Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Modern Make-Over: The Classics Retold

As a former English Lit major, I must admit that I’m somewhat of a classicist – I love those drafty old novels that made their way into the literary cannon. Shakespeare, Faulkner, Joyce . . . I read them all. For fun.

And while I feel as protective of them as a mama bird with her eggs – and thus should probably scoff at and reject any adaptation that strays even the slightest from the original text – I have to admit that sometimes I enjoy modern retellings of these classic tales. Like the movie Clueless. Sure it’s a silly 90’s teen flick, but it’s also an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. Here we're able to watch high school teen queen Cher struggle with the same issues as her 19th century counterpart. But, you know, with cell phones and credit cards.

I think it’s interesting to see these stories that we revere and study in school in a new context. To see them taken a little less seriously. Some might call these retellings irreverent, some say they’re pandering, but at the end of the day, I just think they’re fun. Here are a few you might (or might not) have recognized:

- Cruel Intentions – Based on Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses
- She’s All That – Based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion
- Bridget Jones’s Diary – Based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
- Never Been Kissed – Based on Shakespeare’s As You Like It
- She’s The Man – Based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
- Ten Things I Hate About You – Based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew
- West Side Story – Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
[Clearly Shakespeare is a favorite of modern storytellers.]

Did you recognize any of them? Some of them are a bit more, uh, freely adapted than others.  Here are five more - the five that I consider my favorite modern retellings. Check them out:

My Fair Lady – 
It’s George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion set in Edwardian London. It’s got musical numbers, and dancing, elocution lessons and, of course, the incomparable Audrey Hepburn. It won eight Oscars and danced its way into the hearts of movie-viewers worldwide.
The Lion King – 
The one and only animated movie to make my list, Disney’s The Lion King is a wonderful retelling of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It's got catchy songs and beautiful depictions of the planes of Africa. Not to mention anthropomorphic animals struggling for power and to find their rightful place in the animal kingdom. It does Shakespeare proud. 
Scotland, PA.
If there’s a more bizarre combination than Shakespeare and fast food restaurants, I don’t know what it is. And yet somehow it works. Macbeth is my favorite Shakespeare play, and this is my favorite of its adaptations.
Easy A – 
Puritan Massachusetts, the setting of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, was a ruthless and vicious place. So what better than to re-imagine it in modern day high school - the most ruthless and vicious place there is. It gets an easy A+ in my book. 
O Brother, Where Art Thou? – 
Last but not least, from the brilliant mind of the Coen brothers comes Homer’s The Odyssey set in 1930’s Mississippi. It is my all-time favorite modern retelling, and one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. Best line ever – "Well, ain't this place a geographical oddity. Two weeks from everywhere."

Are you a fan of seeing you favorite classics retold in a modern setting, with modern problems and situations? What are some of your favorites?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers

After this weekend’s big premier, the question floating around the nerd-o-sphere is . . . The Dark Knight Rises or The Avengers?

You know the comparisons are coming. When Marvel and DC put out their two most anticipated movies in the same summer, everyone is going to have an opinion on which was better. And if there were ever two better movies to choose from, I certainly don’t know what they are. So here’s my opinion on the matter.

They cannot be compared.

The Avengers was epic, shot on a grand scale that wowed audiences worldwide. It had the perfect blend of Joss Whedon humor and deep, internal character struggle, with all the highs and lows in between to take the film beyond an “ordinary” action film. The action sequences were massive but meaningful, with characters that we’re invested in battling side by side, the fate of the whole world in the balance. It was a crowd pleaser. Fun, plain and simple.

The Dark Knight Rises, on the other hand, was anything but fun. It was dark and passionate. It brooded and despaired, making the audience feel ever moment of Bruce Wayne’s pain. (Spoilers ahead.) It brought the Christopher Nolan reboot full circle, ending where it began – with Ras al Ghul’s plan for wiping out Gotham city, and Batman’s struggle to save it. It was heart wrenching and the perfect end to an amazing trilogy.

I cannot say which of the two I liked better, because I simply cannot find a way to compare them. Apart from their comic book roots, these two movies are as different as night and day. What I can say is that this has been the most incredible summer of all time, one that comic book fans will not soon forget. These two movies proved without a shadow of a doubt that the age of the superhero is upon us. Comic books, and the movies based on them, are no longer seen as  men running around in tights, rescuing beautiful  albeit insipid  women. They’re epic tales of heroism, of good triumphing over evil no matter the cost. They’re here to remind us that for all humanity’s flaws, there’s something in us worth fighting for, and people who will step up to lead the fight.

For every child that ever tied a towel around their neck and imagined it a cape, this summer is dedicated to us.

Avengers assemble.

Dark Knight rise.

Comic book fans – applaud.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Super Surplus of Superheroes

With a (currently unpublished) manuscript about middle school misfits turned superheroes and all the comic book movies coming out recently, I’ve definitely had superheroes on the brain. For a comic book enthusiast like myself, these past few years have been a veritable feast of heroes and villains, scheming and crime fighting. I have to say, this is one trend I doubt I’ll ever get tired of.

That being said, there are certainly some movies that were more successful than others. For example, The Avengers came together much better than X-Men: First Class, which despite a few incredible scenes fell somewhat flat. And certainly I found the latest Spider-Man reboot much more enjoyable than its Sam Raimi-directed predecessors. All in all it seems that the standards have been raised incredibly high, with no sign of easing up.

In thinking back through every comic book movie I've seen, from Tim Burton's Batman (1989) to the teaser stills I just came across for the upcoming Man of Steel (2013), there are five that stand out as my very favorites. These five are . . . drum roll, please . . .

There are of course many more superhero movies that I really love. X-Men I and II, Thor (which far surpassed my expectations), Kick Ass, Blade, Watchmen, etc. But I really can’t wait for all the rest of them to come. Next up, The Dark Knight Rises. Can't wait to see how Nolan chooses to go out . . .

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Perks of Amnesia

The other day I was catching up on some old episodes of Castle and watched one where the key witness in a murder case has amnesia. While searching through his apartment and reviewing his bookshelves, the man states, “I guess I’m going to have to start over now.” To which Castle replies, “It’s not such a bad thing. What I wouldn’t give to read The Cask of Amontillado for the first time. Or any Stephen King.”

Upon hearing this, a little light bulb went off in my head. While I certainly would never want to suffer through amnesia or not remember my life, there would be certain literary and cinematic perks to forgetting everything from your past. I mean, what if you could enjoy all your favorite books and movies from scratch. Imagine being able to read the Harry Potter series for the millionth time and experiencing it like it was the first. Or watching Star Wars again without knowing what happens to the Empire. I have to admit, there’s some appeal in that. I guess there’s one – and only one – perk to losing your memory.

If you had to make a list for your amnesiac self, what books and movies would make the top? Here’s a look at my list:

The Harry Potter Series – J. K. Rowling
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’engle
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank
The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
1984 – George Orwell
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Atlas Shrugged – Aye Rand
Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
The Nancy Drew Series – Carolyn Keene
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – Philip K. Dick
The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
Macbeth – William Shakespeare
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – Tom Stoppard
The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde
The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allan Poe
Welcome to the Monkey House – Kurt Vonnegut
The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. Le Guin

The Princess Bride
The Fifth Element
Star Wars IV-VI
The Terminator
Terminator II: Judgment Day
The Dark Knight
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Indiana Jones Trilogy (minus the fourth)
Stranger Than Fiction
The Shining
Die Hard
Despicable Me
Empire Records
Little Miss Sunshine
The Incredible Hulk
The Jane Austen Book Club
Blade Runner
Disney Princess Movies (they’re considered un-PC these days, but I still love them)
Casino Royale
American Beauty

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day and the Force of July

Like most of my fellow Americans, I love the 4th of July. Not only is it a national holiday (which means no working – hurray!), but it’s also the day that has come to represent liberty, freedom from tyranny, and a nation united.

Not to mention fireworks.

Now, anyone who has read any of my previous holiday themed blogs (see here and here) knows that when it comes to holidays, I love two things: traditions and movies. And in this case, my family has combined the two, making it a tradition to watch movies. For Christmas we watch Die Hard and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, for Halloween we watch Ghostbusters and Hocus Pocus, and for July  4th we watch Independence Day and Live Free or Die Hard.


Two of my very favorite movies, they have several commonalities:

1) They’re both action movies. Or I should say, they’re both AMAZING action movies.

2) They both have scenes in which the White House gets blown up.

And 3) They’re both set on The Fourth of July.

Not to mention, they each star two of the three best male action stars of all time, aka. Bruce Willis and Will Smith. (The third is, of course, Harrison Ford.) They fight off alien invasions and stop an evil band of cyber terrorists in their tracks. They protect us and look good doing it. They’re my July 4th heroes. They are . . . The Force of July!

I don’t know about you, but watching these two movies on Independence Day makes me feel very patriotic. It’s a tradition I gladly participate in every year.

I hope your holiday is as wonderful (and action packed) as mine. Happy Fourth of July everyone!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Insecure Writer's Support Group and Writer's Revenge

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, and I almost forgot that it's time for another Insecure Writer’s Support Group post. Luckily I'm getting it in just under the wire. So here’s my insecurity for June . . .

For over a year now I’ve been waiting for the day when my book will FINALLY be picked up by a publisher and enter the literary world. I’ve had to deal with the fear that this day will never come, an insecurity which, frankly, grows each passing month.

However, one insecurity that never occurred to me until recently was what happens AFTER publication finally comes. In my fantasies, everyone from kids to critics loves it, it’s a massive hit, and I’m an overnight success. (I’ve never been accused of being overly practical.) But what happens when that is NOT the result? When it inevitably gets a two thumbs down, zero stars and a pile of reviews that make me want to jump off a cliff?

I’ve decided, should a high enough cliff not prove easy to find in Houston, Texas, I’ll go with Plan B and follow the example of New York Times bestselling author Nelson DeMille. In 1992, DeMille wrote a military thriller called The General’s Daughter. Several years later the novel was adapted into a film featuring big names like John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe and Timothy Hutton.

Unfortunately, critics generally panned the movie and it received many negative reviews. One critic in particular – John Anderson of Long Island’s Newsday – must have made a real impression on the author, for a year later when DeMille’s next novel – The Lion’s Game – hit the stands, it contained a rather interesting reference. When the novel’s main character, John Correy, catches a plane heading from New York to LAX, he states . . .

“The First Class meal wasn’t too bad and the movie, starring John Travolta playing an Army CID guy, was terrific, despite a bad review I recalled reading in Long Island’s Newsday, written by John Anderson, a so-called movie critic, whose opinion I trusted to be the exact opposite of mine.”

Needless to say, DeMille is my new hero. He got the ultimate writer’s revenge, demonstrating to critics everywhere why you should NEVER mess with a novelist. I’ll have to keep this enlightened response in mind for the future.

Critics beware . . .