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Casting Characters, Take 2 March 23, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Book vs. Movie.
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Earlier this year, we talked about picturing characters from books, and who might play them in movies. This is a fun topic to revisit, since there are endless possibilities of books and characters waiting to be paired with perfectly matching actors.

I love the Janet Evanovich series of novels about Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum and her supporting troop of friends, criminals and cops, some of whom are family. These are hilarious books, deserving of a full review – but I’ll save that for a Monday when I haven’t finished anything new. For now, I want to pass on this bit of news I came across today, even though its a little old: Katherine Heigl is set to play Plum in the movie version.

I’ve often thought about who would make a great Stephanie Plum, and Katherine Heigl has never, and will never be on the short list. Like many fans of the series, I have always thought Sandra Bullock (think Miss Congeniality) would be absolutely perfect for the role – but agree with the dissenters, she is now too old to play the mid-twenties Jersey-girl.

If I was casting Stephanie Plum now, I would go with someone with a comedic personality, someone who can do tough and street smart, while still being goofy and having ditzy moments. My current pick would have to be Tina Marjorino : she’s great at comedy, and she’s all grown up now!

Are you familiar with Stephanie Plum – who would you choose to play her? Any other characters you’d like to see brought to the silver screen by a particular actor?

Monday Book Review: Crossworld: One Man’s Journey into America’s Crossword Obsession March 15, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Book Reviews, Book vs. Movie.
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In my opinion, crossword puzzles are a fun diversion from the stresses of every day life. I first started doing the New York Times Daily crossword puzzles during high school, when, through some newspaper readership program, stacks of NY Times were delivered to the school for students’ use. Always a lover of games and puzzles, I was instantly attracted to the Times’ crossword, a perfect balance of challenge and the satisfaction of achievement. Over the years, my obsession with the NY Times puzzle waxed and waned, depending on the availability of the newspaper (and whether I could get a copy for free!).

In 2005, I found Marc Romano’s book, Crossworld: One Man’s Journey into America’s Crossword Obsession in the “New and Interesting” Display at my local library, and immediately upset the composition of the display by borrowing it – and though I felt bad about leaving the empty space, I knew the librarian would be happy someone was interested in what she had put out. I didn’t get a chance to read the book before its due date, so I dutifully returned it for the next reader, and stopped at the bookstore to buy my own copy – which in the last 5 years, I have picked up and put down at least a dozen times.

I kept giving the book another chance, because I truly love doing crossword puzzles, and there were more than a few bits about the history of puzzles in America, Will Shortz’ personal puzzle ephemera collection, and tips about crossword puzzle construction and solving. I was also curious to read about the author’s first-hand account of a rookie’s experience at the American Crossword Tournament, for which he had trained by doing over 2,000 puzzles. Unfortunately, I despised the tone of the author, and could only handle reading his extremely arrogant yet still somehow self-loathing babble for so long. He brags about how cool it is of him to take his Thomas Pynchon novel down to the bar rather than make conversation with any of the introverted tournament competitors, and drinks a neat scotch and soda while awaiting the “cool kids” to arrive in the bar. Oh – and let me not forget to mention, the “cool kids” crowd, or “Cru” (a take on crew, from “cruciverbalist”, a designer or aficionado of crossword puzzles) is headed up by one of the author’s favorite young constructors, Brendan Emmett Quigley, upon whom Romano can barely conceal his massive man-crush. The entire section of the book about the tournament itself was spent either noting what a bad idea it was to take so many anti-anxiety pills and thus be floating around in a cloud, or mooning over where is Brendan now, and how is Brendan scoring and look at all the groupies Brendan has, and on and on.

Several years ago, I learned that Will Shortz, editor of the NY Times Crossword Puzzle, has been coordinating the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament since 1978. The 33rd annual tournament was held just a few weeks ago in Brooklyn, NY, and the event has grown to be a weekend-long expo-like extravaganza, with vendors hawking all kinds of crossword-themed paraphernalia, game-related activities, receptions and ceremonies. The Tournament was the focus of a 2006 documentary, Wordplay, which undoubtedly led to the increase in the tournament’s popularity which precipitated a move from the Stamford Marriott venue which had hosted the tournament for 30 years, to the larger Brooklyn Bridge Marriott. A solid documentary, Wordplay was an intriguing peek into the world of crossword constructors and solvers, though possibly, only because I was already interested!

Even if you are interested in Crossword Puzzles, or the Tournament, you ought to skip this book and rent the movie. Wordplay was a great documentary that covered substantially the same ground, minus the attitude.

Monday Book Review: The World According to Garp February 8, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Book Reviews, Book vs. Movie.
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It is nearly impossible to review a book like The World According to Garp by John Irving. First of all, it was published in 1978 and adapted into a movie in 1982. Secondly, its popular success has brought it to near-classic status and it has been widely read. Third, it is (in its newest edition) 609 pages long and covers a man’s lifetime, and the huge themes of death, sexuality, and gender. Even if I wanted to attempt a review of this book, it would most likely be far too long of a blog post for anyone to read.

So, instead, I will attempt to compare the movie and the book. First I will say that the casting is phenomenal. Robin Williams plays Garp, the eccentric but essentially caring and loving family-man protagonist. Besides the fact that Irving mentions Garp’s unknown father may have been Japanese, the casting is dead on. Glenn Close as Jenny Fields, Garp’s mother, unintentional feminist and strong, independent woman is also a perfect match. But even better than the casting of these two important roles is John Lithgow as Roberta Muldoon, the transsexual tight-end for the Philadelphia Eagles. Lithgow both physically and mentally inhabits the role and his performance is both heart-wrenching and comedic in the same way Irving presents it in the book.

(Warning: Spoilers in this paragraph!) The movie, at a little over two hours, necessarily takes some shortcuts. I think many of these actually had to do with the movie being produced in the eighties. One of the biggest disappointments, for me, was that Garp and his mother spend his formidable years in New York City instead of Vienna. Movie budgets weren’t as inflated in the early eighties as they are now, and so I understand this choice, but in doing so, the movie lost a certain feel that the book had. Second, the opening (and very graphic) sex scene where Jenny Fields seduces Garp (senior) was completely skipped and only alluded to later. Third, the climatic scene of the car crash where Garp’s youngest son is killed is depicted by crash-like noises and zooming in on the boy’s face. Had the movie been made now, it would have certainly been a gory, grisly scene. But does that affect the impact? As someone who regularly covers their eyes during more visceral scenes, I would argue no.

The movie mostly still conveys the same sentiments that Irving does in the book. Garp came across as a hardworking, eccentric, family-loving man. Jenny Fields came across as strong willed and loving as well. The question of gender and sexuality was still present but not as strongly. Yes, there was still Roberta the transsexual and a house of suffering feminists and rape-victim sympathizers, but the real argument about the abuse of women and the detrimental effects of militant, dogmatic feminists, could not be conveyed.

Perhaps even more pervasive than themes of sexuality and gender is Garp’s fear of the world, danger, and death which manifests itself in his over-protection of his family and his debilitating fears. While the movie attempts to convey this, you simply cannot convey the same amount of information that an omniscient narrator can in a book. So while the movie valiantly attempts to depict Garp’s inner fears, it still falls short.

Overall: a good movie (I still cried), but highly condensed. If you’re too busy to pick up a tome, then rent it, but if you really want a whirlwind ride, “skip the movie, read the book.”

From cafepress.com

Casting Characters January 15, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Book vs. Movie.
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One of my favorite things about reading a good book is the way a story plays out in my mind as I read. The best books have settings, actions and characters that are so well developed and described, I can see them vividly, as if playing on a movie screen in my head. Sometimes, I imagine the story actually is being made into a movie, or hear that the novel has been optioned, and I try to cast actors or actresses for the characters in the book.

Yesterday, I came across this post about a Swedish movie being made based upon The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This, of course, starts speculation as to who should play “the girl” in the US version of the movie. The UK Telegraph is linking Kristin Stewart, of Twilight and The Runaways, while MTV has a few other ideas. My favorite is Shannyn Sossamon.

Who would you cast to play Lisbeth Salander? Do you ever try to pick actors for characters? I do it all the time, and expect we’ll be talking about this again soon.