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The Bling Ring and The American Dream

January 28, 2014 in Fauxscars, Literary Movies, Non-Fiction, Pop Culture, Women Writers

It’s amazing how close The Bling Ring is to its source material. The article, originally published in Vanity Fair and entitled “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” does not judge the story’s subjects, a group of fame-obsessed teens who broke into celebrity homes and stole millions of dollars worth of goods. As any successful piece of hard journalism does, it leaves the readers to make their own decisions.

Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring takes on a similarly journalistic approach, mimicking exact lines and moments from the article down to outfits from the article’s pictures. In between these moments of accuracy are long montages of drug use, loud music, and thievery. You wouldn’t think that watching gorgeous teens break the law would get boring, but it does.

It is hard to know what to think throughout the entirety of The Bling Ring. Are we not supposed to get excited about seeing Paris Hilton’s real closet? At the end, as Marc faces his time in prison, I thought I understood that the film was showing us the price of celebrity obsession. But this was not the end. The Bling Ring ends with Emma Watson’s Nicki on a talk show, having just faced a short span in prison, cool as a cucumber and promoting her website.

Clearly, Coppola and Nancy Jo Sales, the author of the Vanity Fair article, have opinions about the real ‘Bling Ring.’ Sales said in a Q&A about her article that, “I think, like all stories that capture this much attention, there’s something very evocative of American culture. A friend of mine said, ‘This case implicates us all.’” As an investigative journalist, Sales doesn’t express these views in her article, but leaves the reader to come to their own conclusions. Films are typically more editorial, but Coppola has chosen to present only the facts. The result is voyeuristic and stunning, but it’s hard to feel any investment in these characters or their story. We don’t find out enough about the individual people to understand what would push them to make such poor decisions, nor enough to really feel sympathy for them. Though The Bling Ring is admirably close to its source material, its lack of emotion or editorializing created a film that is beautiful, but also boring and a bit empty. Perhaps this might have been Coppola’s point all along — to show an exclusive world that many aspire to join and how insubstantial and dull it all really is.

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If you hated to love The Bling Ring, let us know. It is nominated for in The 2014 Literary Fauxscars for “Best ‘Guilty Pleasure’ Adaptation.”  If you think it should take home the award, share your opinions in the comments section or on Facebook and Twitter. #Fauxscars

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)

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!

Fauxscar Nominee: Silver Linings Playbook

January 11, 2013 in Comedy, Fauxscars, Fiction, Film, Literary Movies

The Mad Hatter:  Have I gone mad?

Alice:  I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers.  But I’ll tell you a secret.  All the best people are.

After seeing Silver Linings Playbook, I left the theatre in a really good mood.  One of those moods where, if life had been a musical or I had any rhythm or dexterity, I would have jumped up and clicked my heels together as I skipped down the street.  Instead I took to telling anyone who would listen how amazing and uplifting the film is and how they must drop everything they are doing and see it immediately. (Seriously, stop reading this and go see it.)  A couple people, intrigued by my insistence, asked me what it was about. A feel-good film about an emotionally damaged man, whose bipolar disorder is only discovered after a violent outburst brought on by his wife’s infidelity lands him a court-ordered stint in a mental health facility, you say?  They looked at me like I was the one who might be crazy.

Bradley Cooper plays the protagonist, Pat Solitano, Jr., in David O. Russell’s film adaptation of Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel, and the film begins with his release from the hospital.  He has lost his job, he lives with his parents, his neighbors think he has gone off the deep end, and a restraining order requires him to stay 500 feet away from his wife.  But he has a plan: stay positive; be stronger; and find the ‘silver lining’ in his situation — doing so, he believes, will surely bring his wife back to him if he works hard enough.

The problem, however, is that the ‘silver lining’ isn’t always what you think it should be.  For most of the film, Pat is too close to the situation he’s in, and too stuck in his ways, to see this. In one scene, for example, he has an outburst over Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms – He wakes his parents in the middle of the night with a tirade about the unexpected tragic ending that befalls the characters, raving, “They were happy.  You think he ends it there? No. He writes another ending.” — Hemingway’s novel provides a parallel to Solitano’s own story, in which he believes his ‘ending’ will find him back together with his wife.  Yet, as John Lennon once sang, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Pat soon meets his match in Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a brazenly unapologetic young widow, who is equally as broken.  Thus, Pat and Tiffany make a deal.  Tiffany will help him get a letter to his estranged wife and in return Pat will be her partner in a dance competition.  The film culminates in their final dance, two well-matched individuals performing a fun, choreographed mash-up that paints with painstaking clarity the humor, trust, and genuine admiration between the two.  Their performance is made even more endearing by contrast to the competition, a line-up that resembles the professionals from Dancing with the Stars.  We know they won’t win, but in this moment we also know (and so does Pat) that sometimes what you originally thought was the silver lining may have actually been the cloud.

Pat and Tiffany are portrayed as outsiders, looked at by their families and friends as off-kilter, damaged goods, possibly a few cards short of the deck.  And it is true that Pat and Tiffany may be ‘crazy,’ but they aren’t the only ones.  Pat’s dad, a phenomenal Fila track-suit-wearing Robert DeNiro, spends football Sundays in obsessive compulsive mania masquerading as old school superstition. As Pat Sr. rearranges the remote controls so that the Philadelphia Eagles will win, Pat’s best friend Ronnie has his own stress and anger issues that find him punching walls in his garage to let off steam.  The story manipulates our perception of sanity.  After all, Pat and Tiffany may be nuttier than fruit cake, but they admit it.  And how does the old adage go about crazy people?  If you think you’re crazy, you are probably sane enough?

Cooper is flawless in his portrayal of Pat.  With memorable roles in classic comedies such as Wedding Crashers and The Hangover, he doesn’t get the credit for his acting ability that he deserves. With a Best Actor nod in the Oscars (and the Fauxscars!) maybe that will change.  Lawrence of The Hunger Games fame is hilarious as Tiffany, a character that comes off as a less stable, yet equally kick ass (albeit R-rated), Katniss.  Robert DeNiro is Robert DeNiro, enough said.  Yet, as the OCD Solitano patriarch, his performance is both comical and touching.  Chris Tucker rounds out this dream cast as the loveable, questionably unhinged, Danny, a fellow patient Pat meets during treatment, whose random drop-ins add an extra helping of comic relief to the already very funny film.

Simultaneously witty, intelligent, poignant, and heartwarming–there is something universal about this story.  Like Pat says in the end, “life will break your heart… and I can’t begin to explain that, or the craziness inside myself and everybody else.”  Maybe the moral of the story is in acknowledging that, and being better for it.  And if, like Pat, you are lucky enough to surround yourself with people whose ‘crazy’ is compatible with your own, then maybe that is the real ‘silver lining.’

Fauxscar Nominee: Les Misérables

January 7, 2013 in Classic Literature, Classic Writers, European Writers, Fauxscars, Film, French Authors, History, Literary Movies, Literature, Movies, Political History

Strictly speaking, Les Misérables is not a Literary Adaption; it’s based on the musical, not the Victor Hugo novel. The story has traveled far since it was first published in France. It’s always been a big, hulking phenomenon, and it’s always had its critics. What demolishes the criticism, however, is its emotional forcefulness. And the funny thing about the criticism of each successive adaption, is that it tends to focus on the new version’s faithfulness to the original, despite the fact that the novel was criticized at the time for being sentimental – unfaithful to reality itself. Flaubert deemed it “infantile” and Baudelaire privately called it “tasteless and inept.” But in the preface, Hugo outlined a social purpose for his book that was greater than literary accomplishment:

So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.

In 1862 when Les Misérables was published, the American civil war was being fought over the emancipation of slaves. The noble hero of the book, Jean Valjean, is an ex-convict whose unnatural strength reveals his identity as a former galley slave. He is on the run for most of the film, trying to build a better life as a factory owner, and then stepping up to the role of adopted papa of the orphaned child Cosette. The film of Les Misérables, though based on the musical (it uses all the songs from the 1985 musical bar two) goes where the stage production cannot in portraying the misery of the poor peasants – and in this it rejoins the book. I’ve rarely seen a ‘costume’ production, where the cast is made to look as filthy and downtrodden as this. Most of the characters’ teeth are blackened – though I did notice that Hathaway’s angelic Fantine flashes a cleaner set than some of the lesser cast members. Also Helena Bonham Carter is allowed to get away with her usual steampunk, hallucinatory version of historical costume. This role finds her once again as a flouncy, amoral proprietress of a low dive establishment, even making sausages out of suspect bits of meat, just as she did in Sweeny Todd.

Aside from the comic filthiness of Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, there’s no getting around the sentimentality of the movie and its antecendents, the musical, the book, and numerous film adaptions. But because it’s a musical, a version of willing suspension of disbelief sets in. Call it, “willing suspension of cynical running commentary” (we’ll wait ‘til the movie’s out on Netflix to relax our standards on that). But it’s more than that. The movie packs real emotional weight, especially through the performances of the leads. No one could fail to be moved by Anne Hathaway’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream.” While they’re delivering their soliloquys, the shots are trained on the characters’ faces – often from above, as if to capture the desperation and abandonment which makes them invoke a higher power. By the time Hathaway’s Fantine bows out of the film, she is a broken woman, shorn of her locks and her dignity; the camera does not flinch from describing the dirt and tears on her face.

Hugh Jackman is also a great, sympathetic lead as Jean Valjean, and Samantha Barks is a sad, forlorn Eponine.  Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried are fairly wooden, but as the fairy prince and princess characters, they don’t have much to do besides adorn the happy ending.

Overall ‘Les Miz’ works because of its great cast rather than originality – but really, who was looking for that? It manages to stay true to the form of the musical - and to the intentions of the book: to portray the victims of poverty. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of those soliloquys bag a few Oscars for the leads.

Fauxscar Nominee: Cosmopolis

January 6, 2013 in American Authors, Contemporary Literature, Crime Novels, Economy, Fauxscars, Literary Movies, Pop Culture

By Antoinette Weil

When I chose to watch Cosmopolis as part of our Literary “Fauxscars” segment, I went in with a clean slate. That is, I had never read the book it’s based on by Don DeLillo. I didn’t know the story. As such, it could have qualified to be in the running for the sought-after “Best Stand Alone Film” category. But it won’t get my vote.

The film follows Eric Packer, played by Robert Pattinson, a 28 year old billionaire/finance wiz throughout his stretch-limo-capsuled journey across Manhattan to get a haircut. Most of the film, including a sex scene, a doctor’s appointment, a loss of millions (or more) of dollars resulting from a risky financial bet against the Chinese Yuan, takes place inside the comfort of Packer’s over-the-top custom stretch limousine.

What happens inside the car is what matters to Packer. He meets with his finance manager, his physician, his tech guru. The dialogue is intensive, thick, unwelcoming. While watching you’re wondering (at least I was) what the characters are actually saying, what it means, and whether it’s all very interesting or just jibber jabber.

And what happens outside of the car is the world; all of Packer’s encounters with his young wife (played by Sarah Gadon), a traffic jam in the city caused by a visit from the President, a charged anti-capitalism street protest, a massive funeral procession for a fallen rap star, who happens to be beloved by Packer, and eventually a potentially deadly encounter with a disgruntled former employee.

David Cronenberg’s direction on this film was impeccable. There is something to be said for shooting almost an entire movie inside of a car with hardly any action or changes in scenery. And his dark, psychologically introspective style fit perfectly with Don DeLillo’s original novel. Should we have a “Best Director” category, I will vote Cronenberg for Cosmopolis.

Pattinson was believable, vivid, and genuinely good in the role of Eric Packer. He has a certain smoothness and a dark quirkiness that made him well-suited for the part. That said, the character is a dry, jagged, unpleasant pill to swallow. He seems to be a morally damaged, self-centered, downright bad human being. He has sexual encounters with two women in the film, neither of whom are his wife. He tries to persuade his art consultant (played by Juliette Binoche) to bid on not a single painting but on on the entire museum, so that he can lock it up in his apartment and keep it from the public. He calls one of his employees to an emergency meeting in his limo on her day off, and kills another in cold blood. All around a pretty loathsome guy.

And yet, I didn’t hate him. I ended up having so little emotional investment in this movie, and in Eric Packer, that even his most shameless sins didn’t produce the type of dislike one typically has for a “bad guy”. Perhaps this is because none of the other characters were “likable” either. Perhaps the beauty in it is that the audience feels for him exactly what he feels for every human in the film (yes, including himself): nothing.

I found myself looking for the real world political/socioeconomic parallels easily apparent in other movies (V for Vendetta, Avatar, even Hunger Games) but ended up, instead of relating, wondering if those parallels were there to be found, or if this was to be taken at face value: a movie about the fall of one arrogant, brilliant, young billionaire.

Cosmopolis is not for the lazy viewer. Simply processing the dialogue is an intellectual achievement  But it’s not enlightening, or, by any means, a “feel-good” film. Quite the opposite in fact; you may, as a viewer, find yourself feeling low when it’s over, scratching your head and wondering what exactly just happened.

But here’s what it is: smart. So while I didn’t like the film, I couldn’t help but respect it.

The original article is featured in the Books section of Literary Traveler!

Fauxscar Nominee: The Hunger Games

January 2, 2013 in American Authors, children's literature, Contemporary Literature, Fauxscars, Fiction, Film, Literary Movies, Movies, YA Fiction, Young Adult Literature

I will clear the air right away and say, I was a fan of Twilight.  It seems that this question has been on the tip of bibliophilic tongues everywhere and a pro-vampire stance confessed to the wrong person will have you ostracized to a community of lowbrow lepers doomed to wander the colony with a scarlet V on your chest.  Many a debate has been had amongst readers over the merits of these now iconic young adult novels.  Are they literary? Are they well-written?  I typically shy away from this line of questioning the same way I shy away from talking politics or religion on a first date.  Nothing good can come from it.  Maybe they aren’t literary, but they are addictive and a fine guilty pleasure.  Actually, my only problem with the series is its protagonist Bella. A hormonal teenage girl mooning over the emotionally unavailable bad boy is nothing new to literature, film, or life for that matter, but to have said character mope about for the span of an entire novel, acquiesce to Edward’s every overbearing whim and ultimately sacrifice her human life to be more compatible with him? As a role model for the novels’ target audience, Bella is lacking in a seriously unhealthy way.  Regardless to say, I was “Team Jacob” and doomed to be disappointed.

Despite my obvious bitterness over the outcome of the series, however, there were more important things at stake. If Twilight was to be indicative of today’s youth, I felt that we were certainly in trouble. How do we reconcile a world where girls look up to a character like Bella, who spends most of New Moon despondent, only prying herself away from her armchair to attempt personal injury in hopes that she might glimpse a hallucination of Edward?  My friends, don’t fret, the future of female empowerment in not doomed. It can be found in a dark corner of a distant post-apocalyptic universe. Enter Katniss Everdeen.

Katniss is powerful, responsible, knows her way around a bow and arrow, and doesn’t need protection from either of the strapping gentlemen who make up her very own Twilight-esque love triangle.  The difference between the two young women: Katniss doesn’t really care about hers.  Not initially, anyway.  She has bigger things to do, like save her sister…and save the world.

Suzanne Collins’ novel is set in a dystopic future where the United States has become the twelve districts of Panem.  There were originally thirteen, but a failed mutiny left District 13 to serve as a cautionary tale to those remaining.  As a punishment and reminder, each year the districts must send two children to “The Hunger Games” – a Survivor type reality show where only one victor comes out alive.  While the subject matter is disturbing, the story quickly grabs hold of readers.  It is almost impossible to stop reading until you have gone straight through to the end of the third book.  And despite its morbid undertones, it presents a powerful story of hope.  As the evil President Snow states in the filmic version: “Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.”  The viewers quickly learn, as does the villainous Snow, that Katniss’ fire cannot be contained.

Her male counterpart in the Hunger Games, and one third of the aforementioned love triangle, is Peeta Mellark. I loved the character of Peeta for every reason I loved Jacob, and every reason I couldn’t stand Edward.  Peeta might not sparkle, but he also won’t climb through your bedroom window and hover over you while you sleep.  He compliments Katniss in the best ways, and their relationship is one of genuine adoration and respect; it’s believable, real, and something we can all aspire to, whether we are 15 or 65.

For these reasons and more, I was ecstatic to find out a movie was being made based on the books. While adaptations can cause the original material to get lost in translation, this was not the case for The Hunger Games.  This book, full of eerie landscapes, futuristic inhabitants, and an arena where no one is safe, was begging to be adapted for the screen.  Between the elaborate costumes and the incredible settings, the faultless casting was the cherry on the sundae.  Jennifer Lawrence easily slides into the role of Katniss, a strong, capable character whose healthy body is a refreshing alternative to the stick-thin waif.  (Bella, just because Edward can’t eat food, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t).  The role of Peeta seems as though it was written especially for Josh Hutcherson; his flawless blend of self-deprecating humor, charm, and authenticity is unparalleled.  But the absolute scene-stealer of the movie has to be the unexpected, yet perfectly executed performance, of Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, the alcoholic former Hunger Games victor-turned-mentor.  Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, and Stanley Tucci round out an ensemble cast that cannot be beat.

I recommend the books to anyone with a taste for well-written YA Fiction—I recommend the film to anyone, period.  There isn’t much from the book left on the cutting room floor, and the plot is easy to follow without any prior knowledge of it.  Male, female, teen or adult, The Hunger Games has something for everyone and will surely provoke discussion about our culture’s disturbing fascination with reality television, among other topics usually reserved for the second date.

As we begin to choose nominees for our 2013 Fauxscars, I say to The Hunger Games: “May the odds be ever in your favor!”

Post originally published here on the Literary Traveler website, in the Books section.

Fauxscar Nominee: The Hobbit

December 28, 2012 in Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Fauxscars, Fiction, Film, Literary Movies

When Peter Jackson took on the gargantuan task of adapting Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series for film, he sparked fear and excitement in the minds of million fans. There are few series quite as beloved amongst both children and adults as the Middle Earth trilogy, yet, somehow, Jackson managed to do the literary marvel justice. His cinematic trilogy was sweeping, moving, and awe-inspiring. It won awards and inspired many a trip to New Zealand, a nation that saw its magical landscape larger-than-life on the big screen. The films were by no means perfect, but they were a fitting tribute to the novels.

So it was with great expectations that I entered the theater for an afternoon screening of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Directed by Jackson and starring Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf, and Andy Serkis as the sneaky Gollum, this film covered only the first third of the novel (a fact I had learned weeks earlier, much to my disappointment). While the story may not have needed to be stretched out into three installments—I suspect financial reasons were behind this decision more than artistic ones—there is quite a lot of ground to cover. The film opens with a voice over, describing the shire and Bilbo’s life before the “unexpected adventure.” Bilbo, as we quickly learn, is a quiet hobbit who likes fine food, a warm fire, and comfortable nights spent at home. His likes include smoking a pipe, his nice china dishes, The Shire, and dancing. His dislikes include noisy dwarves, physical exertion, and leaving The Shire.

But Bilbo, that sweet summer child, isn’t going to spend his life getting fatter and fatter off his well-stocked larder. No, Bilbo is in for a surprise, which begins when the mysterious Gandalf marks his door, inviting a coven of dwarves in for a raucous party that double as a political strategy session.

If you’ve read the novel, you know exactly what comes next. Bilbo gets drawn into the adventure, neither against his will nor entirely with it. He is the 13th member of their party, the much-needed thief that will steal the dwarves treasure and help defeat the dread dragon Smaug. The little hobbit has a heroic role to play, but whether or not he is truly up to it remains to be seen.

For the film ends long before Bilbo ever meets Smaug. This may be my greatest quibble with the adaptation. Though not entirely true to the book (I was particularly disappointed when Bilbo gets caught by some idiotic foragers who turn stoney when faced with a little trickery), the film largely stays on Tolkien’s course. There are few moments that prompted me to whisper angrily to my boyfriend “that wasn’t in the novel!”

Rated just 65% on critical aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, The Hobbit has been torn apart for its sleek Hollywood styling and its overdrawn plot. And while entertaining, I found the movie rather underwhelming. It’s a fun movie, but the voice-overs have begun to grate on my nerves, and in some ways, it feels a little too reliant on its theatrical predecessors. The Hobbit didn’t feel quite as invigorating as the Lord of the Rings movies; the feeling of excitement and newness is gone, and Jackson does little to replace them. Furthermore, I felt that certain scenes were lacking in whimsy. The most child-friendly of all Tolkien’s novels, The Hobbit always felt lighter than the others, full of clever riddles and goofy rhymes.

All in all, die-hard fans of the novel might take issue with the slight changes to the plot, but even Tolkien scholars will enjoy the unexpected journey.

Fauxscar Nominee: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

December 19, 2012 in American Authors, Book Review, Fauxscars, Film, Literary Movies, Young Adult Literature

The movie adaptation of Stephen Chbosky’s well-loved 1999 novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, tries really hard, but doesn’t really succeed. Interestingly enough, Chbosky wrote and directed Perks himself, which could have resulted in a perfect adaptation, but which actually seemed to contribute to some of the move’s shortcomings. The story, as you probably know, is about the of the trials and tribulations of Charlie, an awkward adolescent boy, the very epitome of the shy, intelligent teen who can’t get out of his own head, who feels like he doesn’t belong.

The movie opens with his entry into high school, where he’s awash in an unforgiving and harsh landscape. Logan Lerman, the actor who plays Charlie, is far too good looking to be cast as a misfit, and his attempts at looking shy come across as emotionless and blank. His smile is too perfect to find the bullying he endures believable. Allusions to his troubling past (his best friend’s suicide, the death of his beloved Aunt Helen and a possible mental illness) are made throughout the movie, but due time is not given to his past, so Charlie’s current state of confusion and sadness is hard to empathize with or fully understand. Mostly by accident, Charlie is adopted by the other kids at school who don’t “fit in,” including the odd stepbrother-stepsister duo of Patrick (played by the dynamic Ezra Miller) and Sam (played by the charming Emma Watson). Patrick and Sam welcome Charlie into a world where he feels accepted, safe and loved. Things begin to look up for him—he learns how to eat a weed brownie, he goes to some parties, he exchanges Christmas gifts, and yes, he falls in love with Sam. His naïveté and earnestness is endearing, and, at times, a bit painful to watch—perhaps, in part, because the moments in which these things materialize remind us of our own adolescence.

Ezra Miller, with his gorgeous, sculpted cheekbones steals the show as the openly gay Patrick, who puts on a mean rendition of Rocky Horror Picture Show, a moment well worth watching. A cameo from Judd Aptow’s go-to, Paul Rudd, as the Charlie’s English teacher (you know, the one who “believes in him”), doesn’t carry the depth it should; instead, the character ends up just another corduroy-wearing-To-Kill-A-Mockingbird-reading English teacher. And while certain elements are cliché, the soundtrack is very well done. Featuring David Bowie’s Heroes and teen dream classics by Sonic Youth and The Samples, the sound track helps move the movie along, but still falls somewhat short of the mark.

As much as we want to care about Charlie, the reasons for his issues are left largely untouched, and addressed only through snapshots and brief flashbacks. As we watch him gain self-confidence, secure a girlfriend (even if he’s still in love with Sam) we find ourselves wondering, Does this kid really have it that bad? His family, (while maybe ineffectual and under involved) seem to truly care about him, and he doesn’t struggle with intellectual affairs. But as the movie comes to a close, and we watch Charlie’s life start to unravel, his problems seems to be somewhere far off.

Emma Watson does her darndest with the role of the bubbly, but somewhat lost, Sam, and the connection between Charlie and her is one of the more believable relationships Perks has to offer. Ultimately, Perks the movie attempts to make us feel something we can’t: a connection to the emotionally and philosophically advanced psyche of a young man. It was a heroic try, but the movie, unlike the novel, is easy to dismiss—something like closing the lid on a shoebox full of yearbooks and graduation tassels.

Fauxscar Nominee: Anna Karenina

December 18, 2012 in Book Review, Classic Literature, European Writers, Fauxscars, Leo Tolstoy, Literary Movies

Great film adaptations of classic novels are all alike; every junk Hollywood movie is terrible in its own way. Which way will the 2012 adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina go? We don’t know yet, but I can guess.

The 2012 adaptation of the tragic romance was released at the Toronto Film Festival, and so far, reviews have been mixed. Some critics have praised director Joe Wright’s “bold new structure,” which highlights the theatrical nature of the novel by setting most of the action on a stage, but others have called the thoroughly modern version of the Russian love story flat, even emotionally distant. The Hollywood Reporter goes so far to complain that “whereas the book is sprawling, searching and realistic, the film is constricted, deterministic and counterfeit.”

It’s particularly disappointing to read this review (and others like it) because I love Anna Karenina, and re-read it quite frequently, probably every other year. The 900-page novel is a massive undertaking, and I have to admit I often pick and choose which scenes I focus on. Some—like the lengthy descriptions of Levin farming—are tedious and forgettable. But others, particularly the scene when Anna enters the ballroom in her black, low-cut dress, sparkling and pale like a diamond, transform the way I view the world. They make me look in the mirror differently, searching for traces of aristocracy in my own winter-pale face. They make me consider the terrifying and all-consuming nature of love, and the many ramifications of betrayal.

Though I do want to see Anna Karenina, I can’t help but feel that no movie could truly do that book justice. I also wonder whether Keira Knightly, who has been cast as Anna, will be able to live up to the role. I always imagined Anna as voluptuous, lush and gorgeous. Keira is certainly beautiful, but she lacks a richness that infuses Tolstoy’s Anna. More than just pretty—a compliment more aptly applied to the girlish Kitty—Anna is rich, poised and erotic. Jude Law, cast in the role of her somber, dry husband, might seem like the more shocking choice, but Law has shown a great range in the past few years. I’m interested to see what he can do with a character I never liked and often skimmed past.

The trailer, too, gives me some hope. It’s beautiful to watch, and while some might worry about style over substance, I happen to love a perfectly choreographed film. It doesn’t hit theaters until November 16, but I can assure you, I’ll be watching.