Thursday, November 12, 2009

Eh... The Movie was Better III: Slumdog Millionaire/Q &A

In neither of my previous Eh... The Movie was Better was the book in question a bad book. In both cases I have written about so far the filmmakers just managed to make a great movie out of a good book. However, in the case of Slumdog Millionaire (2008) I am not even sure how the filmmakers were able to adapt such a great film from Vikas Swarup's novel Q & A. The novel was just not an enjoyable read at all. In this case the filmmakers were able to pick out just the right things and add their own touches to the story to turn a pretty bad novel into a really great movie.

Slumdog Millionaire was one of my favorite movies of 2008, in fact you can read my review here. Because of how much I loved the movie I was really looking forward to the book. You can not imagine my disappointment when I finally got around to reading it though. There is none of the greatness that is present in the film in this book.

The same basic story is present in both the film and the book but the book is just such a disjointed mess that it becomes hard to follow. Both the film and the book have a non linear time line and jump around in that time line quite a bit. The problem with the book is that the author doesn't give you many clues as to what point in the time line he has jumped to at the beginning of each chapter. Sometimes it takes reading for a couple pages before you are able to realize just where you are. This aspect works so much better in the film because we see the main characters at different ages so we know right away what point in the time line we are seeing. The book just becomes hard to follow at many points.

Because the book is such a jumbled mess, none of its main themes come through very well. Where everything in the film happens for a reason and the characters all seem have a distinct destiny, things in the books seem to come across as a string of coincidences that are loosely strung together. The author just doesn't do nearly as good of a job of tying all the events together in the book. Danny Boyle was able to take the story and tie everything together into a wonderful story about destiny that the book can not match.

The writing style in the book is extremely amateurish and that is probably where a lot of these problems stem from. The author seemed to have an idea in his head for a story but had no idea how to get that story out of his head and into a book. He just vomited the entire story out without ever bothering to organize it into a readable novel. This was Vikas Swarup's first novel and I have not read the one other that he is has written but unless his writing style improves I won't be reading any of his other books.

The one other problem I had with this novel was that it was extremely homophobic. There is even one point in the book where one character, referencing homosexuals, says "I, too, know of perverts and what they do to unsuspecting boys. In dark halls. In public toilets. In municipal gardens. In juvenile homes." Normally I would say that just because a character is homophobic doesn't mean that the author or book is homophobic but that doesn't work in this case. There are several homosexual characters in the book and they are all evil characters and shown to to have no morals.

In the end the book was just bad. It wasn't entertaining. It wasn't enlightening. It was just boring. The characters were uninteresting and the story was a jumbled mess. After reading the book I am in complete shock that such a great movie was made out of such an awful book.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

V: The Original Miniseries (1983) and V: The Final Battle (1984) -

V: The Original Miniseries (1983) & V: The Final Battle (1984)
Creator: Kenneth Johnson
Directors: Kenneth Johnson (Original Miniseries), Richard T. Heffron (Final Battle)
Writers: Kenneth Johnson (Original Miniseries and Final Battle), Craig Buck (Final Battle), Diane Frolov (Final Battle), Peggy Goldman (Final Battle), Brian Taggert (Final Battle)
Starring: Marc Singer, Faye Grant, Michael Ironside, Mickey Jones, Thomas Hill, Michael Durrell, David Packer, Neva Patterson, Blair Tefkin, Michael Wright, Jason Bernard, Jenny Sullivan, Diane Civita, Denise Galik, Sandy Simpson, Eric Johnston, Jenny Beck, Jane Badler, Sarah Douglas, Richard Herd, Andrew Prine, Frank Ashmore, Robert Englund, Peter Nelson

Up until last weekend I had never seen V: The Original Miniseries (1983) or V: The Final Battle (1984). I had heard that it was a good miniseries but since I knew the major plot developments I didn't think there was any real reason for me to watch. I also assumed that it would just be cheesy '80s sci-fi with no real substance. However, when Syfy ran both miniseries in their entirety last Sunday I decided it was time to finally give it a shot. I was actually very surprised by how good it was. There were a lot of sociopolitical aspects to the miniseries that I had not expected. Before watching it I had expected that I would get bored by it and not finish it but I ended up watching all ten hours and, for the most part, really enjoying it.

Of the two, The Original Miniseries is far superior to The Final Battle but they both have entertainment value and are worth seeing. I don't know if I'd recommend sitting through all ten hours in one sitting though. Breaking it up a bit might be a good idea.

As most people know The Original Miniseries begins with very human looking aliens (called Visitors) coming to earth promising to help us make our world a better place. It does not take long though for their true intentions (and appearances) to become known to the world, even if many in the world choose to ignore it. Soon, in a rise to power that mirrors the Nazi take over of Germany, the Visitors have taken control of the whole planet and begin to suck it dry of all its vital resources.

Science Fiction is always at its best when it manages to have a real world message hidden in the story. You may not be able to get people to sit through a miniseries about the Nazi's taking over Germany but you can teach them the same lesson by turning that story into science fiction and replacing the Nazis with alien lizards. For the most part this is a story about how history will continue to repeat itself if we do not learn from it. And if their is one thing humans have a hard time doing, it is learning from history.

The miniseries also touches on issues of tolerance and racism. The Visitors are not your typical 2 dimensional villain. They are not just a race of bad people doing bad things. There are some that are bad, there are some that are good and then there are some that are just following orders. Having some of the Visitors as good characters gives the human characters a chance to look at their own prejudices and hopefully learn something about themselves.

For the most part the acting and the writing are all done very well. There probably aren't any Oscar worthy performances in here but there were no really bad performances either. The actors played their parts well enough to be believable and that is good enough. I do have to take a moment to mention Robert Englund though. It was so strange to see him in this because the character he plays is so naive and innocent and it is hard to see him going on to later play Freddy Krueger. Until watching this I had never seen him play a character that was actually a good guy and he does it so well.

For the time that the miniseries was made the special effects were also pretty good. By today's standards some of them look kind of fake but they manage to hold up enough to not be as laughable as some special effects from the same time would be. The makeup effects still hold up rather effectively in my opinion though. Anytime skin is ripped to reveal the reptile underneath, it looks fairly realistic. It certainly isn't perfect but it doesn't look anywhere as outdated as you would expect.

As abundant as the social commentary was in The Original Miniseries, The Final Battle seemed to drop most of that in favor of more and bigger action sequences. The writing and the storytelling also started to get much sloppier. The Final Battle mostly consisted of characters getting captured and then getting rescued. This scenario was repeated a few times during the three episodes of that miniseries and honestly it got a little repetitive and went on just a tad bit too long. And to be quite honest, the ending of the series doesn't make a whole lot of sense at all.

Now, even though commentary is not the main focus of The Final Battle, it does manage to have a few things to say here and there. Since this part of the story focuses mostly on the resistance fighting The Visitors, there are several human characters in the film that are quite willing to sell out there own people just so they can live a little bit more comfortably. With people helping The Visitors we get a good look at just how far people will go when they are given a little taste of power.

Overall i would say that I really enjoyed the entire V miniseries. The Final Battle was certainly not a great conclusion to The Original Miniseries but it was still enjoyable to watch. If they had cut The Final Battle down to two episodes instead of three and cut out the part at the end with the sparkling little girl it probably could have been a lot better. I am certainly glad that I finally took the time to watch the series though. It was far better than I ever expected it to be.

Rating V: The Original Miniseries (1983): 8/10

Rating V: The Final Battle (1984): 6/10

Monday, November 2, 2009

Nosferatu (1922) - F.W. Murnau - live music performed by Silent Orchestra

Nosferatu (1922)
Director: F.W. Murnau
Writer: Henrik Galeen (Screenplay), Bram Stoker (Novel)
Starring: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder, Alexander Granach, Georg H. Schnell, Ruth Landshoff, John Gottowt, Gustav Botz

I've said it before and I will probably say it again but one of the things I love about living in Washington D.C. is the number of great movies that I get a chance to see on the big screen. Every year around Halloween the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD has a showing of F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922). What makes this show really awesome though, is that it is done with live musical accompaniment performed by Silent Orchestra.

Now I really want to sing the praises of Silent Orchestra because they provided an amazing musical score but I want to start with my feelings on the film. I promise to tell you all about the musical score (and where you can listen to it) by the end of the review. Trust me, I would never leave my loyal readers hanging.

By today's standards Nosferatu (1922) is not really what you would call a "scary" film (If Shaw Girl can sit through it then it isn't scary, love you babe). However, the film does have a rather haunting atmosphere and the character of Count Orlok is sufficiently creepy. In this film F.W. Murnau managed to create a number of scenes that have been seared into film history as some of the earliest (and eeriest) images of horror put on film. The parts in the film where the audience is just shown the shadow of Orlok are just amazing. The image of his shadow climbing the stairs and the opening the door to Ellen's room is one most memorable images from era of German Expressionism. The way the shadow makes his limbs look even longer than they normally appear in the film give that moment such a disorienting feeling.

The story itself (an unauthorized adaption of Bram Stoker's Dracula) is very well told although a bit different than the source material. It is obviously shortened to fit into the length of the film but the essence of the story is still there. The characters, although a bit over the top at points, are portrayed well and for the most part faithful the to story. Even if in some instances multiple characters are combined into one or removed altogether for the sake of timing. The character of Van Helsing (Professor Bulwer in this version) does seem a bit less important in this version of the story than in others though.

The character of Count Orlok is quite a different vampire than what a modern audience is probably used to. Count Orlok has a very demon like appearance in this film. To be perfectly blunt, he is rather ugly. He has long fingers with sharp nails. He has a bald head with pointed nose, ears and chin. He is not the handsome, suave Dracula that has been portrayed in later incarnations of the character. While I also love Bela Lugosi's version of Dracula I think that Max Shreck does an amazing job creating a very memorable and scary version of the character.

Now, as promised, I have to talk about the amazing musical score that was provided live by Silent Orchestra. They manage to create a musical score that not only fits well with the film but also works for the time period in which the film would have been shown. They provide so much more than your typical piano score that is heard with most silent films. They embellish the score with sounds that probably would not have been used when the film was first played in the 1920s, however these sounds do not feel out of place at all (Not at all like the time I saw Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928) and the musical accompaniment consisted of Beatles tunes). Everything about the score works perfectly with the film and being able to hear it live is an amazing way to see the film.

If you would like to hear the score that Silent Orchestra provided it can be found on the Image Entertainment DVD of Nosferatu. I highly recommend picking up the DVD if you are a fan of the film. However, if you are in the Washington D.C. area then you should check out the show that the AFI Silver Theater does every Halloween. You'll have to wait until next year for that but now that you know about it you have no excuse not to go. (By the way, I swear I am not a shill for the AFI. I just love seeing movies at that theater and I think everyone should experience it.)

Rating: 8/10