, and is determined to be a bad egg, instead of wanting a squirrel and being a bad nut. Fans of the book complained about the change, but honestly in 1971 how the heck was a studio going to get a 100 trained squirrels or squirrel puppets to make that scene work without looking terribly bad? It was a very effective change without changing the whole of the character.

Oompa-Loompas. Every version of the Oompa-Loompa is different. In the book they insist on wearing their native clothing of dead animal loin cloths and there are women and even children. In movie one, they are either androgynous or all men (I’m thinking all men), wearing what looks like painters’ cover-alls, have orange faces and green hair. In movie two, they are all one guy, who dresses as a female receptionist at one point – because that’s all women could possibly do in a candy factory (though Chitty Chitty Bang Bang came out in 1968 and showed otherwise). They wear ridiculous red jump suits, but at least they are as tall or short as the book depicted, no taller than the knee.

Then there is Wonka. In the book Wonka comes off as bi-polar. His attitudes are erratic. One moment he’s singing some crazy diddy freaking out all the children on a boat being rowed through a dark tunnel, the next he’s panicking because another child is stricken with the effects of his invention that he explicitly told them not to touch, then he’s being rude and having the temerity to yell at the parents who are mad at him for turning their child into a blueberry or compost. It’s almost difficult to peg book Wonka.

Gene Wilder’s Wonka is magic. He presents himself as professional yet has an air of childlike enthusiasm for his work, but has little tolerance for the children running a muck. I understand why Wilder’s Wonka doesn’t do more when things start going wrong for the children, but the parents lack of response is ridiculous. Your kid is drowning in a river let’s just stand and start screaming for help instead of doing something. Daughter gets dumped down a trash shoot which may or may not lead to a lit furnace, sure dive in after her. Stupid parents.

Then there’s Depp’s Wonka. I mentioned he was a creep earlier and let me explain. When Augustus falls into the river, you can see the excitement in Wonka’s face. Like ooh goody, another bug in my trap, how can I pull its wings off today. He’s all wide eyed and goofy, and does a quick look around to make sure no one sees how bubbly he’s gotten. He is also played rude. In the 2005 movie, Mike Teavee is actually really smart. He does more than just watch television or play video games, he cracks the code to how the tickets were planted so as to only need to buy one bar. Yet any time he talks, Wonka ignores him, or talks over him, and just flat out tells him to stop “mumbling” even though he’s talking clear as day. Also, Depp’s Wonka is played like a fully grown spoiled child. Everything is his (true) and he doesn’t want to share with anyone unless they follow his rules. You don’t want to play by his rules, well, he’s packing up all his toys and going home, or shutting down his factory, or whatever it is that will make him happy because that is all that matters.

There are plenty of other differences between the versions, but for the most part, they are small and not worth listing every single one, though I might experiment in our comments section with adding a few more. However, I do want to bring up this. The boat scene in the first movie, as crazy as it is, the poem that Wonka kind of recites/sings is pulled straight form the book. It was meant to be a unnerving so stop bellyaching about it already.

And the winner is:

None. They all suck in there own right. Which is a shame, because had I finished this review six months back like I had intended the first movie would have gone down as the best. Don’t get me wrong, the story has a good premise, and each version executed different parts well, but they all did so many things wrong, that you’d have to scoop out the good stuff in each one, add some new stuff to glue all the good pieces together and maybe then you’d have a good Name & the Chocolate Factory story.

I know, there are a lot of people who like the Depp version better because it is more true to the book. I can’t argue: they took very little out and added some good things, because most children’s stories need to be added to in order to make a minimum runtime. However, I love the song and dance in the candy shop in the first movie, and again Wilder’s Wonka is more believable as an inventor and business man. I like the added back story to Wonka, and Charlie for once is portrayed as the hero he is supposed to be. But Depp’s Wonka isn’t someone I’d want to get within 20 feet of much less, learn how to run a chocolate factory from and have as my mentor.

Then there’s the book, and granted this line of thought goes for the movies as well, but the book is only good if you don’t read in between the lines at all. Unfortunately here is where my mind went when I actually started thinking about things in between the lines:

Wonka employed thousands of people to work in his factory. The scope of the area where this factory is located is probably large enough to house thousands of families. So let’s assume that one third of the local population works for Wonka. Then all of a sudden, because of a rash of spies, Wonka decides to close his doors, and fire everyone. The economic ruin that this community would be in with such a massive job loss is just… it’s just remarkable that not everyone was living in dilapidated houses and living off of cabbage water. Then, all of a sudden the factory is up and running, and there is a large community of people who need and want jobs or better ones than they have. Yet, the gates remain locked. Inside now is a full work force brought over from Loompa Land. They are housed and fed in trade for working in the factory. I don’t care how Wonka wants to spin that they come from a horrible land where wild beasts try to eat them up, and he was their savior. He’s got slaves! Damn it and I ‘m not down with that.

We will just skip over that he trusts the Oompa-Loompas enough to work for him, but not a single one of them enough to teach him all his tricks (which they already know) so that they could take over the factory at the time of his departure from this world. Because that’s not loaded with racism at all.

I will send you off on a lighter note:

Mrs. Gloop: “And what I always say is, he wouldn’t go on eating like he does unless he needed nourishment, would he? It’s all vitamins, anyway.”

She really did buy into that ad campaign. Number four has a picture of an Oompa-Loompa and number three is the what I’m talking about.

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The Detective by Roderick Thorp

Reviewed by: Jonathan B.
Originally Posted: 6.3.13

Book or Movie first:

The book as part of a larger project of tracking the cultural genealogy of Die Hard. That will make more sense in a moment.

The Detective Banner

What we got into:

Joseph Leland is either a private eye or a member of the police force depending on just who you want to believe. No matter the version, there are a handful of other plot points which are relatively consistent.

Chronologically first in both narratives is the case of Theodore Leikman, a homosexual man who is found brutally murdered in Joytown, the city’s red light district. Leland, in charge of the investigation, tries to track down the man’s “secret roommate” Felix Tesla, a Canadian national. All signs point to Felix Tesla as the deranged psychopath who butchered Leikman, and it’s up to Leland to find him. Well, other police officers get in on the act, I suppose.

Leland is called upon to investigate the suicide of the wealthy Colin MacIver by his wife Norma. You see, Norma isn’t quite convinced that Colin killed himself, as he didn’t seem to be the self-killing type. During the course of the investigation, Leland interviews a variety of people who give quite a bit of color to the life of the dead man while also pushing Leland closer and closer to uncovering the truth.

There’s also Leland’s wife Karen. Their relationship is strained at best and outright hostile at worst. We can’t get into anything else about this at the moment.

The Detective is actually the prequel to Nothing Lasts Forever, the book that “inspired” (as in “almost directly adapted from without the introspective soul that made the book unique”) Die Hard, so everything is almost infinitely more awesome when you think of Joseph Leland as a John McClaine prototype.

A look at the Book:

The first thing you will notice is that Roderick Thorp’s book is friggin’ huge. The novel is actually about the length of three books. As much as I like a good book that smothers a reader with huge, undulating plot, it is hard to not feel utterly exhausted by the end of it. There are three main plots throughout the book, each taking up a sizable chunk of real estate.

A Plot is the main, “modern” storyline taking place in 1954. This starts us off on the adventure of Joseph Leland, private eye. He is hired by the pregnant Norma MacIver to investigate her husband’s apparent suicide. Colin MacIver left his widow a ton of cash and absolutely no reason why he would kill himself when a child was on the way. Leland takes the job and sets out investigating, ending up interviewing Colin’s racist dipshit mother, his first wife Betty, and Norma’s psychiatrist who was secretly treating Colin.

Another major part of A Plot is Leland’s relationship with his wife and daughter, Stephanie. Leland and Karen are separated but still trying to make things work for their daughter’s sake. In fact, most of their interactions take place through a filter of how such things as certain words or actions would affect Stephanie, which is a nice attempt at civility. It also builds a lot of character for both Leland and Karen, characterizing them as good parents trying to do the right thing.

There’s plenty of other stuff floating around, too. Leland and Norma develop a thing for one another, mostly due to Norma’s need for acceptance and love. It doesn’t quite ring true and seems to serve more as an excuse to get Leland and Karen into a fight, but it’s a thing that happens.

B Plot is the story of Leland joining the police department, killing people on the job for the first time, and then going off to fight in World War II. The important thing about this plot is it establishes Leland as eschewing violence as a means of proving manhood. Both in war and at home, he is uncomfortable killing and with the media attention foisted upon him for his skill at murder. There is also the tragic destruction of Leland’s marriage due to World War II spiriting him away from his pregnant wife.

What’s particularly ballsy about this section is that it accuses World War II – you know, the just one – of destroying the personal lives of fighting men. Rather than echo the jingoistic fever of the rest of the country, The Detective actually dares to show the very real results of upending domestic life in the United States. In many ways, B Plot deconstructs the unrealistic masturbatory fervor of war movies and shows the lasting psychological and domestic damage such discord can wreak.

C Plot covers the murder of Theodore Leikman and how Leland finds a suspect. There really isn’t much more to it.

The book weaves all of these plots together through flashbacks, although halfway through the book A Plot takes over completely. Although the events can get a little confusing, Thorp usually does a good job of keeping you in line with what is happening and when. The narrative is really quite rich, fleshing out characters really well and making them into thoroughly developed individuals. Rarely is anyone cast as two-dimensional, and when it happens it is usually entirely condemnatory – effectively, Thorp uses a lack of characterization as a kind of punishment for characters he apparently finds odious or not worth the reader’s time.

The biggest problem with The Detective is pacing, a reality that could have been attended to with an adept editor (he said, sitting on a 270,000 word manuscript). Red herrings are drawn out to absurd lengths and are further extended with descriptions of the car ride to and from the interview and the post-interview check-in at the office. There is a lack of any real excitement over finding new clues, because most clues lead to dead ends anyway. And when the grand conspiracy is actually detected, it is almost entirely in the last chapter and is handled via a Dumbledore-esque plot dump:

Leland uncovers a recorded confession from Colin MacIver wherein he admits to operating the numbers for a bunch of corrupt high muckity-mucks as they conduct some kind of weird real estate scheme. He also admits to killing Theodore Leikman, as he is a self-hating homosexual who only married his wives as a way to control his life. So, after almost five hundred pages of investigation, it turns out that Colin did kill himself. So what exactly is the ultimate point of all this?

But the thing is that there is simply more to it than just a long book. The Detective is a powerfully rich world full of strong characters. Upon the revelation that his work sent an innocent man to the electric chair, Leland cries despite the dead man’s sexual orientation. The humdrum nature of the investigation gives us time in Leland’s head, in his world. We see the way he sees things and understand why he does what he does. In some cases, Leland is almost too self-aware, as though he is going to directly address the reader about the slog of it all. Even the startling revelation isn’t action-packed or gory – it’s a real-estate scam that has the potential to utterly destroy the city, and Leland’s going to do his damnedest to stop it. Not because he has a gun, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Sure, there’s plenty of people Leland interacts with that I wish had a bigger part of the story. Sure, there’s loads of moments where you want the plot to pick back up. But life as a detective isn’t about action or killing dudes. It’s about doing the right thing, and The Detective shows that the right thing is doing the best you can, even when you’re bored out of your mind.

A line from the Book:

“Somehow who I really am must become clear to these kids, or literally it will kill them.” (219)

A look at the Movie: (1968)

Frank Sinatra stars as Joseph Leland, a detective in New York City because the United States consists of New York City, Los Angeles, and empty farmland in between. He is called to investigate the murder of Theodore Leikman, a homosexual man who has been mutilated. After tracking down the main suspect, Felix Tesla, he forces a confession by adopting his best mean face and shouting very loudly. Tesla is executed, and Leland apparently feels quite bad about it but gets a promotion so it totes works out.

His next case is investigating Colin MacIver’s suicide because Norma MacIver, his wife, is convinced that he was murdered by shadowy conspiracy types. Sinatra… er, Leland, swaggers around New York City, treating his estranged wife like a sex toy and (somehow) having Norma fall in love with him despite spending what appears to be less than five minutes of screen time with her. As he goes further into the case, two men try to kill him but Leland survives and goes on to shout angrily at a fellow police officer for little reason other than ACTING.

Oh, and did I mention that the police are pretty corrupt? Well, they are. It doesn’t go anywhere or do anything, but they are corrupt and incompetent and probably smell of garlic and coffee grounds.

Frank… damn it, Joseph Leland goes on to crack the case and figure out that Theodore Leikman was killed by Colin MacIver, which means that Leland sent an innocent man to die. He feels so bad about it that he breaks the scandal with which MacIver was an integral part and then quits the police force, completely in opposition to what should be Leland’s forward thinking mentality.

But, whatever. Sinatra got to yell at a woman and punch people. It’s not like he asked for much else.

A line from the Movie:

“He was a bitch!”

He was a bitch!

Movie compared to the Book:

The novel is definitely not for everyone, but there is no other way to feel as close to a fictional character than to be their partner in solving a mystery. And in many ways, The Detective is at its best when it treats you to the world surrounding the actual detective work. Leland’s rocky home life, his daughter, his office work, his time in the war and on the police force are such rich vignettes that the moments he is actually doing his job – that is, trying to solve the mystery – are all the more jarring. We go from a fairly vivacious personal life to rather dull interviews. But even within these interviews, we ultimately partake in the resurrection of Colin MacIver.

The Detective, then, is almost a book about a book. We learn about Joseph Leland, his hopes and dreams and how he sees the world. But his next case is essentially collecting pieces of the novel that is Colin MacIver’s life and the myriad ways they inadvertently crossed paths. In many ways, we are actually privy to something we don’t quite get honestly from other fictional characters – their fears and inner darkness. Sure, fear is nothing unexplored in the world of fiction, but to do it as thorough and subtle as The Detective is a skill few have done well.

Naturally, a book that was as well received as The Detective would receive the Hollywood treatment.

As I mentioned in my Princess Bride review, a good adaptation of a book into a movie typically needs to pare down things that either don’t work, are unnecessary, or do not add more than they would take away. And the thing is, the task for the screenwriter here is pretty damned huge. The Detective, as a novel, is intricate, with many things building up on each other toward an ultimate conclusion. At its core, it is a character study of immense proportion. And Hollywood has done some amazing work in that regard: just look at Citizen Kane, widely regarded to be one of, if not the, best film ever made.

Is the movie what should have been done?

Let me put it this way for those of you who are bad at inferring things: Frank Sinatra IS Joseph Leland doing his best Frank Sinatra impression!

I’m not what you would call a Frank Sinatra movie fan, as I feel that all he ever really did was play himself in a desperate bid to prove his masculinity to others. Nothing about his interpretation of Joseph Leland is anything other than Sinatra being himself, from his suit to his fedora. And I was over-exaggerating Sinatra only giving us different shades of yelling as his acting ability. He does show some humanity at some points, but they are all subtle and almost immediately drowned by Sinatra’s bullshit stony face.

After he berates Tesla into giving a confession, he mopes about for a bit and fucks his wife (after yelling at her, of course). Then he continues to be aloof and mopey. I understand that emotionlessness is what Sinatra thought was awesome, but it makes Leland seem like a selfish bag of dicks. The particularly galling thing about this is that almost every other actor in the film is actually pretty good – Jack Klugman, Robert Duvall, and Sugar Ray Robinson are examples of other cops that outshine Leland in personality and skill. The sad fact is that Sinatra’s mobster swagger is to the infinite detriment of the movie.

Although to be entirely fair, if the movie was handicapped by Sinatra’s insistence that a strutting 50 year old man yet to be convinced of his own awesomeness can play 36 unironically, the script chucks the film off a cliff like a desperate insurance scammer. There’s trimming the fat, and then there’s swallowing a tape worm. Gone is the World War II plot, Stephanie vanishes from the story altogether, the timeline is super compacted, and most of the interviews vanish into the ether. Norma MacIver is no longer pregnant and has some kind of supernatural conspiracy diving ability, because without a shred of evidence she goes to Leland proclaiming her husband’s murder by apparent suicide. And then, outside of a handful of scenes, that’s all we see of her despite the fact that we’re supposed to swallow a love triangle that characters mention is there but is utterly invisible. While I can certainly understand that liberties need to be taken, the resulting script leaves so little room to breathe that we never really understand Leland as a character outside of the most superficial of designations.

The writer’s curious decision to actually make women relatively irrelevant to the plot is baffling. In the book, almost everything Leland does is through the frame of how his daughter may interpret it. He loves his wife, but his relationship with her is toxic. Norma is massively important to him and the overall plot. Even a minor character, such as his secretary, is still a valuable part of understanding Leland as a character – she is actually given P.I. assignments and is paid more than other members of his team. Apparently, someone sat down to read the book and jumped up screaming “GOOD, BUT NEEDS MORE PENIS!”

If that weren’t bad enough, the writer crammed in extra scenes to make up for the lack of actual depth. These scenes, though, do nothing to flesh out Leland as a character. He looks the other way for a prostitute so she can visit her family on Christmas – okay, so what? He’s the archetypical good cop who bends the law when it suits him. He excoriates his boss about the arrest of civil rights protestors. Again, that’s great that he’s for equality, but he doesn’t do anything about it. As such, it doesn’t add anything to what we know about him. He sucker punches an asshole cop who is beating up on some poor gay transients. These are all potential character development moments, but they are handled with such pointless “Grr, man now fix things with punchy,” that it smacks of insincerity. These scenes do nothing and probably should have been left out – although I have an inkling that an actor’s inflated ego demanded they stay in.

The preposterous thing about everything that had been stripped out of the book is that film still clocks in at just under two hours. AND YOU WILL FEEL EVERY MINUTE OF IT. The movie somehow manages to be completely rushed and fevered while at the same time feeling insipid and dull-as-dishwater. This could have been saved by a competent production team, but Gordon Douglas and his crew were apparently so utterly lazy and/or useless that there was no hope at any point for this film to be any good.

For instance, some scenes sound like they were recorded in a cave. There’s a point of view shot meant to be Colin MacIver becoming intimate with the pavement that not only looks like silly tripe but you can see the camera’s shadow on the ground for way too long for anyone in their right mind to think that it was a successful effect. Set design is fucking boring, which is especially noticeable because the audience is desperate to engage with anything other than the better actors desperately chewing their way through what remains of the plot. The director of photography does get a special commendation for shot composition being serviceable rather than incompetent, but I doubt that will ever be brought up on the special edition re-release.

The Detective Special Edition

Ultimately, the movie was clearly just a soulless cash grab. There was either no care or understanding about what actually made The Detective unique. It was like they saw the title, scanned the book and thought “We could do better.”


No they could not.

And the Winner is:

Thanks to the utterly inept handling of The Detective as a medium of visual entertainment, the book is far and away the winner. There are countless things wrong with the movie, but at its heart it failed to engage its audience on a meaningful level. Joseph Leland of the book is a human being with flaws and personality, while the movie version is a thin veneer of machismo over an empty shell terrified people will eventually see through it. As a whole, it didn’t look like anyone’s heart was actually in it, and even if there was one person on set who actually gave a toss it still came across like everyone was just in it for a paycheck.

The Detective is hardly the most action-packed book, and the reverence with which it treats minutiae can be aggravating at times, but even under all the excess verbiage there’s a passion for the subject that can’t be denied.

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Nothing Lasts Forever (Die Hard) by Roderick Thorpe

Reviewed by: Jonathan B.
Originally Posted: 12.24.12

Book or Movie first:


The movie, in case you’re dense.

What we got into:

It’s Christmas Eve, and someone connected with law enforcement is headed to LA to meet up with an estranged family member at a holiday party being held at said family member’s place of employment. Just after his arrival, terrorists show up and have nefarious plans that involve a whole lot of hostage-taking and explosives. They did not count on the fact that this particular guest is a bad enough dude to escape the hostage situation and single-handedly kill the shit out of them. Elevator shafts, helicopters exploding, repelling, C4 explosives, and general badassery occurs in varying amounts, but is all pretty awesome.

A look at the Book:

Nothing Lasts Forever stars Joseph Leland, aging World War II flying ace, former detective (of The Detective fame), ex-drunk, and divorcee. Although the book doesn’t quite give us the age of our hero, it’s safe to assume he’s pushing 60. Now a consultant for police forces in the United States, Leland is on his way to visit his semi-estranged daughter and grandchildren in LA. Along the way, he runs into a racist dick who threatens his cab driver, meets a pretty stewardess, and has a nice little conversation with his limo driver once in the City of Angels.

His daughter, Stephanie Gennaro, an executive at Klaxon Oil, and is one of the major reasons why the company landed a major deal in Chile. As they celebrate the holiday and their successful business deal, Leland goes to clean up. Gunshots ring out, putting an end to the festivities. As Leland flees to the upper levels of the building in order to start planning a counter-attack, he recognizes the terrorist leader – Anton Gruber, a West German asshat with delusions of… erm… grandeur? Huh. The guy’s a sociopath, and he has a plan, but it’s all very “We’re making a statement” and idealist. Anyway, Gruber’s total asshole status is confirmed when Leland witnesses him killing one of the executives.

Leland, armed with a Browning pistol he keeps on him (because of the consulting work – very dangerous stuff, you see), takes down the baddies one by one, occasionally stealing a machine gun and bringing down terrible vengeance. Eventually, he makes contact with the police – especially a charming fellow by the name of Sergeant Powell – force and there are numerous attempts to breach the building to save the hostages and the crazy ex-cop who refuses to hole up somewhere and await rescue. Leland, however, is not going to lay down and wait it out when his daughter and grandchildren are in danger.

Helicopters are scrapped, bare feet are cut open, C4 is dropped down an elevator shaft, people die, terrorists are thrown over the side of a building, guns are taped to backs, the companies dastardly dealings with the Chilean dictatorship is revealed, and there is more than one moment of soul-searching.

All-in-all, it turns out to be a tremendously shitty day for Joseph Leland.

A line from the Book:

“Heroes grow old, not just obsolete.”

A look at the Movie (1988):

Bruce Willis stars as John McClane, a NYPD detective with a name undeniably Irish so the audience just knows he is a cop. He is on his way to visit his estranged wife in LA at the company she works for, the Nakatomi Corporation. As he unwinds before joining the party, terrorists led by Hans Gruber (played by Severus Snape) break in and, in the confusion, he is able to escape to the upper levels of the building.

McClane witnesses Hans execute Joseph Takagi, one of the Nakatomi Corp’s management after admitting he wants to get his hands on some fat cash and is merely using the whole “terrorism” thing as a ruse. Because just pretending to be the janitorial staff and breaking into the vault after rifling through some files after dark would be too ostentatious. Nope. Going to spring right for the whole “terrorist” thing as a decoy.

Anyway, after killing a dude, McClane gets a radio and contacts the police who send Sergeant Al Powell (played by Reginald VelJohnson of Carl Winslow Family Matters fame) to investigate. Not-Carl is about to leave when McClane has to get his attention. Improvising, McClane hurls a dead terrorist out the window and into the squad car in order to convince Sergeant Un-Winslow that something is wrong at Nakatomi Plaza. Soon, the place is swarming with cops and media. From there, helicopters are scrapped, bare feet are cut open, C4 is dropped down an elevator shaft, people die, guns are taped to backs, and witty one-liners are enjoyed by all. Except the terrorists. Who are dead. Also, Powell gets a touch more screen time wherein he explains over the walkie-talkie that he is behind a desk because he accidentally killed a kid. As mentioned above, Sgt. Powell is played by Reginald VelJohnson, who would go on to play police officer Carl Winslow in Family Matters. I like to think that Die Hard and Family Matters takes place in the same universe, and Carl is only in LA after brutally killing Urkel in Chicago and fleeing to start a new life under a new identity. And don’t you fucking act like I didn’t make both media infinitely better by suggesting that’s how everything played out.

A line from the Movie:

“Yippie kai-yay, motherfucker.”

Movie compared to the Book:

Outside of the obvious change in the main character and the relationship twixt the protagonist and female lead, it could be argued that there is not much difference between the media. Some scenes play out almost verbatim in the movie as they did in the book, and the overall plot is pretty similar.

Beyond casual inspection, though, there’s a lot more going on than simple name and age changes. Buckle up, kiddos.

The book is much, much bleaker than the movie. It’s attitude and outlook is pitch black and grows darker. Leland has to come to grips with killing women, some apparently no older than 18. He throws up after throwing a dead body off the roof. His first kill of the evening is done by separating the victim’s skull from his spine – pretty nasty stuff. All in all, there’s some pretty disturbing things going on in the book that, while similar to events in the movie, are handled with a lot more psychological toll than Bruce Willis’s McClane.

Die Hard, unlike Nothing Lasts Forever, is kind of a joyful celebration of violence. After being chastised by a bad guy for hesitating, McClane kills the offending terrorist. It’s a tense situation, certainly made all the worse by the human toll being exacted. Good thing McClane has a chipper one-liner! “Thanks for the advice, pal,” he muses as blood from a fellow human being pools out of the corpse above him.

Examples like that abound in Die Hard – and elsewhere, I acknowledge – but it seems particularly egregious when compared to the source material. Joe Leland takes very little joy in killing the terrorists – although he has the urge to destroy them, one gets the idea that it’s for humiliations he’s suffered at the baddies’ hands as well as the drive to save his daughter. John McClane, without the more human moments of introspection offered to us through Roderick Thorpe’s narrative, comes off as a wee bit unhinged. At least, in direct comparison with the book.

Nowhere is this dichotomy more apparent than in the finale. Leland, gun taped to his back, confronts Anton, who has his daughter held hostage. Anton tells Leland his plan – he was going to blow open the safe and throw the money outside. It turns out that Klaxon Oil had made a very shady deal with a very shady government that made a lot of miserable people more miserable. Anton’s goal was to “return” the money. In any case, Leland retrieves his pistol and opens fire, killing Anton – but Anton has Stephanie by the wrist band, and he drags her out the window to their deaths.

Heartbroken, exhausted, and furious, a dazed Leland trudges upstairs, lures a terrorist into the building and shoots her in the face. He then proceeds to go through with Anton’s plan before radioing to the police that he’s coming down. It’s this tremendous moment of pain and sadness, retribution against a system supposed to protect people, and capitulation. When he finally reaches the ground and is bundled onto a stretcher, one last bad guy sprints toward him, spraying bullets. Sergeant Powell shoves useless bureaucrat (and tremendous asshole) Deputy Chief Robinson in front of Leland to absorb the first hail of bullets as Powell proceeds to shoot all the blood out of the terrorist’s body. It’s pyrrhic and terrible on a multitude of levels. He is a hero and worth being saved. To some, even at the cost of another’s life. And yet, he is a failure at saving his daughter. And now, technically speaking, there’s more blood on his hands.

Die Hard says “Fuck that girly emotion stuff” and steals your lunch money, you goddamn nerd. Die Hard ain’t no comedy, but it sure as hell isn’t some kind of French impressionist bullshit!

Hans Gruber is just a greedy asshole. No namby-pamby Robin Hood shit here! He also doesn’t manage to take McClane’s wife with him when he’s blasted out a window. Because, seriously, fuck that guy. Also, the last terrorist guy? Gets his ass shot by Carl Winslow. That’ll teach him to try to kill Bruce Willis! The good guys win! Booyah! Even if it does set up for quite possibly one of the best sequels of all time. Die Hard! DIE HARD! DIE HARD! Now, is this necessarily a bad thing? Well, as someone who writes novels about super heroes punching each other, I can definitely see both sides. On one hand, Nothing Lasts Forever highlights the psychological toll that a life spent drifting apart from loved ones while maintaining a steadfast loyalty to “the right thing”. Society tends to think of cops – when they’re not thinking of them as corrupt – as automatons, quick to lend support except when it comes to the psychological trauma of the nastier sides of things.

Die Hard is pure entertainment. I fucking love the movie, there’s no doubt about it. There’s just something about watching McClane out-think, out-act, and out-gun everyone and still have enough energy to pop off a bad ass line. Nothing Lasts Forever is terrific, but nihilist. Die Hard takes that negative-mentality and throws it over its shoulder before stomping a terrorist in the balls.

This is probably due to the fact that, while the book was patiently awaiting being turned into a movie, a lot changed. The bleak and depressing 70’s gave way to the terminally stupid 80’s. U-rah, unthinking patriotism was in vogue, so a film like Die Hard takes any moral ambiguity and blows it right the fuck up. There are good guys, and there are bad guys. But in the post-Nixon 70’s, the world seemed a lot more grey than before.

The bad guys in the book are decidedly West German – that is to say, they grew up as unabashed capitalists. Their country had grown rich under the “reformed” Nazis, and they grew resentful of the hypocrisy they were forced to live. Although they are unapologetically bad – Anton kills for fun – there’s enough blame to go around: Stephanie and her company for profiting from the suffering of peasants, Leland for ignoring his family, the media for wanting a story at all costs.

Hans, on the other hand, is simply greedy.

But it goes even further than that. In terms of being products of their times, Nothing Lasts Forever is an interesting example of reaction to the civil rights era. The African American characters are largely treated with a great deal of respect. Outside of how Sgt. Powell is described over the radio (Mr. Thorpe, how does one sound black? And what precisely is a hint of ghetto?), Leland’s relationships with the black characters are pretty damn positive. Even though, in the book, Powell sacrifices the Deputy Chief for McClane, the rationale isn’t hard to parse out. But, because Die Hard was made in the 80’s, the four black characters are either: 1) redeemed by John McClane through the magic of “shooting a German in the face” therapy, 2) blown up in heavy-handed “Federal-gov’mant-sucks” symbolism, 3) a bad guy, or 4) comic relief.

That’s right, you forgot about Argyle.

But I didn’t.

I never forget Argyle.

And the winner is:

It’s hard to say. Both are fantastic. I’d go with Die Hard on a purely entertainment basis, but Nothing Lasts Forever is a surprisingly powerful book. It’s a fast read, and you won’t regret it. In fact, fuck it. They both win. Die Hard!

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How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss

Reviewed by: Ashlie B.
Originally Posted: 12.7.12

Book or Movie first:

Technically the animated movie, but that doesn’t count here. Saw the movie first, but read the book the same day.

What we got into:

The story is simple: The Grinch HATES Christmas. As he sits smugly on top of his hill overlooking the Whos of Who-ville he declares all the particulars he hates about Christmas and then, like the idea slapped him in his green face, he decides to steal it all away. He is very successful at the stealing of Christmas, but when the holiday spirit isn’t crushed out of every heart of the Whos, he feels bad, has a heart attack or something, and gives all the stuff back. However, both the book and the movie tell the story a lot more eloquently than that.

A look at the Book:

I will credit, you may blame, my love of Dr. Suess with Fox in Sox. Oh, how I can’t wait for the day that story is turned into a full-length feature film. Just kidding. In all seriousness though, I loved reading Dr. Suess. It was all about reading it out loud, as fast as I could, without getting tongue-tied, and that good old “Doctor” knew how to throw a curve or two or twenty. Dr. Suess made reading sound cool.

Beyond sounding cool to read out loud, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” is the devious kid brother of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” It’s not just a cute little story of all the magic that is to come from Christmas; it’s a defiant Christmas tale. Who would tell the story of someone who hates Christmas? Who would tell the story of someone who steals Christmas? Who would tell the story of a happy Christmas even without the roast beast? Dr. Suess, that’s who. Now, maybe you have the story of A Christmas Carol floating around your brain. Maybe you are thinking Scrooge hated Christmas. I’ll tell ya something: there’s a huge pile of difference between a “bah humbug” because you don’t give a shit about the “holiday spirit” and actively going out and stealing every thing that is considered to be Christmas-y. Even Tiny Tim can’t manage the level of Christmas Day enthusiasm as the Whos until he’s been fed and there’s a promise of potentially not dying.

Honestly, the story could end with the Grinch getting even more upset that his dastardly plan didn’t ruin the day. He could be the worst protagonist ever written and not grow as a character, and the story would still have a good point. That Christmas is about more than “packages, boxes or bags.” All the Whos became less fortunate when their houses were stripped of everything – even the food – and instead of being all sad and depressed that they didn’t have more, they got together, hand-in-hand and sang. Being together was and is the point of Christmas. However, the story does keep going. The Grinch’s heart grows, almost explodes out of his chest, and he then returns all the Christmas that he stole. He no longer hates Christmas.

A look at the Movie (2000):

Picture Jim Carrey being Jim Carrey. Now picture him, being himself, in green fur. Apparently that’s the Grinch. Over gesticulative, mugging for the camera, and just shattering that fourth wall. That more or less sums up the movie: Jim Carrey being over emotive, trying too hard to attempt to scare or mock, the Whos especially cute little Cindy-Lou Who. Yet somehow this little girl can see through the act and can still wonder why he not only puts in the effort to hate Christmas, but why he’s been ostracized from Who-ville.

The movie is a Christmas mystery… sort of. Cindy-Lou starts doubting that consumerism is really what the holiday is all about and starts poking at the Grinch’s past in hopes to find out why no one likes him. That’s a good age, don’t you think, when the children start to think that “because I said so” might not be enough?

Here’s what we find out through Cindy-Lou’s keen detective-ing. The Grinch, just like all the other babies, was dropped off by the… I have to assume storks, because either they didn’t say or my brain was thinking it way too loudly when I saw the scene… anyways, the wind kind of misdirected him. He waited outside in the cold for several days as the Whos celebrated Christmas. Maybe they had too much nog or that bowl indicated a Key Party, and not a way to prevent the inebriated from driving, either way they took no notice of him. When he was found, he was a stubborn child, but he was loved and cared for and eventually he was old enough to go to school. Here’s where things get really bad for the Grinch. Unlike all the other Who children, the Grinch is covered in hair. Hair on his face, and his fingers and all over his green body. That’s right, green. Suffice it to say, children can be little assholes, and that is just what they were. They teased, they taunted, they made fun. Poor little Grinch. He made his attempt to be more like them, but it didn’t help. He flew into a rage and ran away to Mt. Crumpit, where he grew up, just him and eventually his dog Max. Did I happen to mention that they were celebrating Christmas in school they day things went worse for the Grinch? No? Well, now you know.

So now, years later, he is all grown up, and wants to ruin everyone’s fun. He isn’t quite to the point of stealing Christmas yet, but oh, he will be. As he’s making a mess of the mail-room, delaying presents delivered to the right Whos, he meets cute little Cindy-Lou, and for some odd reason, even though he smells and almost lets her fall down a mail chute, she ends up liking him enough to nominate him for Cheer Meister, think employee of the year, the Cheer Meister either exemplifies Christmas Cheer or, in the Grinch’s case, needs it. He accepts his prize, but is ultimately humiliated once again. Now, we get to the good stuff.

You knew it was coming. That damn Grinch dresses up like Santa Claus, fooling even cute little Cindy-Lou, and steals every thing that is Christmas. Well, everything inside the houses at least. Then hauls it all up Mt. Crumpit to dump it. He waits to hear the town rage in unison but it doesn’t come. After some arguing amongst the Whos (“You know it was that Grinch! He is an awful stupid poopy face,” “ No, he’s not! You’re the stupid poopy face,” “Yeah, she’s right, good job standing up for the Grinch honey”) they all get together and sing. The Grinch changes his mind, his heart grows, killing him for several seconds, and then he has to save Christmas by returning everything. Hooray!

Movie compared to the Book:

It is amazing what can spring to “reality” from ink on a page. Not only did Dr. Suess lay the ground work for the story but also the set pieces and the characters themselves. The man had skills. Now, I know I’m going out of bounds a little here but, I want to bring in the animated version of the story for two reasons. Number one, the book is in black and white… and red. So the Grinch looks no different from the Whos, it isn’t until the animated film that the Grinch is green and the rest of the Whos are not. Number two, the song, the super famous song about how awful the Grinch is, came from the animated version and is interspersed with the live action version being reviewed, and in case you didn’t know, Dr. Suess wrote that too. Like I said, skills.

Of course, as with children’s books, there needed to be bulk, and even though this too wasn’t written by the “Doctor” it exemplified what was at the heart of the original story, that Christmas actually is not about consumerism, and also added other relevant themes and tales appropriate for children, even though they may have been subtler. The movie hit on: where babies come from, bullying, love, acceptance, even took a stab at religion and how the same text can be used to both damn and defend.

And the winner is:

Both versions of the story are inoffensive. They hit on the very real meaning of Christmas without making it overtly religious. In the long run though, I am more likely to read the book than watch the movie. It was by no means a bad watch, but at the same time it wasn’t anything special either, the book is quicker and I am a more active participant.

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The Witches by Roald Dahl

Reviewed by: Ashlie B.
Originally Posted: 11.12.12

Book or Movie first:

I’m not quite sure. I want to say the book, but then again it could have been the movie. I do remember that the first time I saw the movie was at a Boys and Girls Club.

What we got into:

A young boy of nine ends up in the care of his Grandmamma after his parents are killed in a motor accident. While mourning their loss Grandmamma starts to tell her grandson all about witches. Not the made up ones of fairytales, but REAL witches. Listening carefully to his Grandmamma, he absorbs the information that saves his life once. However, his second encounter is less then successful when he is turned into a mouse. Though many would be devastated to find their grandchild a mouse, Grandmamma is quick to accept the circumstance. The two of them devise a plan to use the witches’ magic against them and turn them into mice, stopping the witches from doing it to all the children of England. However, England is not the end of witches, wherever there are children there are real witches all over the world. Grandmamma and her grandson embark on a journey to hunt them all down.

A look at the Book:

Roald Dahl takes on the task of creating a world of real witches. In the beginning chapters the reader learns about Grandmamma’s experience with witches. Well, her experience with other children’s experiences with witches. We learn of the girl who was cast into a painting, where she could be seen day-to-day doing a different task on the farm setting and aging as the years went on. A little boy who was turned into a statue and used to hold umbrellas in the home of his family. We learn all the subtle signs of a witch: they always wear gloves, to hide their curved claws; they wear wigs to hid their bald heads; they have no toes; they have large pink nose holes, the better to smell with; their irises dance with color, flame, and ice; and lastly their spit is blue. The rest of the book centers around grandson’s encounters with witches, and him and his grandmother working to up heave their dastardly plans.

The book is a very fast read and it is hard not to get caught up in the ebb and flow of the prose that maybe, just maybe, is a little too deep for a children’s book. But there is a poetry that fills the page even if aimed at a juvenile audience. (If you haven’t read the book, then just wait till you get to “Line from the book:”) Another win for the book are the illustrations by Quentin Blake, who does most of the illustration work for Dahl. His sketchy little illustrations give just enough detail, but leave plenty of room to be reminded that this is, after all, just a story.

The story is mostly solid, but really shouldn’t be thought about to hard. Witches exist, they are always women, they hate children because they smell like dog droppings, and their purpose is to wipe kids out of existence. Witches are clever about their disposal of children, though, for they never get caught.

Several problems arise with this very basic history of witches. First, where do witches come from? Are they born? We can’t assume that they live forever because the book claims that the “ancient ones” are seventy years or older. Seventy would hardly be ancient if they live forever. If they are born, are they born of Muggle (to borrow from Rowling) parents or does a witch get knocked up by a wizard, or whatever the male equivalent is in the universe? If so, that would imply that at some point they too were children, and how their witch mothers hadn’t bished, sqvished, or bashed them is a small miracle.

Second, part of their being so clever and never being caught resides in the fact that most witches only dispense with a single child a week, which is still a frightfully high number of children disappearing. However, the grand scheme in the book is to basically wipe them all out at once. The plan is that all the witches are to buy sweet shops, load their sweets with the Delayed Action Mouse Maker Formula, and give them away free of charge. Depending on what time the alarm clock is set (the most important ingredient of the formula) all the imbibers will be turned into mice at the same time. All sorts of things are wrong with this plan, and had I been a witch I hope I would have had the brains enough to talk back and get fried, but possibly get my comrades to agree that this was a horrible idea.

First, it will look quite suspicious if all of a sudden, worldwide, children are becoming mice, especially mice that can talk. I don’t think it would take too long to realize the culprit of such shenanigans stem from the sweet shops. Now maybe, the owners wouldn’t be blamed, maybe it would be the candy makers, or the supplier of sugar, but it wouldn’t be too long (I’m thinking days, maybe weeks) before the candy shops would be out of business. So maybe this isn’t awful, for the witches, the population of the world’s children has exponentially dropped, but there will still be variables. Infants don’t eat candy, if their parents have half a brain anyway. What about any children that are sick? Or have allergies? Or are on a diet?

Second, children aren’t the only ones that eat candy and can be lured by a grand opening and promising of free sweets. Granted this might weed out a considerable bunch of adults that many do not like, you know whom I’m talking about, but there would also be a lot of up standing citizens that would also become victims. When questioned about an adult eating the sweets, the Grand High Witch simply states, “That’s just too bad for the grrrown-up.” (109)

If the witches’ plan were to come to fruition, it would functionally change the dominant species of the Earth. What would witches do with their time if all the population became mice? What fun would they have when the novel clearly suggests that witches live to bish, sqvish, and bash children? It’s a damn good thing that Grandmamma and her grandson foil the witches’ “great” plan because humanity would have been devastated.

A line from the Book:

Down vith children! Do them in!
Boil their bones and fry their skin!
Bish them, sqvish them, bash them, mash them!
Brrreak them, shake them, slash them, smash them!
Offer chocs vith magic powder!
Say ‘Eat up!’ then say it louder.
Crrram them full of sticky eats,
Send them home still guzzling sveets.
And in the morning little fools
Go marching off to separate schools.
A girl feels sick and goes all pale.
She yells, ‘Hey look! I’ve grrrown a tail!’
A boy who’s standing next to her
Screams, ‘Help! I think I’m grrrowing fur!’
Another shouts, ‘Vee look like frrreaks!
There’s viskers growing on our cheeks!’
A boy who vos extremely tall
Cries out. ‘Vot’s wrong? I’m grrrowing small!’
Four tiny legs begin to sprrrout
From everbody rrround about.
Ans all at vunce, all in a trrrice,
There are no children! Only MICE!
In every school is mice galore
All rrrunning rrround the school-rrroom floor!
And all the poor demented teacher
Is yelling, ‘Hey, who are these crrreatures?’
They stand upon the desks and shout,
‘Get out, you filthy mice! Get out!
Vill someone fetch some mouse-trrraps, please!
And don’t forget to bring the cheese!’
Now mouse-trrraps come and every trrrap
Goes snippy-snip and snappy-snap.
The mouse-trrraps have a powerful spring,
The springs go crack and snap and ping!
Is lovely noise for us to hear!
Is music to a vitch’s ear!
Dead mice is every place arrround,
Piled two feet deep upon the grrround,
Vith teachers searching left and rrright,
But not a single child in sight!
The teachers cry, ‘Vot’s going on?
Oh where have all the children gone?
Is half-past nine and as a rrrule
They’re never late as this for school!’
Poor teachers don’t know vot to do.
Some sit and rrread, and just a few
Amuse themselves throughout the day
By sveeping all the mice away.

~Pages 85-87

A look at the Movie (1990):

What is there to say about the movie…well… my guess, along with Jonathan B’s, is that the phrase, “It’s just a kid’s movie,” had to be repeated often on set, but even that is a bit hard to believe. On a positive note, we finally get names for the protagonists, Luke and Mrs. (last name here).

Angelica Houston plays The Grand High Witch, and the only role I think she’s hotter in is as Morticia Addams. And that’s just it. This is a kid’s movie. Sex appeal, especially from the villain, is not necessary. At no point should the target audience have to endure her subtle gyrations on stage. Even further, not only do the men fawn over her in the hotel, which she seems obviously disgusted by, but also so do all the witches, which she happens to lavish in. Interesting messages all around, and from a kid’s movie.

There’s also more to argue against the great cunning of these witches. Luke has just been caught spying on them, and somehow, in a room of eighty women, he is spry enough to get past the lot of them and run away. Like a practical little boy he goes straight to grandma, but she is passed out and can’t be roused. Soon, he finds himself cornered by the Grand High Witch. Instead of running to another adult for help, possibly one of the males in the hotel, he runs all over the grounds with the witches chasing after him. Along the chase, the Grand High Witch comes across a mother on bench with her baby next to her in a pram. After a few gootchygoo faces at the baby, the Grand High Witch shoves the pram down the hill. I assumed that she was just being a witch in that moment, taking out one more child. Jonathan B. postulated that she was doing it in hopes to get Luke out of hiding. Either one is a horrible assumption.

If she was just being horrible, how did the mother not take notice of the woman standing next to her and shoving the pram down the hill? Furthermore, why didn’t she show her appreciation to the boy for saving her child, or at least notice that the bombardment of woman around her weren’t showing signs of joy that her child was saved but trying to gang up on the boy. If the Grand High Witch was trying to lure out Luke, how did she know where he was, and why would she assume that he would sacrifice his own neck to save the baby?

During this scene there is a “lovely” montage of the witches dancing on ocean cliffs, cheering on the baby’s assumed immanent death, and God knows what else of just awkward shots, that seem to be just filling in time. It seemed like a short music video with no music, not to mention any talent.

Maybe, I should look away from the story the film tells and start reviewing its technical accomplishments. The lighting, sound, set, direction, editing, but all in all those elements help tell the story, and the story is told rather badly. Not only are things “off” with the witches but the various human characters too. Rowan Atkinson plays the hotel manager and he is having an affair with one of the maids. Again, a kid’s movie, is this necessary? To the point though, the maid in question is a bit daft and she screams… a lot. I’ve never understood the effect of having a woman scream at the sight of a mouse. Sure, it is dramatic, but a bit more realistic would be a quick “Eek!” and then jumping onto the furniture so the mouse can’t scurry up her leg. This woman goes into hysterics like she just saw a mutilated baby. But I guess she gets hers: while turning down the bed of the Grand High Witch, she stumbles across a small bottle. Assuming it is perfume, she dabs a little on herself. Later as Atkinson comes in for a snog, he notices that she has grown patches of fur on her neck just under her ears, and turns away disgusted and uninterested.

Most readers will know Rowan Atkinson from his role as Mr. Bean. If this is the case, then I’m sure you are aware of his lack of all sex appeal. Some of you may recognize him from Black Adder, where he had the same appeal as Mr. Bean in the first season. As the series continued, it was clear the man was acting and is totally someone you could bed. If you haven’t seen Black Adder, remember way back to the movie Love Actually, he has a very minor role amongst the all-star cast, but he is a classy looking man. Now, find yourself in between Mr. Bean, and classy Rowan Atkinson and you have his character in The Witches. Not unattractive, but hopefully there is personality to go with it. Then again, we are still watching a kid’s movie, and if all I have to comment on is the sexual relationship and attractiveness of the characters, something horribly wrong has happened with the story telling skills.

Movie compared to the Book:

At the end of the day it is the same story. Boy ends up in grandma’s care because parents die. She tells him about witches, and how to avoid them. He comes into contact after all and gets turned to a mouse. Mouse grandson and grandma save the day and then plot to rid the world of witches just as the witches had plotted to rid the world of children.

However, the same story is told differently, bear with me as I try to catch all the anomalies, and in chronological order.

As already pointed out, the book does not give our protagonists names. This is odd, simply because referring to them as Grandma and Grandson is awkward. This is something I’m most grateful to the movie for. Luke is not the only little boy in the story, there is also Bruno Jenkins, but it seems odd to try and talk about a conversation between the two only referring to Luke as Grandson.

Come the summer holiday, Grandma wanted to take Luke back to Norway, where she was born and intended to die. However, she got sick and was told to take it easy, that a holiday at the seaside would be much more appropriate. In the book, Grandma got pneumonia. In the movie, she is struck with a slight case of diabetes. Now I may be wrong about this but I thought diabetes was something that once you had it you were stuck with it. Also, while it means a dietary change and possibly some medication, it wouldn’t prevent you from traveling… and only back home for that matter. It seems like such a silly detail to change, when it was a perfectly coherent one to begin with.

At one point in her long life Grandma came across a witch of her very own. Though she survived, one of her thumbs didn’t. In the book, Grandma won’t talk about her own harrowing experience; movie Grandma is completely un-phased when Luke asks her about it. I like book Grandma’s reaction better. It sets the tone of seriousness and makes you feel more like she survived a horrible experience, and though she has learned from it, would rather not drudge up the memory. Movie Grandma makes it sound like no big deal, like losing your thumb to a witch – one that wanted to bish, sqvish or bash her – was the equivalent of the scar on your knee from falling off a bike.

As we know from the book, and snippets from the movie witches have some very unique and subtle characteristics. The characteristic between the two are mostly the same, just went about them differently. According to the book, the witches wore gloves to hide their claws, but if you notice the make-up in the movie, they had scaly hands that they were hiding under those gloves. In both sources they have no toes, but book Grandma points out that they still slip into thin, pointed shoes, though it was uncomfortable, because that was the woman’s fashion. Movie Grandma insists they only wear plane, comfortable shoes. The movie does little to address the large pink nose holes and their blue spit, which is a shame because there were plenty of close ups that could have focused in on these subtle details. Lastly there are the eyes. Just the irises were meant to dance with color/flame/ice, the entire eye of the movie witches glowed purple, and not very discreetly either.

In both the book and the movie, the Grand High Witch wears a mask. With the help of the illustrations of the book, you picture her mostly faceless… well… maybe more skinless, and noseless, or maybe she had really horrible skin. The Grand High Witch of movie turns into this large, skeletal, hairy, moley, long nosed creature, all by just taking off her mask. At no point, during either story is it conveyed that part of their powers is to hide more in less space. How much more interesting would it have been to keep the witch, with a recognizable human form, instead of equating them to beasts… but oh well I guess. Apparently something that doesn’t exist is much more horrifying than what does.

Formula 86: Delayed Action Mouse Maker. Book formula was a potion to be brewed by all the witches on their own, accept the ancient ones. As mentioned before, the alarm clock was the most important ingredient; whatever time it was set to is when the children, or whoever was unfortunate enough to digest it, would turn into a mouse. It meant they could make their chocolate sweets with one time, and taffy sweets with another, but it would keep all the victims turning into mice far away from the sweet shops that did it to them. Movie formula, went into action two hours later, unless more than one dose was taken, and then it would go into effect immediately. Here’s the thing: if I, a grown up, went to the grand opening of a sweet shop, where they were offering free sweets, I wouldn’t stop at one, especially if they offered truffles (more specifically, pomegranate truffles), and I would be turning into a mouse right in their stores, scaring away any and all customers. Now, let’s think about children, who have even less self-control. I’m not going to spell out any further how awful of a plan this is.

In the book, when Luke is found spying on the witches he is caught right away and turned into a mouse. The movie drags this out. I’m not sure why. They only ended up with five minutes of boring insanity. Honestly, the only way to have made it better, without getting rid if the scene completely, would have been to play Yakety Sax during the charade, it was comical in a place where the was no room for comedy.

The book ends with Grandma, and Luke, who is a mouse, planning to hunt down all the witches of the world, feeding them their own potion and turning them all into mice. The movie ends with the same grand plan, BUT an apparently “good” witch comes out-of-the-blue and turns Luke back into a little boy. Where the hell did this even come from? Once again, I deferred to Jonathan B. who theorized that Hollywood thought Luke being a mouse was too sad of an ending for a children’s movie, and gave it a quick fix. For starters, this does not follow the diegesis of the world. There are no good witches to make this happen, so it can’t happen, tough shit if you want a happier ending. If this was your ending you should have done a better job rewriting the story so that this action wouldn’t have been pulled out of someone’s ass. Second, no one was sad about Luke being a mouse. I mean sure it was disconcerting, but even he was happy, he didn’t have to go to school anymore. Lastly, this fucks up their plans at trying to rid the world of witches: they will smell Luke coming blocks away, their plan hinged on him being a tiny little mouse that could sneak through the cracks in the walls. So good job movie for screwing over the ending.

*deep breath*

Sorry for the belligerence, but people have a way of screwing up the most basic things.

And the winner is:

Really, I shouldn’t even need to bother with this. Clearly the book is better. True, it has some flaws, but you are too busy reading to really pay them any attention, and compared to the horrible interpretation of the movie, the book is perfect. When I watch a movie that was adapted from a book, I get that it won’t be the same, that things will have to be left out or woven together differently. But to change details just because you can while completely neglecting what the original story is so that the story you actually tell and the story you are trying to tell make no sense by their own rules, is a waste of everyone’s time.

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Reviewed by: Fernando B.
Originally Posted: 11.05.12

Book or Movie first:

Read the majority of the book first, but started watching the movie while reading the book.

What we got into:

Journalist Raoul Duke, and his attorney Dr. Gonzo, head to Las Vegas for the Mint 400 motorcycle race; however, they soon lose focus as they over-indulge on drugs and alcohol. Their excessive usage of drugs lead to violent outbursts, hallucinations, and reflections of the 60’s movement along with their displeasure on how society is in the present (1970’s).

A look at the Book:

The novel is a roman á clef, which is an account of a true story with fiction laid over it. Seeing as the original purpose of the novel was to report the Mint 400, it became a new style of writing known as gonzo journalism. Raoul Duke (Hunter Thompson) takes his attorney Dr. Gonzo (Oscar Zeta Acosta) with him on a reporting gig. This would seem like an average story except for the fact that Duke and Gonzo are children of the 60’s drug craze and have a suitcase full of barbiturates. The story even starts with the two leads already being affected by the drugs, leading them to see fictitious bats and lose control of their senses as they drive a rented car. This leads to a funny intro scene as they pick up a hitchhiker in the middle of the desert and proceed to regale him with who they are, where they are going, and threaten to bury him. It isn’t Raoul’s intention to threaten him, but rather his paranoid thought processes which are being vocalized as the drugs have caused him to lose his filter that allows him to think without talking. The scene with the hitchhiker sets the tone for the entire story and how the main characters treat Vegas.

Fear and Loathing
(Thompson and Acosta)

At the heart of it, the novel is a reflection of the 1970s politics and counter culture. The story echoes the same ideas of excess that The Great Gatsby does. They take drugs for fun, then when life becomes too hard, then when it becomes too real, then when it becomes too difficult. Eventually they stop taking drugs, but that may be because they ran out of them or they came closer to reaching the American Dream. The hard part about the novel is that it ventures off on different tangents which become confusing to read. At one point, it is hard to tell whether the main character is Thompson pretending to be Duke or Duke giving out the name Thompson as a fake. It becomes a bit like talking to a little kid about a missing item: they lie about it, then tell some truth, then tell the truth from their perspective that comes off as a lie, and then you are more confused in the end.

A line from the Book:

“So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” – Raoul Duke

A look at the Movie (1998):

The movie is directed by Terry Gilliam, best known for his work on 12 Monkeys or Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail, and stars Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke and Benicio Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo. A great deal of Gilliam’s movies tend to focus on artistry and Fear and Loathing is no exception as he attempts to stay as close to the original novel as possible. Gilliam does take a few liberties, but they generally deal with background action, an added scene of coconut smashing, and a few little bits that draw the story together so the audience does feel like they are holding a ball full of loose ends. Depp had even lived with Thompson for an extended period of time to learn the author’s movements, even borrowing some of his clothes, before filming. Whether he did this at Gilliam’s request is uncertain, but it would make sense for a movie based on a novel written in the gonzo style, a fictive piece layered on top of a piece of journalism.

What makes the movie really interesting is that it was put out somewhat after the movie Half-Baked and before Pirates of the Caribbean. There is precarious time in the career of a good-looking male actors (Brad Pitt, Heath Ledger, etc.) where they have to choose between continually being the cute guy character or branching out. Brad Pitt branched out with his role in 12 Monkeys, Heath Ledger branched out with his role in The Dark Knight, and Johnny Depp certainly branched out with his role as Raoul Duke. Being a drug movie put out after the success of Half-Baked, the trailer looked like another drug comedy flick, which isn’t exactly true. The movie is an adventure/drama that uses drugs as conveyance to move the story along. The film does go a long way in terms of visuals and makes one definitely view hotels in a new light.

Movie compared to the Book:

Gilliam’s interpretation isn’t that far apart from Thompson’s original story. Sure, the scene where they bash coconuts on a Cadillac hood isn’t in the book, but it is a scene Thompson omitted from his original novel. While Thompson does seem to focus more on the political climate and effects of the drugs, Gilliam seems to translate another layer of humor that is hard to find in the novel. A good way to go through both is to think of the two leads as title characters (i.e. one is Fear and one is Loathing). This can be seen throughout the entire novel as Dr. Gonzo’s character pulls out his knife on people more than once while Raoul cowers in the background, attempting to overcome the effects of whatever drug he has recently ingested. It really goes a long way into the depth of the plot.

And the winner is:

I actually love both the book and the movie. My first delve into the story was with the movie because I thought it would be like Half-Baked. Part way through the book, I discovered I was absolutely confused and attempted watching the movie so it would clarify questions I had early on in the book. After watching the movie and being thoroughly confused, I thought I would finish the book for further understanding. I have to admit that I knew more about the history and politics involved than I did about the drugs. Thompson did describe their usage and effects well; however, the humor was a bit lost. In the end I have to say that the movie is better simply for the humor.


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