Nemesis

In the fourth installment (second to be published in America) of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, Harry finds himself framed for murder. His ex-girlfriend Anna is found dead in her apartment and Harry was the last one known to be there, but he can’t remember that night because he’s lapsed into his alcoholic tendencies and blacked out. Now Harry must avoid suspicion from his colleagues while tracking down what really happened to Anna and dealing with the mysterious person who keeps emailing him about that night. On top of it all, Harry is investigating a murderous bank robber. Despite not being connected, both cases are thematically linked, as Harry later learns in his attempts to unravel the culprits.

I’ve already praised Nesbo’s crime writing skills (see: Headhunters), and Nemesis just continues to prove it. In this tightly-written thriller, Nesbo delves into psychological behaviors, showing how motives for crimes are not as cut and dry as they may appear. Harry must constantly think outside the box if he hopes to uncover the various conspiracies afoot. One of the biggest conspiracies, concerning the series baddy Tom Waaler, continues to develop from the previous novel Redbreast (I can’t wait to see where this storyline goes in the next book).

If there’s one thing that is immensely frustrating about Nesbo’s writing, it is that he’ll show characters coming to important revelations only to cut away from the scene before we as a reader can either see or comprehend what they’ve discovered. Of course, this tactic merely serves to build suspense and also to make the reader think. So many American crime thrillers spell things out too easily, while some of the more pretentious ones are too oblique. Hence why Nordic and Swedish crime fiction proves to be so entertaining and fascinating to American readers. Plus, Nesbo easily incorporates American pop culture references into his writing like mentioning The Godfather, David Hasselhoff, and Prince (and using those allusions to advance the story).

Next time you’re looking for an excellent crime fiction series to read, dig into the Harry Hole series (start with Redbreast if you’re a completist, or else go straight for his newest novel Phantom). When it comes to Jo Nesbo, you won’t be disappointed.

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From Page to Screen, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” Never Loses Its Emotional Impact

Stephen Chbosky seems to be very passionate about The Perks of Being a Wallflower. He penned the novel in 1999 and adapted it for the screen this year as both screenwriter and director of the film. As can sometimes happen when someone is too close to the source material, the adaptation can suffer because they can’t see the forest for the trees. Fortunately, I think enough time passed between the novel and the film that Chbosky knew what elements were essential to draw out to make Perks a compelling film.

Narrated by the eponymous wallflower Charlie (played perfectly by Logan Lerman), we experience this shy and troubled teenager’s adventures in his freshman of high school (in a similar fashion to how Felicity narrates her freshman year of college to Sally). While his original goal was just to survive the year unnoticed, he manages to befriend an outsider group of seniors. Who better to teach him about the life of an outsider than exuberant homosexual Patrick (Ezra Miller shedding off all remnants of his dark character in We Need to Talk About Kevin) and his flirty yet bossy step-sister Sam (Emma Watson shedding off most of her hair and British accent to remove all hints of her Hermione persona). Together these two introduce Charlie to a world of sex, drugs, and alternative music.

In the novel, much more time is spent on Charlie’s family than in the film: not so much his mother (Kate Walsh) and father (Dylan McDermott) as his sister Candace (Nina Dobrev) and Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey). Charlie builds a bond with his older sister as he helps her deal with an abortion, and memory flashes of Aunt Helen haunt him throughout the story. In the film, Chbosky removes most of Candace’s part, pairing her off with dufus Ponytail Derek (Nicholas Braun) and including only the scene where Charlie catches Candace’s boyfriend hitting her (more on that later). However, those incessant flashbacks of Aunt Helen, obviously, remain (since those memories are vital to end of the film).

Including so much family story in the novel makes sense for a coming-of-age novel about an introverted boy. But Chbosky chooses to focus the film Perks on friendship. So much of pop culture today is centered on outsiders bonding, and Chbosky manages to capture it astutely in the film. Through Patrick and Sam, Charlie is introduced into their close-nit gang of Punk Rocky enthusiasts like Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman, no longer being an Anne hog); Alice (Erin Wilhelmi); and Bob (Adam Hagenbuch). They teach Charlie how to navigate the world of friendship and even that scarier realm of dating (Lerman’s chemistry with Watson is as palpable as his chemistry with Whitman is not). Charlie also manages to make a friend out of his English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), who sees Charlie’s potential and coaxes it out of him by assigning extra reading and paper writing.

Overall, Perks is a fully engaging film that matches the emotional intensity of the novel. The biggest difference is that Chbosky plays down the motif of abuse that is so rampant in the novel. Literally every relationship—familial or romantic—involves some form of abuse, be it physical, substance, or emotional. In the film, he eases off this motif, giving us just small glimpses into a world of physical abuse through Candace’s incident with her boyfriend. Limiting the audience’s exposure to these abusive relationships makes the impact of Charlie’s past much more vivid for the audience.

When I first read Perks in college it was one of the books that I could not put down. I felt easily drawn to this world and the characters (I already knew many of the perks of being a wallflower). Rereading the novel now, I found it to be painfully juvenile. That means that Chbosky expertly captured the voice of Charlie, but that also means that I’ve outgrown the novel. In making this film, it seems that Chbosky, too, saw the juvenility of his novel and aimed to have the film resonate for adults as well. In this he also succeeded. So for those of you in high school (or just starting college) I highly recommend the novel; but for everyone I recommend the film—just remember to bring a lot of tissues with you to the theater.

“Wuthering Heights” from Page to Screen: A Gritty Take on a Beloved Classic

There have been many adaptations of Emily Bronte’s classic novel Wuthering Heights including a Juliette Binoche-Ralph Fiennes period piece, an MTV contemporary adaptation, and the definitive 1939 adaptation starring Laurence Olivier. So when Andrea Arnold decided to tackle this novel, she wanted to make sure she had a unique take on the story. And her take is definitely a novel one: she focuses the film solely on Heathcliff.

The dark and moody new adaptation of Wuthering Heights also puts an emphasis on the “wuthering.” Writer-director Andrea Arnold includes extensive footage of the natural world around the Heights to represent the beauty and brutality of nature—both in the world and within the characters. She also explores human nature by telling this entire story from the point of view of Heathcliff.

When young Heathcliff (Solomon Glave) is brought to the Heights by Mr. Earnshaw (Paul Hilton), he is immediately treated like an outsider not just because he comes from the streets but also because of the dark color of his skin. He is raised as a laborer by the Earnshaw’s and suffers extreme beatings from racist Hindley Earnshaw (Lee Shaw). Heathcliff’s only sense of comfort and refuge comes from Hindley’s younger sister Catherine (Shannon Beer). As children they form an intense emotional bond that follows them through their lives.

The first half of the film follows these young children and the foundation of their relationship with each other and the other characters in the area. Arnold’s goal in this adaptation was to stay as true to the original text as possible, so she cast young actors to play the younger forms of these classic characters. Both Glave and Beer are making their acting debut in this film, and they perfectly embody the intensity of these characters (and the intense chemistry that these characters have together).

When they have grown into young adults, Kaya Scodelario (as older Catherine) and James Howson (as older Heathcliff—another newcomer) continue with the intensity of these dark characters. Scodelario easily takes to the manipulative nature of Cathy as she pits her weak husband, Edgar Linton (James Northcote), against the vicious Heathcliff. Howson captures the brooding and yearning in Heathcliff while also drawing out his brutality, which he inflicts on naive Isabella Linton (Nichola Burley).

Wuthering Heights is always considered a tragic tale of undying love, but Arnold and screenwriter Olivia Hetreed sought to emphasize the dark side of these characters. Catherine and Heathcliff inflict suffering upon each other and those around them to cope with the pain they feel from being separated. These characters are so cruel it’s hard to feel sympathy for them.

So often, the adaptations of Wuthering Heights give great emphasis to Catherine; yet in the novel she is little more than a supporting character. Heights truly reads as a history of Heathcliff as told by the servant Nelly Dean (played by Simone Jackson in the film). Arnold draws the story of her film from the first half of the book, which follows teenaged Heathcliff and Cathy (the second half of the books follows the next generation of Lintons and how Heathcliff manipulates them into being like him and Cathy). While Nelly is Cathy’s maid (and later Cathy’s daughter’s maid), even her story is constructed around Heathcliff’s involvement in their lives. Thus it is a wonder that there hasn’t been a Heathcliff-centric film before.

Heathcliff becomes the one that audiences are more likely to sympathize with because they get new insight into this character’s psyche. Arnold explores the nature vs. nurture argument in this film. After being beaten, Heathcliff turns his rage on the only thing that’s smaller than him—animals. There is so much rage within him as he slits that sheep’s throat or break’s the rabbit’s neck—his animal brutality is a motif that continues with him into young adulthood (and even little Hareton Earnshaw emulates the cruelty he sees in Heathcliff). But is Heathcliff cruel because that’s what is buried within him, or has the brutality he suffered at the hands of the Earnshaws turned him into that cruel person.

Arnold and Hetreed have done some major interpretative work to draw out Heathcliff’s psyche. They take single paragraphs narrated by Nelly and turn them into 5-minute scenes that express Heathcliff’s story. After seeing this film it is difficult not to feel the pain that he suffers before becoming the cruel creature we are at first introduced to—which makes rereading Wuthering Heights a truly new experience.

Also, while the new adaptation omits the next generation of Lintons—Catherine 2.0 and weak Linton—they manage to capture the thematic concept that Bronte instilled in the second half of the novel.  Between his feud with Edgar and his control of the Heights, Heathcliff manipulates these children into reenacting the romantic tragedy he went through as a teenager. With Hareton’s parents dead, Heathcliff raises Hareton to be a cruel and uncivilized Mini-Me. Arnold and Hetreed embody this theme in showing Hareton’s increasing cruelty to animals mimicking Heathcliff’s own cruelty, giving viewers just a snippet of what these characters’ fates will be.

The moodiness of the film is further illustrated by the lack of musical score.  Sound designer Nicholas Becker uses the diegetic—or natural—sounds as the film’s “soundtrack.” The howling of the wind, the creaking of the trees, the yelping of the dogs, even the wetness of the kisses—all of these increase the intensity and tone of the film. This, combined with images of the barren and cruel—and often striking—landscape, truly pulls the audience into the story and world of Wuthering Heights.

This adaptation brings new insight into the story of Wuthering Heights and will urge viewers to pick up the book and read it again (and I urge you to do so, as well), searching for this intense and dark world that they missed when they read it in high school. Arnold set out to create a new take on this beloved classic, and that’s exactly what she has done. The film has a slow pace that emphasizes that this is about more than just plot; this film is a character study of the classic figure of Heathcliff. Fans of Emily Bronte’s novel—or fans of period pieces in general—should enjoy this nuanced exploration of the novel and its themes.