Thursday, March 29, 2012

Movie Quotes and Book Quotes: How Do They Match Up?

This post originally appeared on Book Riot back in February. It didn't do as well as I hoped then, so I'm resurrecting it here. 

Plot-wise, it’s easy to tell when a movie deviates from the book on which it’s based. But is it as easy to spot when the screenwriter slightly tweaks a line of dialogue or narration from a novel? Here’s a look at five important, semi-famous, or memorable lines in movies compared to the same line in the novel.

1. Gone With the Wind
Movie line: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Book quote: “My dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Comments: This is the most well-known example of dialogue deviating from the book. I like the book version better — it’s clearer, starker, and more succinct. Frankly, “frankly” is redundant. This is the most important scene in the story, so of course, Rhett’s being frank.

2. Wonder Boys
Movie line: “She was a junkie for the printed word. Lucky for me, I manufactured her drug of choice. ”
Book quote: “…my lover was an addict, and I was a manufacturer of her particular drug of choice.”
Comments: Subtle difference here, but I like the movie line a lot better — delivered by Michael Douglas playing a novelist named Grady. There’s something about the phrase “junkie for the printed word” that is really descriptive and concrete — or at least much more so than just “addict.” This is my favorite quote in the movie, and while Michael Chabon conveys the idea admirably in the novel, the screenwriter took it took the next level.

3. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Movie line: “I want you to help me catch a killer of women.”
Book quote: “I want you to help me identify a murderer.”
Comments: This is a turning point scene: the beginning of Mikael and Lisbeth’s collaboration. The line (delivered by Daniel Craig in the film) is how Mikael hopes to get Lisbeth to help him with the Vanger case. In the film, the screenwriter makes much more explicit the connection to Lisbeth’s hatred of those who prey on women. Therefore, it only takes a few words to reveal a ton about Lisbeth’s complicated character. So it’s a very good re-write for the movie.

4. The Shawshank Redemption
Movie line: “You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory.”
Book quote: “You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. And that’s where I want to finish out my life, Red. In a warm place that has no memory.”
Comments: Unbeknownst to his friend Red, Andy Dufresne is wistfully talking about what he plans to do when he breaks out of jail. The line is about escape not just from jail, but also from his past and the horrific time he’s spent at Shawshank. This quote really cuts to the core of Andy’s character — and the screenwriter (thankfully!) left it mostly untouched (and it’s even possible that the difference is due to how Tim Robbins delivered the line, not how it was written in the script). Much of the more clever and/or meaningful dialogue (Hadley: “What is your major malfunction, you fat barrel of monkey spunk?”) in the movie is invented by the screenwriter, so I was heartened to see this line left largely unchanged from Stephen King’s novella.

5. The Descendants
Movie line: “My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawai’i, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation — we’re all just out here drinking mai tais, shaking our hips, and catching waves. Are they nuts? How can they possibly think our families are less screwed up, our heart attacks and cancers less fatal, our grief less devastating? Hell, I haven’t been on a surfboard in fifteen years. For the last 23 days, I’ve been living in a ‘paradise’ of IVs and urine bags and endotracheal tubes and six-month-old US magazines. Paradise? Paradise can go fuck itself.”
Book quote: “The tropics make it difficult to mope. I bet in big cities you can walk down the street scowling and no one will ask you what’s wrong or encourage you to smile, but everyone here has the attitude that we’re lucky to live in Hawaii; paradise reigns supreme. I think paradise can go fuck itself.”
Comments: In both cases, I love how the writers (the novel is by Kaui Hart Hemmings) chose to dispel the false notion of paradise. The screenwriter’s is a little more clever and descriptive, and Clooney nails the delivery (given in narrated voice over). The screenwriter chose a little bit of a different angle to approach the topic of “Hawaiian unhappiness,” but Hemmings’ works just as well.
And both punctuate the notion with a guffaw-inducing finale. Well done, both!

So have you noticed any differences between movie lines and book quotes? I’d love to hear about them — please share them below.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Review of the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet

The Nook Tablet came out last November as Barnes & Nobles' answer to the Kindle Fire. It's one of an increasing number of "iPad miniature" tablets...and it's awesome!

The primary purpose of the Nook Tablet is reading — or "consuming media," as B&N puts it. I've had my Nook Tablet for three months now, and I mostly love it, but it does have a few quirks. Remember, this is not an iPad replacement. So, here's what you need to know.

The main reason I, an avowed skeptic of ebooks, wanted a Nook Tablet was for magazines. And for reading magazines, the Nook Tablet is incredible — I read Time, Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker on my Nook Tablet every week. Each includes everything (photos, sidebars, etc.) included in the print, but each also has features — like multimedia and links to current stories — you can't get with a print edition. I really think tablet versions are the future of magazines, so I figured it was high time to jump on the bandwagon. A really nice feature is that B&N offers a 14-day free trail of any magazine. Since some magazines are better than others (for instance, The Atlantic tablet version is still just a glorified .pdf. I subscribed, and then immediately unsubscribed, and then re-subscribed to the print edition), it's great to be able to check out the e-version before committing to subscribe. That said, you subscribe on a month-to-month basis (B&N automatically charges your credit card each month), which is really nice, too. If you get bored with a publication, you're not stuck with it until your subscription runs out.

One annoyance with reading magazines is that if you hit the "home" button to close out of a magazine to do something else, Nook Tablet doesn't remember your spot (like it does for ebooks). You have to re-open the magazine and navigate to where you were. I'm not sure whether this is a shortcoming of Nook Tablet or of the way the magazines are e-published (I actually suspect the latter). 

The Nook Tablet is also great for reading books — and has turned me, an avowed skeptic of ebooks (wait, did I mention that already?) into a huge ebook fan. The backlit screen is sharp and bright, and the Nook Tablet's size (7") is comfortable to hold in one hand for long sittings. It wasn't until this weekend, when I read more than half of The Hunger Games in one sitting, that I can honestly say that long reading sessions don't tire your eyes. Of course, you can buy ebooks directly on the device from B&N, and you can sideload any other .epub or .pdf ebooks from Google Play or your library or wherever.

The Nook Tablet has all the standard e-reader features — allowing you to look up words, highlight text and write notes, bookmark your spot, etc. The one feature here that is irritating is the "Share." You can highlight text and share it on Facebook and Twitter, but the text shows up as just a quote, then a link to the book on B&N, and a #nook. There's no way to tinker with the tweet to add the author or anything else. I don't that use that feature — which is too bad, 'cause it could've been cool.

The first thing you need to do if you buy a Nook Tablet is download the free Dolphin Browser HD app. It's not that the native Nook Tablet web browser is awful — though it can be buggy and slow, and seems to crash more than a normal browser should. It's just that Dolphin is much, much better — it's faster and much more customizable (including the capability of setting up "gestures" to send you to bookmarked web pages. I may be easily amused, but I can't get over how awesome that is.) Nook Tablet has a built-in WiFi but no 3G or 4G. Not much more to say about web browsing — except that it's nice to be able to do this on an ereader.

The dearth of Nook apps is probably the Nook Tablet's biggest shortcoming. But, keep in mind, Nook Tablet is not an iPad. Many of the "standard" apps iPhone/iPad users are used to, like Words With Friends or Angry Birds, cost $2.99. As of just a few weeks ago, there's finally a dedicated Nook Twitter app, but still no Facebook app. (I've just bookmarked Facebook on the Dolphin Browser.) Also, the native Email app on Nook Tablet is AWFUL. It's not even not even worth using at all — it can't load Hotmail correctly, and is really clunky and slow. Again, I just have Hotmail and Gmail saved as bookmarks in Dolphin. Nook Tablet does come with Netflix and Hulu Plus apps, and I have watched a few episodes of TV series on my Nook Tablet. The screen is fantastic for viewing — really close to high-def.

If you want to listen to tunes on your Nook Tablet, you can, but bear in mind you're getting a bit far afield from Nook Tablet's reason for being. Don't expect much. The Nook Tablet comes with a Pandora app — but the sound quality using this app isn't good — it's scratchy and distorted; about half as clear as my iPhone Pandora app. You can sideload mp3s (see below for info about the memory) or other content onto your Nook Tablet via USB connection from your computer. The actual music player is bare bones — you can't make playlists or do a lot of the other things iTunes users might be used to. But, if you have no other options for tunage, Nook Tablet can oblige.

B&N just came out with an 8 GB version for $199 to make Nook Tablet even more competitive with Kindle Fire. The 16 GB version still sells for $249. The 16 GB does have 1 GB of RAM, whereas the 8 GB only has 512 MB. So if you're planning to, I don't know, play online games, the 16 GB may be better — but otherwise, 8 GBs is more than sufficient. Many of the early poor reviews about Nook Tablet were directly related to the fact that B&N only allowed 1 GB of the device's memory for your own content. Not sure why they did that, but this is really a non-issue, since the Nook Tablet has a MicroSD slot that can take up to a 32 GB MicroSD card. I bought a 16 GB card for like $20, and put thousands of songs on it, and it's still only half full. Memory won't be an issue.

B&N says the battery life for Nook Tablet is 11.5 hours of reading and 9 hours of video. I haven't come close to testing the limits of that, but it seems actually about right.

Despite it's few shortcomings, I love my Nook Tablet, and would heartily recommend it. I did a lot of research on Fire vs. Nook before I got mine (it was actually a Christmas gift from my girlfriend), and the majority of reviews seemed to favor Nook. The consensus was that it's bit more powerful, with more memory, better battery life, and better display. If you want an iPad, get an iPad — this isn't it. But as a budget tablet / ereader on 'roids, the Nook Tablet is fantastic.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Short Review of Nathan Englander's Short Story Collection

Short story collections always seem to have the coolest, most inventive titles — and Nathan Englander's recent volume is definitely in the top tier: What We Talk About When We Talk about Anne Frank. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise, then, that the stories themselves are top tier, as well — this is a fantastic, very entertaining group of stories.

In the interest of full disclosure, I rarely read short story collections, but I loved Englander's last novel The Ministry of Special Cases, so I thought I'd give this a try. The most effective way to judge a collection, in my view, is to look back and try to fit each story into categories, such as "Loved," "Really Liked," "Wasn't Bad" and "Didn't much care for." The more stories fall into the first two, the better the story collection. Simple, right? Here's my tally on this collection's eight stories: Loved = 2, Really Liked = 3, Wasn't Bad = 2, Didn't much care for = 1. So, by this very unscientific criteria, this is a very good collection.

The stories here all have a Jewish angle of some sort — they often look at some aspect of how history impacts modern life; how the past informs the future. Not every story mentions the Holocaust, but many do. One of the stories that does, the title story, and one of the two in my "loved" category, is also far and away the funniest. A couple who now live in Israel where they have 10 daughters and practices an ultra-Orthodox form of Judaism, return to the U.S. to visit another couple, their long-time friends. Thankfully, whiskey and pot are kosher, and the four wind up getting toasted...nicely toasted. This wasn't exactly an expected direction for this story. Anyway, the title refers to a game one of the couples plays — they think about their neighbors and other friends (and, eventually, each other), and try to decide whether (or under what conditions) they would sell out those people to the Nazis if those people were hiding in an attic. What results is a rather sobering conclusion to an otherwise pretty funny story.

The second story I loved is titled "Camp Sundown." It's about a new camp director at a place where old Jewish folks go to play cards and whatnot. Two of these campers are certain they recognize a third camper as a guard from a concentration camp — but are they just senile old people, or is there a possibility, however small, that their accusations are true? The new camp director must decide, as the story hurdles towards a rather shocking conclusion.

Again, the other stories (with one exception) here are very good as well — so if you are a fan of short fiction, this is definitely a volume to pick up. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Great Perhaps: Joe Meno's Dysfunctional Family

Tolstoy was right — no unhappy family has every been unhappy in the ways the Caspers are. This Chicago family of four (plus Grandpa Henry), the stars of Joe Meno's insightful, but melancholic novel The Great Perhaps, has a world of problems. And the only way to solve them will be to face them head on. It makes for a fascinating, fun-to-read (in kind of a "thank God that's not my family" way) story, and it's told with timeliness and urgency. I loved it!

Father Jonathan, a scientist and professor at the University of Chicago, can't find the giant squid he's spent his career looking for, and he's afraid his annoying French nemesis is going to beat him to the punch. Mother Madeleine's own scientific career is also going off the rails — she's studying the mating habits of pigeons, and they keep killing each other. Also, she's worried she's fallen out of love with her husband, and she's become obsessed with chasing a mysterious cloud all over the city. (More on this in a second.)

Seventeen-year-old daughter Amelia has decided she's a communist and constantly rails against the evils of capitalism. Fourteen-year-old daughter Thisbe has discovered religion, and to the unending consternation of her liberal, not-religious parents, constantly prays. (Thisbe's prayers are one the more delightful aspects of this novel. They're just so earnest.) And finally, poor old patriarch Henry has been relegated to a nursing home, where he sends letters to himself with one-line memories of his life.

Believe it or not, and I know it may be difficult, this novel's not slapstick. In fact, it's not really funny at all. It's immensely sad — worse and worse things keep happening, and the family uses each bit of drama as an excuse to insulate themselves from each other. The girls are constantly worried the parents are divorcing, all the while sniping at each other at every chance. And the parents aren't altogether sure that a divorce isn't the best solution.

There's even an Haruki Murakami-like element of odd to the storytelling here  — the clouds. Throughout, clouds are symbols of challenges or fears that must be faced. Jonathan has a strange form of epilepsy — now under control with medication (when he remembers to take it) — which causes him to seizure if he even sees a cloud. And Madeleine really begins to lose it when she first sees the "sparkly cloud" in a tree outside the family's house. She becomes obsessed with it, and follows it everywhere. Her family has no idea where she is, thinking she's left permanently.

The story's told from the rotating points of view of each family member. And, with a few exceptions each section is as interesting as the others. Sometimes, when an author uses this narrative technique, there's one or two you're interested in, and you read quickly through the others to get back to the characters' stories that grabbed you.

So, four out of five stars for The Great Perhaps. And I can't wait for Meno's new novel Office Girl due out in July.

Friday, March 16, 2012

REAMDE: Neal Stephenson's "Thriller"

If you're part of the small but vocal "Neal Stephenson can do no wrong" contingent, you may want to turn away. I'd suggest taking a breath, climbing the stairs of your parents' basement, going outside, and doing your light saber exercises.*

While this is the first Stephenson novel I've read — I'd been meaning to read him for awhile because his fans are always raving about his novels, particularly Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon — and while I didn't care for REAMDE, it wasn't enough to put me off him forever. That said, after finishing REAMDE, I put the novel down and breathed the hugest sigh of relief I've let loose since finishing Gravity's Rainbow. Again, it wasn't all terrible, but it was a gigantic relief to be finished.

The novel is a thousand-page doorstop about a computer virus called REAMDE that infects players of a World of Warcraft-like video game called T'Rain. Three groups of characters with vastly different backgrounds — including a Chinese gamer, a Hungarian computer nerd, a sexy Asian MI6 agent, a Russian gangster, an international Islamic terrorist, and an adopted Eritrean-refugee who is the niece of the impossibly wealthy creator of T'Rain — are thrown together by circumstance, and then literally blown apart in all directions. Traversing the globe — from an island off the coast of China, to the Philippines to the British Columbian wilderness — they must reunite to stop the Islamic terrorist from doing really bad things on American soil.

I'd love to tell you that because this is an "international thriller," it hums along at breakneck speed. It does, sometimes. Mostly, it doesn't. If you're familiar at all with Stephenson, then you know that "concise" would never be a word used to describe him. Normally, I don't mind verbosity — my favorite writer is David Foster Wallace, for God's sake. But here, a lot of the "information dump" feels really superfluous and really slows down the pace of the novel. Indeed, the last, supposedly high-drama scene, as all the characters find their way back together, takes place in the wilderness of Idaho — and reads like part hiking instructional tome, part gun manual, and part, yes, actual thriller. Also, it takes place over almost 300 pages! THREE HUNDRED PAGES! Just this part could've been it's own freakin' novel.

So I wasn't a fan, but if you're into gaming, guns, the Idaho wilderness, or China, this might be a novel you enjoy much more than I did.

*Apologies to non-geek Stephenson fans, but after suffering through this thousand-page novel, I'm well within my rights to make fun of his notoriously geeky fans, I think.