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Limited Series vs. Book: Big Little Lies, “Somebody’s Dead”

A blur of flashing red and blue lights, flashes of women in pearls, and images of Elvis and detectives spin in a dizzying display of a dress-up event gone wrong in the opening minutes of the premiere episode of Big Little Lies. The HBO limited series is set to adapt the bestselling Liane Moriarty novel of the same name over the course of seven hour-long episodes.

The density and complexity of the novel certainly lends itself to being a limited series and not a movie that would inevitably leave out plot points for time. That said, the premiere episode starts off a little slow. It focuses on exposition, bringing both the drama of the “Blonde Bobs” — or crazy mothers — around which the murder mystery story revolves and the comedy — particularly from Reese Witherspoon, who plays the character of Madeline.

School orientation is a stressful day for everyone, including children and parents. Madeline proves as much by almost getting into a car crash with a car full of teens, including her daughter from her first marriage and then twisting her ankle. This is where the story starts, in a flashback after the first few minutes establish someone has died at a school fundraiser. This opening episode stays (mostly) true to the story, setting the tone for the tiny beach town of stuck-up mothers and their precocious children.

We meet Madeline, her daughters, her husband, ex-husband and his new wife, Bonnie, as well as Madeline’s best friend Celeste and new friend Jane. Each has kids in the same first grade class, where little Amabella is apparently choked on the first day by a boy in class. She places blame on Ziggy, Jane’s son, who denies having hurt the little girl.

That’s about as far as we get into the story, but in some beautifully shot flashback images, we get the idea that Jane and Celeste have some pretty haunting histories. The visual markers of this are perhaps less subtle than those in the book, but they certainly grab attention.

Differences from the book include the story happening in California instead of Australia and the kids being in first-grade instead of kindergarten (perhaps another year allows for them to be more mature and have more of a voice than in the book?). The series also softens the relationship between Madeline and her older daughter. While they’re sour with each other in the first half of the episode, they have a nice moment at the end that doesn’t really happen in the book until — well, ever. In the show, Ziggy also asks his mother why Amabella said he choked her when he didn’t. That doesn’t happen in the book. While that may seem like a minor detail, it’s really an important one for the overall story and works to make the viewer more sympathetic to Ziggy and Jane.

But the story is so good, the setup so well done, the child actors so good, and Reese Witherspoon’s portrayal of Madeline so comically spunky, there’s no doubt I’ll be watching the rest of the series.

 

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Movie vs. Book: Inferno

**Note: This post does include spoilers about both the novel and movie versions of Inferno. 

Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital. He has been shot, doesn’t realize that he’s in Florence, Italy — and not Boston, Massachusetts — and doesn’t remember anything that’s happened in the last 48 hours. So begins Inferno, the latest and easily one of the best of Dan Brown’s bestsellers conspiracy thriller novels that have been captivating readers since The Da Vinci Code was released.

In the latest adventure, Langdon teams up with his nurse, Sienna Brooks, and finds a projector in one of his pockets that displays Botticell’s Map of Hell. He knows that whatever reason he’s in Italy, it must have something to do with this map. Over the course of the novel, he discovers that he has been brought to Italy by the World Health Organization to solve a puzzle, whose answer indicates the location of some kind of virus or plague created by a billionaire geneticist named Bertrand Zobrist. Zobrist is well-known for his teachings against overpopulation, so it makes sense he would create a plague that would wipe out the population.

The reason why I believe Inferno was such a successful Dan Brown novel is because it veered far from the others, avoiding the format we’ve come to expect from a Robert Langdon novel. Langdon wakes up and not only has to solve the puzzle, but his amnesia is so bad, he doesn’t even know why he’s solving it!  The young ingenue with whom Langdon teams up is actually working against him! And what’s more — he does NOT solve the puzzle in time! The plague gets out after all. The end of Inferno is not only sad, it’s unsettling and alarming.

The movie followed the book so well until the moment when the characters arrive at the Hagia Sofia in Turkey, where the plague is expected to be released. The movie ends there. Langdon locates the soluble bag that contains the virus, Sienna is killed, and the WHO gets the bag before it dissolves and leaks out the virus. The novel, however, has much more story. We find out that yes, Sienna Brooks was working against Langdon, but she also wants to stop the virus from getting out and is essentially a good person. In the novel, they also learn that the virus had been released a week earlier anyhow, so the chase that led them there was irrelevant; it’s already out. The good news is that the plague is not a deadly one, but one that causes sterility.

It’s obvious why the movie adaptation’s ending is so different. Everyone wants a Hollywood ending. The idea of the movie ending with a sterility plague released is horribly pessimistic. Not to mention, viewers would condemn the fact that Langdon wasn’t really much of a hero after all. On the other hand, the book ending the way it did totally works. Sure, it’s unsettling, but it makes you think. People watch movies to make them happy. People read books to make them think.

Get Inferno now in paperback for $7.40.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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‘Big Little Lies’ Coming to HBO

If you haven’t yet read Liane Moriarty’s huge bestseller, Big Little Lies — don’t worry, I haven’t yet either!– there’s now more incentive to do it. The bestselling novel is coming to HBO in the form of a limited series.

According to Collider, the series is set to debut in 2017, and it looks awesome. I only found out about this a few weeks ago when I was watching HBO and saw the trailer.

The series stars Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Adam Scott and Laura Dern. It’s interesting that it’s set to air in this way on HBO, but apparently the story is complex enough to warrant more than your standard 120-minute feature, and the cast is so good, well, does it really even matter how long it is?

Meanwhile, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Liane Moriarty adaptations. According to Variety, Witherspoon and Kidman have already teamed up to produce a movie version of Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Guilty. 

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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: 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: 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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