Sunday, November 6, 2011

Shutter Island


the Book
Shutter Island
Written by Dennis Lehane in 2003
Rating: ★★★★★ Couldn't put it down!

What it's about:  

When a dangerous mental patient escapes Ashecliffe, a remote mental hospital on Shutter Island, Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule, two U.S. Marshals, cross the Boston harbor to investigate.

Teddy has waited almost two years for an excuse to go to Ashecliffe ever since the man who murdered his wife was committed there, and the missing patient is the perfect reason.  If he can confront Andrew Laeddis, he will finally be able to let his wife go. 

Upon their initial investigation, it quickly becomes apparent that the staff is keeping something from them.  How can a woman escape a locked room with guards at every exit, unless she had help?  Furthermore, Rachel Solando, the missing patient, has left clues suggesting that there is another missing person, a 67th patient - a subject that makes the staff uncomfortable and no one will talk about it.

Teddy continues his search for Rachel.  Meanwhile, he suspects Ashecliffe is a corrupt institution and is determined to find evidence to bring it down.  But when the staff begins to suspect he knows something and his partner goes missing, Teddy fears he will never be able to get off the island alive. 

Why I LOVED it:

Dennis Lehane leads you along a thrilling story that ends with an unforgettable twist.  Never a dull moment, Shutter Island, is one of those books that you just can’t put down.  The grief and love that Teddy feels for his late wife is tangible and heart breaking.  The doubt and fear the characters experience is chilling.  Lehane writes with mystery and reveals the truth in a timely, unpredictable way. 

theMovie
Shutter Island (2010) (R)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley
Rating: ★★★ A Must See!

Differences between the movie and book: 

Very little changed in the movie from the book, except a few details were left out.  This is evidence that the book is a good fit for the big screen.  It is well-written and a fast-paced page turner.  You will notice one subtle, albeit significant, change at the very end.  But you'll have to discover it yourself! 
       
Why I LOVED it:

This work has genius written all over it.  First, it is based off a book written by a literary genius.  Then you have Martin Scorsese directing (who also directed The Departed and The Aviator, two amazing films, incidentally also starring Leonardo DiCaprio).  Scorsese knows what to take out and what to keep. You will notice striking similarities between descriptions and dialogue in the book transferred into the movie. He is the epitome of a fantastic director, upholding the integrity of the original piece but still adding his impression with creative nuances. To improve perfection, genius actor Leonardo DiCaprio stars in the film. His performance is exemplary. DiCaprio convincingly delivers emotion unlike any other actor of this time.

I strongly suggest that you read this book and watch the movie. Personally, I watched the movie when it first came out, then decided to read the book because of how great the movie was. You will not be disappointed by Dennis Lehane if you read the book. Lehane is also the author of Mystic River, which is another Book/Movie combo that I have added to my list of upcoming reviews.  

Up Next . . . The Devil Wears Prada

Friday, November 4, 2011

Chocolat (pronounced: show-coh-law)


the Book
Chocolat
Written by Joanne Harris in 1999
Rating: ★★★★ Good!

What it's about:  

It's Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent, and the small town of Lansquenet is putting on their annual parade.  The celebration attracted Vianne and her daughter off the traveling road and gave them a reason to stay, for the meantime anyway.  In a town where "headscarves and berets are the color of the hair beneath, brown, black, or gray," Vianne and Anouk are colorfully out of place, which is evident by the suspicious glances they receive.

When Vianne turns an abandoned bakery into a chocolate shoppe, shortly after the beginning of Lent, she becomes the controversy of the town.  The parish priest, Francis Reynaud, takes Vianne's presence as a personal attack against righteousness and makes her the object of his scorn. To make matters worse, Vianne befriends the town "witch," a wayward wife, and a group of boat-travelling gypsies.

Will Vianne's chocolate shoppe succeed in the midst of such conflict?  Will she finally establish a permanent home, or is this town just a temporary resting place on her way to her next adventure?

Why it's good:

Joanne Harris does a beautiful job creating a multi-dimensional cast of characters in the small, fictional French town of Lansquenet.  Vianne, a complex character with a wandering spirit, is a woman who is independent, demands respect, religious only in her superstitions, and yet is secretly scared and burdened by her past.   

The book dances between the narrative of both Vianne and Father Reynaud, an extremely difficult task for a writer to perfect.  Unfortunately, this is one area where Harris falls short occasionally.  At times, Father Reynaud's voice is too similar to Vianne's (or vice-versa).


Overall, the book is a good read, but not be read while hungry! Harris will tantalize your mind's taste buds with her beautiful descriptions of treats and other food. 


theMovie
Chocolat (2000) PG-13
Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench
Rating: ★★★★ Good!

Differences between the movie and book:

You will notice a handful of differences in the movie.  Vianne and Anouk are not drawn to Lansquenet because of a carnival.  Reynaud is not the parish priest; he is now the mayor.  A character that suffers from a problem with stuttering in the book gets bloody noses instead.  But these are minor details and the movie still sustains the personality of the characters.  You can also expect, among other differences, an altered ending from the book. 

Why it's good:  

In the movie, the arrival of Vianne and Anouk sets an ominous tone.  You can tell right away that there is going to be trouble between them and the staunch mayor that controls the town.  Lasse Hallstr√∂m does an excellent job creating tension between the polar opposites.  The actors are wonderfully chosen as well.  They fit into their roles nicely and believably.  

Overall, we suggest that you read the book, watch the movie, and eat lots of chocolate!

Up Next . . . Shutter Island

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Winter's Bone


the Book
Winter's Bone
Written by Daniel Woodrell in 2006
Rating: ★★★★Couldn't put it down!

What it's about:  

Tucked away in the Ozarks of Missouri, sixteen-year old Ree Dolly is left to care for her two younger brothers and mentally ill mother after her convict father abandons them.  As the cold winter draws in, Ree carries the weight of providing food and warmth for her family.  She is further burdened by news from the deputy sheriff - her father posted their house and land for bond and if he fails to appear in court, they will loose everything.  Knowing her father's unreliable tendency, Ree goes on a search for him among her criminal kin and is faced with merciless silence by some and a brutal reception by others. Although no one will talk, she refuses to quit her search and confronts the monsters in the boondocks with relentless bravery and a tenacity that only a Dolly could muster.  

Why we loved it:

This novel is short, sweet, and a quick read.  We love Daniel Woodrell's style; he refuses to write a dull sentence, has wonderful dialogue, and paints a beautiful picture of the Ozark surroundings.  His description of the winter season and climate is enough to give you a chill even in the middle of summer.  His characters are realistic and easy to relate to, even though they come from a unique, unfamiliar culture. 
  
   
theMovie
Winter's Bone (2010) (R)
Directed by Debra Granik
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence
Rating: ★★★☆☆ So-so 

Differences between the movie and book: 

In the movie, Ree's younger siblings consisted of a brother and sister instead of two younger brothers.  This change was likely added to give the impression of a more delicate and sensitive sibling that was characteristic of Harold (the youngest) in the novel.  

Ree was not as tough toward her siblings nor the police officer, in the movie.  At first, she is almost passive compared to the Ree Dolly that Daniel Woodrell wrote, but as the movie progresses, she becomes fiercer.

In the book, it is Ree's dream to join the Army so she can travel and get away from her family.  In the movie, they imply that she only wants to join for money to save their land.  They added a monotonous scene where Ree speaks with a military recruiter.  In this particular scene, the acting is unnatural as if they were reading directly from a script. 

Why we weren't impressed: 

We liked how well the characters blended, they appeared to genuinely belong in the Ozarks.  The actors were very convincing in appearance, speech, and dress.  The acting was natural for the most part and the story we loved was preserved. 

However, the movie lacked any convincing sign of cold weather and that was disappointing.  There was no snow or ice on the ground, you could not see the clouds of people's breath, and besides the actors being bundled up next to leafless trees, there wasn't much to indicate that it was winter.  In the novel, Daniel Woodrell embellishes the snowy scenery with such poetic detail, that the least they could have done was put a little more effort into the appearance of winter into the movie.  

Another easily fixable drawback was the amateur appearance of Ree's make-up after she is beaten.  She doesn't look nearly as hurt as she should. 

We liked the movie because we like the story, however there were some avoidable downfalls of the production.  

Overall we suggest you read the book, but skip out on the movie. 

Up Next . . . Chocolat

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Help

the Book
The Help
Written by Kathryn Stockett in 2009
Rating: ★★★★★ Couldn't put it down!

What it's about:  

Aibileen and Minny face enough difficulties being two black maids in the 1960's, let alone living in severely racist Jackson, Mississippi.  Their pay is sub-par, their work is menial, and as the Help, they are expendable.  Every day, in order to keep their jobs, they put up with intolerant behavior.  Until one day, Skeeter, a white woman and friend of their rotten employers, asks them to do the unspeakable:  share their stories about what their job is really like for a book she is writing.  Not only is Skeeter asking the maids to divulge the good but also the ugly, a risky pursuit for everyone involved.  On one hand, they view this as an opportunity to bring their experiences into light and perhaps spark a much-needed change; on the other hand, if they are found out, there could be severe consequences.  In a time when they stand to lose much more than their jobs, including their homes, their well-being, and even their lives, they must challenge their fear in order to break the silence, to finally be heard.

Why we like it: 

Kathryn Stockett's work is exemplary.  Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter are not three characters in a book written by the same author; they are three women, each with a story of their own to tell.  Stockett not only brings these characters to life by the first-person perspective they were written in, but also by providing a unique voice to each character.  She tactfully exposes not only the differences between the black and white communities in the 1960s, but also the misconceptions and mistrust, each race had for the other.  Although this story is delivered in a light-hearted spirit, she does not mollify the heavy issues of racism and class inequality that are key themes in the book.  
   
theMovie
The Help (2011) (PG-13)
Directed by Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard
Rating: ★★★ Good  

Differences between the movie and book: 

The movie is a condensed version of the book.  Short, one-line sentences sum up what would otherwise occur in a whole chapter.  They kept the story intact, yet they focused a bit more on Skeeter's perspective than the maids'.   

Why we liked it:

First of all, we felt that Bryce Dallas Howard did an amazing job playing Hilly, the controlling ringleader of the white ladies that employ the Help.  In fact, the whole cast was well chosen and played their roles excellently.  The 1960's outfits, hair-dos, and props were perfect.     

With that said, even though this movie was well made, compared to the book, it falls short.  The book outshines the movie by far, leaving us a little disappointed with the movie.  The movie lacks the depth that only the book can provide.    

Overall, we insist you read the book!  As for the movie, you wouldn't be wasting your time, so go see it!

Up Next . . . Winter's Bone

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Lovely Bones


the Book
The Lovely Bones
Written by Alice Sebold in 2002
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Struggled to finish it.

What it's about:  

At the young age of 14, Susie Salmon is brutally raped and murdered by a serial killer, masquerading as a caring neighbor, in her small suburban community.  Now stuck in an alternate world, she looks on as her family, friends, and even killer continue life without her.

Susie must learn to cope as her “heaven” is continually disturbed by the desire of a life that she was unable to experience, a fact that is even more rancorous as her killer roams free.  As she helplessly watches the life of her family crumble, unable to change the outcome, she is compelled to do what she 
wishes for them: to move on. 

Why we didn't care for it: 

Although the idea of the story was solid, the execution was mediocre.  Alice Sebold is certainly an imaginative story-teller, but not a fine writer.  This book begins well then starts to lose momentum, becoming contrived and boring.  Sebold bounces around a lot and adds plenty of uninteresting components that cause the story to drag on.

(SPOILER ALERT) Sebold also forces the story along in an unnatural way that makes the story less believable. For instance, throughout the novel, Susie is unable to control many important aspects of the real world, and can only appear in uncontrolled glimpses to people.  However, Ruth (Susie's school acquaintance, who develops an obsession with Susie after her death) eventually allows Susie to use her body to have sex with Ray (the boy she had a crush on before she died). The fact that Sebold allows Susie to "fall to earth" for an anti-climatic, incredulous sex scene was entirely ineffective and overly planned.

theMovie
The Lovely Bones (2009) (PG-13)
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg,  Rachel Weisz
Rating: ★★★☆☆ So-so 

Differences between the movie and book: 

As with most films, this movie adds its own spin to Sebold's novel, but still uses the backbone of the story.  A noticeable difference is the time progression - events in the book spanned over several years, while in the movie, they occurred during several months.  The movie also put Susie's memories in chronological order instead of random disorder, as in the book.   

Why we weren't impressed:

We liked the movie because it focused on the interesting elements of Sebold's story and left out the mundane aspects.  This allowed us to experience the truly creative and imaginative side of Sebold's work without being bogged down by aimless rambling.

However, there are still some major drawbacks of the movie.  For instance, Susie's heaven is full of lame computer generated images that are more ridiculous than appealing - as if Lisa Frank, herself, created it.  Cheesy, is the simplest word to describe it. 

Another downside is the age difference of the main actress.  Susie (played by Saoirse Ronan) appears significantly younger than her schoolmates Ruth and Ray, and even her supposedly younger sister, Lindsey (played by Rose McIver).

Overall we suggest you don't waste your time on either the book or the movie.  Instead, read this blog and send your suggestions for future books and movies!

Up Next . . . The Help


Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Kite Runner

the Book
The Kite Runner

Written by Khaled Hosseini
Rating: ★★★★ Couldn't put it down!

What it's about:  

In Kabul, Afghanistan, Amir, the son of a rich businessman, and Hassan, the son of a poor servant, have grown up with each other since birth, and have formed a bond akin to brotherhood.  By age twelve, they have become an unstoppable kite-fighting team, and Amir hopes to win the annual tournament to gain the approval of his father.  But when an unthinkable atrocity tests Amir's loyalty to Hassan, their friendship is torn by lies, shame, and hatred.  As war continues to rise in Afghanistan, fate leads the boys on separate journeys, and Amir makes his way to America.  Now an adult, Amir must face the past once again if he can ever hope for redemption. 

Why we love it: 

 
Fascinating fiction story integrated seamlessly with non-fiction events.  Khaled Hosseini writes with amazing, heart-gripping detail on the conflicts that changed Afghanistan forever, including the Soviet war and the rise of the Taliban.  This was Hosseini's first novel, and we are blown away by his talent.  His characters leave a profound, lasting impression, and show us what it truly means to be a brother and friend. 

We love the exposure to new words from the Afghan culture (such as Buzhashi: a sport in Afghanistan) and Islamic religion (Allah-u-akbar: Allah is the Greatest), that are neatly distributed throughout the book.   

the Movie
The Kite Runner (2007) (PG-13)
Directed by Marc Forster
Starring: Khalid Abdalla, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada
Rating: ★★★★ Loved it!  
  • (Tearjerker)
    • Say what? (movie is mostly in subtitles)

    Differences between the movie and book:  

    The movie follows the main storyline of the book without much variation - the movie script is actually verbatim from the book in some parts. The movie, however, does leave out a good portion of the story that you will only discover if you read the book (so no, forgoing the book because the movie is in subtitles isn't a valid excuse!). 

    Why we love it:  

    For many of the same reasons we loved the book, we love this movie.  The story of Amir and Hassan is one of brotherly love and redemption, teaching us "There is a way to be good again."  The talented director and actors produced an amazing work of art, all while upholding the integrity of Khaled Hosseini's original story.

    Overall we suggest you read the book and watch the movie, but not necessarily in that order. 

    Up Next . . . The Lovely Bones

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    The Painted Veil

    The Painted Veil 
    Written by W. Somerset Maugham in 1925.
    Rating: ★★★★ Couldn't put it down!

    What it's about: 

    When Kitty is caught having an affair, her husband, Walter, gives her an ultimatum: 
    unless her lover will agree to marry her, she must accompany him on business to Mei-tan-fu, a cholera stricken village in China.  Kitty is forced to face a heartbreaking reality when Charlie, her lover, will not divorce his wife, and she is bound to move where people are dropping like flies.  However, it is in Mei-tan-fu, surrounded by death, where strength is birthed in Kitty, and she is led on a soul-changing journey.

    Why we love it: 
    We love a good love triangle!  W. Somerset Maugham is clever and writes beautifully.  He has incredible insight on human character and desire. We love the characters that he creates, even if we are frustrated with their decisions at times.

    We love the East meets West theme throughout the book, as well as the the 1920's era the story is set in. Maugham demonstrates talent in his juxtaposition of Britain and China.  



    The Painted Veil (2006) PG-13
    Directed by John Curran
    Starring: Naomi Watts & Edward Norton
    Rating: ★★★★ Loved it!

    Differences between the movie and book:  

    This movie followed the book fairly closely, except for a few variations added for drama, including the uprising of nationalists and a greater look into the work Walter performs as a bacteriologist.  The principal variation is the ending relationship between Kitty and Walter. 

    Why we loved it:  

    First of all, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, are two extremely talented (and good looking!) actors, so what's not to love?  Second, John Curran did an amazing job directing this film.  The movie added its own variation yet kept the heart of the book.  It was as if all we had imagined from Maugham's work came to life.  

    While we're not always fans of movies changing the endings of good books, we must admit we loved the ending of this movie. 

    Overall we suggest you read the book and watch the movie, but not necessarily in that order. 

    Up Next . . . The Kite Runner