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Movie vs. Book: Wonder

Auggie Pullman is a wonder. The fact that he’s made it to his tenth birthday is a wonder. The fact that he agrees to go school starting in fifth grade is a wonder. That’s because Auggie was born with a number of different medical conditions, resulting in severe deformities in his face. Countless surgeries have helped improve the way he hears, sees, eats and looks, but his face still looks unlike most other 10-year-olds. Until now, he’s been homeschooled by his mom, and he is brilliant. But ultimately his parents decide it’s time to acclimate him to other kids his age, so they enroll him in private school.

The transition is anything but easy. The children claim he has “The Plague” and avoid touching him. They compare him to movie characters who have had their faces badly burned in fires. He is bullied and frankly, psychologically tormented. But because of an orientation that introduces him to a few kids, he finds a friend in Jack Will. Jack Will and a girl named Summer become his two friends in a sea of bullies, until he overhears something one day that makes him think it’s all been a lie.

The book varies in narrators, going back and forth between Auggie, Auggie’s older sister Via, Jack Will, Summer and several others. Each of them are going through a tough time, mostly because of the drama that comes with being close to Auggie. But they love him despite it all. That loves forces them to stand up for him to everyone else.

Wonder is a beautiful young adult novel about friendship, love, kindness, and character over looks, and the movie follows the story closely bringing along with it the emotional impact that book left on my heart. Yes, both the book and movie are tearjerkers. And yes, as per usual, the movie eliminates some things. It cuts out one of Via’s friends entirely. It also decreases the number of narrators (the book has a few sections narrated by some tertiary characters as well) and removes the book’s epilogue. But none of these changes affect the story in any way or the intention behind any of the characters and their actions.

While reading the book, I wondered (see what I did there??) how the movie would pull it off. After all, the book revolves around mostly 10-year-old boys and girls. Would casting agents be able to find as many young actors as was needed for this story? But they did! Jacob Tremblay plays the perfect Auggie and with Julie Roberts and Owen Wilson playing his parents, there’s a good balance of emotion and humor.

It’s also fair to say both the book and movie should not be read and seen by just children or young adults, but by adults too. After all, we could also use a good lesson in how wondrous kindness can be.

Get Wonder in hardcover for $10.19. 

Or get it 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: Nights in Rodanthe

In my mind, Nights in Rodanthe is one of the few Nicholas Sparks novels not about puppy love, but about second-chance love, the kind of love that comes later in life. This is the story of Adrienne and Paul, who meet while trying to both deal with and escape from their own lives by spending a weekend at an inn on a beach in Rodanthe.

It’s a story of love, loss, and hope for a future later in life. However, the general plotline is about the only thing that is accurately translated from book to movie. The storytelling and circumstances are different. In the book, Adrienne is retelling the story of she and Paul to her daughter years after the relationship ends. In the movie, we never see that fast-forwarded timeline.

But the biggest change is that in the book, Adrienne takes the weekend to get away from her children, sick father, and remarried ex-husband. In the movie, her father has already died, and what’s stranger, she is not divorced from her husband. In fact, in the opening scene of the movie, the two are estranged after her husband had an infidelity, and he (Law and Order: SVU‘s Christopher Meloni) is now pathetically begging her to take him back.

It sounds like a minor detail, but there are a number of issues with this change; this turns Adrienne’s romantic lovefest of a weekend with Paul into a full-on affair because, after all, she is still married. Of course her marriage is failing, and this relationship makes her realize why she shouldn’t get back together with her husband. But nonetheless, it makes her a cheater, and that does nothing to help her character.

The other problem is that it was so far from how the book was written, it felt forced — as though the directors were just trying to find a way to give Chris Meloni a more substantial role in the movie because he’s a familiar face.

Speaking of familiar faces, the casting in the film was excellent. Diane Lane plays a fun, awkward, and overwhelmed Adrienne. Richard Gere is perfect as the stoic Paul who then becomes a better man. Even James Franco gives a solid performance as Paul’s son, Mark — though the role is minor.

But like almost every other Nicholas Sparks book that becomes a movie, it just doesn’t feel quite right. The story is too rushed. There’s not enough background. Knowing what we know about the characters’ history and experiences in the book makes the rest of the story more believable. However, in the movie, there’s simply not enough time to give a clear telling of those back stories.

Instead of logical and steady, the relationship between Adrienne and Paul seems random and too much too soon. The passion comes across onscreen, but the story feels all kinds of unrealistic.

Watch the trailer here.
Get Nights in Rodanthe in paperback or on your Kindle for $7.99.

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Review: Dear John

Recap: It’s a story we’ve all heard before. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy goes off to war. Sadness ensues. But the story of Dear John goes a little further. Not only must the soldier and protagonist, John, return to his duties in Germany and leave behind his new girlfriend, Savannah. He must also say goodbye to his father, who suffers from Asberger’s syndrome.

Dear John is a love story between John, who’s on leave from the military, and Savannah, who’s building homes during her spring break from UNC. The unlikely two fall in love in just a few weeks. But in that time, Savannah — who is studying psychology at school — points out to John that his father may be autistic. Even though that would explain his father’s isolation and awkwardness, the suggestion erupts into a fight that ultimately brings John and Savannah — and John’s father — closer together.

Before they know it, John and Savannah are two halves of a (very) long-distance relationship. After a year, John returns to Savannah, and though things have changed, their feelings for each other have not. John, once again, goes back to the army. But then September 11th happens. And though he promised Savannah he wouldn’t re-sign, he feels obligated to venture off to Afghanistan. And that one decision is the one that would change both of their lives forever.

Analysis: In true Nicholas Sparks fashion, Dear John is a love story that not only deals with the hardships of love and the questions about fate and destiny, but with disease and chronic illness. The story focuses on the effects of autism, pertaining to John’s father. It also deals with physical illness — cancer — from which Savannah’s friend, Tim, suffers. Throw war on top of that, and you’re dealing with a book that has a lot of heavy issues.

The first part of the book focuses on the love story between the two main characters, but the latter portions are much darker. The characters brood, yearn for each other, and generally make the reader depressed. Not to mention, John and his father are rather likable, but I didn’t love Savannah. She was too much of a “goody-goody,” and an annoying one at that. The problem here is that if I don’t love her, it’s hard for me to understand why John does. Therein lies a major flaw.

I still enjoyed the book regardless. There’s really nothing like a romance — no matter how annoying the characters are. And the parts about the war were also done well. Though I wasn’t a fan of the ending, I understood that it was reality. Sometimes our lives don’t go the way we plan, and sometimes it’s our own fault. But that’s the way it is, and that’s what Dear John is really all about.

MVP: John’s dad. As Savannah blatantly points out throughout the novel, John’s father did an excellent job of raising him, despite his autism. As more and more illnesses are discovered, doctors realize that older patients were overlooked in their youth. That seems to be the case here. When John’s father was young and a little “off,” there was no reason to believe anything was actually wrong with him. The idea of this character is a good one, and Sparks does it the right way.

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