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Show vs. Book: The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has gone down in history as one of the most feminist novels of all time, earning the author several literary awards in the 1980’s when it was first published. But its debut this summer as a streaming series on Hulu has made the story shockingly relative in Trump’s America. Its themes about a male-dominated misogynist society are eye-opening as every other week it seems more Harvey Weinstein’s and Kevin Spacey’s are coming out of the woodwork.

The book tells the story of Offred, a handmaid who, in a dystopian future, has been forced to serve a family as little more than a mechanism for reproduction after widespread sterility has caused the world population to drop. Essentially raped monthly in the hopes of becoming pregnant, Offred does all she can to not only stay alive but stay sane as she wonders whatever happened to her husband and daughter. The story takes us through flashbacks of her former life as she works to find a way out of this chilling world.

Haunting is the best way to describe Offred’s tale, and that is upheld in the television series. Everything from its cold lighting and cinematography to the many close-ups of Offred’s (Elizabeth Moss’s) face as she is raped, locked in her room, or given opportunities to leave her Commander’s home exemplify the bitterness of this lonely, foreign world.

Turning the 300+ page novel into ten episodes of television allows for more detail and more story, and that’s exactly what the series offers. We learn Offred’s name “from before,” which is a detail never revealed in the novel. We learn exactly what happens to some of Offred’s other handmaid friends, including Ofglen, which — because the book is written strictly from Offred’s perspective is — is also not part of the book. The series also added meetings the Offred’s Commander has with Mexican government officials about adopting the same policies to boost reproduction. There is also an entire episode that shows us where Offred’s husband from her “former life” is now and how he got there.

Where I’m normally upset with how much liberty a show or film takes with a novel, it feels okay here. Maybe it’s because the detail given in the novel is so sparse, it’s simply a given that story would have to be added. Maybe it’s because the show matches the book so well in tone that all feels right with this adaptation. Or maybe it’s because the show is just so well executed with its writing, directing and acting. Whatever the case, the show does an excellent job of using the book as a jumping off point, season one ending exactly where the novel does. The rest of the series moving forward will now be entirely new, unread story and I’m okay with that, as I’m sure Margaret Atwood would be as well.

Get The Handmaid’s Tale in paperback now for $9.99.

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Limited Series vs. Book: Big Little Lies, “When Push Comes to Shove”

The murder is still a mystery but the motivations between characters continue to build in the latest installment of Big Little Lies. Once again, the children’s teacher notices some tension between Ziggy and Amabella, encouraging Jane to take her son to a child psychologist. The psychologist determines he doesn’t have the characteristics of a bully and in fact may be getting bullied at school.

Meanwhile  Jane is starting to feel a release and a new interest in men after revealing (in the last episode) that she was raped by a man named Saxton Banks. Madeline looks up Saxton Banks online and shows a photo of him to both Jane and Celeste — a big shift from the book. In the book, Madeline and Celeste keep their knowledge of Saxton Banks to themselves without bringing it up to Jane.

Meanwhile both Celeste and Madeline and working to conquer and succumb to their troubled marriages. Celeste visits her therapist again — this time, alone — and Madeline cheats on her husband with her co-worker at the theater! Soon after, we learn that this isn’t the first time something like this has happened between them.

I have to say, having Madeline cheat on Ed is a HUGE change from the book and one of which I am NOT a fan. Madeline’s character in the book is nutty and intense, but still likable and having her make a decision like this is the very opposite from likable, especially when Ed is …pretty good. Now it makes sense why the show has put such an emphasis on this whole “Avenue Q” storyline; it was all to build to the tryst and relationship between Madeline and the director of the show. Madeline’s work is mentioned many times in the novel but is not a focal point by any means, and we certainly never learn the names of her co-workers through it. That said, I have to admit I love the following scene in which Madeline very openly tells Celeste what happened and Celeste just laughs and laughs (probably because Celeste doesn’t have the ability to be as open with Madeline, and her secrets are so much darker that Madeline’s little makeout session seems trivial to Celeste).

I’ve noticed that in these past entries, I’ve pointed out a lot of changes the show has made from the book. While I’m not a fan of shows and movies changing adaptations from the story we already know and love, I still love this limited series version of Big Little Lies. Reese Witherspoon’s acting in it is some of the best we’ve seen from her. The show has also done an excellent job at making Celeste and Jane as complicated as they are in the book, which can sometimes be hard to do onscreen when we don’t get to read their thoughts like we can in the book. The editing on the show and all of its random flashbacks and quick shots are incredible and add little pops of knowledge and feeling in a way a book simply can’t.

 

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Limited Series vs. Book: Big Little Lies, “Serious Mothering”

 

The tension between mommies and daddies builds in this second episode of the limited serious version of Big Little Lies, as we get deeper insight into Madeline’s marriage and Celeste’s. We see fewer flashes of police activity alluding to the horrible incident that eventually happens and instead more flashes of graphic and violent sex, as well as the now-recurring images of Jane running down the beach in a blue dress.

Another incident in school happens in this second episode, with the girls daring Jane’s son, Ziggy, and Regina’s daughter, Amabella, to kiss. Though it’s hard to say since we never actually see it. Instead, we only witness the buildup to and aftermath of the “kiss,” much in the same way the show refers to the murder that makes up the main plot of this story.

The kiss that the children are “pushed” to do in class is not part of the book, Big Little Lies. It seems the writers have added this incident as a device to further build tension between all the parents of the children involved. The writers divide the couples even further when, in the episode, Celeste and Madeline attend the same yoga class as Madeline’s ex-husband Nathan and his new wife, Bonnie. Then we learn that Bonnie has helped Madeline and Nathan’s teenage daughter to get birth control pills, pushing Madeline to hate Bonnie even more — and rightfully so! As a stepmom, she absolutely does not have the right to help the teen get birth control when her birth mother is still an active part of her life. This is yet another plot point added to the series that is not part of the book. Yet another thing the series adds in this episode is Madeline’s ex-husband and current husband meeting up for a little “chat,” which quickly turns into a heated exchange.

All of this is an attempt to show the motivations each adult has for one another and adds to the suspense of who’s been murdered and who’s the murderer. All that’s well and good, but it also strays from the book and, in my opinion, just further drags out the story that’s already full of suspense and intrigue. These added scenes and scenarios also make Madeline far less likeable from the way she comes across in the book. Yes, she’s a little nutty in the book, but we still like her.

The show does a good job, however, of foreshadowing some of the big moments to come, including the introduction of Harry Hippo — yes, he actually matters in this story! — and finally we see how abusive Celeste and her husband’s relationship really is. However, her openness about it with Madeline at the bar is a complete 180 from the book.

So far, the show continues to keep in line with basic plot points, and while I see why it’s adding what it’s adding, I don’t know how necessary it really is.

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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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‘X-Files Origins’ YA Books Due in January

If you’re a lover of The X-Files and the recent reboot wasn’t enough for you, there’s no need to worry. According to Entertainment Weekly, just after the new year, a pair of young adult fiction novels will be released detailing Mulder and Scully as teenagers in the late 1970s.

The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate and The X-Files Origins: Agent of Chaos are set to be released on January 3rd and tell the stories of how events in Mulder’s and Scully’s lives led to the professions they entered.

Honestly, I don’t know that adults will be rushing to the bookstore to pick up copies of these books unless it’s for their children. This is clearly the authors’ and publishers’ attempt at trying to pull a younger audience into The X-Files fandom. If successful, it would certainly give young kids something to talk about with their parents. But that’s if it succeeds.

Entertainment Weekly has several excerpts from the new books. 

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‘Mad Men’ Creator Matthew Weiner Pens Novel

120320_innterogation_weiner-crop-rectangle3-largeFinally, a celebrity who’s not writing a self-indulgent memoir but who’s gracing us with what he has already proven to do so well: fiction. “Mad Men’ creator and writer Matthew Weiner has written his first novel, according to The New York Times.

It took him about nine months to write the novel, Heather, the Totality, which is expected to be published by Little, Brown in the fall of 2017. The book sounds absolutely fascinating and perfectly creepy — telling the story of a teenager named Heather from the perspective of multiple characters who are obsessed with her, be it her parents or others vying for her attention.

Publishers who have read it say it’s similar to Henry James or Edgar Allan Poe and is “psychologically very chilling” and “very clever.”

Though Mad Men wasn’t necessarily written with that feeling or tone in mind, I always felt that certain episodes had it — as viewers and other characters just waited and waited for the seemingly inevitable collapse of Don Draper. Same with Tony Soprano in The Sopranos, for which Matthew Weiner also wrote.

Weiner is a man who’s already mastered the craft of writing. This novel is simply a different format, but it doesn’t mean it will be any less artful than that which he’s already created.

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Bryan Cranston To Release Memoir This Fall

“I am the one who knocks” on your…bookshelf? That’s right. Actor Bryan Cranston, who played the infamously beloved Walter White on five seasons of Breaking Bad, is set to release a memoir, A Life in Parts, October 18.

According to Entertainment Weekly, it will includes sections about his most famous roles, including Walter White and the dad on Malcolm in the Middle, as well as sections about his real life.

The best part, though, are the front and back covers of the memoir, which portray Cranston’s uncanny ability to be seemingly friendly and seemingly ferocious. (Truth be told, my fiance and his family ran into Bryan Cranston a few years ago in New York City and said he was extremely friendly.)

Aside from being a big Breaking Bad fan, I have always been fascinated by actors who can vacillate between comedy and drama, as well as those who hit their prime later in life like Cranston did. Coming off one of the most best television series in recent memory, Cranston’s memoir is sure to sell well.

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