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Movie vs. Book: The Girl On the Train

Rachel cannot move on from her former life with her ex-husband, Tom. She drinks. She rides the train past his home and stares. She is so depressed that she not only stares at her old house with her former husband and his new wife, Anna, but she also stares at the house a few doors down — the one where a seemingly happy couple lives and reminds her how awful her life has become.

So when Rachel learns that the woman who lives there, Megan, has gone missing, she becomes shocked and then later, obsessed. She cannot understand what would cause Megan to run or someone to do something to her. But soon, Megan’s body is found, and it is announced that she was pregnant when she was killed. Rachel cannot move on from this story and quickly inserts herself into the world of Megan and her husband.

What starts as a story about sad women turns into a thriller and murder mystery. It’s one of hte best in recent years. In fact, it was famously referred to as “the next Gone Girl” when the book was first released last year. That explains why it didn’t take very long to be made into a movie — and with an outstanding cast at that.

Luckily, just like the “Gone Girl” movie, the movie version of “The Girl On the Train” lives up to the book. It follows the book to a tee, even down to the rotating narrators of Rachel, Megan and Anna. Title screens appear throughout the movie to explain whose perspective we’re about to see and during what time it’s happening, just like the start of each new chapter in the book.

The movie of course leaves out a few things including  Rachel sleeping with someone involved in the investigation (probably because it’s too intertwined and mildly disgusting) and Anna’s obsession with being a mistress (also off-putting in the novel). But the movie felt a bit long as it was, and including those plot points that weren’t entirely vital to the story would have only made the movie longer.

For all my worry that Emily Blunt was “too pretty” to play the frumpy, alcoholic Rachel who’s let herself go, Blunt’s acting was exceptional. It’s a role unlike any other she’s played, and it hooks the audience in her character’s first drunken scene. Justin Thoreaux, too, is excellent in his maniacal role, and the movie includes just the right about of suspense and sexiness.

Get The Girl On the Train in paperback for $9.60.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

It’s a book I loved so much that I not only read it, I also listened to it to re-read it in preparation for the release of the movie version. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a YA novel that doesn’t read as particularly YA — a story about a boy who, grappling with the death of his grandfather, takes a trip to the small town in the UK where his grandpa grew up, only to find that his grandfather lived in a special home with a magical nanny and peculiar children who all have their own special power or gift. The boy goes on to battle the evil creatures who set out to attack these peculiars, especially after learning that not only was his grandfather a peculiar, but so is he. The fantastical setup of the novel is something that stimulates the mind and fills it with magical imagery and hope that good and weird will prevail over evil.

The movie version of Miss Peregrine starts off the same way but by the end, it takes the story so far off course, it’s practically out of reach. The movie speeds up much of the exposition of the novel, quickly getting to the boy taking his trip overseas. Likewise, not much time is really focused on the home, Miss Peregrine or the peculiars. It feels like the movie is more or less going through the motions, speeding up the story to squeeze it all in.

There are a few odd changes that don’t seem to serve a purpose. For instance, the powers of two of the peculiars are switched. The way the boy enters the world of the peculiars is also a little different from the way it happens in the book. He’s also told outright why certain things are happening, rather than him putting two and two together and figuring it out himself like he does in the book. As these changes happened, they stood out to me. But in retrospect, they are nothing compared to the end of the movie.

In the novel, Miss Peregrine is taken captive by the evil Wight named Barron, but in the movie she more or less turns herself in as a way to sacrifice herself for the children. The novel ends on this cliffhanger as the boy decides to stay with the peculiars, fight Barron and help save Miss Peregrine.

But the movie keeps going for probably another half an hour of additional plot that never existed in the book. I have not yet read Miss Peregrine’s sequel, Hollow City, so I’m not sure what, if any, of the end of the movie may come from that book, but the end of the movie includes a crazy fight scene between the peculiars and Wights, all happening in public with cotton candy and carnivals techno music pumping in the background. The scene feels like it’s jumped in from a different movie. Not only this, but everything — yes, everything — is solved at the end. No cliffhanger. Nowhere to go from here.

There’s little to no room for a movie sequel. Maybe the producers never planned to make one, so they packed it all into this one movie. But as someone who’s only read Miss Peregrine and plans to read the sequels that follow it, it was completely disheartening to see the entire story wrapped up in a tiny bow. The magic of the book is lost in the movie, and there’s nothing peculiar about that. It happens. But it doesn’t make it any less sad.

Get Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in paperback for $7.20.

Or get it on your Kindle for $10.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Me Before You

me before youWhen Louisa Clark loses her job as a waitress, she is struggling to figure out what to do next. Her family relies on her and the money she brings in to support them, especially since her father’s been out of work. She goes through a ton of crazy jobs before finally landing a six-month deal as a caregiver for a paraplegic man named Will. Will is a bitter, condescending man who was paralyzed from the neck down in a crash two years earlier. Prior to that, he was an active, adventurous, wealthy man who had want for nothing. Within a few days, Louisa learns she’s mostly been hired to cheer Will up — a seemingly impossible task.

After several months and finally making some headway in terms of cheering up Will, Louisa learns there’s a reason she’s only been signed to a six-month contract. Will doesn’t think his life is worth living, and she makes it her mission to prove otherwise — to show him how he can live a fulfilled life despite his disability. Louisa has a boyfriend, but they eventually break up as her feelings for Will become stronger. But will her plans for travel and deep love for Will be enough to convince him to stay alive?

Me Before You is a beautiful romance novel that also deals with the issues of the disabled, doctor-assisted suicide and learning to live life to the fullest. While Louisa is busy trying to show Will how grand life he can be, he’s the one to actually do that for her — the story turning around on itself. It’s a truly moving book, and the movie is just as emotional and effective.

Sam Claflin as Will and Emilia Clarke as Louisa have ridiculous on-screen chemistry, and while Emilia Clarke’s acting at the beginning of the movie includes some serious over-acting, she grows on you as the movie continues. In the movie, her character is also more perky, quirky and silly than she is the book. Having read the book before seeing the movie, I initially found that kind of personality off-putting, but that, also, grew on me. I realized that where the book could sometimes be incredibly dark, the movie lightened things up a bit. The movie also does a good job of excluding the some of the other darker undertones that both weren’t necessary and didn’t really seem to fit in with the novel anyway — like Louisa’s dark past and the secrets held between Will’s parents. The movie also ends the relationship between Louisa and her boyfriend a little earlier — something for which I was grateful, considering her boyfriend is horrible.

The movie Me Before You is certainly this year’s version of The Fault in Our Stars, and luckily for viewers and readers both the book and movie live up to the romantic, tear-inducing story we all need every once in a while.

Get Me Before You in paperback for $6.73.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Allegiant

allegiant-by-veronica-roth**Spoiler Alert: this is your warning that if you have not read the actual book, you might not want to read the following review. Spoilers are included. 

Let me start by saying this: Before seeing Allegiant in theaters, I was not aware that producers decided to split final book in the Divergent series into two movies. So naturally, I was shocked at the state in which the movie ended — clearly setting it up for a fourth movie. That said, the movie adaptation of the final novel in the Divergent series was terrible.

Allegiant is one hell of a book. I was skeptical when I started reading it since I was told by many that the third book in the series was the worst because of something Tris does. Her self-sacrifice in the novel’s third act was a bold move by author Veronica Roth, no doubt. So it’s understandable that readers — especially YA readers that the book targets — would be upset by the dark, sad ending. But I found her actions to be brave and powerful — those of a true tragic hero, sacrificing herself for the greater good, despite the dangers that lie in her wake.

In addition to that, the multiple rebellions and serums in the novel make Allegiant sometimes confusing, but mostly exciting and overwhelming in the best way. For the first time, parts of the novel are told through Four/Tobias’s voice instead of solely Tris’s, and he faces his own dark plot line. Both their stories move with power.

While the Insurgent movie changed some things from the book, the Allegiant movie changed almost everything. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it an adaptation, but rather a movie “loosely based” on the novel by Veronica Roth.

To start, characters Cara and Uriah are cut from the movie, which thereby means the entire “Four accidentally putting Uriah in a coma because of the explosion he helped plan against the bureau” storyline is cut from the movie. That is a huge part of the novel, so it was extremely disappointing to see it  left out of the movie. The movie also made the bureau headquarters much more futuristic than the raggedy image that’s portrayed in the book. The movie also makes it seem like it was Tris’s idea to form the Allegiant, when it’s actually Johanna’s idea — a device to make Tris even more heroic, I imagine.

The movie also adds things the book doesn’t include. For instance: Tobias’s father receiving the memory serum; Four participating in a group that helps bring children from the fringe back to the bureau; a head council to which David must report; and the characters having jobs and duties within the bureau. Some of these changes may seem minor, but because of them, other plot lines and character motivations in the movie had to be adapted, and suddenly it was hard to tell where the story was going since it veered so off course from the novel.

It’s a shame the Divergent movies have increasingly gotten worse and are now out of touch with the great novels upon which they’re based. But if this weekend’s poor ticket sales are any indication, maybe producers won’t make Allegiant Part Two after all and save us the disappointment.

Get Allegiant in paperback for $7.92. 

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

tina-fey-whiskey-foxtrot-tangoKim Barker has a fine life — boring, but fine. She works for a newspaper. She has a boyfriend that she might, kind of like. She’s in her 30’s, but she’s as lost as a teenager. Then 9/11 happens. Suddenly, she has found new meaning. She’s going to Afghanistan to cover the war on terror for The Chicago Tribune. 

Kim Barker’s memoir of her years covering the war in Afghanistan — or as she calls it, The Forgotten War — is as real as it gets. It’s full of bombings, political corruption, shootings and journalist kidnappings. But hers is also the story of “Kabul High” as she likes to call it — partying, heavy drinking and drugs, competition amongst reporters, adrenaline rushes, hookups and backstabbing. She tells the stories we don’t expect to be happening between reporters and their sources and reporters amongst themselves. But it does happen. It’s the rush of it all that sucks Kim in to the Middle East and keeps her from returning home to the U.S. for more than six years.

In Barker’s memoir, she tells her story in vignettes — an interview with a warlord here, a failed vacation with her boyfriend there, but there’s no plot, per se. It’s more of a diary of her experiences abroad and a depiction of her inability to leave what’s become her new home.

The movie, however, changes that, and that may be for the best. Tina Fey as Barker is a perfect fit — a little bit of hot mess, but still focused on her work and a good woman overall. The movie adds a little drama to the story — making the several journalist kidnappings at the end of the memoir the main plot of the film, when it happens to a boyfriend of Barker’s who never actually existed in real life. In fact, the movie combines several of the men in Barker’s life into one hunky journalist boyfriend. It also creates a fellow female journalist with whom Barker has a competitive frenemy relationship. The movie also makes Barker a TV journalist. All of this does nothing, but add plot and pizzazz.

While typically, I like a movie to stay true to a book — especially if that book is a memoir, in this case, I thought the movie did a good job in adding what the book lacked. The memoir — while interesting — is dense and gives a lot of descriptive detail about Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Some sections are hard to get through, especially as I sometimes waited for a juicy plot twist. A movie without a focused story wouldn’t have been good as a movie. So in this case, the movie is more of an interpretation of the memoir, with juicy plot twists. The book’s juicy plot twist was the overall journey and how it changed Barker’s life.

Get Whiskey Tango Foxtrot in paperback for $11.96. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $11.99.

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Movie & Show vs. Book: Friday Night Lights

515mak2bfsol-_sy344_bo1204203200_It’s hard to believe that when speaking to several fans of the beloved NBC TV show “Friday Night Lights,” they didn’t know the show is based on a book published 25 years ago.

Friday Night Lights tells the true story of the 1988 Permian Panthers high school football team in Odessa, Texas. Penned by Buzz Bissinger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who decides to spend a year in Texas to understand the beauty and darkness that lay beneath the Friday night lights, the book became a huge bestseller and later spawned a movie of the same name and the TV show. That book had such stunning success for good reason.

First of all, Bissinger has a beautiful way of writing; his description, attention to detail and tone bring the reader to the football fields and locker rooms with him. His prose is moving and powerful, yet understated. Seriously, it’s rare that I pay that much attention to an author’s writing, but Bissinger made me take notice.

What’s amazing is the depth with which he details not only the games played each Friday night, but also the backstories of the six players on whom he decides to focus the book and the history of the city of Odessa itself — one of financial crisis, racism, socioeconomic gaps and crime. In this way, the book includes many things the movie and TV show never get the opportunity to touch. In this day and age when the gap between the rich and poor and between black, white and Hispanic seem to be widening, those details would have been a revelation to see onscreen.

But then again, the movie is now 12 years old and the show 10 years old. Unlike the television series, the movie follows the book exactly, specifically following that 1988 season of the Permian Panthers including Boobie Miles’s injury-sparked downfall and Chris Comer’s rise to the occasion. The TV show takes the premise and many elements from the book and dramatizes it into its own separate — and still mesmerizing — story.

However, Boobie’s story is far more devastating in real life and in the book than in the movie. Where, as the book details, Boobie heart-wrenchingly hurts his knee in a meaningless pre-season scrimmage, the movie has it happen in the first big game of the season, which is a) more dramatic but also b) less ironically shocking and sad. And where, as the book details, Boobie quits the team and is forgotten about, never to speak with most of his former teammates again, the movie finds him standing on the sidelines during the state championship game, cheering for his boys. I get it; the movie producers wanted the movie to have a happy ending. But part of what makes Friday Night Lights (the book) so good is its depressingly real demonstration that things don’t always work out the way you want them to, even if you are a star athlete in high school; sadly, dreams don’t always come true.

It’s safe to say that if you liked the movie or TV show, you will like the book and maybe even appreciate the onscreen adaptations more, knowing the real story. (I also highly recommend reading the 25th anniversary edition, which came out earlier this year. It details a 2015 update on each of the six players Bissinger details in the original edition.)

Get Friday Night Lights, 25th Anniversary Edition in paperback for $10.33.

Or on your Kindle for $9.56.

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Movie vs. Book: Mockingjay (Part 2)

41k66tfc43l**Spoiler Alert: Considering five years having passed since Mockingjay was published, this is your warning that if you have not read the actual book, you might not want to read the following review. Spoilers are included. 

It was the ending we’d all been waiting for — the final defeat of the Capitol, of President Snow, of all that was wrong with the country of Panem. And Katniss was the one to accomplish it all, a true heroine assisted by her fellow rebels. The movie Mockingjay Part 2 picks up where the first one ended, with Katniss recovering from an attack by Peeta, after he left the Capitol. As Katniss emotionally tries to come to grips with the new Peeta, who isn’t really Peeta anymore at all, she also works to further the rebellion and take down the Capitol.

But Coin, in charge of the rebellion, forces Katniss to remain the face of the rebellion and not one of its foremost warriors. Ultimately Katniss becomes one anyway, working with her team including Gale, Peeta, Bogs, Cressida, Finnick and others to break in to District 2 and the Capitol, so Katniss to fulfill her goal of killing President Snow herself. All that is accomplished and then some, when Katniss ultimately kills Coin as well, realizing after the death of her sister that Coin’s thirst for power was just as, if not more, dangerous and deadly than Snow’s.

The movie does a great job of closely following the book. There are the regular film changes with which fans have become familiar — including new, additional scenes with Snow and his advisors or with Coin and Plutarch, broadening the story and filling in the novel’s gaps that inevitably come from  Katniss’s first-person perspective formatting.

The biggest changes come at the movie’s end. In the novel, Katniss is misunderstood when she kills Coin. Because no one but President Snow really knew Coin’s evil, no one understands why Katniss commits such a heinous crime as murder. She is put on trial and acquitted by reason of insanity. She goes on to seemingly live a life of freedom yet sadness, married to Peeta, without any more of a relationship to Haymitch.

In the movie, however, there is no trial. There is a relationship with Haymitch. Katniss is commended by Plutarch. She is understood, and so are her actions, by the people of Panem. She is not deemed insane; she is a deemed a hero. She and Peeta are portrayed as truly in love and truly happy. The movie’s end is the storybook ending that the storybook never gave us. Of course, it’s different, and it might anger die-hard fans of the books. But after all Katniss has been through — and all we’ve been through three books and four movies later — it’s satisfying to have an ending that’s full and not one that leaves us, well, hungry.

Buy Mockingjay in paperback for $7.39.

Or on your Kindle for $4.99.

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Movie vs. Book: The Martian

Mark Watney is admittedly the least important member of his NASA team. He’s not the commander, and his role as botanist isn’t the most integral to surviving on a mission to Mars. So when a sandstorm collides with his crew, he’s left behind, assumed dead by his crew mates, and wakes up millions of miles away from any other human being, he’s a little freaked out. But Mark Watney has underestimated himself. He quickly gets to work, figuring out how much food, water and oxygen he has left in his spaceship. It’s not enough to sustain more than a few months. Finally his botany background helps out, as he finds ways to grow food and create more oxygen and water to lengthen his lifespan.

It takes a while before NASA recognizes that he’s still alive. He was assumed dead by his crew mates, NASA and in turn, the entire world. It becomes as much NASA’s all-consuming goal to save him as Mark has to stay alive. He overcomes obstacle after obstacle over the course of more than a year until he can, maybe, be saved.

The book tells the story through Mark’s first-person journal entries narration of what’s going on on Earth and on the other spaceship where Mark’s crew mates remain. The movie is brilliant in its decision to turn Mark’s journal entries into video logs. It’s more visual and actually makes more sense; considering Mark is alone on Mars, he should want a reason to talk and pretend someone is listening. I was also impressed the movie kept the book’s humor. Despite the bleakness of Mark’s challenge, he always impressively kept up his spirits — making fun of the disco music his commander left behind, calling himself the “best botanist on the planet,” and praising the wonder and beauty of duct tape. It was great to see all of that in the movie. Plus, Matt Damon has great comedic delivery.

That said, the movie left some things out, likely for time. Probably Mark’s largest obstacle is a massive sandstorm that makes it hard for him to travel to the area on Mars where he’s supposed to make contact with his crew mates. It’s a supremely harrowing section of the book, and I was shocked that it was cut from the movie. Granted, he still had plenty of other troubles to deal with, but to have taken out the biggest one was surprising. The movie also altered the ending a bit; it changed which crew member grabs Mark in space and makes Mark a little more heroic in that moment.

Probably the biggest change is the very end of the movie, the epilogue-like scene of Mark after the NASA debacle. It  includes an overstated speech that differs from the points Mark makes at the end of the novel. It shouldn’t have differed so much because the last few pages of the novel are some of the book’s best and are a great, grand statement on human nature. But ultimately, this is one of the few movies out there that follows the book so closely, and besides those few, mostly minor changes, both the movie and book are great.

Get The Martian in paperback for $9.

Or on your Kindle for $8.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Dark Places

Libby Day didn’t have an ordinary childhood. She grew up alone — not because her parents both died, nor because she was left behind, but because her mother and two sisters were murdered by her brother. “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas” is her claim to fame even 25 years later, and in many ways, the murders still rule her life. She spent decades surviving off money earned through life insurance policies, donations and book sales from the memoir she wrote. Now her money is running out. Her brother is still in jail. They still don’t talk. And Libby hasn’t started a new life because she can’t let go of her past.

But she then learns a “Kill Club” exists, where people investigate some of the nation’s most infamous crimes and murders. The Day murders are a favorite in the club. When Libby realizes she can take advantage of the club by accepting money from them in return for speaking to other people associated with her brother’s murders, she does it. She is desperate for money. But she soon realizes that most members of the “Kill Club” think she’s weak and a liar. They believe her brother isn’t the killer. Being seven at the time of the murders, Libby doesn’t remember much, so she sets out to re-investigate the murders herself and encounters an entire secret history of the Day family that she never knew existed.

Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places includes many of the same things that readers liked about her more famous bestseller Gone Girl: rotating — and untrustworthy — narrators and perspectives, suspense, mystery, a big twist and general creepiness. Gone Girl has its bloody, gory moments, but Dark Places trumps those. The killing scene is gruesome, and there are sections about sacrifices to Satan that can’t help but cause goosebumps. Generally speaking, the film does a good job of portraying the same creepiness the book offers, but still doesn’t compare.

The casting is a little off. Charlize Theron as Libby Day is all wrong; she is too beautiful, too confident, too “cool” to be the unconfident misfit that is Libby Day. Similarly, Chloe Grace Moretz is too angelic to play a Satan-worshipper. But it’s more than just the casting. The flashback scenes including killing scene is hokey. Shot in black and white and shaky, it looks more “Blair Witch Project” than “Psycho.”

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with the movie, other than to say it just doesn’t feel right. There are a few characters that are left out or killed off, including Libby’s Aunt Diane. Some of the interviews Libby conducts are also excluded. I understand those choices were made for time purposes. Otherwise, the movie follows the book closely enough. But there’s something about it — maybe it’s the fact that the book is just so creepy, so dark, so twisty that it’s hard to create a visual version that can even remotely compare. The movie doesn’t allow us to connect with the characters like the book does — and suddenly I found myself more curious about when the movie would end than “Did her brother really do it?”

Get Dark Places on your Kindle for $7.99.

Or in paperback for $8.33.

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Movie vs. Book: Paper Towns

Margo Roth Spiegelman is Quentin’s miracle. Margo and Quentin grew up next door to each other in Orlando, and though they were close as kids but grew apart during their teen years, Q never stopped pining after her. He had altogether given up on the prospect of them ever being close again. That is, until she sneaks into his room one night and wakes him up to accompany her on an adventure around the city.

Their overnight rendezvous consists of pranking all of Margo’s “friends,” who she’s recently learned haven’t been as good friends as she thought they were. It’s a night to right a lot of wrongs. It’s a night that Q imagines will change his relationship and future with Margo forever. Little did he know, he was right.

After that, Margo disappears. She doesn’t show up to school, and her parents haven’t given up on looking for her after all the random trips and disappearances she’s planned in the past. But Q doesn’t give up. He won’t. Now more than ever, he needs Margo and is on a mission to find her. After some of his own detective work with the help of his friends, Ben and Radar, he discovers where Margo is — a paper town, an unbuilt copyright trap of a town that doesn’t really exist, except on a map — a parallel to Margo’s fakeness. At this point, the friends — and one of Margo’s friends, Lacey, set out on a journey to find Margo.

Up until this point, Paper Towns, the film, follows Paper Towns, the novel, closely. The casting for the movie on pointe, and the teenage coming-of-age feeling of the book is captured on screen. The last act of the film is where the changes from the book set in — for instance, Radar’s girlfriend also accompanies the group on the road trip to Margo. The novel uses prom as the deadline for the road trip, as opposed to an urgency stemming from Margo moving around. But the very end is the most dissimilar.

Without giving anything away, the book’s ending is open for interpretation. It doesn’t feel final, and it’s up to the reader to decide or assume what happens next. The movie shows what happens next. The movie portrays what happens after the Margo meeting. The movie also does it in a way that only Q sees Margo again, and not the other friends. The movie explains how each of the characters winds up several months down the road. And let me tell you something — that ending is far more satisfying than that of the book.

I’m not usually a fan of a movie over the book on which it’s based. But in this case, I didn’t particularly love the book. The ending of the novel was a let-down after all I felt I’d “been through” with the characters. The movie’s ending was not. It was also more focused on friendship than chasing not-so-real love. It was more in line with what would really happy. Plus it gave me the satisfaction of knowing that everyone and everything ended up alright — better than alright. And when you’re talking about such fake things as paper towns, it was refreshing to see an ending that was real.

Get Paper Towns in paperback for $5.72.

Or on your Kindle for $3.99.

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