HOW I LIVE NOW Is a Refreshingly Gritty WWIII Pic

Saoirse Ronan seems to be trying very hard to carve her own little niche in cinema. From Hanna to The Host to Byzantium, Ronan has been building a career as a teenage action star in dystopic/post-apocalyptic worlds. And her latest film, How I Live Now, is just another entry on that resume.
saoirse-ronan-stars-in-first-trailer-and-poster-for-how-i-live-now-142540-a-1376393033-470-75Britain is on the brink of World War Three, and American Daisy (Ronan) is forced to spend the summer at her aunt’s country home. The house is full of her rambunctious cousins—Isaac (Tom Holland), Piper (Harley Bird), and Eddie (George MacKay)—but her Aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor) has business to deal with and leaves the children alone during this turbulent time. Daisy tries to keep to herself but Isaac is keen on including her, and Eddie is so devastatingly handsome and mysterious that Daisy just can’t help herself (Isaac is also quick to mention that Eddie is adopted and thus not a blood relative, so don’t get too excited about the incestuous of it all).
When WWIII does break out, the kids take to their barn in the countryside for fear of the warring militias. A man from the American consulate offers Daisy a ticket to escape the warring nation, but after having sex with Eddie she cannot bear to part from. Tribulations soon plague them as they are separated and forced into lives of servitude and fear.
For those not jaded by the excessive YA dystopia trend, How I Live Now (based on Meg Rosoff’s 2004 novel) is much darker and adult feeling—even earning a controversial R rating. While Ronan can’t avoid repeating her performances from similar pictures, she does bring some nuance to Daisy, and her passion for Eddie is endearing instead of clichéd. This is a grittier film that feels more like The Road than World War Z, and that, more than anything, helps this film stand out in a sea of similar films.


My GREAT EXPECTATIONS Are Met in this 2013 Film Adaptation

GREAT-EXPECTATIONS-PosterNot long after the BBC miniseries, the Brits have released a new film version of Great Expectations as well. I’ll never be one to balk at a new adaptation of one of my favorite novels, but I was extra excited for this film after being so disappointed by the miniseries. In that, director Mike Newell and screenwriter David Nicholls did not fail me.
This film is effortlessly cinematic in scope, giving a grand feeling to this lesson in tempered expectations. The film adheres very closely to the key events, moments, and characters in the novel while not getting too bogged down in the exact pacing of the novel. Much of the middle third of the novel that is so hard to trudge through is remixed with the final, thrilling third so that the film never quite loses your attention. And, while Pip and Estella’s relationship remains the central plot of the film, it is never blown out of proportion (like in other iterations of the story).
Jeremy Irvine is well cast as selfish pretty boy Pip, endearing enough to make you like Pip (no matter how unlikable the character really is). Miscast, however, is Irvine’s younger brother Toby as Young Pip. He’s too green to not let his overly expressive face turn every expression he makes into a comedic over-dramatization.
Speaking of overly-expressive, Helena Bonham Carter delivers a blessedly controlled performance as Miss Havisham. She never matches the nuances that Gillian Anderson brought to the character, but she does capture the sorrow and vengeance that ekes out of Miss Havisham. Holliday Grainger’s cold expressions are suited for her role as Estella, but Olly Alexander’s twinky performance as Herbert Pocket feels out of place (making this one, bizarrely, of the most homosexual adaptations of Great Expectations). Fortunately, the veteran actors in the film—Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Flemying, Sally Hawkins—deliver great performances to outweigh some of the less-than-desirable casting choices.
For now, this Great Expectations will remain my favorite adaptation.

Book vs. Film: “The Shining” Will Haunt You in Both Forms

39473d46f1de866e1c7a3763c23d2054The film The Shining is beloved by many, but how many of them have actually read the book? Turns out: hardly any. One fan even said he heard that films adapted from Stephen King’s novels are better than his actual books. While I can’t categorically attest to that, I can say that the film The Shining pales in comparison to the novel The Shining. It is one of King’s best novels, combining brilliant imagery with complex psychology for a truly haunting experience. It’s no small wonder that this is the only of his novels to land a spot on The List.

The story focuses around Jack Torrance who is so desperate for a job that he becomes the off-season caretaker for the secluded Overlook Hotel. He, along with his wife Wendy and 6-year-old son Danny, will spend 8 months alone in the hotel, preventing the pipes from freezing over and the boiler from overheating. Wendy is frail and fearful of her husband whose previous history of alcoholism led him to break their son’s arm (and attack a student); yet she loves him enough to follow him to the Overlook in the hopes that a secluded season of writing will rehabilitate him. It is only little Danny whose “shining” premonitions of the horrors within the Overlook give him trepidation for this venture.

129_shiningnewThe chapters shuffle through the main characters’ perspectives, giving striking point-of-view perceptions of what is occurring in the present while also imparting insight into the characters’—and hotel’s—backstories that help frame their deteriorating psychological states. While this helps provide the framework for the story, it’s the recurring imagery used throughout that elevates this novel into profound horror. Iconic images and phrases like the roque mallet, the topiary animals, Room 217, and, of course, “REDRUM” enhance the eerie mood and building tensions of the story. Thus establishing King as a renowned horror genre writer.

As iconic as the novel is, the film is equally iconic in its own regards. Stanley Kubrick’s film is considered one of the best horror films, and that’s a worthy assessment. The film sets an uneasy mood with flashes of horrific images that Danny (Danny Lloyd) can see combined with Jack’s (Jack Nicholson) descent into mania—not to mention a creepy score by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind. The overall look of the film is brilliant thanks to help from Roy Walker, for production design; Les Tomkins, for art direction; and John Alcott, for cinematography. These elements combine to make a visually appealing and eerie film.

tumblr_m0hkxhPS6f1r1au5yo1_500But, as great as the film is, it seems to miss the point of the book. In King’s Shining the Overlook itself is an important, menacing character. It has motivations and manipulations that slowly become central to the story. In Kubrick’s Shining the Overlook is just an expanse of open rooms with mismatching color schemes spread throughout. It acts as the playground for Jack’s psychotic breakdown but has very little influence on his actual mental state. The film also eliminates nearly every piece of character backstory; sacrificing story for languorous shots of the empty hotel or Danny pedaling around in his little tricycle.

There are smaller things that are altered or lost in the adaptation as well. Would it have been so hard to have Jack chase Wendy around with a roque mallet? (A baseball bat makes an appearance, however.) The sound of the clock chiming still rings in my ears from reading the book, yet that inciting moment for the climactic chain of events is missing from the film. The overheating boiler and creepy topiary creatures are swapped out for intense outdoor blizzard shots and a hedge maze chase scene (presumably for budgetary reasons). Even the haunted Room 217 is changed to 237 in the film (presumably for superstitious reasons). It seems that only the slight alteration to how “REDRUM” is written (with the inverted letters) manages to add the visual punch needed for its reveal.

The-Shining-movie-poster200All such changes make for a disappointing cinematic experience (when read in close conjunction with the book). King’s novel is rife with delicious visual imagery that yearns to be depicted onscreen, yet the film fails to capture much of that. An inevitable remake of the film may be able to capture these, but without Nicholson’s ingenious and iconic performance will it be as effective? Even Shelley Duvall as Wendy, with deeply hideous costumes, perfectly captures the intense anxiety of the character. Only the depiction of Danny and his imaginary friend Tony was a major acting disappointment. When Danny first spoke as Tony through his finger, the film nearly lost all sense of believability. A new adaptation would better capture Tony as the distant figure who subconsciously speaks to Danny.

It should come as no surprise that the book is overall better than its filmic adaptation. (When, if ever, has the reverse been true?) The film is a visually stunning piece that has impacted pop culture for decades, but the novel is much more effective at telling the story while greatly engaging the reader. So this is one case where I can safely advise that you see the film first before tackling the novel—yet I certainly recommend that you do both.