Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dr De Marr, Paul Theroux

Posted by lea at 4:30 PM 2 comments Links to this post
I chose Paul Theroux for The Great Library Challenge T author because he's one of those authors you hear about but (in my case anyway) have never read. 

Dr De Marr is an eerie novella with a very creepy cover and several even more creepy illustrations throughout.

The story is about very short identical twins, George and Gerold De Marr, who are bound to each other by intense hatred and a desire for the other's death. When their parents pass away, they finally sever the invisible umbilical cord between them and live their lives free of each other for decades, until one day, George suddenly appears on Gerald's doorstep out of the blue. 

Shortly after, Gerald finds George dead in a chair upstairs and soon begins to unravel the seams of his mysterious secret life. He finds that George has been posing as a wealthy doctor, and soon enough, he assumes this false identity to enjoy its benefits. But of course, the very things that George was running from catch up with Gerald and he finds himself very quickly out of his depth.

Theroux writes with an eerie absence of emotion that casts shadows on every page. The handful of characters that appear in the pantomime are hard to read as they all seem to have their own agenda, of which you're constantly left in the dark.

It's quite a horrid story, adeptly told, with the punchy circular logic of a good short story. But personally, I like my stories with a little more light.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Modern Austen Adaptations

Posted by lea at 4:59 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Jane Austen sure knew how to write a great story, as evidenced in the multiple modern-day film adaptations of her work. So I've decided to do a bit of a comparison to see who's done it best, going in chronological order.

Clueless (1995)

This was a really smart adaptation of Emma, transported into LA's superficial Beverly Hills high school scene. Didn't we all fall in love with Alicia Silverstone's irresistably clueless Cher and Paul Rudd as her dorky ex-step-brother?

They got the ingredients just right because although Emma is a privileged meddler who thinks a little too well of herself, at heart, she's a well-meaning and kind person who gets things wrong. It's a nice bit of narcissism for the reader/viewer to be more astute and insightful than the girl who knows everything but her own heart, and it's nice to see her humbled a little.

Amy Heckerling did a great job of injecting absurdist humour, poking fun of modern teenagers (like the bumful of underwear showing under low-slung jeans) while also making them endearing and even quite delightful to watch.

Just as it's easy for people to overlook Austen as a bit of fluff about women's obsession with marriage and climbing the social ladder, it's easy to write off rich kids as spoilt brats. But instead, with both Emma and Clueless, we get a reminder that people are people no matter what social culture you belong to, and that we're really not that different at heart.

Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)

A simply superb adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with Elizabeth Bennett as a modern, slightly chubby Londoner in the form of Bridget Jones, played to perfection by Renee Zellwegger. While it isn't strictly true to Elizabeth's character (she's witty and intelligent whereas Bridget is kind-hearted and perceptive but very much accident and embarrassment prone), she's just as endearing.

What they do really well in Bridget Jones is bring the fiery love/hate sexual tension between Elizabeth and Darcy to life while making it really funny rather than dramatic and intense. The foibles of the modern independent woman are humorously portrayed and the common theme of people just wanting love, no matter what era you live in, plays out nicely in what is essentially a love story.

Helen Fielding's humour translates well into film, and the characters are modernised scrupulously well. Even Daniel (the wicked Wickham) is someone you love to hate rather than just hate.

This is my favourite adaptation so far.

Bride and Prejudice (2004)

This is Pride and Prejudice with all the colour, verve, drama and music of Bollywood. Instead of Elizabeth we have gorgeous Aishwarya Rai as Lalita, in Darcy's place we have wealthy American hotelier Will, and instead of starched British manners we get people breaking into song and dance, like the memorable 'no wife no life'.

Gurinda Chadha does a great job bringing this story to life, focusing on the common themes of Austen's England and modern day India - like Mrs Bakshi's obsession to marry off her daughters (if only Mrs Bennett had had the resources of and the idea of arranged marriage versus love marriage.

There are a few times when it slips into a little bit of cringe, like the love scenes of Lalita and Will looking into the sunset, playing in the fountain and walking on the beach, which perhaps were deliberately OTT to poke gentle fun at Bollywood films, but overall it's a good girlie film and quite true to the original novel.

From Prada to Nada (2011)

I watched this a little reluctantly as I had a feeling I might regret it, but as an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility I felt a certain responsibility to watch and report. It's a Latina version that's tried to do a cross between a cultural Bride and Prejudice type thing on an obviously smaller budget, and a playful Clueless thing without the witty script.

The Dominguez sisters fall from great heights when their wealthy father passes away and they're relegated to the very modest East LA home of their very Mexican Aunt - a culture they've had almost nothing to do with and in fact seem quite ashamed of at first.

Almost from the first scene the characters are more like caricatures and the level of predictability is breathtaking. But it's not all bad. I liked that Nora (the ever-responsible Elinor) is re-envisioned as a law student fighting for the underprivileged, but I wasn't so crash hot about the stereotyped Mexican cleaners whose case she takes up and, through the process, falls in love with her boss Edward Ferris. Colonel Brandon is reinvented as a thug-looking tattooed handyman/artist with a heart of gold (a very surprising turn by an unrecognisable Wilmer Valderrama, The 70s show's Fez), which isn't too bad, but the very passionate Marianne is turned into a spoilt shallow rich girl who totters around on high heels in constant miniskirts and just wants to marry up to go back to Beverly Hills. In the end she bears almost no resemblance at all to Austen's original character.

I wouldn't recommend this movie unless you want to pass an hour and a half with Latina cliches and some vague semblance of Austen's plot. In my opinion, this is probably the worst adaptation.

Have I missed any movies that have moved Austen's novels into the modern day? And which is your favourite?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Really great season finales

Posted by lea at 3:48 PM 0 comments Links to this post
On the back of the terrible season ending for Downton Abbey season one, I watched The Mentalist finale (which ironically I missed last night to watch Downton Abbey... bad bet) and I wanted to say to Julian Fellows: this sir, is how to end a season.

Patrick Jayne has been hunting Red John for ages, so getting some closure while at the same time creating huge suspense for the next season is extremely satisfying while leaving you wanting more (I'm deliberately not including spoilers here). This is just as a season finale should be.

Similarly, Dexter had a great season finale last year when the Trinity Killer left Rita in a literal bloodbath and Dexter's baby on the floor in an eerie deja vu. You're left shivering because there's a sense of resolution accompanied by huge anticipation for what's going to happen next. You're not left feeling cheated.

So take notes Mr Fellowes, and may season two be better.

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower series, book 1), Stephen King

Posted by lea at 12:08 PM 3 comments Links to this post
I wanted to like this book. I knew it was Stephen King's magnum opus that he'd invested 12 years into, and I liked the idea of a western-style gunslinger in a sci-fi story.

I'm really disappointed to say it just doesn't deliver. The writing is unnecessarily windy and poetic... but not the good kind of poetic, the clunky type you write in college in the early morning that you think is really good until you read it sober the next day.

There isn't too much to say about it because there really isn't too much to the book. The gunslinger is on the trail of the man in black for purposes to do with his past and presumably the destruction of the world he knew and grew up in. Not everything is revealed to us in the first book.

From the reviews I've read (to figure out whether to persevere with the rest of the series), I figure it does actually get better, then it gets kinda bad.

You can read the New York Times review in its entirety if you want, but here's an excerpt:

"That's not to say there is nothing to enjoy about ''The Dark Tower.'' For starters, there is the sheer absurdity of its existence. You're left astonished at the devotion of the readers who will follow King down his labyrinthine pathways of plot, through the thickets of ALL CAPS paragraphs, only to emerge from a story within a story...

The revelation of the penultimate book was that King had put himself into the book as a character. Roland shows up in Maine in 1977 and hypnotizes a young horror writer, telling him he must finish the ''Dark Tower'' story because the fate of the world depends upon it."

Egotistical much?

Which is weird because King doesn't really seem like an egomaniac - at least not from my reading of On Writing, which I really liked.

Anyway, not planning to continue with the series. But if you've read it and think it's worthwhile, please let me know.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What the hell Downton Abbey?

Posted by lea at 10:49 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Downton Abbey has just finished airing on Aussie TV and I am pissed off. After investing so much time in this series, looking forward to it, persevering through the drawn out ads (don't think we didn't notice channel 7) and wanting the best for the characters, we're rewarded with a piss-poor ending where nothing is resolved and there isn't even the pretense of an effort to satisfy the viewers that have made this series such a success.

Everything's been leading to this last episode... will Mary accept Matthew's proposal when we all know they're just made for each other? Will Bates and Anna finally get it on? And will the bitchy Miss O'Brien and the bastard Thomas finally get their comeuppance?

There's absolutely no satisfaction to be had from any of these storylines that we've invested so much into. The only satisfaction we're afforded is in the minor things: Gwen gets a secretarial job, Bates is vindicated and Miss O'Brien is humbled. But these were not the storylines we kept coming back for week after week.

What a seriously crappity crap end. Honestly Julian Fellowes, what were you smoking when you wrote this? Too busy counting the cash of the second series to give this one a decent ending?

And it's not just the crap non-resolutions to the storylines that have been building for weeks, it's the character development too - or rather, lack thereof. I mean, why do the sisters have to be so bitchy to each other? We wanted either Mary or Edith to rise and be their better selves in the end but what we get is such vindictiveness it almost takes your breath away.

Apparently there's a series two underway, but after this effort I was outraged enough to consider (briefly) boycotting it. But I want to give it another chance. I want to see the characters develop and I really want to get some closure. So Mr Fellowes, please don't blow it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bridesmaids: 2 minute movie review

Posted by lea at 4:46 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Two words: totally hilarious.

I won't say too much because there's already been so much written about how great and truly funny this movie is, and how supremely hilarious Kristen Wiig is in it. Suffice to say: it's about time! Women are funny and this totally proves it (as if Tina Fey hadn't already done that) - they just need a good vehicle.

I read an article about how the time for women's gross-out comedy had finally arrived, and how previous punters like Cameron Diaz's The Sweetest Thing were just ahead of the market, but I say pooh pooh. That movie was just plain crap with a terrible script and cliched storyline. This one is just flat out funny with no dull bits.

If you haven't already seen it, I highly recommend it.

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