Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why are movies never as good as the original books?

Would Mary Shelley be rolling in her grave or pleased with the interpretation of her Frankenstein character in the new movie I, Frankenstein? Why is it that movie versions are never as good as the original books?

Movie Title:
I, Frankenstein
Grade:  B-

In a Nutshell:  I know a guy who was Aaron Eckhart’s college roommate.  He said that Aaron often talked about becoming a movie star some day.  He did it!  I’m sincerely happy for him.  I love Aaron Eckhart’s eyes because one of my sons has the exact same eyes. 

Based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, I, Frankenstein features a teeth-gritting monster who struggles with who he is as he fights demons and Gargoyles in a battle to save mankind.  I wanted this popcorn flick to be a hit for Aaron, but sadly, it falls short of a blockbuster that’s going to get audiences really excited.  

There is not much of a plot, as the CGI effects and production design take center place.  True Mary Shelley fans will be disappointed that the classic tale has been re-invented with a ripped and skilled mixed martial artist, of sorts, as the “unholy abomination” of a monster.  If you’re into Sci-Fi or dystopian genres, you’ll the awesome special effects.  You feel mildly attached to Frankenstein , but there is not much time spent on real character development. 

Gideon is a name known to many Christians, but this character is so filled with hate that he doesn’t seem to be representing heaven.  He declares to Frankenstein “God will surely damn you.”  Frankenstein growls back “He already did.”

Uplifting theme:  Victor Frankenstein never named his creation, so Leonore, the queen of the Order of the Gargoyles symbolically names him Adam.  I’m a sucker for symbolism.  He is the first man of his kind.  He is made in the image of his maker, but has the free will to create his own life.  Like this new Adam, we often spend years trying to figure out who we really are.  It’s when we realize we need humanity and begin to love and serve others for a greater cause that we truly find ourselves.

Things I liked:
  • I loved the way Gargoyles died in a brilliant beam of light and were instantly sent heavenward.  In contrast, the demons turn into a fiery blaze that descends to hell when they’re killed.  The battle scene at the beginning panned out and you could see beams ascending and fire bursts swirling, notifying you how many gargoyles and demons were killed in combat. I thought that was pretty cool.
  • The slow-motion fight sequences looked like a video game. I’m sure this will come out as a video game and it could actually be pretty good.
  • I love Bill Nighy in everything.  He played a lovable and wise father in About Time as equally well as he plays a clever demon prince in this film.
  • There are some interesting weapons and cool slow-motion fight scenes featuring them.

Things I didn’t like:
  • You know when you see a big towering structure created by the bad guys that it’s going down at the end of the movie.
  • Everyone has a British accent except Frankenstein.  Come on Aaron.
  • The demons’ faces looked like masks from an old Star Trek episode.
  • It’s so clichéd that the brilliant, young scientist happens to be a beautiful girl.  SPOILER ALERT…So, will Yvonne Strahovski be the bride of Frankenstein in the sequel?
  • Shouldn’t the gargoyles have been nicer since they were working for God?
  • There is a complete lack of humorous moments, as the film seems to take itself too seriously.
  • Frankenstein doesn’t have a soul, but yet somehow he can feel pain and wants to do good, as well as have the desire for a female companion.  How does that work?
  • Of course, Frankenstein is supposed to be a grungy creature, but I really wanted him to take a bath.  He rinses off his face once, yet his face remains dirty.
  • We are told that Leonore is the direct link to the Archangels, but she mostly stands around while the gargoyles do all the work.  She prays and seems to have the best sense of morality, so I was disappointed when  (SPOILER ALERT) she turned against Adam and issued an order to kill him.  Despite that, it was great to see Lord of the Rings starlet Miranda Otto again.

Funny lines:  There really aren’t any.  This movie takes itself too seriously and could have benefited from some levity at its own expense.

Inspiring lines:
  • “Each of us has a higher purpose.  Yours is yet to reveal itself.”  - Leonore
  • “All life is sacred.”  - Leonore
  • “Just because something has yet to be found, does not mean it does not exist.” = Niberious
  • “It is not for you or I to deny God’s purpose.” – Leonore
  • “You’re only a monster if you behave like one.” – Dr. Wade

Things to look for:
  • The symbol seen from the aerial view that the bushes make outside of the Institute entrance.
  • There is a certain symbol of the Order of the Gargoyles that you start to see everywhere: on Leonore’s necklace, on the fabric sashes, on the dagger, on the cathedral, formed by the structure of the cathedral as seen from an aerial view.

Tips for parents: Young children may be afraid of the scary demons.  There is a gruesome scene with hundreds of corpses hanging in a large facility underneath the Institute.  There is a lot of bloodless fighting, but not much profanity.  The lighting in the scenes, as well as the general theme are quite dark.

If you're headed to the movie theater this weekend, check out my other movie reviews!

If you're a Frankenstein fan who can't get enough, check these out:

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Power of Words and Books in The Book Thief

As an author, I HAD to watch this film! 
Here is my movie review from my review blog called:  Movie Review Maven

Movie Title:  The Book Thief

Rating: PG-13, 2 hours 5 minutes

Grade: A-

In a Nutshell:  I had to drive past several theaters near my home to find one that carried this film…truly a hidden gem. The sobering, yet inspiring film is based on the international best-selling novel by Marcus Zusak, The Book Thief , which was on the New York Times bestseller list for 200 weeks.  It introduces a provincial German town and how it experiences the close-up pains of WWII, contrasting life and death, darkness and light, hope and a haunting humanity.  We rarely see WWII movies that illustrate the “other” side of the story: how German families were affected by the Nazis, the Jews who lived beside them in their neighborhoods, and the sacrifices that would be required of them all. 

Liesel is exposed to her first book, ironically “The Gravedigger’s Handbook”, and becomes fascinated with reading and words.  The power of words is illustrated beautifully in so many ways: Nazi propaganda posters on the town’s walls, name-calling by school bullies and Mama, Liesel’s storytelling in the bomb shelter, the eery words narrated by Death, etc.  The film is guided by popularDownton Abbey: The Complete Seasons 1, 2 & 3 (9 Discs) director Brian Percival.

Uplifting theme:  There were actually so many positive messages around every corner that I had a hard time writing them all down in the dark theater.  This movie should have your family discussing many ideas for a long time.  (See list below in the parent section.)

Things I liked: 
I’m an author of 17 books, so you KNOW I liked this movie!  There were so many things I enjoyed, such as the picturesque European streets, the visual contrasts between the stark white snow and the black shoes that crunched on it, the playful use of words and images, and the powerful acting. The lovely Sophie Nelisse (Liesel) was believable and adorable.  Geoffrey Rush (Hans) was a sweet foster papa you wanted to spend more time with, and Nico Liersch (Rudy) was a dear best friend who had the looks that Hitler would kill for…and did.  Roger Allam narrated the film as a character that is unclear until the end.  I loved the anticipation as I waited for his character to be revealed.

The talented Emily Watson (Rosa) played a stern German woman who Liesel describes as being a thunderstorm, but who Death knew had a big heart. I loved the image of her falling asleep with Papa’s accordion.  My German grandmother died when I was just a little girl, so I regret that I never got to know her well.  She seemed to me a typical austere German matriarch, but my father adored her and I knew there was more to her than I understood.  “Mama” in the movie was this kind of multi-layered woman.

Inspiring quotes:
* “A person is only as good as his word.”   - Papa
* “Better that we leave the pain behind, than ever forget the music.”  - Hans
* “I am haunted by humans.”   - Death
* “You’ll meet me soon enough.”  - Death
* “A mother never gives up on her child.” – Elsa
* “Memory is the scribe of the soul.”  (Aristotle) quoted by Max

Things I didn’t like:  The children don’t seem to age during the 5 year period.  I know that’s hard to do in a film, but still…I had my tissues ready and was prepared to cry, but I never did.   Perhaps it was all that German stoicism that prevented me from shedding a tear.

Funny line:
  • Liesel asks “What’s an accountant?”  Papa answers “Something we will never need.”
  • “He’s the dumbest kid in school, but he shaves.” – Rudy
  • It’s the best thing I ever threw up.”  -
  • “Every mother loves her child, even Hitler’s” – Max
  • “Words are life.” – Max
Things to look for:
  • Wintered old vines growing all over the schoolhouse facade
  • Be sure to read the subtitles for song the school children sing
  • I’ve always fantasized about having a library like Elsa’s that is so large you need a ladder to reach the books on the top shelves, complete with cozy chairs, Tiffany lamps and a window to look out and see the world in a new way
  • Liesel appropriately reads The Invisible Man to Max, the Jewish boy her family hides in their basement
  • German Christmas tree with candles on it

Helpful German words to know as you watch the movie or read the book:
auf wiedersehen    -  goodbye
bahnhof                 -  train station
dreckiges               -  dirty 
Frau                       - Miss
Führer                    - leader
gesindel                 - vermin or lowlife
gut                          - good
guten morgen         -  good morning
herr                         - Mr
ja                             -  yes
Juden                      -  Jews
Nein                       -  no
saumensch              -  pig (used as an insult)
und                          -  and

Tips for parents:  While two of the stars are children, it’s not really a film that will hold the attention of young children.  Mature, older children may find it interesting, but the theme is dark and requires some understanding of the dangers of being a Jew in WWII Germany.  There are some scenes with dead bodies, although they are mostly pale, not covered in blood.  There is some violence, bullying, and profanity in German.

The movie presents great topics to discuss with pre-teen children and older ones, such as
  • Should censorship of books be allowed or not?
  • What do you consider to be “intellectual dirt?”
  • If your eyes could speak, what would they say?
  • Liesel was a book thief.  How was Hitler one as well?
  • Which emotion is the most powerful: love, fear, or hope?
  • What did you think when Max painted over the pages of the book Mein Kampf
  • How did Liesel demonstrate courage beyond words?
I would love to hear what YOU thought about the book or film!