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Last year, we teamed up to write “What Makes a Good YA Love Story?”, and much of our answer to that question was based on the epically beloved, critically acclaimed 2012 novel, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. What we both loved so much about this damn-near perfect teen love story is that, though Hazel and Augustus are dying of cancer, their connection is life-affirming. Hazel and Gus are genuine, three-dimensional, intricate, and irresistibly quirky characters, and we couldn’t wait to see them come alive on the screen. As the release of the film adaptation (Fox, June 6th, 2014) rolled around, we jumped at the chance to see it, reflect on it, and review it together.
Naturally, not just any showing would do, so we attended “The Night Before Our Stars,” on Thursday, June 5th, a screening of the movie before its opening the next day. Attendees received charm bracelets and posters, and after the movie, viewed live musical performances and a Q&A with director Josh Boone; producer Wyck Godfrey; John Green; and actors Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, and Nat Wolff. Our theater was packed with teens, some even sporting “Okay? Okay.” T-shirts. This was a committed crowd of fans.
And they were not disappointed. The movie is excellent. It brings the spirit of the book to life, even as it necessarily simplifies some of the material to fit into two hours. As John Green, who was heavily involved in production, mentioned in the live interview, the movie doesn’t “Hollywoodize” the story — something Hazel would have hated. It’s sensitive, teen-oriented, sweet — and, of course, you’re probably going to cry, so remember to bring tissues. (Kleenex even tweeted: “Going to see “The Fault in Our Stars”? You may want to bring a Kleenex® Slim Pack along…”)
The remarkable thing about TFiOS is how perfectly it reflects the lives of today’s teens. Hazel and Augustus type on their MacBook Airs, use Gmail, and text on their iPhones. (A neat feature of the movie is the way texts appear on the screen in literal bubbles, “popping” once the viewer has read them.) In one scene, Hazel is waiting to hear back from Gus, and, as any teen with a crush would do, she keeps an eagle eye on her phone; when she finally hears from him while eating dinner, she’s hopelessly giggling and texting while her baffled parents look on. Both teen characters also looked the part: when they first (literally) bump into each other at a cancer support group meeting, Hazel sports Converse sneakers, a T-shirt, and sweatpants; Gus, a leather jacket and ultra-cool retro-looking Nikes (untied).
The chemistry between Hazel and Gus, too, is completely believable. From that first encounter before cancer support group to their first kiss in Amsterdam’s Anne Frank Museum, their connection is electric. Later, the bedroom scene, potentially tricky for a PG-13 audience, is awkward, playful, and sweet: Gus is vulnerable about his missing leg; Hazel’s T-shirt gets stuck on her cannula.
This is a movie, after all, so it’s no surprise that there’s more romanticizing than in Green’s book, mainly the stars’ healthy glow and fresh-faced complexions for most of the film. But Woodley and Elgort are heartthrobs, and they are both adorable here, even with Hazel’s cannula and Gus’s prosthetic leg. Their performances are also strong: Shailene Woodley invested herself emotionally in playing Hazel, and it shows. She got Hazel’s intelligence, cynicism, and sarcasm down, but also her humanity and compassion. And she’s a beautiful incarnation — again, perhaps an idealized one, but the book’s fans won’t be disappointed with how Woodley illustrates its heroine. Meanwhile, Elgort connects with Gus’s confidence and swagger — our audience literally squealed at the first close-up shot of his face.
Thanks to a cast that seems to have gotten very close to Green’s story and its characters, performances are strong across the board. Laura Dern’s portrayal of concerned mom Mrs. Lancaster is masterful; there’s a moment where Hazel calls for her and she materializes comically fast, out of breath and soaking wet in a towel, panic written across her face. And with his overgrown facial hair, bad teeth, and almost tangible whiskey breath, Willem Dafoe’s handling of Hazel’s author idol Peter Van Houten impressed us perhaps the most for the way he oozes nastiness, physically and emotionally.
Once the movie was over, and everyone in the theater was in a puddle of tears, singer and pianist Birdy did a live performance of “Not About Angels” from the movie (which made Woodley cry). Then, host Alton Brown took questions from people in the auditorium in Georgia, as well as from Twitter. From the cast and filmmakers’ answers, we learned that director Josh Boone was very instrumental in compiling the soundtrack, which he strived to make “tonally right” (it so, so was), and that during the hilarious scene of Hazel and Gus helping by-that-time blind Isaac pelt eggs at his ex’s house, one throw was too perfect, and landed inside the home on loan for the shoot. We even saw John Green’s deleted cameo appearance as the father of the girl who asks Hazel about her cannula in the airport (he should stick to his day job). Most importantly, Green expressed his gratitude to everyone for “making a movie that’s so sensitive to the book.” We couldn’t agree more.
The post The Fault in Our Stars movie review appeared first on The Horn Book.
In the world of Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, the dystopian city of Chicago is run through a personality-based system of grouping. The five factions, to one of which every person belongs, are Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Abnegation, with its focus on humility and selflessness, acts as the political power; Amity, the good-natured, peaceful types, are the city’s farmers; Candor, those who value truth above all else, work as the judging body; Erudite are the thinkers and creators; and Dauntless, the bold, are what amounts to a standing army. Children are raised within the faction of their birth but, when they come of age, take a test to tell them where they truly belong. Beatrice (a.k.a Tris) from Abnegation takes her test only to find that she is Divergent — that is, she displays traits characteristic of more than one faction. Divergence is rare, and considered shameful and very dangerous. Tris is forced to dedicate her life to one faction (she chooses Dauntless) and keep her Divergence a secret.
The movie adaptation, directed by Neil Burger (Summit, March 2014), stars Shailene Woodley (from The Descendants and The Secret Life of the American Teenager). Slight and unremarkable-seeming at first, Woodley looks the part of the self-abnegating teen. As the story goes on, she grows into her role as a good YA dystopian female protagonist: sensitive but tough, and the consummate underdog. Woodley is a strong actor, reaching the emotional depths necessary for a character as out of her element as Tris. As the stakes get higher and the situations all the more impossible, Woodley’s Tris remains a hero to root for.
Theo James plays The Love Interest, Four, exactly as we would want him to be played: moody, strong, sexy, vulnerable, and surprisingly funny. Kate Winslet is intelligent and devious as the power-grabbing Jeanine, Tony Goldwyn (Scandal‘s POTUS) is totally believable as an ascetic politician, and Jai Courtney’s Eric is just plain scary. Altogether, the cast delivers an engaging and downright exciting performance, their stories developed over the backdrop of a surreally beautiful dystopian world. I also appreciate some of the content decisions — especially the depiction of sexual assault (in a controversial scene created for the movie) as a very real and constant fear in this society and Tris’s capable, Dauntless response to it.
But I have so very many questions. And while some of them are questions about gaps in the world-building (How does the train keep running? Can anyone be kicked out of a faction at any time? Who is behind all the technological advances in what appears to be a fairly stagnant society?), others raise more problematic issues.
If there is a line between bravery and recklessness, Divergent smashes it to bits. The movie defines bravery as actively choosing to do something scary even though you’re afraid. And yet, the film also portrays Dauntless characters doing scary and downright reckless things without thinking and without fear. I ask you, how can an individual be considered “dauntless” by being both thoughtful and thoughtless at the same time? What is up with the Dauntless, anyway? Why do they run everywhere whooping and pounding their fists? Is that what bravery looks like?
As to costuming — the use of color palettes for the individual factions is very well done, clearly delineating the five groups with visual representation. But… of course the Dauntless are shown as pierced, tattooed, and primarily black-clad. Coming from an individual who is both tattooed and pierced (and who also wears primarily black), I must tell you that tattooing, piercing, and dressing all in black do not a badass make. (Honestly, I’m pretty sure I would be placed in whichever faction is the most cowardly.) Isn’t it time to find another way to show an audience that a group of characters are “dangerous”?
Divergent was an entertaining movie with strong acting, beautiful visual effects, and an exciting plot. Yes, I have questions. Hopefully, the second movie will clear them up for me — because I will definitely be checking it out.
The post Divergent movie review appeared first on The Horn Book.
I saw a movie review for How I Live Now this weekend. The movie seemed to come out of nowhere. This was a big book when it was published and a good one. I can't find the movie review I read on-line, but it was pretty similar to the one in The New York Times, saying that Saoirse Ronan is good, but who is this movie for?
I read Austenland by Shannon Hale a few years ago and thought it an interesting work. I have to say, though, for me the big draw for the movie is Jennifer Coolidge. However, Jane Seymour looks pretty commanding in the one trailer I've been able to find.
Jeff Bridges Making "The Giver" Movie.
Hmmm. Hmmm. The name "Jonas" sounds familiar. And...and...was there a sled at the end?
Now that March has finally arrived, we’re officially in the “T-minus” phase for The Hunger Games movie adaptation, hitting theaters on March 23.
In anticipation, I’ve been perusing several pieces of fine literature, to wit: The Hunger Games: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion (Scholastic, February), Stars in the Arena: Meet the Hotties of The Hunger Games (Simon Pulse, February), and The Hunger Games Tribute Guide (Scholastic, February).
The Official Illustrated Movie Companion is fairly comprehensive, with bios, behind-the-scenes photos, and making-of trivia. We hear from author Suzanne Collins herself, the director, the producer, all the cast members, set designers, costume designers… it’s a big love-fest. There are also lots of huge, shiny pictures of prettiness. The takeaway: the people in the Capitol are going to be fun to look at. And keep an eye out for Wes Bentley’s beard. You’ll know it when you see it.
Speaking of things that are fun to look at, in Stars in the Arena: Meet the Hotties of The Hunger Games, we discover the answers to such questions as “Could Jennifer Lawrence survive in the wild like Katniss?”, “Is Josh Hutcherson as romantic as Peeta?”, and “Is Liam [Hemsworth] in love with Jen in real life?” …Wait, is he?
Sadly, they’re just friends, but I was totally whipped into a frenzy of fandom right there.
There’s obviously a conflation of the actors and their characters in all of these books, but it reaches a whole new level in the Tribute Guide, which begins with a sinister “Citizens of Panem, are you ready?” Now we’re the audience both in the real world and in the story? Not sure how I feel about that. The rest of the meta-exercise is essentially a program for viewers watching the book’s reality TV show, The Hunger Games.
Ooh, when are they going to make the TV show?
Yup, it’s definitely T-minus time.
In honor of Dr. Seuss’s 108th birthday (happy birthday Ted!), the premiere of the new animated The Lorax film, and the annual Read Across America Day, I took a look at David A. Carter’s The Lorax Pop-up! book (Robin Corey Books/Random House, January). After all, I am a reviewer. I speak for the books!
This edition keeps the original text intact, which I appreciated. Reading the story aloud at my desk, I relished each Seussian rhyme in stanzas scattered across the eight colorful spreads. Seuss’s tall Truffula Trees and the Once-ler’s factory are perfectly suited to appear as pop-ups; gatefold panels offer additional pop-ups, pull tabs, and special effects to bring the story to life. As with any pop-up book, if read enough times this one will show its age eventually, but the spreads are well chosen and Seuss’s text and illustrations are creatively placed. I only wish Random House would have used recycled paper—it would have been appropriate given the book’s message!
And here’s another Lorax-related treat: check out Stephen Colbert’s discussion of the plethora of movie tie-ins that have been popping up everywhere (and in unlikely places). Enjoy his tribute to Seuss’s rhymes at the end of the clip!
A new version of Jane Eyre will be hitting movie screens soon. Don't think for a minute that I wasn't aware of it just because I hadn't mentioned it.
Slate carries a run-down of Jane Eyre adaptations. I totally agree with the author about the splendors of the 2006 version.
Why are there so many film treatments of Jane Eyre? This is a question made far more interesting to me because I am one of those who believe Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a Jane Eyre variation, and that thing gets a film remake in England very regularly.
Yeah, what's that about?
This past weekend we saw a French movie while my French-speaking cousins were visiting. Turns out that the star, Gad Elmaleh, will appear in the Tintin movie. You do have to scroll down quite a way to find him.
Oh sure. He seems like a nice man. He loves his wife and daughter. He worked for Sesame Street. He does low-paying lectures to the public for free at the library (more on THAT later). But what do we really know about Mo Willems? What if he had some deep dark secret in his past. What if.... WHAT IF ....
He made graphic novels!!!
Okay. So posting this information on your blog kind of negates the whole "deep dark secret" thing. Granted. What I love about the panels I've seen is that if you're familiar with Mo's books, you can sort of piece together whether or not they look like his style. They do. It was called The 7th Helper and it was supposed to take place outside of the DC Universe. So where's the GN today? Says Mr. W, "DC said they’d release it as a B&W manga, which I don’t believe, but still hope for." It seems to me that with the rise in Mo's popularity, his audience is growing up and getting into graphic novels. And what with graphic novels being bigger than ever (i.e. bought by libraries) the time couldn't be better to release a Mo Willems bit of graphic paraphernalia. Heck, if Tek Jansen can do it, so can Mr. Mo.