Thursday, February 27, 2014

Guest post by Spencer Blohm - From the Pages to the Pictures.

Hollywood turning to literature for stories is no new phenomenon. As long as film has existed, so has the movie adaptation of novels. Some of Hollywood’s adaptations have been fantastic, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Godfather, and Schindler’s List to name a few. 

Unfortunately, it seems the bad ones are frequently the ones people remember most (who can forget the weird attempt to sex up 1995’s The Scarlet Letter?). Well, as per usual, there are a slew of book-to-film adaptations preparing for premiere in 2014. It’s only the end of February and already Vampire Academy, Labor Day, and The Monuments Men have all been released in theaters. That being said, there are some that look promising, so let’s take a look at a few of the films that are already showing potential.

            Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are teaming up, yet again, for his gritty adaptation of the book of the same name by Ron Rash. The team play Serena and George Pemberton, a couple attempting to create a lumber empire in North Carolina during the Great Depression. The film documents Serena’s personal and mental struggles after she learns of her inability to have children and the couple becomes increasingly ruthless in their quest to make a fortune.

            The film was actually shot in 2012, right after Silver Linings Playbook finished, but director Susanne Bier was so meticulous about the editing that it was only just shopped around to distributors late last year. The anticipation for this film seems to come from both Cooper’s and Lawrence’s fan bases, and should surely pick up even more soon, since the film is set to be released in April. I would expect it to be a successful film, given both actors’ past successes as well as the fact that Bier has previously been awarded an Oscar for her work.

The Fault in Our Stars
            Based on the 2012 novel by John Green, this film will tell the story of Hazel, a sixteen-year-old cancer patient. While undergoing treatment for her Stage 4 thyroid cancer, her parents force her to participate in a support group for other teenages fighting the disease. It’s there she meets Augustus Waters, who lost a leg to osteosarcoma and is currently in remission. The two of them develop a friendship, which eventually evolves into a romance. Hazel fights her urge to pull away from Augustus to spare him any future pain if she loses her fight to cancer.

            Star-on-the-rise Shailene Woodley (who is no stranger to film adaptations after starring in both The Spectacular Now and the soon to be released Divergent) will perform the role of Hazel and Ansel Elgort (also starring in Divergent) will play Augustus. In addition to these two, Laura Dern will take the role of Hazel’s mother and Willem Dafoe will join the cast as Peter Van Houten, a Dutch author who befriends the duo.

            Fans have been incredibly enthusiastic about the upcoming film as evidenced by these tweets compiled by ViralHeat. At least these fans know exactly what kind of tearjerker they’re in for when it arrives in theaters, and will hopefully come prepared with some extra tissues to share.

The Giver
            It’s taken an incredible 20 years to get Lois Lowry’s The Giver from the page to the screen. After its 1993 publication, film rights to the young adult novel were purchased by, of all people, Bill Cosby. As things in Hollywood go the production was bogged down by pre-production issues that delayed the making for two decades. Luckily, the film is set to be released in August with a superstar cast and heavy anticipation.

            The now almost-classic book tells the story of a dystopian society called the “Community” where residents give up basic human rights, like choosing your spouse or procreation, in exchange for never having to feel any negative emotions. While it may seem like a utopia of sorts, the dark truth comes out when Jonas, a youngster in the community, is assigned the role of Receiver of Memory during his Ceremony of Twelve. What he discovers while working with his mentor, the Giver, will change both him and the Community forever.

            The role of Jonas was given to Australian actor Brenton Thwaites, who is an emerging talent in Hollywood and has already gained fame in his native Australia. His parents are played by Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes, while the role of Rosemary, the former Receiver of Memory, was surprisingly given to Taylor Swift. Oscar winners Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep pack the real punch in this cast, as they will be playing the Giver and Chief Elder, respectively.

            The reaction online has been both positive and negative. Many people have expressed their excitement at the decision to have Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges playing two of the most important characters in the book, while many others have voiced their grievances at Taylor Swift being cast in such a titular role.

Spencer Blohm is a freelance entertainment, culture, and lifestyle blogger. He lives and works in Chicago. When not working he can be found camped out in his apartment watching the latest films and newest television shows.

Friday, February 21, 2014

I watched Austenland!

A few years ago I listened to the audio version of Austenland by Shannon Hale,  a fun and entertaining story of a young woman, ulucky in love and obsessed with Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy.  She books an experience vacation to Austenland and has to immerse herself in the customs and dress of the Regency period and play out the dramas the trip presents to her.

I just finished watching the movie based on the book (produced by author Stephanie Meyer - who knew?)  starring Keri Russell, JJ Field, Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Seymour.

The movie was delightful and fun although maybe a bit lacking in the buildup of relationships and some of the plot execution.  I felt that they showed one of Jane's love interests, Mr. Nobly express his interest more quickly than in the book, but ah well.  They only had under 2 hours.  Jennifer Coolidge as Miss Charming came to the show with her over the top antics and one liners.

At first I didn't like Mr. Nobly.  I didn't find him attractive and I was disappointed because I thought -How am I going to connect to him?  But then just like Lizzie Bennet's Darcy, he grew on me and I found him extremely appealing.

Of course, the HEA was terrific!

Keep watching during the credits for the fun music video.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Passage.

Title/Author:  The Passage by Justin Cronin.

Genre:  Horror.  Post Apocalyptic.

Publisher: Ballantine Books.

Source:  Purchased.


First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment.  Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered.  All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear - of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primallandscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary.  FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he's done in the line of duty.  Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has trigged apocalypse.  Wolgast is determined to protect her from the horro set loose by her captros, but for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey - spanning miles and decades - toward the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.   ~Product Description.

Midnyte Musings:   (Please note:  Contains spoilers!)  The Passage is an ambitious novel.  It covers a long period of time, countless characters and many plot threads and twists and turns.

I thought the style was pretty cool.  The sections are partitioned by quotes and poems along with dates. It took me a while to understand what B.V. was and I thought this was a clever way to stress that the world had changed so much that a different timeline was created.  The the story also utilized e-mails, journal entries, notices and job logs.

Some of the writing is very beautiful and insightful.  How Carter felt he was protecting the woman he was convicted of murdering.  Sara's love for Peter and even all of Amy's secrets.   I was also very impressed by the research that must have gone into this.  The details about engines, batteries and  computers was mind boggling to me.  I thought the twists and turns were interesting and some were surprising.  What really touched me was how the characters talked about never seeing the stars in the night sky and how they missed them.  I would really miss seeing the stars as wel if I could no longer look upon them.
"It was good to die.  There was a lightness in it, a letting go, like love."
Although this is classified as a vampire novel, and the vampires were pretty scary there wasn't a whole lot of scares and gore.  I would have liked to have seen more of the horror aspect.  I think I would classify The Passage as more of a post apocalyptic book.

"And inside him, far down, a great, devouring hunger uncoiled itself.  To eat the very world."

Now for what didn't work for me.  This is certainly not the author's fault, but I had a wonky copy.  The first few chapters there were many sentences that were repeated in several places.  To top it off they were crossed out in pencil.  I was like huh?  Obviously an irregular copy that someone else had already gone over.  It was funny in a way, but it pulled me out of the story and I couldn't help but wonder if this was going to keep happening.  It did happen again a few more times, but then it stopped and I was able to get into the story as much as I could.  

I think another issue I had is that some of the writing was hard for me to follow.  I often couldn't ground myself into the setting and didn't know where exactly the characters were.  I also wasn't always sure who was thinking or doing what.   Another device I noticed is that the author led the reader to believe a character was dead and then wasn't.  I think this can be effective once or twice, but it happened often enough that I was not surprised anymore when the story alluded to someone's death.  

The ending was a cliffhanger and I suspect that in the next book The Twelve, it may start with action right where The Passage left off.

Constellation of Characters:  Unfortunately, I didn't really connect too many characters.  I enjoyed reading about them and found myself caring and wanting to know more, but I didn't feel the layers were peeled off enough.

Anthony Carter - a homeless man who was unfairly convicted of murder and then experimented on.

Peter - one of the main protaganosists, always thought his older brother Theo was favored and better than him.  Even on his mother's death bed he misinterpreted something she said and it stayed with him.  That is, until he realized he was the strong one.

Starstruck Over: I'm glad I read The Passage, but it didn't enchant me as much as I had hoped.  I am curious to find out what happens, so I may continue the series, but I'm not in a rush.

Other Editions:


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Doctor Sleep

Title/Author: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King.

Narrator: Will Patton.

Genre:  Horror.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio.

Source:  Library.

Synopsis:  On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance.  They look harmless - mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs.  But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the "steam" that children with the "shining" produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father's legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence.  Finally he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant "shining" power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying  Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes "Doctor Sleep."

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan's own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra's soul and survival.  This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of devoted readers of The Shining and satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

Midnyte Musings:  Doctor Sleep is an action packed supernatural thriller, with plot twists, emotion and sympathetic characters.

The book starts out with two basic important events before it gets to the meat of the story.  An incident after the Overlook Hotel in which Dick Halloran assists Danny and another experience that leaves Danny scarred and guilty.  Flash forward several years later and Danny is settled in New Hampshire and works as an orderly at a nursing home with a specific gift.  He is able to help people pass on.  He also has made several friends and is sober due to Alcoholics Anonymous.

The story also follows The Stones and their very special daughter Abra.  Abra also has The Shining like Danny, yet much more than Danny.  In a series of events Abra and Danny meet and subsequently come in contact with The True Knot and their leader, Rosie The Hat.  These creepy antagonists are the epitome of insidious, stealing people to drink their essence. Yet, there are times when they read so human and frail that at times I felt sympathy for them as well.

There is a lot of heart-stopping, nerve wracking action.  There are plenty of creepy and horrific scences as well.  The creepiest in my opinion, was when Danny is at the bedside of the French woman.   The True Knot and their actions are not for the faint of heart, but I think fans will appreciate their role and their actions.

King also delved into the mechanisms of AA in a very human and humane way.  I appreciated this glimpse into the doubts, struggles and triumphs of someone who is battling with addiction.  It also made Danny more real, more sympathetic.  What I also loved were the scenes when Danny would help a Hospice patient.  They were so emotional and had me in tears.

There is the typical King influx of information and backstory, but it was easy for me to overlook because of the strength of the story.

The next part might have some spoilers, but I wanted to talk about my (small) misgivings. Even though Abra did have several brushes with Rosie The Hat and a very (very) close call with cult itself, I still felt that the final showdown was somehow a tad lacking without her.  I understand she definitely helped, but I felt something was missing.  Maybe I wanted a closer encounter between Abra and Rosie.

If you didn't read The Shining, you may have some trouble appreciating Doctor Sleep to its fullest, but I still think it is an enjoyable, scary read and stands strong on its own.

Constellation of Characters:
Danny Torrance - The little boy hero from The Shining is all grown up now.  He deals with demons of the past and those from his own making.  I do love him though.  For all his damaged traits he tries and succeeds to rise above them.

Abra Stone - A powerful force in a little package.  Although only a young teen, she packs a lot of punch.  She is brave, strong and yet sometimes impetuous which can bring her trouble.

Rosie The Hat - So scary!  So evil!  Such a bitch!  I hated her so much.  Her ruthlessness and anger are so palpable and she would stop at nothing to get her way and destroy those trying to stop her.  But such a great villain.

Billy - He is one of my favorite characters.  A minor player with an important role he shows courage, humor and is very endearing.

Narration:  Perfection.  Patton was able to elicit so much range and depth into these characters.  Anger, despair, frustration.  My heart would pump at the rage of Rosie The Hat and I had physical reactions to the range of emotions portrayed.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with the narrator's portrayals.

Starstruck Over:  The plot twists, depth of story and surprises of Doctor Sleep.

Other Editions:


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