Friday, August 09, 2013

Movies Based on Books and Tidbits for August

 The quote below sums up, in a nice way, why we need to keep community bookstores viable:

Bookstores 'Will Continue to Be Rediscovered & Reincarnated'

"Just like that old classic with a newly designed cover that might

attract you for some unexplained reason, the bookstore is a place where

not only the old and new converge, but connect.... I see these

conversations and interactions happening daily, and each time it does, I

am reminded not only of the importance of bookstores, but also the

importance of vibrant downtown districts.

"The fact is this: We only survive because downtown Ann Arbor survives.

We are simply the latest torch-bearer of an old idea--one that was

carried by Borders, one that was carried by Shaman Drum, one that has

certainly struggled over the past few years, but will never go away.

"Like all old classics, bookstores may get new names, new addresses, or

new owners, but so long as people still enjoy discovering new surprises,

they will continue to be rediscovered and reincarnated, over and over

and over."

--Mike and Hilary Gustafson, who
opened Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, Mich., this spring, in a guest post at Concentrate

This week Jeff Bezos, CEO of the giant company (based in Seattle), bought the venerable Washington Post newspaper for a mere 250 million dollars, which is like pocket change to a guy worth billions. Still, it has caused quite a ripple in the bookselling and in the journalism communities, and there has been a lot of speculation about whether or not Bezos will put the newspaper online and shutter the actual newspaper, firing all but a few employees. So far, that hasn't been the case, but there is still a great deal of unease about Bezos becoming a media baron.
In an opinion piece in the
Washington Post, author and bookseller Ann Patchett offered a somewhat
friendly if wary welcome to new Post owner Jeff Bezos.

Writing wistfully about change and hoping that Bezos can help the Post
thrive, she said, "I realize that I'm extending optimism and goodwill
without knowing Bezos's vision for the paper. I also realize that
optimism and goodwill toward Bezos may seem a little strange coming from
me, a spokesperson for independent bookstores and someone who is forever
climbing up on a chair to rail against Amazon.... Bezos has been a
forceful visionary, an industry leader and often a steamroller. While I
disagree fiercely with many of Amazon's business practices, I regard
Bezos as a man who makes things work."

She ended with a bit of bookseller-to-bookseller advice: "Since it's
safe to assume that Bezos is reading the Post thoroughly these days, let
me offer a piece of advice that will benefit us both: Expand the book
review offerings. Nothing beats newspaper reviews for selling books. And
bookselling, after all, is one of the businesses we're both in."

I have been attempting to watch "Orange is the New Black" which is a series on NetFlix starring the marvelous Kate Mulgrew. It has been causing quite a stir, both in popular culture and in critical circles, because the show is so diverse and well done. Since then, several other series on premium channels have come up, including "The White Queen" which is on Showtime, and now this series on Masters and Johnson and their scientific research on human sexuality. I intend to try and find both of these series on NetFlix, and if I have to wait for them to reach DVDs, I will.
Showtime released a three-minute trailer for Masters of Sex
based on Thomas Maier's book The Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of
William Masters and Virginia Johnson the Couple Who Taught America How
to Love. Indiewire noted that the trailer "for the upcoming show
actually positions itself as a pretty intriguing looking drama about the
intersection of love, sex and science." The project, which stars Michael
Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, debuts September 29. Johnson died on July 24.

I just watched several movies, Mirror Mask, Admission and Cloud Atlas, all interesting movies based on books. I must admit that I have a copy of both Admission and Cloud Atlas that I haven't read all the way through yet, because after starting both, I was either interrupted with another pressing book that needed to be read, or I found the initial 15-20 pages too dull or impenitrible and decided to move on to less frustrating fiction. Yet I felt guilty when I started watching these movies, as if I were cheating on the books. 
Fortunately, I found they were good, but not great movies, and they certainly didn't spur me to want to try to read the books again. 
Admission is the story of a Princeton admissions officer, a nice young gal played by the incomparable Tina Fey, who finds herself fighting for a young man with a less than sterling academic record to get into Princeton because she believes he's the son that she gave up for adoption 18 years earlier (which was, to my horror, in the mid 1990s!). She is persuaded to help him by the principal and teacher of a strange, offbeat high school called "Quest" that is basically for misfits and hippie children (or grandchildren, as the case may be). Though I LOVE, love, love Tiny Fey, whose Sarah Palin impression is now an SNL classic, the guy who plays the Quest school principal is just awful, weak and grungy and PC as all get out, even unto the adoption of an orphan boy from Ghana (and unsurprisingly, said orphan boy wants nothing to do with going back to third world countries, learning to speak Spanish and creating clean well water for villages. He wants to stay in America and have fun playing video games and doing all the things other American kids do.) The guy, whom I'll call failed protagonist, or FP, is really a manipulative jerk, telling Tina Fey that she has to see how great this kid would be at Princeton, though he's ADD, weird and not at all talented. He loves to read, though, and he loves chattering on endlessly about philosophy, so that somehow makes him a perfect candidate to FP, who then tells Tina that she's this boy's mom. That turns out to be a lie, one in a series that he tells her, including that the boy won a state championship in ventriloquism when he only got an honorable mention (and he shows his embarrassing lack of talent at a birthday party that she is conned into attending). Meanwhile, Fey's live-in boyfriend of 16 years leaves her in the middle of a party for an idiotic British woman who is a Virginia Woolf scholar and is pregnant with his twins, though he's made it clear to Fey that he never wanted children.  So Fey proceeds to fall for the manipulative FP, and she sleeps with him at least twice in the film, for reasons that seem unclear. I just don't see what she saw in the guy, especially when it comes to light that she is not wonderboy's mother, and that FP has been lying to her all along. I would have smacked the hell out of him and never seen him again. She goes back to him even after a car accident and losing her job at Princeton in order to get wonderboy in. Then she gets a letter from the adoption agency telling her that he real son doesn't want to meet her. And somehow we are supposed to believe after FP says that he's sorry for being a selfish dickhead that she just skips merrily off into the sunset with him? With no job and still living with her totally INSANE mother (played brilliantly by Lily Tomlin)? Really? I just didn't buy it, and I think it made Fey's character seem weak and stupid.The best scene in the whole movie is when Tina Fey is defending higher education to a room full of snotty kids who say things like "Why would we want to go to an institution that continues traditions of racism and sexism and kowtows to Corporate America?" and "Why would we need to go to college just to make money instead of making the planet a better place?" She responds with, "Hey, if you want to change the world as a doctor, you know what? You're going to need a medical degree, and you have to get that from college! And if you want to change the justice system and make the world a fairer place, you will have to get a law degree, and that's also something you have to get from college." She goes on to point out that changing the world can only happen with a good education, and it was a really inspiring speech. Then FP comes by and says "Sorry, but we encourage that kind of spirited debate with the kids." HA. That was not a spirited debate, it was rude and ridiculous teenagers ambushing an admissions officer who came to their school to help them, only to be treated like crap by everyone she encounters. This film should be ashamed for promoting ignorance and rude behavior.

Cloud Atlas was a science fiction/fantasy movie based on a book that was supposed to be revelatory, but one that I found pretty dull. The movie is rather hard to follow, as it skips from the past to the 70s to the future and the far future with abandon, and the director seems to assume that the viewer has read the book and can keep up without any cues from him. 
The film seems to be trying to make several points at once. One is that "we are all connected" which they point out and hammer the viewer over the head with several times. The other is that slavery, which comes in many forms throughout history, is wrong, evil and only leads to pain and death and "Soylent Green is PEOPLE!" or, in this case, "Soap is crushed up clones! They're feeding us to ourselves!" Ewwww. They also seem to make the point that people will do anything for money and love. While all those are valid points, and we see that Tom Hanks and Hallie Berry are both excellent actors, I still didn't see why this movie was necessary. Yes, there has been slavery throughout history, and yes, it is awful. Yes, humanity is capable of so much more as individuals and as a species. Yes, there has been war and revolution by the poor and disenfranchised against the wealthy and entitled. Why beat us over the head with it, as an audience? What does this film prove, if not that humanity is both good and bad, both savage and sublime. The futuristic story was just as depressing as the story set in the past with the slave trade. So this film didn't really do it for me, either. 
Mirror Mask is an older film, and it has such stunning visual effects that it doesn't seem too dated at all, in fact, it seems Steampunk-ish and hip, really. It's a coming of age story for a girl who works in the circus with her parents, until her mother gets sick, and has to have an operation. She works through her feelings about her mother in the film, and her feelings about puberty and sexuality as well. By the end we know that she's okay with her parents and her place in the world, and they are okay with her and her newfound confidence as a young and attractive woman. The "Close to You" segment of the film is especially enchanting and fascinating, and I would love to see a sequel down the line somewhere.

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