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. 
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.  
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.

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