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Analyzing Adaptation: Why the Source Material is Only Half the Story

December 3, 2013 in Classic Literature, Contemporary Literature, Fantasy Literature, Fauxscars, Fiction, Film, Literary Movies, Pop Culture, YA Fiction

In the wake of a recent surge in successful movie adaptations of literature — from classic novels like The Great Gatsby to popular young adult fiction like The Hunger Games — it is often assumed that an adapted film that isn’t faithful to its source material can’t be good. Remaining objective is incredibly difficult, especially for fans of the books who see the story and characters they love represented in a way different from what they imagined.

I’m here to tell you that adapted movies need not adhere to their source material to be “good”—in fact, strict adherence is often just as inadvisable.

We all know significant deviation in an adaptation causes disappointment and backlash. Audiences see the title and expect a certain obedience to the original story, so that when there are missing subplots or characters they feel betrayed. Let’s talk about David Lynch’s Dune (1984) for a second. Lynch hadn’t even read the book when he signed on to write the screenplay. Watching the film makes you feel like Lynch got halfway through the book and then just skipped to the end. Cuts are inevitable when it comes to adapting literature, but in this case, the entire second half of the book is significantly altered.

And what if you haven’t read the book? I actually saw Dune before I read the book myself and I thought it was pretty decent. It’s incredibly weird, but it is David Lynch. All his movies are weird. The biggest disappointment is that you occasionally have to make generous inferences on behalf of the movie due to the fact that it is trying to pack a 412 page novel (or at least 206 pages of it) into 2 hours. Otherwise it was a pretty solid science fiction film.

Strict compliance to what you’re adapting has precisely the opposite effect: fans may be pleased, but those who haven’t read the novel will likely find themselves bored by the experience. Peter Jackson’s recent adaptation of The Hobbit is the perfect example. According to Metacritic, the film earned an average score of 58%, with Rotten Tomatoes reporting that only 65% gave the film a positive (>50%) review. Personally, I had similar feelings. There were some scenes that might have worked on the page, but simply fell flat on the screen. And it’s not like Peter Jackson’s just a bad director, or that Tolkein’s world is unadaptable and doesn’t work in the movies. In fact, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring broke the top 50 of the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movies”, its list of the 100 most influential films of all time.

Speaking of the AFI, 15 of their top 25 films are adaptations, and 7 of those are in the top 10. The Godfather was a novel, Casablanca was a play, and Raging Bull was a memoir. Gone with the Wind, Schindler’s List, Vertigo, and The Wizard of Oz were all books first. Even the ones that weren’t based on works of fiction were inspired by a real-life person or event: Citizen Kane was based on William Randolph Hearst, Singing in the Rain was based on Oscar Levant, and Lawrence of Arabia was based on T. E. Lawrence. And in each one of these cases the movie certainly didn’t become successful by strictly clinging to its source material.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to the AFI, either. Stanley Kubrick, one of the most influential directors in cinema history, almost exclusively filmed from adapted screenplays. In fact, Fear and Desire and Killer’s Kiss are the only two of his thirteen feature films which were original screenplays. Kubrick is also famous for not strictly adhering to the original works. His movie version of The Shining was criticized by Stephen King himself as being a bad adaptation, but it has nevertheless come to be regarded as one of the best movies of all time. (It’s #29 on the AFI’s Top 100 Thrillers, its main character Jack Torrance is 25th on the AFI’s Top 100 Villains, and “Here’s Johnny!” is 68th on the AFI’s top 100 quotes.) Ironically, Stephen King collaborated with director Mick Garris to make a more faithful adaptation of the book in the form of a TV mini series which was, to make a long story short, pretty bad.

In the end, books and movies are two separate art forms with their own advantages and disadvantages. Movies are short, but a good cinematographer can create more beautiful imagery than your average reader may be able to think up on their own. Books lack this visual artistry, but their length allows for deeper development of language, character and theme. We should probably just understand that literature can inspire great film and leave the two as separate representatives of their own worlds.

But where’s the fun in that?

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100 Years… 100 Adaptations (or: The AFI’s Top 25 Films and Their Source Material)

1. Citizen Kane (original screenplay; based on William Randolph Hearst)
2. The Godfather (novel of the same name)
3. Casablanca (stage play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”)
4. Raging Bull (novel Raging Bull: My Story)
5. Singing in the Rain (original screenplay; based on Oscar Levant)
6. Gone with the Wind (novel of the same name)
7. Lawrence of Arabia (original screenplay; based on life of T. E. Lawrence)
8. Schindler’s List (novel; Schindler’s Ark)
9. Vertigo (novel; D’entre les morts)
10. The Wizard of Oz (novel; The Wonderful Wizard of Oz)
11. City Lights (original screenplay)
12. The Searchers (novel same name)
13. Star Wars (original screenplay; inspired by The Hidden Fortress)
14. Psycho (novel of the same name)
15. 2001: A Space Odyssey (short story; “The Sentinel”)
16. Sunset Boulevard (original screenplay)
17. The Graduate (novel of the same name)
18. The General (original screenplay; based on the Great Locomotive Chase)
19. On the Waterfront (original screenplay; based on “Crime on the Waterfront”)
20. It’s a Wonderful Life (short story; “The Greatest Gift”)
21. Chinatown (original screenplay; based on the California Water Wars)
22. Some Like It Hot (remake of Fanfare d’Amour – which was based on a book)
23. The Grapes of Wrath (novel of the same name)
24. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (original screenplay; based on Spielberg’s childhood imaginary friend)
25. To Kill a Mockingbird (novel of the same name)

LT Summer Reading Challenge: An Alien Genre

August 5, 2013 in Fiction, Film, Science Fiction, Summer Reading

The genre of science fiction, although quite popular among many readers, had until recently remained relatively foreign to me. I had nothing against it, but the subject never seemed to grab my attention. However, despite all protests, my fellow bookworms held tenaciously to their predilections for the oddities that science fiction offers. So, under the influence of others and with the excuse of the LT Summer Reading Challenge, I proved amenable to a change; I delved into the depths of the incongruous as I began Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, surrendering to the vast sea of genres before me. Ender’s Game is only one of two science fiction novels that I have ever read, and I am pleased to say that I am effusive in my praise of the novel, as it was extremely entertaining and endlessly thought provoking.

Card’s novel proved to exceed my uninitiated understanding of the genre, as I imagined the stereotypical Sci-Fi narrative centered around aliens and spacecrafts. In fact, I found that the story ignited many ponderings about deep philosophical questions. For example, one of the main themes that Card toys with is the notion that humans are merely parts to a much greater entity. This makes acts like betrayal or manipulation justifiable under the condition that they benefit this greater being or purpose we humans are serving. Under this idea, we, as individuals, become somewhat valueless. At the end of Ender’s Game, Card confirms that this manipulation is inescapable, for even Ender’s sister slightly manipulates Ender at the end of the book. She argues that he must help her save the “buggers,” and that if he doesn’t, he will simply be following the path set for him by someone else. Therefore, although Ender does end up living his life happily and by his own volition, I was left  with the big question: is Ender really free, or is he merely being used as a tool for a different purpose? And if he is in fact being used, is he free as long as he is happy?

It’s no wonder that Card’s story is considered by many to be among the best Sci-Fi novels ever written. He has a way of effortlessly combining action and adventure with an emotional, moving plot and relatable characters. There is also a flawless balance between fiction and reality throughout Ender’s quest to save the world. For example, the games he plays are fictitious simulation exercises, yet there are often realistic components involved that many readers can easily relate to, such as bullying. In this way, Card is careful to prevent readers from forgetting that Ender is not simply the typical Sci-Fi hero with superhuman strength and intelligence, but a little boy with feelings.

Card has opened my eyes to the potential of the science fiction novel, its limits vanishing along with any previous misconceptions I once had. I will be sure to branch out from my usual book choices to explore other inventive worlds. With high hopes and expectations, I move on to my next journey.

Happy Father’s Day! — Who is your Favorite Literary Father Figure?

June 14, 2013 in American Authors, American literature, Book Series, children's literature, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Fiction, Leo Tolstoy, Special Events, Staff Wishlist, Uncategorized

In honor of Father’s Day, the Literary Traveler staff has decided to pay homage to some fatherly favorites. We initially thought that this would not be an easy task, since many of the parental relationships in literature are represented as difficult, complicated, and neurosis-producing catalysts.  Yet, we learned that while much literature includes vivid portrayals of father/child relationships, and many of them are difficult and complicated, sometimes literature gives us strong bonds, unconditional love, and cherished role models who are figures to be admired. And, even the difficult and less-than-perfect relationships often offer very human representations of family.

Some of these characters may not be “fathers” in the biological sense.  They may be grandfathers, stepfathers, uncles, brothers, friends — sometimes they are not male at all. Sometimes they are even anthropomorphic bears.  But, in honor of these very important people in all of our lives, we’d like to say “Thank You” with our literary tribute to Father’s Day.

Melissa Mapes, Social Media Coordinator – Papa Bear, The Berenstain Bears – I am a big fan of bear hugs, and remember learning so many lessons about family from the happy group of bears that live in a tree house.

Amanda Festa, Managing Editor – Carson Drew, The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories — Raised in a family where I could barely cross the street before I was 11, I appreciate Attorney Drew letting his daughter help out on his criminal cases. The relationship between Mr. Drew and his daughter is one of mutual respect and admiration — which is refreshing for a series that began as early as 1930.  Mr. Drew trusts Nancy’s judgment and skill, turning to her often for help.  She’s even come to his rescue on more than one occasion.  As someone who grew up by flashlight with the Drews, I always enjoyed their dynamic and looked forward to Carson’s telegrams and the occasional phone call, when Nancy could drop a case and get to town to use a phone, of course.  And there seems worse places to be reared than the charming suburban town of River Heights. Sure, the crime rate is high, but I’d surely outrun evildoers in my smart little roadster, a pretty sweet birthday present from Papa Drew. And all expense paid trips with my two best friends?  I’ll pack my magnifying glass and be there in a jiff.

Jessica Monk, Contributing Editor —  Mr. Tom, Goodnight Mister Tom– It’s been years since I read the children’s book Goodnight Mister Tom, and even just re-reading the basics of the story on Wikipedia (ahem), I found myself welling up again. It’s hard to distill the plot down to a paragraph, but it goes something like this: In wartime Britain, William is evacuated with other children to the countryside, as London prepares for the battle of Britain and a heavy bout of bombing. He is elected to stay with the reclusive, crabby Mr. Tom, who, it turns out, lost his wife and son years ago, causing him to retreat from society. William is an awkward, shy boy, who was raised by an abusive, god-fearing mother. Away from his mother, he thrives under Tom’s care, and it becomes clear that he and Tom represent a second chance for each other as an oddball father and son duo. Goodnight Mister Tom is one of those kids’ books that tackles tough issues – so tough that it’s difficult to believe that you were confronted with them at such a tender age. But it’s a wonderful story of unconventional fatherhood; Mr. Tom is not only moved, but tested by love, and challenged to act out of his own comfort zone on behalf of William. He acts with courage, providing a good example to William, but also with tenderness and caring. In this way, he ends up becoming both father and mother to the boy, and the story shows that there are second chances, and that parenting is a relationship that both father and son can grow into.

Antoinette Weil, Marketing Coordinator – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird —  My literary ‘Father of the Year Century’ would have to be Atticus Finch. Harper Lee’s classic novel reads like a literary handbook for justice, and famed father and lawyer Atticus believes in it with his whole heart.  A widower, Atticus takes on the task (much more bravely than many in the 20th century) of raising his two children alone. He instills in his children a sense of morality and a sense of justice that is seldom seen in fictional portrayals of lawyers. He doesn’t allow his children to take the easy way out — a standard he also holds himself to. He speaks to them like he speaks to his peers — big words, lawyer-lingo, and all. But he is never impatient and will explain and re-explain what he means. And Atticus always says what he means. He never lies. Defending a black man puts Mr. Finch in the hot seat with the rest of the town. But he takes it as a learning tool, explaining to his children the principles of equality and of not judging a book by its cover. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus Finch teaches his children exactly what he taught all of us in the classroom. And for millions of people around the world, myself included, those lessons have remained intact and Mr. Atticus Finch enshrined.

Caitlin O’Hara, Editorial Intern – Gerald O’Hara, Gone with the Wind — So, perhaps it’s all in a name, but I would choose Mr. O’Hara from Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel as my favorite literary father figure.  As a young Caitlin, unable to fathom why on earth my parents didn’t name me Scarlett, the fiery southern belle was to me the epitome of gutsy beauty.  As an adult though, one sees easily how flawed she is, how careless and juvenile.  She might have failed altogether if not for the lessons she learned from her father. Mr. O’Hara instills in Scarlett the love of the land that ultimately saves her. He loves his wife and daughters with great fidelity and patience. True, he falters when he begins to lose it all, when his beloved slave-holding society falls to pieces, but his values of respect for the land and love of family are at the core of the book; they are the strength that ultimately redeems Scarlett, for all of her faults.  In real life, however, I will always choose the real Mr. O’Hara — my dad.

Tatsiana Litvinskaya, Editorial InternNikolai Bolkonsky, War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy’s novel is one of the greatest Russian works of all time.  I first read it when I was 15 years old, and I fell in love with Andrei Bolkonsky, a young, handsome, and courageous man, who loves his country and is ready to fight and die in the War. But who raised him and made him such a strong man? The answer is simple: his father Nikolai Bolkonsky, a man who lived his life according to moral principles.  Nikolai raised his children to be noble, kind, hard-working, and not divide people by class, even though Bolkonsky’s family belongs to high society. When the father sends his son to the War, he tells him that he will cry if Andrei is killed, but if he learns that Andrei acted not as his son, it will be a shame to him as his father. These words show how important it was for Nikolai to be proud of his son’s sense of honor.

Katie Stack, Editorial Intern – Professor Albus Dumbledore, the Harry Potter series – Wise, kind, mysterious, famous, knowledgeable…The complex Dumbledore was a father to Harry when he had none. Not all of these adjectives are what one might want or expect in a father, which is why Dumbledore is such a valuable example of a flawed and oh-so-human father (wizard or muggle). In his efforts to shield Harry from the difficult realities of adult life, Dumbledore often caused further hardship. This, in essence, is what fatherhood is: a constant struggle between facilitating a magical and care-free childhood and raising your child to be an independent and resourceful adult.

Jamie Worcester, Editorial InternRex Walls, The Glass Castle – My favorite literary father figure would have to be from Jeanette Wall’s memoir, The Glass Castle. Although he is not the protagonist of the story, I find him to be the most compelling. The story starts off with Jeanette reflecting back to her childhood where her incredibly intelligent father, Rex, and free-spirited mother move the family around to various locations, even spending some time in the desert. There in the desert, Rex teaches his three children about different plant species, encourages them to play in the dirt, and allows them to pick out stars as Christmas presents. Readers will often find themselves enchanted by his intellectual nature and childish curiosity. However, as the story unfolds, the reader becomes disillusioned, and the reality of the family’s unstable lifestyle sets in. Although Rex is indeed deeply flawed, his adventurous spirit and charm are what make him my favorite.

Ali Pinero, Editorial Intern – Mr. Emerson, A Room with a View – Mr. Emerson stands by his son George and urges him to put passion and love before convention, even when everyone else warns George to do otherwise. He is the reason Lucy Honeychurch realizes that she loves George after rejecting him multiple times due to his social status, as Mr. Emerson urges her to follow her soul. I think it would be the greatest comfort to know that my father holds his heart higher than his head and would insist that I strive for the impossible. He also constantly offends people and disregards proper social conventions through his blatant honesty, which would be great fun to watch, as long as it doesn’t get to the point where I am too embarrassed. I’d have to fill him in on where to draw the line. Plus, if I ever fell victim to unreciprocated love like George, he could easily convince my crush otherwise, and we would elope like George and Lucy! Can’t go wrong there!

Who’s your favorite literary father figure?  The Literary Traveler team shared their choices, now share your own in the comments section.

Thank You for your Continued Support!

June 14, 2013 in American literature, announcements, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Fiction, Kickstarter, Literary News, Television

We wanted to thank you for supporting Literary Traveler’s Kickstarter. Unfortunately we did not meet our short-term goal of raising $12,000.

But using Kickstarter as a way to launch our funding drive for the television series has been a success. Through the Kickstarter community, our campaign for the Literary Traveler television series has enabled us to reach out to funders, partners, and supporters and move our project forward towards our goal of a fully-funded series.

Kickstarter was phase one of our funding drive, and our fundraising efforts will continue over the summer as we continue to work with individual donors while we research and shoot additional locations for the pilot. For Literary Traveler it will be the “Summer of Gatsby,” as we continue to explore where Fitzgerald roamed and found inspiration for The Great Gatsby.

Here’s how you can help. Please continue to tell your friends about the project, submit your ideas for additional episodes and get involved! In order to hold on to our Kickstarter funds we need anyone who has already supported to re-donate here. If you didn’t donate to the Kickstarter, with the thought that you would give at the end, once we were close to our goal, we will be able to keep and use all funds donated directly through our website.

We’re asking you to stay with our fundraising effort for the long haul – If you subscribe to Literary Traveler or follow us on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll receive updates about the project. If you are just finding us now, please visit our website, check out our Kickstarter page, and take a look at our new fundraising page to see how you can donate to this exciting project.

As anyone who has taken on a project of this scope surely knows, it’s an exciting learning curve. What it boils down to is this: we have too many ideas to stop now.  There is plenty of great stuff on the brew – from exploring the origins of Gatsby this summer to the chance for readers to get personally involved with upcoming episodes.  Stay tuned for more!

We are so grateful for all your support!

Sincerely, Francis & the Literary Traveler Team

Taking a Look at the Big Picture (23 Days Remaining!)

May 20, 2013 in American literature, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Fiction, Kickstarter

It seems like The Great Gatsby is everywhere you look these days.  Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation has brought F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece to the mainstream once again and we are psyched to see Gatsby fever take hold.  While our Kickstarter project is coinciding with the release of the film, our project has been in the works for some time.  Our conception for a television series based on Literary Traveler’s website is much bigger than one book or one author alone.  We are starting with The Great Gatsby because it is one of the best, what has often been called “the great American novel.”  What better place to start our literary exploration than at the top?

We want to get inside the novel, explore the places important to the novel and important to Fitzgerald.  From Long Island to Louisville, New York City and Minnesota, we want to pay homage to Fitzgerald and take viewers on a tour of the places that influenced him both personally and professionally.  We will talk to experts, do our own investigating, and explore the highlights of each destination so that others can ultimately emulate our experience, or tailor-make their own.

The Great Gatsby serves as an entryway into this literary travel experience, but once the door is open it will provide an unending amount of possibilities. Each episode of Literary Traveler will be unique, taking viewers to different locations, viewing destinations through the lens of different authors and texts.  View the California coast from Jack Kerouac’s rearview mirror one week, see New Orleans from Tennessee William’s streetcar the next, and round out your month by exploring Maine through the work of Stephen King. The possibilities are endless and exciting.

Literary Traveler has been telling these fascinating stories online since 1998 and, with your help, we look forward to bringing our passion for literary travel to television.

We have done small-scale video projects in the past, exploring a variety of literary locals, from Thoreau’s Walden Pond to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West.  Check out these past excursions on our YouTube channel and please support us on Kickstarter.

We are so grateful and thankful to all of our generous backers during our first week. We appreciate every contribution and all of the efforts made by our supporters to spread awareness for our project. This week we are making a push to get some more press and additional visibility for the project, but we could use your help.

If you are interested in this project, but are unable to donate, there are plenty of ways to get involved.  Please help create visibility for this project by sharing it through personal connections or social media.  We are also looking for any press opportunities that could help us get the word out there to others as excited by literature and travel as we are.

Literary Traveler is LIVE on Kickstarter! (29 Days Remaining!)

May 14, 2013 in Fiction, Film, Kickstarter, Literary News, Special Events, Television, Travel to New York City

Dear Literary Travelers,

We are very excited to announce that we are officially LIVE on Kickstarter! Check out our Kickstarter page and be sure to watch our video for more information on this project.  It is sure to be an exciting month for us and we are so happy to have our loyal readers involved in the process.  We urge you to share the project with friends, family and anyone that you think might be interested in learning more about us!

Please check back here for updates on the project.  Throughout the next month, this blog will be Kickstarter central — a place for us to share our progress, ideas, project news and information on the future of the Literary Traveler series.

We are offering some incredible rewards to backers, including Literary Traveler t-shirts and an original art print by our own contributor, Jessica Monk.  We are also offering advanced access to the finished episode, before it becomes available to the general public.  Also, if you have your own blog or social media account, we are offering backers a special opportunity to be featured on LiteraryTraveler.com.  Check out the Kickstarter page for more on these rewards and other amazing incentives.

 

The Results are In…and the Fauxscar Goes to…

February 24, 2013 in Fauxscars, Fiction, Film, Literary Movies

As the stars begin to primp and prep for the Academy’s big night, here at Literary Traveler we are still sipping coffee in our pajamas as we announce the year’s big winners.  While the results of the Oscars may be kept under wraps for a couple more hours, we won’t keep you waiting any longer.  The fix is in and while some of these adaptations may not be receiving accolades from the Academy, we think they deserve acknowledgment for their spot on representation of some of our literary favorites.

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While Jennifer Lawrence may be cleaning up in the awards department for her portrayal of Tiffany Maxwell in Silver Linings Playbook, our voters have spoken and decided that Bradley Cooper deserves his share of the spotlight for his humorous and endearing portrayal of Pat Solitano, Jr,

Which is why our first Fauxscar, for “Best Character Portrayal by an Actor” goes to Bradley Cooper!


Best Character Portrayal by an Actor: Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano Jr. (Silver Linings Playbook)

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Luckily for Jennifer Lawrence, the acting nods at the Academy Awards are split into “Leading” and “Supporting” categories, because audiences can agree that Anne Hathaway’s Les Miserables‘ performance, however brief, was the ray of musical sunshine in the adaptation of the popular classic.  Here at Literary Traveler, we believe some of the best characters written are not necessarily the main protagonist in the work, which is why we chose not to split the category in two.  Sorry Jennifer! (Editor’s Note:  Good luck, Jen, fingers crossed for you!)
The Literary Fauxscar for “Best Character Portrayal by an Actress” goes to Anne Hathaway as Fantine!
Best Character Portrayal by an Actress: Anne Hathaway as Fantine (Les Miserables)
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The selection of Literary Love Stories portrayed on film this year has been wide ranging and dare I say, epic.  From an unrequited high school crush, a sweeping nineteenth century extramarital affair, an unbeatable team forced into a dystopic death match, a couple crazy kids vampires living happily ever after and a couple facing tragedy and finding humor and each other.  We couldn’t choose just one if we tried, and turns out neither could anyone else.  We have a tie!  It all comes down to the ill-fated affair portrayed in a long-loved classic and our favorite baker and badass, joining forces in a contemporary young adult juggernaut. (Which is sure to be a staple in the Fauxscars for the next couple years)

So we are excited to award the Fauxscar for  ”Best Portrayal of a Literary Love Story” to Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky  AND Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark!  May the odds be EVER in their favor ;)

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Best Portrayal of a Literary Love Story: Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky (Anna Karenina)
AND with a tie!

Best Portrayal of a Literary Love Story: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark (The Hunger Games)
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As Literary Traveler contributor, Antoinette, put it so eloquently:  ”Every scene [of Life of Pi] is a visual indulgence. It is breathtakingly beautiful. I could have watched the thing on mute like a 2003 Windows Media Player sound Visualizer (you remember those right?)… It was, in addition to being a thoughtful and thought-provoking film, a display of artistry.”  It appears that voters agreed!

Therefore, the Fauxscar for “Best Visual Representation of a Novel’s Setting” goes to Life of Pi.
 Best Visual Representation of a Novel’s Setting: Life of Pi
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While the movie captured (a little too well) the expanse of time and space Pi felt on the open sea, the movie is almost an acceptable alternative to reading the book…after all, author Yann Martel, is in the movie, playing the interviewer who becomes friends with grown-up Pi, played by the amazing Irfan Khan.

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The Fauxscar for “Best ‘Almost as Good as the Book’ Film” also goes to Life of Pi.

Best “Almost as Good as the Book” Film: Life of Pi
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 Beating out the final installment of Twilight  to take this award would be a huge feat, had this been an MTV award show… but here at Literary Traveler, it was no contest.  The Hunger Games may be a YA series, but it is thought provoking, exciting, and presents a female protagonist that we can all be proud of.
The Fauxscar for Best “Young Adult” Adaptation goes to The Hunger Games.
  
 Best “Young Adult” Adaptation: The Hunger Games
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The Fauxscar for “Best ‘Family Fun’ Adaptation” goes to The Lorax.
Best “Family Fun” Adaptation: The Lorax
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We love ourselves some Tolstoy, and reading his original masterpiece, Anna Karenina,  is a commitment all bibliophiles should make at some point in their life, but alas, pushing 800 pages, it is a commitment.  In the meantime, check out the 2012 film version as a teaser — it seems that our readers agree that it is one of the best adaptations of the year.
The Fauxscar for “Best Adaptation of a Classic” goes to Anna Karenina.
Best Adaptation of a Classic:  Anna Karenina
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Sweeping the first annual Fauxscars like Katniss with a cross bow, The Hunger Games is a force to be reckoned with.
The Fauxscar for “Best ‘Guilty Pleasure’ Adaptation” goes to The Hunger Games.
Best “Guilty Pleasure” Adaptation: The Hunger Games
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Literary Traveler contributor, Amanda, would not stop gushing about this film until the entire staff agreed to see it.  It appears that voters are on her side (or she is somewhere maniacally stuffing the ballot box — just kidding, this film definitely stands on its own merits!)
The Fauxscar for “Best ‘Stand Alone’ Film” goes to Silver Linings Playbook.
Best “Stand Alone” Film: Silver Linings Playbook
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Looking forward to the fabulous adaptation coming in 2013, from a new YA favorite, Beautiful Creatures, to a Helena Bonham Carter led Great Expectations reboot.  While both sound fabulous, this award was nearly unanimous and it seems that we are not alone in our uncontainable excitement over the 2013 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age masterpiece.
Without further ado, the Fauxscar for “Best Anticipated Literary Adaptation of 2013″ goes to The Great Gatsby.
Best Anticipated Literary Adaptation of 2013: The Great Gatsby
On that note, until next year… Let us know in the comments section if you agree with this year’s winners, or if your favorite was snubbed. Thanks for joining us and we will be tuning in to the Oscars tonight to see how our favorites fare with the Academy!

A Review of Best Picture Nominee, Beasts of the Southern Wild

February 23, 2013 in Fiction, Film, Literary Movies

By Antoinette Weil

PLEASE NOTE: This post contains spoilers.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is based on the one-act play “Juicy and Delicious” by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, the latter of who also directed the film.  It follows a father (Wink) and daughter (Hushpuppy) living on an island off the coast of Southern Louisiana through the hit and aftermath of a fierce storm. The film hearkens back to Hurricane Katrina, and the fictional setting, Zeitlin has said, was inspired by Louisiana’s Isle de Jean Charles.

The inhabitants of “The Bathtub”, as the island is referred, live in poverty and seem to have their own society completely separate from the main land. The houses are shacks made of scrap metal and wooden boards or an old boat converted with canvas and tarps. They are a tight-knit community, a tribe of sorts.

The local teacher, of questionable qualification, tells the school children about a species of giant ancient beasts called Aurochs, that apparently froze in the polar ice caps. These extinct creatures become our narrator’s vision of real-world struggles. Natural disaster, the subsequent “end of the world” and the necessary shift to a new way of living, broken family, illness and death are all displayed in the film. And in each case, not far behind is the Auroch, stalking, charging, or retreating, depending on scenario. It is in the context of these intangible beasts that Hushpuppy, our young narrator, is able to make sense of the world around her, with all its messy twists and injustices.

They touch upon the real world issue of climate change here when, with the innocence and ignorance of a child, Hushpuppy says “Sometimes you break something, so bad that it can’t be put back together.”

In fact, this scrappy little ragamuffin is full of coarse grains of wisdom.

“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece… the entire universe will get busted.”

“Strong animals know when your hearts are weak.”

All the time, everywhere, everything’s hearts are beating and squirting, and talking to each other the ways I can’t understand. Most of the time they probably be saying: I’m hungry, or I gotta poop. …but sometimes they be talkin’ in codes.”

Young Hushpuppy has an extraordinary way of putting things that are far too complex for her to understand into concepts which make perfect sense to her, and to us. She really is a remarkable character, and it seems a shame, when watching, that her stubborn alcoholic father doesn’t realize it.

The relationship between Hushpuppy and Wink is sad, but interesting. You hate him for not taking her out of the Bathtub before the storm. For living with that beautiful child in filth. For drinking instead of nurturing. For yelling instead of hugging. But by the end he’s not quite so bad. Dying men always seem more tolerable.  Yet, I think it is less about the actual impending loss of life, and more about the interim.  The life he has left.  He becomes vulnerable. You see his weakness, his illness, his desperate attempts at denial, and the utter terror he feels about his way of life, his people, becoming extinct.

In a scene towards the end, the whole tribe is taken to a hospital/shelter on the mainland. Wink, who is more sick than we realized, finds himself in a room alone, hooked up to IVs and machines, his family and tribe nowhere to be found. He makes a break for it, and the rest of the group follows. It is in this moment that we see the true intense care that Wink has, not only for Hushpuppy, but for his home. We begin to see that perhaps Wink was being more heartfelt than originally assumed when he said, “My only purpose in life is to teach her how to make it.”

You see, for Wink, the Bathtub is not just a place, and the people around him are not merely neighbors. They are a separate species. The only one he has ever known. And much like the Aurochs, they were on the brink of extinction. In the back of his mind, being hard on Hushpuppy was not merely an icy way of getting through his mandatory parental duties. Don’t get me wrong, he was cold and mean and unkind and certainly less than nurturing. But the more I examine this relationship, I begin to believe that Wink’s behavior was a demonstration of his most basic, beating parental drive: ensuring the survival of his offspring.

Could he have been more affectionate? Yes. And I still wish that little girl had someone to hug her and say “I love you” and protect her from the storm. But she didn’t.  And she was a strong enough animal to survive.

Now..

Beyond feeling like I was one step closer to Katrina, the film also held another point of reference for me. For anyone who has ever read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, this work has some striking similarities in theme. I know I’m not  right now reviewing The Road, but it was all I could think about after seeing this picture.

The Road follows a father and son on their journey through the destitute streets of what used to be planet Earth. Some untold catastrophe occurred, destroying society and most of the inhabitants of the land. The father and the boy travel a long journey on foot, making their way south in order to survive the harsh winter. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic and dystopian story lines, so, while the book was slow going, the theme kept me involved.

The stunning similarities to Beasts of the Southern Wild are multiple:

  1. Father and child. In Beasts of the Southern Wild, the mother is nowhere to be found. Hushpuppy says that she left and often sees her through flashbacks. In The Road, the boy’s mother committed suicide shortly after he was born, unable to cope with the aftermath of the disaster.
  2. Nameless children. Throughout The Road, the son is never named and is referred to in his father’s thoughts as “the boy.” In Beasts of the Southern Wild, the main character, narrator, daughter is called by her nickname—Hushpuppy—by everyone in the community. (I suppose her parents could have actually named her Hushpuppy, but come on, let’s be serious.)
  3. Disaster and aftermath, “Us against the world”. The father and son in The Road must walk on through treacherous landscapes, scouring for just enough resources to last the night, knowing the next night will be just as cruel. In Beasts, Wink and Hushpuppy survive the storm, but are soon faced with the real struggle, the aftermath. The subsequent isolation, illness, and lack of resources threaten the survival of Wink, Hushpuppy, their community and their way of life. They trudge on, and fight the uphill battle to make it to a dryer day.

While I may have went off on a tangent, ultimately they are both intriguing, depressing, and ultimately moving works.

The acting was fantastically convincing. Nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis (who was only five at the time of her audition) deserves every accolade she receives, including the her nomination for Best Actress. And Dwight Henry, the Louisiana bakery owner who played Wink gave a professional performance. Maybe more directors should take a cue from Zeitlin and go with amateur talent.

And that is Beasts of the Southern Wild — Poignant. Simple, yet complex. Harsh, insightful, and emotional.  Watch it if you haven’t.

A Review of Best Picture Nominee, Amour

February 23, 2013 in Fiction, Film

by Antoinette Weil

PLEASE NOTE: This post contains spoilers.

If the emotional response evoked by a film is any measure of greatness, then Amour wins.

After seeing the film, I cried most of the car ride home from the theatre, and then once in the bathroom when I got home. My eyes are welling up right now thinking about it. I am so incredibly sad.

I was thinking, with the title being Amour, that I might see more of a traditional love story, albeit a senior citizen love story. I thought perhaps the suffering of one would bring them closer together, they’d fall more deeply in love, “still the one”, all that jazz.  But this was a different kind of love story.

Amour shows us the depth, the brutality and beauty, of a love that has withstood time and joy and pain and just about everything in between. Both terrifying and admirable, this portrayal is perceptive and sincere.

Amour follows husband and wife, Anne (played compellingly by Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), through their struggle with Anne’s deteriorating health. She goes slowly, first suffering one stroke that leaves the right side of her body paralyzed. Wheel-chair bound and utterly vulnerable, she needs Georges’ help for the most basic tasks like washing her hair, pulling up her pants after going to the bathroom, or getting in and out of bed.

While Georges is out attending a funeral one rainy afternoon, Anne tries to kill herself by jumping out of the courtyard window of their apartment. When George walks in earlier than expected and finds her, she shrugs that she was only sorry that she was too slow. She very seriously tells him that she doesn’t want to live any longer, doesn’t want to wait around for things to get worse. But she lives, and they do.

The second stroke leaves Anne completely helpless and utterly unrecognizable from the person she once was. Unable to speak or move on her own, Ann continues down the slope. And Georges stays the course, stating Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.”

The movie caused me a cascading pendulum of emotions that swung from benevolent sympathy to gut-wrenching depression. At one point I recall thinking to myself in the theater I could have gone my whole life without seeing this movie. And been happier for it.

I’m not unhappy that I saw the film. But the aftermath is severe and I think the feelings that the film has left me with will be long-lasting, or at the very least, will again well up inside of me when I recount the experience. Michael Haneke, Amour’s writer and director, must have known what he was doing.

In one scene, Georges tells an anecdote about a film he had seen as a boy that touched him so deeply that he found himself distraught afterward and ended up crying in front of the first person who asked him about the movie.

Georges: I started to tell him the story of the movie, and as I did, all the emotion came back. I didn’t want to cry in front of the boy, but it was impossible; there I was, crying out loud in the courtyard, and I told him the whole drama to the bitter end.
Anne: So? How did he react?
Georges: No idea. He probably found it amusing. I don’t remember. I don’t remember the film either. But I remember the feeling. That I was ashamed of crying, but that telling him the story made all my feelings and tears come back, almost more powerfully than when I was actually watching the film, and that I just couldn’t stop.

Yeah, I see what you did there. Projecting exactly what’s going to happen to me once I am finished watching your film. Well played, Haneke.

The struggles that these two characters face—the humiliation, the power-shift of extreme dependence and responsibility, losing a partner, and facing death head on—are intensely painful and difficult to watch. But that’s not what makes it so hard, and it’s not what makes this movie so emotional.

We, the audience, we’re not crying over Anne and Georges. We’re crying over our grandmothers and grandfathers who we watched lose mobility and shrivel down to half-size and suffer the confusion and maddening frustration of not knowing who they are. We’re crying thinking about our parents falling ill, the hard decisions we’d have to make, and whether we’d make the right ones. We’re crying about the prospect of being so completely dependent on others, of someday not having control over our own bodies, our own minds. We’re crying over the time we should have spent with the people who are gone when they were still around. We’re crying, during Amour, about the terrifying prospect that we’ll be Anne or Georges one day.

And just like the film that afflicted George so profoundly, this film will stick with you long after you’ve exited the theater.

A Quest for Best Picture

February 23, 2013 in Fauxscars, Fiction, Film

By Antoinette Weil

Before I begin, let me first give the disclaimer that I have never done this before. I like movies, but I am by no means a film critic. I am not trained in film at all, other than my Australian Film class I took while studying abroad. But I have been seeing a lot of movies lately, and I had a lot of fun with my Cosmopolis  review.  Alas, movie reviews I shall write.

Compiled below are my thoughts on some of the films. Check out my more thorough reviews of Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour.

PLEASE NOTE: Some of these reviews do contain spoilers.

*

Zero Dark Thirty

The beginning of Zero Dark Thirty was difficult for me to watch. Wincing, shifting my eyes to the side, and thinking this was going to be tough to get through, I felt immensely uncomfortable watching the torture and complete vulnerability of a human being.  Interestingly enough, by the end of the film, Jessica Chastain sitting alone in the back of a plane, a single tear rolling down her cheek, overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the fact that an intense eight-year chapter of her life had closed, you kind of forget about all that torture in the beginning.

Chastain’s character is young and confident to the point of borderline naivety. But she is smart, she is dedicated and outspoken, and eventually she completes her mission. Chastain really makes this movie. Her sweet looks and demeanor coupled with the no-nonsense attitude of her character and the grim and grueling ranks of her work, create an intriguing and believable protagonist.

Seeing the background story, that was happening all around us and right under our noses, of the hunt for Bin Laden was sort of haunting. I like seeing the behind the scenes stuff, “what really happened”, and it was certainly fascinating to watch through the lense of this film. But it was incredibly dark, and at the end it left me feeling a kind of emptiness (much like Maya experiences in her plane ride home.)  Zero Dark Thirty displays the answer of how we got Bin Laden, but the questions is provokes are far greater.

Django Unchained

Django Unchained was one of the most entertaining of the Best Picture films, and who doesn’t love a good Tarantino film?

The combination of humor and badassery that Tarantino brings to his films keeps you watching and wanting more — and makes the extreme violence seem like background noise so that the bigger issues shine through.  The acting was near perfect. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, and Leonardo DiCaprio seriously brought it. I think I formed a crush on Waltz through this movie and am probably going to be looking to see all of his previous films. Because, as the kind-hearted killer Dr. Schultz, he was SO incredibly engaging. The character was brilliantly written, so I’m sure that is part of my bias. A German doctor-turned-bounty-hunter who kills for a living but draws his moral line at slavery? I’ll take two.

The film, inevitably and in true Tarantino fashion, turns into a bloodbath. But the fantastical shoot-em-up spectacular towards the end was a cake walk when compared with the more thematically disturbing scenes, which offer less blood and less gore, but make up for it in the unnerving vision of pure unfiltered evil played out on screen.

Here’s what Django does: It gives us an exciting and entertaining excuse to take a look into our Country’s most shameful history.  But putting into context the brutality of small day-to-day events, and the fact that the entire black American experience was formed out of this treacherous circumstance, creates an opportunity for one to think critically and in depth about slavery and the need for repentance that never came.  I hear the criticisms that have been voiced, but overall I’m a big fan of this film.

Les Miserables

While I haven’t read Victor Hugo’s classic and I have never seen a theatrical performance of Les Miserables, I was in chorus in high school and one year we performed all of the songs. So while the music was familiar, the details of the story were pretty blurry to me before seeing the most recent film adaptation.

That being said, I was SUPER excited to see the film. And let’s be serious, that trailer starring Anne Hathaway was awesome. As a matter of fact, Hathaway’s performance in general was phenomenal. In stark contrast with the rest of the cast, I cannot say one negative thing about Hathaway’s portrayal of Fantine. Her singing was haunting and lovely. She was beautiful and wretched and desperate and hopeless. Believable. The silver lining of this uninspiring film.

As for the rest of you…

Russel Crowe’s singing voice is nasally and unpleasant to say the least. His singing sounds strained as if each note in each song were a struggle. (I once heard a singing tip that it should never sound like you’re straining and that the audience would hear it and be turned off. This was in the back of my mind the whole time listening to Crowe.)

I can’t (or won’t) hate on Hugh Jackman in the same way. His singing wasn’t great either (by any means) but I suppose his character had more emotion and more life. I felt more compelled to like him. NO, not because he’s the good guy. I have no problem liking a bad guy (hence my strange affection for Billy Bob Thornton—real life!) BUT where Crowe’s portrayal of Javert felt flat and boring, Jackman got across the emotions that he was hired to display and incite.

Am I alone on this one? Did anyone out there see this movie and seriously love it? There were people crying in the theater I was in. I’m not some kind of emotionless robot, I cry a lot in movies. All the time! So why wasn’t I crying? Should I have seen the show first before seeing the movie? Is it one of those things you have to have background knowledge of to really get into? But…but…I know the songs!

Life of Pi

Much like the title suggests, Life of Pi is the story of a big adventure, and the life leading up to it, of a boy named Pi. He dubbed himself Pi in grade school because of the target that his full name, Piscine, made him for torturous teasing. He declared on the first day of school that he would be “known to all as Pi”, explaining the significance of the mathematical figure and writing the number out in its entirety (almost), impressing students and teachers alike and becoming a school legend. Which turned out to be a theme of his life.

I can’t let this go. Because I don’t remember a lot of mathematics from school, but I remember Pi. Everyone does. IT is a legend! And Pi is an irrational number and also a transcendental number. I would argue that Pi, our protagonist, is also both of these things. Here is a quick Wikipedia article on all the different forms of “transcendence” (religion and math are the top two, go figure.) Anyway, I thought this was pretty rad and tied in nicely with the film. (And don’t we all love feeling we’re somehow smarter because we’ve picked up on the significance of clues the artist gives?)

Pi recounts the story of his great adventure to a writer: “It’s a story that will make you believe in God.”  And I suppose it could. But at the end there’s a little gotcha moment and I was left wondering who was right.

Let’s get to one of the best things about this film: I need to talk about the magnificence of the cinematography. Every scene is a visual indulgence. It is breathtakingly beautiful. I could have watched the thing on mute like a 2003 Windows Media Player sound Visualizer (you remember those right?) I mean it was completely synthesized and computerized and edited and whatever other terms apply….I don’t even know if a single scene was shot with real people in a real location or if it was all done on a green screen in a studio. But I DON’T CARE. It was, in addition to being a thoughtful and thought-provoking film, a display of artistry.