Book-to-Movie Classics: A Christmas Carol

In the festive spirit of Christmas, I wanted to be able to talk about a movie that I, and maybe you too, watch every year.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens has been rewritten and remixed a million times.  You see the multiple variations on Hallmark Channel, GMC and ABC Family.  I’ve even written my own version of the classic story.  Everyone has their favorites, but I’m going to share mine here today.

First, let me say the novel is fantastic.  It is a classic you cannot go your whole life without reading; I read my well-worn copy every year.  “The Marleys were dead to begin with; dead as a doornail.”  What a way to start a story, and literally that is the very first sentence in this novel.  Dickens manages to be both inspiring and frightening simultaneously in this tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a decrepit and greedy miser.  He has alienated his nephew, the only member left of his family, and ostracized anyone else who was remotely interested in getting close to him.  His focus is to spend as little money as possible and ignore the plight of those around him, even his faithful clerk, Bob Cratchit, who has a very sick young son.  The story is set in the early 1800s, although I’ve seen it modernized in several variations.

I have three favorite movie translations of this classic story.  The first is the George C. Scott version (1984).  I love it primarily for its brilliant acting, as evidenced by the clip I’ve included for you here.  But also, it reflects the true heart of the story.  Scrooge doesn’t convert too fast, and is deliciously delightful to hate!  The screenwriter and director have done a wonderful job of sticking as close to the original story as possible while adding a theatrical element that keeps you from getting bored.  The music in this movie steals the show!  Man, whoever directed the orchestra in this film knew how to evoke an emotion!  The drama is played perfectly; you even catch yourself laughing at the disillusioned Scrooge and his crude, “hum bug” disposition, especially when he’s being mocked.  If you liked that clip, you can watch the whole version here.

Disney, being the wonderfully talented animators they are, put out their own version of this classic tale in 2010.  It is available in 3D, as well as standard DVD and Blu-ray formats.  It stars none other than the fabulously versatile Jim Carrey, whom I also loved in Disney’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  He has a knack for capturing a character and accentuating their strengths and weaknesses.  Jim, also being a comedian, has added the traditional humor to the story in places you wouldn’t have expected it, but shows he can also be terrifyingly mean in Scrooge’s notoriously dramatic speeches.  Reminiscent of Tom Hanks’ turn in The Polar Express, Carrey plays multiple parts.  In addition to Scrooge, you will see him as the Ghosts of  Marley, Christmas Past and Present, and young Ebenezer.  I will warn parents that although it says Disney, this movie has some very stark and frightening elements that could scare or be too adult for younger children.

My absolute FAVORITE version of this book (and ultimately, my favorite Christmas movie PERIOD) is The Muppet Christmas CarolYes, it’s the Muppets, which immediately makes it a musical, but this, in my opinion is the best version for children.  Like the previous two movies I’ve mentioned, it too sticks very closely to the story, but of course, livens it up in a way no previous story could ever do it.  After all, it’s the Muppets!  Who can tell a story better than the Henson crew?  The Great Gonzo takes the helm as Charles Dickens, narrating the story almost verbatim from the original text of the book.  You can’t get more classic than that.  The DVD offers an extended version, too, that has some songs and scenes the theatrical version lacked.  It also has a “making of” featurette, but if your kids are anything like mine, they won’t want to know the Muppets, or any puppet for that matter, isn’t actually a real person (haha!).  Kermit and Miss Piggy are the humble Cratchits and Michael Caine stars as the infamous Ebenezer.

Now, I have neglected to include Scrooged (1988) with Bill Murray.  I watch this whenever it comes on, and I do love it, but…it strays too much from the traditional version for me.  That’s a good thing when you think about this movie and how it was done, and primarily it’s purpose is to be humorous.  Even the scary parts turn out to be more funny than frightening.  But I love it because it makes me laugh.  Alfre Woodard is a brilliant Cratchit spin, and this is one of Bobcat Goldthwait’s best appearances.  Again, there’s just too much going on here for this to be one of my favorites, although I do love a good comedy.

Happy holidays everybody, and find A Christmas Carol that you love this season!  Don’t forget to tell me all about it 🙂

Book-to-Movie Classics: Think Like a Man

I’m going to start this blog by being honest and admitting I own a copy of Steve Harvey‘s first book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.  I’ll go so far as to say I’ve owned it for awhile.  I will go a step further and say it was a fascinating read.  Any insight into what is ordinarily a very guarded male mind is a welcomed foray.  As a now single woman, fresh off a 10-year relationship gone horribly wrong, and back on the dating scene, I found that a lot of Steve’s comments, while they seem common sense, are things I, and many of my girlfriends, were clueless about were it not for the book.  Every woman has that girlfriend who sleeps with guys on the first date, or the super successful elitist who thinks the bank account makes the man.  There are even those of us who simply believe in love (that’s me) and tend to try to make everything into a fairy tale.  Truth be told (and I’ve confirmed this with some guy friends), Steve got it right, and if women understood how guys love and communicate, we’d be less likely to hold on much too long to the bad relationships and throw away the good.
Steve discusses many aspects about dating that seem or feel taboo to many women.  For instance, how soon is too soon to introduce him to my children?  How long should I wait to be physically intimate?  Why do men cheat?  Do men really want to fall in love?  The answers to these questions are practical and real, albeit not always what you’re expecting.  A lot of the answers to those burning questions are “Because we can.”  Infuriating, right?  But what was more fascinating to me was the empowerment Steve infuses into this book.  The answer is infuriating because you find that you are the reason they can; we put up with it.  And if that individual man knew he couldn’t get away with that with you, he wouldn’t try.  He’d either leave you alone altogether or come correct.  Steve points out the insecurity most women have: the fear of being alone.  And any assertion we have that threatens to scare a man off breeds a desperation within us that screams, “Where will I find another one?”  Steve reassures us that there are good men out there–if we bother focusing our attention on our own self-esteem and demanding for ourselves the respect and love we deserve.
This mantra continues into the adapted movie, Think Like a Man.  In a star-studded cast, Think Like a Man delivers humor and true sentiment in a BIG way.  I must say, Kevin Hart steals the show.  The only divorcing man in the group of men featured, his comedically bitter perspective of relationships on the other side of love is both endearing and real.  Of course, there’s enough chocolate on both sides in this movie: the cast is stacked with some of the most prominent African-American actors in the industry, each bringing their own style and charisma to the screen.  While the archetypes in this film cover broad generalizations–like “Mama’s Boy vs Single Mom”–each actor brings a natural atypical personification to their roles.
I was wonderfully entertained!  I must admit, I didn’t expect to like this movie.  I thought it would be another generic black romantic comedy.  I’ve gotten a bit desensitized to the “happily ever after” endings of rom-coms (seeing as the only one I ever saw that didn’t end that way was The Break-up, the ending of which was oddly dissatifying!).  But, despite the way it ended, I was incredibly captivated.  It was a laugh-out-loud good time, and everything I wanted from a romantic comedy.  You’ll be hard pressed to find a man willing to watch it with you (haha!), but the national rating is a 9 out of 10.
5/5 suns: The movie is an entertaining watch regardless of where you are in your relationship, but the book is a must-read road map for the single woman.


Memoirs of a Geisha

When Memoirs of a Geisha (the movie) was prepping to debut, I heard it was based on a book by Arthur Golden (1997).  Naturally, me being me of course, I wanted to read it before I saw the movie.  I found the book easily enough and was instantly engaged.

The story is about a young girl from Yoroido–Chiyo–who, with her sister, are sold to the geisha province of Kyoto after the death of their mother.  Separated from her sister, Satsu, Chiyo is sold to a geisha house as a maid then eventually given the opportunity to be sent to school to be trained as a geisha.  In an attempt to runaway with her sister, who she finds in the “red light district”, she falls from a roof and is returned to the geisha house injured, where, as punishment, she will remain a slave forever, never to be a geisha.  However, Hatsumomo, the current highest paid geisha in the region, a geisha in the house Chiyo serves, is wrecking havoc left and right for the other houses.  At her current rate, it is Hatsumomo who stands the best chance of being adopted by the mistress and taking over the geisha house, which no other house wants to see happen.  Mameha, Hatsumomo’s fiercest rival, plots to make little Chiyo the new belle of the ball and unseat Hatsumomo from her reign.

Golden weaves a tale of majesty and wonder in a world that otherwise may never have been explored.  Brimming with historic accuracy, we are transported to pre-World War II Japan, where becoming a geisha is one of the highest and respected professions a young girl can achieve.  Little Chiyo becomes Sayuri, and strives to become the most famous geisha in the world.  But the war, and her love for a man–as geishas are not meant to love, prevents her from following her heart and achieving the destiny that she knows is hers.

The movie is as gratifying as the book, while there are of course significant differences in the storyline.  (Again, as I say nearly every month, movies and books are different mediums and have to be judged individually.)  The visual mastery of the film is transcendent and epic.  The culture is portrayed beautifully, weaving a world of majesty and wonder in a way I have never seen before.  I was captivated from the first scene, and have remained so ever since.  The acting is brilliant, and you love to hate Hatsumomo–although, I did feel some empathy for her toward the end.

I know that if you sit down with this book, then turn down the lights and watch this movie, you’re absolutely going to love both.  However, I have to admit I love the movie a little more than the book.  The novel can drag in places in a way the movie does not, and it may have helped the story if the book was written as an actual memoir.  Those points notwithstanding, both mediums are an absolute masterpiece.

5/5 suns: the movie makes up for some of the lull in the book.  Great date or girls night DVD.

Book-to-Movie Classics: The Twilight Series

I am an avid lover of vampires, werewolves, witches/wizards, ghosts, shapeshifters, and all things supernatural and odd.  Knowing my love for vamps, my mother gave me the Twilight series as a Christmas present.  It was supposed to be all the rage.  I started to read–and was almost immediately bored out of my mind.  That’s no slight to Stephenie Meyer; I’ve heard her other books are underrated and well-written.  But the yarn of crap that is the Twilight series makes it easy to hate.  It’s not just the purple prose, the superfluous storylines, or even the werewolves (who prove to be more awesome than the vamps or humans)–it’s the main characters, Bella and Edward.

Isabella is what you’d call a sap.  Her backbone is nearly nonexistent–until she wants to blow up at her doting and attentive parents or defend her passive-aggressive vampire boyfriend.  Is it disgusting to anyone else that Edward, while he looks seventeen, is actually 100 years old digging on a teenager?  And what is with this super-soft, totally unscary sparkling Meyer vampires do?  With a guy shimmering in the sun, how can he possibly be perceived as a dangerous bloodsucker? Why call the series Twilight if vamps are out walking around all day…?  And what exactly is wrong with being with Jacob–who is definitely more human than supernatural, defends the land, is sexy as hell, and genuinely loves Isabella?  To cop out from the obvious choice for a prosperous and happy life and pursue the perverted, possessive, entirely-too-emotional bad boy seems to be the all-too-typical response to teenager fanfare.  Perhaps that’s why these stories have become such a success.

While I am definitely a romantic (the jury is still out on whether or not I’m hopeless), I can’t subscribe to Meyer’s subplot of one soulmate for every person.  It’s too simplistic for a relationship that seems to be scraping for intimacy and respect between the two protagonists.  And what does that imply to the young ones this series is written for?  It inspires a hopelessness when that bad boy disappears–that life will never be right again because he, that jerk who told you who to hang out with and where to be, has gone from your world never to return.  And he was your last chance–even though you’re only like seventeen on the cusp of the rest of your life.

The movies, at least, serve up much more entertainment.  Kristen Stewart does a sufficient job of being as sappy as the character she portrays, and Robert Pattinson appears equally young with all the air of maturity that his character should possess as a 100-yr old vampire.  However, the strong acting, in my opinion, only does well to point out the significant flaws of the franchise.  The weakness in character and storylines are emphasized and are saved only by the filmmaker’s ability to engage the audience with a heavy budget of special effects and predictable action.  The shining star in this series though is Dakota Fanning, playing the evilest of the Volturie, Jane.  Catch her in Twilight: New Moon and Twilight: Eclipse.

Ultimately, this series would have been salvageable if not for the vampire baby that sucks Bella dry from the inside.  How can a human have a vampire’s baby if vampires are dead?  And how would the baby grow up?  Isn’t it vampire too, meaning that it would stay a baby forever?  That part of Meyer’s vampire lore does not coagulate.  And coming up with an intense respect and love for the vampires depicted by Anne Rice, I find it almost impossible to subscribe to the ideas Meyer portrays in her book.  Vampires should not be out in daylight, much less sparkle in the sun and profess undying love to a human whose blood is insanely intoxicating to you.  Coming out at night is the vampire mantra; it can not be altered simply so that a century old vampire can attend high school.

2.5/5 suns: the filmmaker’s ability to engage me in some relatively entertaining action is the only reason Twilight earns the other 1.5 suns.

Book to Movie Classics: The Temptations

Everyone who knows me knows I love movies–but my favorite movies always tend to be musicals.  That means heavy on the great acting and heavy on the incredible singing.  So it’s no wonder that this month’s Book to Movie Classic is The Temptations.  The mini-series, which later was written to DVD film, was produced by Suzanne de Passe, Berry Gordy’s right-hand woman in Artist Development, and Otis Williams, the sole surviving original member of the infamous R&B group The Temptations.  The screenplay was based on a memoir he wrote about the group in 1999 and later re-released in 2002 with an additional chapter about the deaths of Eddie Kendricks and Melvin (Blue) Franklin, who were still alive when the book was first penned.

The book manages to be incredibly insightful.  Otis has a way of telling things like they happened without painting anyone in terribly negative or unfavorable light.  There are no real villains or crooks, nor are there any decidely heroic parties.  The tale is spun so impeccably that it’s hard to question its validity; Otis clearly has a very vivid memory.  You can almost place yourself in the 1960s on a bus or in a hotel watching these young men become men while developing as chart-topping artists.

There have been some very unflattering depictions of David Ruffin and his domestic and drug abuse.  As a matter of fact, his ex-lover and mother of his only son, Genna Sapia, wrote a book about just that, and her relationship with David.  While her book clearly has some bitterness and hostility toward David and some of his bandmates (and other lovers), Otis’ book doesn’t do that.  Even when describing his varied relationships (he was married three times), he fails to be more explicit than to say that he cared deeply for one or the other.  His love for each member of the group is evident from start to finish (even those members the movie never mentions or says little about), and never once does he diminish even the slightest bit the talent and asset each was to the legacy of the group.
The movie is truly a sight, and is, again, one of my absolute favorites.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched it or even how well I know the choreography of each song.  Let’s just say the music is timeless, and it’s truly apparent in this movie.  This clip of “(I Know) I’m Losing You” is one of my absolute favorites because not only does it demonstrate the power and captivation of David’s voice, but it shows the precision and showmanship of this incredible group.
Beyond the music, the cast was expected to perform up to standard; anything less and they wouldn’t be believable as the Tempts.  Many of the actors cast as the original five do also sing; however, some did not re-record many of the songs in the studio prior to filming because their voices did not sound much like the original singers.  Leon, for example, who plays David Ruffin, could not duplicate such a notorious voice, so his scenes are lip-synched, with the exception of his scene with Otis and Melvin at his apartment as he is singing along to “Aint Too Proud to Beg”.
These men create a captivating world riddled with problems from the very beginning.  Members leave the group left and right (again, quite a few are left out of the movie as their parts in the Temptation “movement” were brief and could not be captured in depth on screen), and each is forever aware that no one is indispensible.  No one man would ever be bigger than the group.  And Otis holds to that motto today with the modern day Tempts.  The imagery is fantastic, and, despite its length, the music and depth of character keeps you moving from one scene to the next.
Of course, the way Melvin’s death is depicted in the movie is inaccurate, but because his death occurred right before filming of “Temptations” got underway, it was “much too fresh” on their hearts to recreate it accurately.  However, Smokey Robinson’s song “I’ll Miss You (My Friend)” was actually sung at the real funeral.
 5/5 suns: Both the book and movie are must-have for your collection.  It’s not one of my favorites for nothing!

Book to Movie Classics: The Woman in Black

For those of you who are movie lovers like me, I’m about to give you a goose of a DVD rental: The Woman in Black (2012).  It stars my beloved Harry Potter–I’m sorry, Daniel Radcliffe–and a creepy friggin’ ghost woman that keeps jumping out at the most inopportune moments.

The movie is based on a 1983 novel of the same name by Susan Hill about a young man, Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), who has lost his wife four years ago and has been unable to recoup ever since.  He is on his last legs with his employer who gives him one last shot at retaining employment: travel to Crythin Gifford to settle up the affairs of the recently deceased Mrs. Drablow.  What no one is willing to tell Mr. Potter–I mean, Kipps–is that Eel Marsh House is not only as drab as the former owner’s name, but eerily haunted as well.

I didn’t know the movie was a book until after watched it, but, me being me, I ran out and snagged a copy to read, just to say I had experienced both.  Oddly enough (and probably for the first time ever), I’m glad I watched the movie first.  Not because the book sucked, but because horror films and suspense thriller novels are two very different things.

Let me explain: we’re talking a visual medium versus a written medium.  The written medium requires imagination whereas a film depicts the visuals for you.  The elements required to make a movie scary are decidedly unnecessary in a book.  The Woman in Black was much more suspenseful in that the reader gets an intimate, first-hand look into how Kipps is feeling.  It makes the scary moments much more compelling as he lingers at that door, deciding whether or not he should go in and discover what is making that loud THUMP THUMP THUMP-ing noise.  And of course, certain elements under which he encounters said ghost are lingering and more ominous.  For example, in the book, Kipps first sees the ghost at church, where you’d expect to be safe from such things, not at the house the way the movie depicts.  This scene, as it plays out in the book, would not have been as creepy in the movie.

Scary movies on the other hand rely entirely on the visual experience.  Odd goings-on in the main character’s background that the audience can see but the character can’t are necessary to keep the audience’s interest.  I can’t tell you how many times I yelled aloud, “Look out, Harry!”  (Snap, you know I meant Arthur.)  Or, “Don’t go in there, what the H-E-double hockey sticks is wrong with you?!”  I jumped numerous times, huddled behind my pillow, and at one point, I turned the darn thing off, saying, “That’s it, I’m friggin’ scared.”  My son came into the room toward the end of the movie and asked me, “Mommy, why are you hiding in the kitchen?” as I peeked precariously around the corner at the TV screen.

Needless to say at this point, both mediums scared the crap out of me.  I like scary movies that actually scare me.  A horror film that succeeds in being predictably unentertaining is a failure.  But to be genuinely anxious during a film (and then creeped out by it 48 hours afterward) is a win in my book.  The novel does the same by being foreboding and mysterious in all the right places, and filling in all the blanks the movie doesn’t have the time to.  Are there obvious differences between the movie and the book?  There always are, but in this instance, you come to the other side thoroughly satisfied with both…even if your pants are a little more moist than when you started.

The Adjustment Bureau

So, this week I got to enjoy a wonderful movie: The Adjustment Bureau (2011).  The star of the film is Matt Damon, who we all loved in the Bourne series, and of course, his breakout role, Good Will Hunting.  His leading lady is Emily Blunt, who recently did the voice of Juliet in Gnomeo & Juliet (2011).  This amazing film, directed by George Nolfin, is based on an incredible short story, “The Adjustment Team”, again by Philip K. Dick.  (Remember, we talked about him in my Short Stories to Film post.)

The movie, and short story, is about David Norris (Damon), a young politician whose congressional career is floundering, primarily due to wayward impulse.  He meets Elise (Blunt), a talented dancer, in a men’s room who inspires him to give his greatest speech to date, and sends him down his pre-ordained path.  However, a chance meeting with Elise on the metro bus causes David to see some things he otherwise wouldn’t have, starting a spiral of rebellion against a group of supernatural beings otherwise known as The Adjustment Bureau.
This movie/story is inspiring with its subtle spiritual undertones.  However, because of Dick’s scientific background, there are gentle implications about the validity of God’s judgment, as depicted in the reference of the Plan.  The Adjustment Bureau and its agents are constantly admonishing David about deviating from the Plan and how the world will change drastically, for the worst, if he insists on fighting for his love affair with Elise.
But the film/story raises the question, too, if one is truly in control  of one’s own destiny.  Is free will simply an illusion to give us a sense of choice; is our life already planned for us and we’re simply unaware that we’re traveling down a road that was mapped out well before our own existence?  Depending on your religious background or faith, you probably have a pretty solid answer to this.  But it’s an age-old question that mankind has struggled with for centuries.
No one wants to believe they are not in control of their own destiny.  Everyone wants to feel that they have the opportunity to change the course of their future at any time, hence the reason many of us deny the existence of an omniscient, omnipresent Higher Power.  But whether the Superior you believe in plans your future for you or is simply instrumental in seeing that you get where you’d like to be, this film puts in perspective mankind’s need to take responsibility for his actions and the road he’s traveling rather than relying solely on the nature of divinity.
The Adjustment Bureau is out on Blu-ray and DVD through Universal Studios.
The Adjustment Bureau, Official Trailer