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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 Movie Review: Synecdoche March 1, 2010

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Movie review instead of a book review? Yes. Sorry netizens and bibliophiles, but I’m suffering from an acute version of Seasonal Affective Disorder combined with ennui and am just generally unmotivated. So instead of reading during this crippling blizzard I watched a number of movies one of which had me yelling out to no one, “What the #*&% is going on?” I texted a number of friends asking for their insights mid-movie; I Googled; I Bing-ed; and then I calmed down, watched the entirety of Synecdoche and saw the light!

Synecdoche, the directorial debut of Oscar award-winning writer Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is a whirlwind of a movie, to say the least. Synecdoche is defined as, “a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa” (New Oxford American Dictionary). The movie uses synecdoche in a number of ways: [1] the movie encompasses the bulk of the lifetime of screen director Caden Cotard [2] Cotard’s play attempts to recreate an entire world – both through the action of the characters and visually – by building a replica of New York City. If you’re already lost, don’t fret, it’s understandable. Let me start from the beginning.

Cotard lives in Schenectady, New York (which sounds uncannily like Synecdoche, New York). He is a playwriter/director in a struggling marriage to an artist and has a young daughter whom he loves very much. He is obsessed with different medical maladies which seem to appear and disappear at will. His wife leaves him and he begins an affair with Hazel, the girl who runs the box office. He is awarded a large grant to put on a new play and this is when he decides that his play will encompass life in total, with all of its pitfalls and triumphs. He then embarks on writing, creating, and staging a play which includes building a replica of the city and a replica of his life. The creation of this play takes decades and is never actually staged. As the play begins to converge with Cotard’s life, action becomes more confusing and more playful. Actors play Cotard, Cotard plays actors playing him or has an actor playing the actor that was playing him, etc. etc.

While the movie is disconnected and confusing at points, the imagery and the central message are beautiful and I found myself haunted by this movie. The quotes from it are just amazing as well. What I have shared barely scratches the surface of the movie so if you are interested in a more in-depth analysis, I found this great blog post that delves deeper into Kaufman’s maniacal mind. Enjoy!

Dataterrific: Time Travel in TV and Movies Visualized February 19, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Uncategorized.
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In case you didn’t already know, let’s be clear about something: Information Is Beautiful – especially when it’s collected and displayed by David McCandless (and friends). This graphic can be found in his new book (available now from Amazon.UK) – but he generously has also shared it on his site!

You can find a HUGE version of the image directly on his website.

Early draft sketch

Also, he talks about how he (and his collaborators) went through 36 drafts before arriving at this final version in this post about his data graphing process. It’s incredibly impressive.

We’ve shown you some of McCandless’ work before, but it’s even more fascinating now, knowing how much work goes into the details of an infographic.

What do think? Are you impressed? Any information you think would make a compelling infographic?

(via A.V. Club)

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

Hugo Cabret Coming to the Silver Screen January 22, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Book Reviews.
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This morning, I came across a bit of pretty cool news: Martin Scorsese is adapting a movie based upon the absolutely amazing Caldecott-winning Young Adult novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.

This book is fabulous, and is described on the book’s website:

This 526-page book is told in both words and pictures. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is not exactly a novel, and it’s not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things. Each picture (there are nearly three hundred pages of pictures!) takes up an entire double page spread, and the story moves forward because you turn the pages to see the next moment unfold in front of you.

I heard about the book when it first came out, and read it right away, instantly falling in love with the story, the pictures and the characters, especially Hugo. What worked so well for me in the book was the way the pictures advanced the story, and sometimes gave the feeling of viewing a film the way each picture so perfectly led to the next.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, perhaps deserves a place on our Monday Book Review list, but the Scorsese announcement is just too sweet to save. And to top it off, the website for the book is spectacular! I’m so glad I heard about the possibility of a movie, or I might never have looked for the site, and it’s worth exploring.

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.

Infographic: Movie Popularity by Area January 12, 2010

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I realized that Infomavens’ is far over due for an infographics post so I was pleasantly surprised when I found this one detailing Netflix rentals by movie and area (twelve different cities). First check out the article so that some interesting patterns are elucidated for you. Then check out the graphic here or click on the screen shot below.

As is often the case, the anomalies of data collection are far more interesting that the norm. Browbeat (Slate.com’s culture blog) found a few zip codes harboring top ten lists that were far from the norm. These zip codes ended up being from airports, colleges, areas dense in movie studios and zip codes belonging to federal or state government facilities. These conditions led Browbeat to believe that the top ten of that zip code could just be one person’s account, or in the case of the college, reflect the tastes of one particular age group. What I found most interesting/entertaining was that Twilight was number one in Universal Studies zip code, and Robot Chicken was popular with the feds. What did you think was most interesting?

Free Movies on the Web! November 2, 2009

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Just found this great list by openculture on where to find free movies on the web. Move over Hulu!

Another Halloween Treat – Vampire Style October 31, 2009

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Although I’ve heard the book is even better, if anyone out there is looking for a good scare tonight’s a good night to watch “Let the Right One In”, a Swedish vampire movie that will keep you awake all night.