Friday, November 27, 2015

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick

Alright, even though I consider myself an avid science fiction reader, I really didn't know much about Philip K Dick. When the Man in the High Castle show was advertised on youtube to premier on Amazon, I was super excited.... and unaware that it was a book before. My darling husband informed me that this was the same author who wrote the book that inspired Blade Runner with Harrison Ford. 

Always finding opportunities to review book and then make the ultimate comparison, I hurriedly bought the book and dove into reading it before the premier of the show. Now, Amazon released the first 2 episodes of Man in the High Castle in their competition with Netflix and AKA Jessica Jones and I loved it! I was really excited to read the book and see the differences and similarities. PKD wrote tons of books and I think a few more were made into movies. 

The book was written in the 1960s, 20 years after the end of WWII. PKD took that concept and flipped it on it's head. He changed the outcome and posed the question, 'how would the world look if Germany and Japan won the war?' However, his focus wasn't on world building, or setting up a straight protagonist to uncover the truth... or have a traditional plot of any sort. He creates a few characters and uses them to view Americanism if the Allies had not won WWII. What is America if Germany and Japan won the war? 

I think it's a really cool concept and the parts where he discusses (casually through dialogue and inner thought monologues) how the word has changed (Nazis have dried out the Mediterranean, brutally conquered Africa and built rocket ships to Mars for instance) and it was easily the most fascinating parts of the book. However, I found myself waiting to get to the exciting plot points and I found myself frustrated when PKD focused on Childan and Tagomi (for most of the book, until the exciting parts where they discovered parts of themselves and revealed their true character in times of crisis) but up until then, I found myself rolling my eyes and using the "hurry up" gesture when I read their portions. 

The character Juliana, I feel, was used to drive the ultimate story to completion and doesn't stand alone as a character. She stumbles, like Tagomi, onto the book within the book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, where the plot of that book is our timeline and the Allies won the war. At first, other characters view Juliana through their lens (Joe Cinnadella, Frank Frink) and have some very anti woman thoughts about her. They view her as sort of a manic pixie dream girl. She's unstable, quirky, unable to guide her own life and exist for the purpose of men. Despite their thoughts about her, they are still drawn towards her and still are incredibly attracted to her. 

PKD then introduce her own POV, and it seems like what other people perceive of her is actually true. She is aimless, unstable and casual. She relies on Joe, who reveals himself to not be an Italian truck driver, to give her a good time, and goes off with him to a strange place to meet the author of the book. Then there is a switch, or a few switches that happen, Juliana falls apart, and then Juliana, after her conversation with Abelson, becomes cool and calm. I'm not sure if her character development is more realistic, or less. It felt to me that Juliana's decisions was based on what PKD needed to finish the story, not because it was genuine to her character development. 

I think this book is good for those that enjoy exploring those philosophical questions of the "What If?" I also enjoy those "What If?" questions, but I feel like I would have enjoyed this book more if there was much more direction. I also wanted to find out more of what the Nazis, and the Japanese did after the war. How did the world look? I wanted to see exactly how they eradicated Africa and exterminated all the Jews in the world. I wanted to read about the new world order, and maybe a deeper insight of how the changeover of the Third Reich would happen, and more political drama instead of the Baynes and Yatabe secret meeting and fall out. 

It's probably me being a book series supporter, but the kind of information, and the wealth of world building potential in this book would look great as a book series. Maybe each person has their own book? Maybe each book takes on someone new stationed in a place, like Africa, or even on a rocket ship to Mars, and discusses the implications of that life? That maybe the book, Grasshopper Lies Heavy is found, they read it, and go on their own journey of discovery? 

I'm excited to see where they take the show. I'm not sure if I will read another PKD book, but then again, I did watch Blade Runner. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty by Karl Shaw

I came across this book like I do so many others, randomly. A teacher was retiring at the end of the school year and he was giving away books by the dozens. I took a few other ones, and on my second trip there, I found this book, with a picture of Queen Victoria with a crown that is too big on her head.

Even though it was a free book, I wasn't sure if I should pick it up or not. I love history, and I love reading about history.... when the writer is good. It's so easy for history to become boring and bogged down with what actually happened, instead of letting the story unfold naturally. Sure, history is a recount, but also, people were involved and as I get older, I realize just how crazy people are. Anyway, I bit the bullet and took the book home, and then moved the book when I bought my house. 

And boy, I am glad I did. Usually books that I am not really into takes me a few weeks (even a month) to get through, and I was finished this book in a few nights. The tone and attitude of the book is pretty judgemental and catty, which is fun when you get into the mindset of a typical teenage girl (or boy). I imagined being invited into a conversation while drinking in a mysterious pub or bar by someone who experienced first hand these ridiculous people and these ridiculous people happen to be famous Monarchs, all related to the British royal family. 

The book is fun and silly if one disregards the tone towards mental illness. It's very obvious the book was written over 15 years ago, because along with mental illness (and the sequential jokes), Shaw also discusses homosexual and transgender royals and likens them to pedophiles or sexually deranged. I can see what he was trying to do: poke fun of the idea of a royal family and question why they have all this power and money when really, they are just as fucked up as the rest of us! However, as I was reading goodreads, a lot of people felt that he was poking fun of serious mental issues. I also felt as a person reading this book in 2015, he was seriously dated in how he portrayed homosexuals and transgender people. 

Another issue that many reviewers had of the book, which I also have a problem with, is the lack of footnotes. There was a bibliography in the back, but I would have loved to see where he got his information and his research on the topic. There was also a few complaints about how incomplete his stories about certain monarchs, like George VI and George III and reducing their reigns to stories about their madness. 

Finally, Shaw ribbed about the rampant inbreeding and ugliness of the royal families across Europe, which made me laugh because the propaganda machine and stereotype of beautiful ladies and gentlemen with refined tastes and loads of money is just that, assumptions. Many royal families were obsessed with keeping the royal line pure, but in doing that, their gene pool became more shallow. I also didn't realize that the Kaiser Wilheim I, Czar Nicholas II and King George V were all first cousins. What I also didn't know was that the current British royal family is exclusively German, and changed their names to Windsor in response to anti-german sentiment during WWI. King George V, though Shaw ripped into him as a classless man, was a man who modernized the royal family and refined their duties for the present day. 

 This book could use the benefit of a rewrite for more modern times, but I would also love to see an update on the selection of Princess Diana when she was to marry Prince Charles. Shaw ripped into him earlier in the book, but was decidedly mum when it came to the progression of the current British royal family. I can only say that Diana passed only just a few years before this book came out, and the grief felt by the world was probably why Shaw didn't write about her. 

If you like a book that treats history like juicy gossip, then give this book a whirl. However, take it with a grain of salt. There is a lot of bits about madmen, homosexuals and sexual depravity, all in the same sentence. Take it as you will. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Which is Better? The Red Dragon

Whereas Silence of the Lambs was a masterpiece and a movie that was so unexpected that it won a few Oscars, the movie Red Dragon unfortunately, a prequel shot 10 or so years after Silence of the Lambs, falls flat. Now, I am unsure if my opinion on the movie Red Dragon is the result of over saturation of all things Hannibal Lector or if I really was just underwhelmed with the movie in general, but I digress.

There are a few major problems with the movie.The first problem was the casting of Will Graham. In the book, Harris takes you through the downfall into madness of Graham and his relationship with Hannibal Lector. Lector isn't very involved in the book, but Graham, in looking at Francis, starts to lose his sense of self. In order to catch a serial killer, he has to think like one, and in the book, it just tears him apart. In the movie, Norton is just walking around like he owns the place and that he is not phased by what he has to do.  In the movie, Edwards Norton is a badass. He isn't overpowered by Francis at the end and he sort of regains his life after Francis is shot by Molly. His relationship with his wife and stepson falls apart in the book and alludes to a divorce.

The second major problem with the movie is that the book, is set before Silence of the Lambs, but the movie is made over 10 years later. Anthony Hopkins is noticeably older and my husband pointed out that Hopkins wore a girdle to keep himself trim. They recasted Crawford... and I get why they brought Hopkins back, but I think it would have been well served if they got a younger Hopkins look alike to play his younger self. In the movie, after watching Silence of the Lambs, he just looks ridiculous.

I really liked the backstory of Freddy Louds in the book. I was able to see his inner workings and how he was shafted for most of his life and just decided to take control of it. He was really valued at The Tattler, but everyone hated him in the journalists world. Throughout the book, he was a guy that knew that no one would look out for him but him, and he did what it took to be successful. All he wanted was to be a serious journalist with lots of money and it was very sad when The Dragon took him. In the movie, I didn't really didn't feel any sort of way for him. He was played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who does sarmy very well. There was never any sort of backstory to him other than skeevy gossip journalist.

In the movie, they alluded to his backstory and showed the time with his grandmother when he wet the bed when he was a child. What is lost in the movie is the time frame. This whole serial killer case was done in the 1970s, which makes Francis' low self-esteem and self loathing due to his cleft palate much more probable if the audience knew that he grew up in the 40s and 50s.

Reba's interpretation in the movie is mostly spot on. She's white with golden pageboy hair and she's blind. I liked her inner monologue in the book, but in the movie, you lose that. You feel for her because she genuinely likes Francis and he can't get past his own abuse (or really, into therapy) to be available for her. He is so far gone by the time he meets Reba. It's sad because The Dragon helps him be more confident and strong but also drives him to kill people and encourage him to kill Reba.

All in all, Red Dragon is better as a book than a movie. You get more material and the motives of characters which is lacking in the movie. It would have been better served to recast Lector just for the simple fact that Hopkins is noticeably older in a movie that was supposed to take place before Silence of the Lambs. The movie is entertaining, however, so if you want to just settle for watching something thrilling, then it's a good way to spend a few hours.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

So, I came back to the blog enthusiastically with my Thomas Harris books, the movies and the TV show. I watched all the movies, watched all of the show and finally finished my second Harris book, The Red Dragon. I finished my "Which is Better?" post about the book and the movie, (which will be published after this post) and then... I just ignored this unfinished review of The Red Dragon.

Why? Silence of the Lambs seemed pretty easy to write and to put together, so why did I avoid writing the review of the first book in the series? After much consideration, I think I have my answer.

I think it's a combination of being so saturated with all things Hannibal Lector and not enjoying Thomas Harris' writing. It feels that after watching the show, and then the movies, the time I got to the book, the story sort of falls flat. Besides for the background and inner monologue of a few characters that I will get into, the book doesn't offer anything new. It's not like it's drastically different, or the reader gets the complete inner workings of the main character that didn't carry through in the movie.

It's just... Will Graham is not that interesting in the book. The way he captures Hannibal Lector is also not very interesting or indepth like the TV show. Of course, I didn't expect 2 seasons of Will and Hannibal capturing serial killers like they did on the show in the book, but... Graham and Lector met twice. Lector was never a consultant for the FBI. Graham just sort of figured it out and then Lector stabbed him.

On the show, Graham's descent into madness after thinking like serial killers is disturbing and thorough. In the book, Graham seeks Lector's help and essentially Lector sends The Dragon after him... his marriage falls apart, but Graham doesn't seem to change all that much during the course of the book. Harris seems to beat his fists and tells the reader that he's changing, but... I barely knew who Graham was before Harris tells us that he lost it all.

However, what the show and the movie missed out on is the sad, sad stories of Francis Dolarhyde and Freddy Louds. Freddy Louds' motivation and backstory is completely lost in both the show and the movie. In the book, he's a short, rat of a man who realizes that he is not going to get anywhere in life hoping that others open the doors of opportunities. So he leaves, goes to a tabloid paper and is treated like a king. Everyone hates him, but he doesn't care because he's on his way to getting a book deal and making even more money. Louds grabs life by the throat and is not afraid of taking risks.

However, it ends tragically for him. He is burned alive and accuses Graham of making him "his pet." Graham is left wondering if he really meant to do that, which left me with a chill.

Now Francis Dolarhyde's story is sad and disturbing as well. I loved how Harris made a point to state the time period, which would make it hard for children with cleft palates to gain self-confidence and be accepted by their families and society. It also just so happened that Dolarhyde had the shittiest family ever, and coupled with severe paranoia, turned him into a self loathing individual that identified with a dragon later in life. I'm not sure if that makes him a serial killer, but it also makes his story a bit more tragic when he meets a woman that likes him for him and he cannot escape the dragon's reach.

So overall... I'm not sure how enthusiastic I am to read the final 2 books in Harris' Hannibal Lector series. You may want to read the book first before venturing into the movie and the tv show. Otherwise you may be left underwelmed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Which is Better? Silence of the Lambs

It was incredibly hard to review the book without also reviewing the movie, but I think I succeeded! Nevertheless, now it's on to see which is better, the book by Thomas Harris or the movie, that won a few oscars, including best picture.

Confession time: I watched the movie before I read the book (I've been doing that a lot lately....) but honestly, now that I've been a teacher and worked with students who have reading challenges, unless the adaptation blows (which sometimes it does), I don't think watching the movie before reading the book is a bad thing. Now, I think sometimes people don't want to read the book after they watch the movie because they've seen the movie so there is no point in reading the book which is bad! Unless the book blows (and sometimes it does), read the book too! 

Ok, now back to the Silence of the Lambs movie. First of all, I watched the show Hannibal with Mads Mikkelsen. I loved the casting for that show because Mads Mikkelsen has an other wordly persona and look to him. I knew he was a serial killer before it was revealed in the show (most audience members did), but he gave off that vibe that he was different from the others. That he was wearing a "person suit." Anthony Hopkins was a very different direction but I equally liked him. He's a great actor, and Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal is terrifying in a different way. He sort of looks like a Dad, or a therapist. He seems to blend in and melt away into the crowds, whereas Mads definitely stands out. No wonder so many people died with Hopkins as Hannibal. Eventually, I will go into what went wrong with the other movies and the show, but for now, Silence of Lambs deserves every one of those Oscars. 

Jody Foster as Clarice Starling is magnificent, but of course she's awesome. That's what makes her Jody Foster. She's understated, gritty and determined to prove herself. She brings more life to the character and even though I try to separate myself from the movies when I read, all I could think about when I was reading was her as Clarice Starling. 

What I liked about both Hopkins and Foster is that they brought more life to the story than the book itself. Not only was it acted well, the script and the direction of the movie makes it a masterpiece. The reveal of Buffalo Bill, the downfall of Chilton (who, to Harris' credit, creeped me out MORE in the book) and the cinematography just brings the story of Hannibal and Clarice together. Whereas the book does a lot of tell, instead of show, the movie does a great job of doing both showing and telling. They interject information into dialogue that the audience needs to know, but doesn't do it overtly where it makes me want to roll my eyes. 

It's very clear to why Silence of the Lambs Oscars. When I was telling a few friends that I watched Silence of the Lambs for the first time and then read the book, they all agreed that the movie was better than the book, and they also commented that type of film wouldn't have been nominated for an Oscar today. I'm not a huge film buff. I like movies and I have some knowledge of them, but I don't actively follow them or care about awards season. However, I can see how they could make the statement that Silence of the Lambs wouldn't have made a big dent in Oscar season. That type of movie now and days don't really get nominated for Oscars. 

Keep an eye out for the rest of my reviews on the Hannibal series and the movies. I did watch all the movies (besides for Manhunter) before reading the books for "Shock-tober." My husband states that the books get progressively worse as the series goes on, but that is to be determined! Stay tuned! Comment below if you disagree with my review of the movie or my opinion of the book! 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

So, confession time. When I was growing up, I was terrified to watch Silence of the Lambs. I thought the poster looked terrifying, and I imagined that Hannibal Lector eating people in the most gruesome way. I had, (and still have) a very vivid imagination, especially when it comes to horror movies. Ghost movies? Haunted Houses movies? Totally out. Zombie movies? Dawn of the Dead terrified me for the longest time. The Ring? The Grudge? I can't even do it. Torture movies? SAW is seared into my brain forever.

Interestingly enough, my husband LOVES scary movies. He was a film major before switching to English (therefore, going into teaching) and took a class on scary movies. He enjoys watching them, but we never embarked on watching them together. 

Fast forward to this year. He and I both LOVE Halloween, and he has taken to call this month, "Shock-tober" (I know... you wonder how I snagged such a man). We also discussed what Halloween-y things we could do this month (that you know, don't cost a lot of money) and he suggested a few scary movies. 

And guys... I wasn't immediately, "Hell to the naw!" about it. I thought for a few seconds, and I realized that I should watch more scary movies. I'm older now, experienced more life and I'm not scared out of my mind so much anymore. So we discussed a few movies to watch, and the topic of Silence of the Lambs came up. Now, he and I watched the show together, and he stated that the movie wasn't completely scary and more of a thriller. He also suggested that I do a "Which is Better?" posts about all the movies and the books along with the show. That's what I'm going to do now! First I will review the books, and then the "Which is Better?" post will come out next for each book and each movie. 

After watching the movie, I went ahead and read the book. It's going to be really hard to not review the movie with the book, because well, the movie follows the book with a few minor absences that weren't really needed in the movie. It opens up to Clarice running through the FBI training grounds when she gets a notice to go see Jack Crawford. They begin discussing Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lector, with Jack sending Clarice to go see Hannibal because he feels like she can get something out of him. Finally, Jack warns Clarice to not give up any personal information because Hannibal likes to amuse himself. A lesson that Jack learned with Will Graham. 

Harris' style of writing is very straightforward. He's a mystery and crime novelist and his mode of writing is very direct and to the point. At some points, especially during action scenes, I felt as if I was watching the fight happen, instead of experiencing it. When intense dialogue and conversations taking place, especially with Clarice and other characters, I felt like I wasn't experiencing her discovery and realizations. I was just sort of reading about it. Finally, I thought that some of Harris' descriptive language was a bit odd. There was one part of the story where he describes a female character who puts her hand on her vagina to hide while in the well. I can't speak for other women who are scared, but I felt as if Harris was sexualizing her? Why point out that she covered her vagina? I'm not sure what the purpose of that was. 

Harris also switches between perspectives jarringly and sometimes I would have to reread in order to figure out that the inner monologue of characters switched. I don't mind experiencing a shift in perspectives, but the transition wasn't smooth. 

Finally, even though I'm not a fan of crime novels, I thought it was an enjoyable read. After watching the show, I liked reading the novel that began it all. 

My husband's favorite book, which is my next book in the series (after I take a break from Hannibal Lector), is Red Dragon. He thinks that it's the best book of the series and even better than Silence of the Lambs. 

What do you all think? Stay tuned for Which is Better? Coming out in a few weeks! 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

New things coming out!!!

I've not had cable for many years. I moved out when I was 22 but even before that, I lived back and forth between college and my parent's house. My roommates and I didn't have cable and we didn't really see the need for it. Even though the internet is a daily part of life (and I know a few people who don't have internet or a TV and I wonder what they do in their spare time!), sometimes I find new releases later than the rest of the world. I'm not sure if it's because it's what websites I browse but it seems like I stumble on news later than the rest of the world.

Despite all of that said, I am so excited for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! I recently did a review on another Pride and Prejudice adaptation, and this book was the first adaptation I read! I quite enjoyed it and I thought it was a more modern take on the classic story. I can't wait to watch the movie (and of course, do I post about it!)

I am also excited for Man in the High Castle! Say, what?! So, recently my husband and I watched Blade Runner, and when I saw the preview for The Man in the High Castle before a video on youtube, I told my husband about how excited I was to watch it. Well, he broke the news to me that it was also a book, and that Philip K. Dick (unfortunate name, however) wrote a book that was the inspiration for Blade Runner.

I DIDN'T KNOW, OK?! But when I did find this out, I hopped on Amazon to buy the book. I'm thinking of going back to get his other books so I can do a review and then a "which is better?" post, but as you all know, I have a lot of books to get through.

I'm sure there are other adaptations and sequels coming out that I am missing or I don't even know about yet. What else is premiering? What are you excited for? Comment below!

Which is Better? Girl with a Pearl Earring

Like the book, the beginning of the movie is cumbersome. At first I was really excited. The first scene shows Griet cutting vegetables and I thought they were going to shoot the firs scene right out of the beginning of the book. But then, she stops cutting vegetables, goes to her Dad, takes a tile that he made and then packs to leave her home. Her mother mentions something about staying away from the dirty Catholics, and then she's off to work as a maid for a richer family.

There is no explanation to why she had to go work for them unless you knew Dutch family structure and culture of the 1600s. The dad's blind, so there was no money coming in. Mom has to take care of Dad, so it's up to Griet to provide for her family.

You see Griet trying to get used to her new life but the viewer is waiting for the other foot to drop. The appearance of the master, Mr. Vermeer. ScarJo plays Griet as if she is already lusting after Vermeer, but they had not met yet. However, Colin Firth... did not disappoint.

And so... like the book, I didn't care about the characters until I actually did. It sort of snuck up me, how I suddenly was invested in the characters, waiting for the moment when Griet is actually painted.

The movie does a great job of building the tension between everyone in the household, not just between the master and Griet. I also loved how they showed the power deferential between Griet and Vermeer, and also between the wife and Vermeer.

I also loved how they showed Griet torn between the butcher's son and her love for the master as well. I also loved the different spin ScarJo put on Griet's situation. As if she knows that the Butcher's son is her only viable option, but she wants to fly close to the sun.

A noticeable difference between the book and the movie is the omission of characters. I felt like the other family members added to her backstory, and her drive to become a maid and work for her family. It also adds an element to why she begins a courtship with the butcher's son. He'll provide for her family, much more so than her wages as a maid.

I also thought it was very funny that the meeting with Griet and Vermeer didn't occur until 20 minutes into the movie. I felt like it didn't really have a beginning until they meet, and it should have been done immediately. It was the same deal with Cordelia, the devil daughter of Vermeer. However, they used her in the background in an interesting way for the rest of the movie. I thought that illustrated just how devious she was.

At first, I wasn't into the casting of the wife but she leaned into her role halfway through the movie and conveyed the petty but pretty wife written in the book. I wish they had done more with Tanneke and their complicated relationship. How they went from friends, to enemies, to acquaintances again.

The ending was off, with the giving of the pearl earrings. She is supposed to be several years older and she goes back to the master's house. The mistress gives her the pearls and Griet sells them but does nothing with the money. One of the points of the book that is drove home is her class and status, which is missed by the brief ending.

I think the movie, overall, is a great adaptation. Scarjo and Colin Firth are phenomenal as the main characters, and the other actors contribute a lot to the movie. I do feel like movies are limited on character development, and Pearl Earring definitely falls victim to that. Nevertheless, the movie is shot well and the sets were properly made, instead of CGI.

Which is Better? I feel like it's a draw. The book and the movie are great for different reasons. Read the book and watch the movie!

Do you have a different opinion? Respond below!