Movie review: IT (and other Stephen King meanderings)

It might seem odd to post a movie review to a Reading themed blog but it’s a movie that was made from a book. “IT” is a 1986 novel by the horror writer Stephen King. It’s a big, chunky book that has two parts, one taking place in 1958 with a group of early-teens fighting an entity called Pennywise and then the second part some 25+ years later in the early 80s with the same group as adults returning to their home town of Derry to confront Pennywise again. Pennywise appears as a clown at first, to lure in children then it changes to represent the innermost fear on which it feeds. It may maim or kill and is terrifying. It lurks in the sewers, or in dark corners of old, abandoned houses, never out in the open sunlight. The kids are friends but are often bullied by the stronger and more popular children. They find strength in their bond as the Losers’ Club and that’s what gets them through this nightmare, both as children and as adults.

The book was made into a tv mini-series in the 80s starring British actor Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown and he was excellent, though for me, the best part of it. It was good, better because he was in it, but not great, as I recall.

The new remake of IT was quite good. I haven’t read the book since the 80s so I couldn’t say whether it followed it well or not but it only focussed on the part to do with the kids, not the adults years later like the original mini series did. It was set in 1988-89 which would bring the adult part forward to present day if there is a sequel planned, and it seems like there might be.

All of the child actors they cast were very good, which is unusual really (in my opinion). For me, there is always at least one or more that irritates me. Not all of the kids themselves are likeable but then that’s not down to the actors, just the character and I would think the actor must be doing a good job if he’s making the character annoying! The one playing the girl in the group was especially good. She’s Sophia Lillis and she’s got talent. She’s also really pretty now at the age of about 15. She’s going to be a stunner in 5 or 10 years. She kind of reminds me of Deborah Messing from Will and Grace. Talent and looks will take her far in Hollywood. Watch that space.

The man that played Pennywise the clown in this version is Bill Skarsgård from the Swedish family of actors. You’ve seen his father Stellan in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and his brother, Alexander, was in True Blood. We’ve only just seen Bill lately in a creepy series called Hemlock Grove. Excellent stuff with vampires, a werewolf and lots of other creatures. Tim Curry played the original Pennywise but Bill did just as good a job, I think.

Since this movie was all about the kids and their experience, it went into more detail about the lives of most of them and about their fears which is what the entity feeds on. Their parents are not major characters and only appear if it contributes to either the child’s state of mind or to their personal fears. If they do make a second movie about the adults, it should be interesting.

IT is on my list to re-read. Perhaps it would be a good October/Halloween book! I read a lot of Stephen King’s books back in the 80s with a few more in the past 10 years. I haven’t read the Dark Tower series so won’t be going to see the new movie out that’s based on them. Quite often, movies and mini-series based on King’s books have fallen flat which is a shame. Few seem to be able to really grasp the spirit of the book. Even The Shining with Jack Nicholson seemed to miss the mark a bit for em. Nicholson is great but his personality is so huge that it kind of takes over a bit. The Shining was one of the movies that was better received than most, however.

I wonder if part of the problem is that the King novels are usually so thick with lots of detail and that’s hard to translate into a film. By losing so much detail, you lose a lot of the plot and it doesn’t hang together as well. The movies then rely on effects and scare tactics rather than leading you into the situations more slowly where the creepy and scary bits then have more of an impact. At least, for me. In fact, it’s a general opinion that the best adaptations of King’s work have come from his short stories (Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption) with a few exceptions (Misery and the original version of Carrie were excellent adaptations from novels. You might think mini series would be better, giving more time to expand on the detail and the original IT wasn’t too bad at all but The Stand, one of my favourite books, really dragged. I loved the more recent novel 11/22/63 but I didn’t enjoy the series made from it, either. In my opinion, James Franco did not suit the lead part and they changed too much of it.

The new IT has managed to get past the details problem, probably by splitting the book into two movies, I guess. At the end, there’s a screen with “Chapter One” displayed, indicating there could be a second chapter. Hollywood loves sequels so it’s likely. If they do as good a job as they did with this one, it should be worth seeing and I would definitely recommend the movie we saw last night!

Another work in the making is a new limited 10 episode series that Hulu is producing called Castle Rock. King fans know Castle Rock is one of the towns that appear in a number of his books along with Derry, both towns in the easternmost U.S. state of Maine. Wikipedia describes the series as “The series is set to explore the themes and worlds uniting King’s entire canon, while brushing up against some of his most iconic and beloved stories. ” So far, Sissy Spacek and Bill Skarsgård are among two actors already cast, both of them being actors that have played in Steven King movies (Sissy was Carrie). It might be interesting, this “mash up” as it were.

Stephen King’s wife Tabitha is also a writer and I’ve read two of her books which were not horror based. His son Owen is now writing and collaborating with his father.

I do remember liking IT as a novel. My other favourite King books include 11/22/63, Christine, The Stand, The Shining, and The Dead Zone and Mr. Mercedes. Are you a fan? Which of King’s books or adaptations are your favourites?

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Book to Screen – The Snowman

Jo Nesbo is the Norwegian author of a series of crime novels about detective Harry Hole (pronounced Hoo-leh). Harry is a deeply flawed man, an alcoholic and a brilliant detective, especially when it comes to catching serial killers. In an interview that you can find on his website, Nesbo describes Harry as “an innocent with problems, becoming more and more like the criminals he hunts, gone to a darker , he’s on his way to hell”

The interview was recorded about the time The Snowman (#7) was released, which was 4 novels ago and at that point, Nesbo says there will not be a film made but it seems that over the past few years, he’s changed his mind or he’s finished with Harry novels. That was his other point, no movie until he’s done with Harry.

I really enjoy the Harry Hole novels and I’m excited to see that there will be a movie made from one of them, The Snowman. They’ve picked Michael Fassbender to play Harry. Not a bad choice, he’s fairly tall at least and Harry, in the books, is about 6’4″. Fassbender doesn’t have a face like 40 miles of rough road like Harry does, though, which is from all that booze, cigs and stress but I’m sure they can manage to make him look rumpled and worn around the edges. The trailer (see below) seems to show him looking fairly rough but he’s still a handsome man, Michael Fassbender and I always picture Harry as a man that might have been good looking in his youth but whose years swimming in the bottle and tangling with serial killers all show on his face.

So. The Snowman. I’ll copy my review here:

This is the third Jo Nesbo book i’ve read and I’ve read them all out of order. This one falls in between the other two I read and even though the killer from this book is revealed in the first one I read, The Leopard, I couldn’t remember exactly who it was at first. Even when I did, and was looking for clues, the story was so well crafted that I second guessed myself once. Inspector Harry Hole is on the trail of a serial killer who ends up being called The Snowman. He kills women who have children mostly. The women go missing and most of them were never found both in the past and in the present until the Snowman leaves a head of one woman atop a snowman in the forest.

Harry’s ex-girlfriend Rakel and her son Oleg are still weaving in and out of his world. He manages to stay off the booze most of the time and goes off on his own to investigate things which frustrates his superiors to no end. His new partner, Katrine Bratt is sharp and may have an agenda of her own. The climax would be a visual thriller if they filmed it. I like the Harry Hole books and I like the way Nesbo constructs his stories.

As I wrote above, I read Harry #8, The Leopard, before The Snowman but with enough distance between them that I didn’t remember who the killer was. It’s been enough time again, five years, that I can’t think who it is off the top of my head now, either! I do think I’ll try to reread this before seeing the movie though I’m actually reading the latest Harry Hole book, The Thirst, now. I would recommend reading his books in order because on occasion, he’ll mention something in a subsequent book that might spoil one of the previous books if you haven’t read it yet.

The movie, which is released in October, was filmed in Oslo and Norway and the trailer looks fierce:

Review: Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler

2017: 52
4.5 of 5 stars
Published 1997

This is the second book I’ve read by one of Canada’s esteemed authors. Richler has been publishing successful novels since the late 1950s. I previously read The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and enjoyed it and I chose Barney’s Version for my second Richler. The story is about the life of Barney Panofsky as told by his good self, a man in his late 60s whose health and memory are both precarious and whose freedom is in some doubt. He may or may not have murdered his old friend, Boogie, 30 years ago and though he was deemed innocent by a jury of his peers, the scandal and doubt hangs over him like an Atlantic fog. The body was never found, m’lud, so there was no murder is Barney’s defence. We do find out what happened at the end of the book.

Anyway, he’s writing his autobiography that centers around each of his three wives, one of whom doesn’t even get named. The book is sectioned off by each wife but don’t think that means the story is told in any sort of alignment. It’s all over the place, with anecdotes and his personal history told as it occurs to him in random order as one thing reminds him of the next and you’re not even sure he’s remembering incidents correctly. He also revisits some of the incidents as need be. His life is filled with crises and scrapes, and he’s not portrayed as all that sympathetic a character nor is he portrayed as a scallywag that the reader treats indulgently. He makes bad judgments and choices, he drinks, he curses, he’s obnoxious,  he has more failures than triumphs, and you wonder how his children and friends can stand him at all though most of them do seem to keep him at arms’ length.

I guess I can’t relate to Barney that well but it doesn’t take away from Richler’s talent at bringing the characters off the page. His humour is dark and cutting, his observations on life’s aspects are as jaded as the characters but spot on.  I have to say I found it a bit more difficult to like at first but it soon hit its stride and carried me along for the ride.

There has been a movie made of this starring Paul Giamatti, released in 2010 and it’s quite a good film, particularly because it puts the events of the novel in their proper order! Duddy Kravitz gets name checked and makes a few brief appearances, now a grownup and it appears he’s as successful as he always planned. The Gursky name also gets a mention which probably relates to Richler’s book, Solomon Gursky Was Here.  I think I will come back to Mordecai Richler again.

Not one of my #20BooksOfSummerChallenge because I started it about a month ago but I am going to use this for my Cross Canada Challenge for Quebec.

Lost in the translation

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye – book cover


I’ve been a big fan of the Steig Larsson books, the Millennium trilogy (Lisbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo….that series). The author died but a couple of years ago, another Swedish writer took up the mantle. David Lagercrantz released The Girl in the Spider’s Web. I read it. I thought it was not *quite* as good or gripping but… not bad either. A Worthy successor and it was popular enough to become a legitimate best seller. Why did they even bother, some might ask? Leave well enough alone. Maybe yes. But why not? There are a lot of books and series that take up the characters in Star Wars, Star Trek etc. Not quite the same thing since they weren’t books to start with but authors are still creating new works about well known characters.

There was a sequel written many decades after Gone With the Wind, approved by the estate of Margaret Mitchell called Scarlett. It wasn’t bad but it was more of a bodice ripper type historical romance than the original which was very, very good and while did centre on Scarlett O’Hara’s loves, was also set in the Civil War and the lives of people in the South during and after. The sequel was more about Scarlett’s campaign to get Rhett Butler back. The mini series they made from it was appalling. Even though the author of the sequel wrote the mini series, she still changed the ending which made no sense to me. Why have a different ending from the book you wrote if you figured you’d be selling the filming rights to it anyway? (without looking it up. perhaps she even got the contract to write the book with the knowledge that she’d be writing a filmed version, for all i know).

Never mind that. The Spider’s Web book was quite good even if not quite the same treatment of the characters that Larsson created. There’s a new sequel coming out this fall called The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. Oh dear. Not too keen on that title. I don’t really like the cover either. The series has mostly not had the same English titles as the Swedish books. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was titled differently and was a translation from the Swedish to English title “Men Who Hated Women”. “The Girl Who Played with Fire” is a direct translation. “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” should have been “The Air Castle That Exploded” when translated from the Swedish which sounds very awkward and Spider’s Web translates to “That Which Does Not Kill Us”.

Sure enough, the new book is titled in Swedish as Mannen som jagade sin skugga and translates to ”The Man who Chased his Shadow”. Again, why couldn’t they have gone with that? Probably because the publishers for the English Speaking World originally wanted to use something that ties them all together and make it a recognizable series. I would think they might not have wanted to alienate people with The Man Who Hated Women and since the plot centers on Lisbeth Salander, they went with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and a series was born.

What baffles me is why the Lagerkrantz books, at least, didn’t stay with “The Girl Who…” titles since that’s what they would inevitably be in English anyway. Larsson’s books weren’t published until after his death so he didn’t know what they’d be titled in English. I expect the publisher took the title of the second book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and ran with that as the theme.

The plot of the new book, according to this Swedish site (though it’s in English), says that Lisbeth is in a harsh women’s prison and gets new information about her past. It’s about Lisbeth taking revenge. Nothing new about that. That’s been a common thread in all of these books. I think the more I look at it, the more I intensely dislike the English title they’ve chosen for it.

Entertainment Weekly has a short interview with Lagercrantz. He says that the plot will revolve around the history behind the massive dragon tattoo on Lisbeth’s back. The author is also contracted for another book after this one.

One thing I have to mention, however, is the overall translation of the book to English. It is quite an accomplishment to translate a book from one language to another and have the essence of what the original author wanted to convey captured really well. Authors have a style, they have their own ways of using language and grammar, and it brings the book and the characters to life. That must be very difficult for a translator to do well. I don’t read any other language so perhaps the English translations would be a let down, I don’t know. But translations I’ve read from various languages all seem to be excellent and these are no different. I read these books and have never felt like the story suffered for the translation, that it didn’t flow or that it felt awkward at all. I’ve read books translated from Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Japanese, Russian and French, just to name a few. Translators are unsung heros, I think, and I wonder how many of them must be writers in their own right?

The next news on this same subject is the films. I saw the original three Swedish films with Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth. They were excellent. Sony made an American version of the first book in 2011 starring Rooney Mara and it did ok I think. I liked it well enough but the Swedish version had a bit more atmosphere, I think. The second and third books were supposed to be filmed with the same cast but have had scheduling problems and I haven’t heard anything about it. I don’t think they’re going to be made at all because there isn’t even a placeholder for either film on IMDB. It seems that Sony is jumping into Spider’s Web instead but not using the same cast as the first American version. It will be interesting to see who they end up casting. The IMDB placeholder is here but they only have credits for the director and writers so far.

The trivia on the IMDB page speaks about the possibility of casting either Natalie Portman or Scarlett Johansson but I wouldn’t like either of them in the role. Far too “Hollywood”. The first Hollywood version used an actor who was less known and I think it worked better. Another name that’s been mentioned is Alicia Vikander who is Swedish and was the robot in Ex Machina. Might have possibilities there. She appears to be filming a new version of Tomb Raider so she will likely have the chops to do action.

I’ll be following this with interest and I am pretty sure I’ll be buying the book when it comes out in the fall.

Ooh, and in doing some research, I discovered a Wiki for the Millenium books, here. Excellent. I shall have a good rummage around there.

Update on A Handmaid’s Tale

I mentioned in a past post that Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale is being made into a 10 episode series by Hulu, a cable network in the U.S. There was no word at the time that any station in Canada would be airing it.

This week there is good news on that front. Bravo in Canada will air A Handmaid’s Tale starting April 30, four days after the debut on Hulu! I can watch it legally! Once the series is finished, it will also be uploaded to Crave TV. We have that, but I’m not waiting 10 weeks when I can see it on Bravo. I’m quite excited about this. I have started rereading the book in anticipation. (edited: Finished! Review here)

Elizabeth Moss from Mad Men is cast in the main part of Offred.

The story takes place in the future in a totalitarian society in the Republic of Gilead where a Christian Fundamentalist group has overtaken the U.S. and quickly moved to create a society where human rights are a thing of the past and women are subjugated even moreso. Because of the pollution and increased levels of STDs, fertility is adversely affected and to keep the population from dying out, women called handmaids are used to be the bearers of children. The story is told from Offred’s point of view where we get flashbacks of her life before her current situation including when she and her husband and daughter tried to escape to Canada.  Handmaids are subjected to the sexual act in the presence of the wife of the couple in a ritualistic manner, hoping they will get pregnant.

Offred is attached to a high ranking official who defies the law and becomes obsessed with her, allowing her privileges in secret. The official’s wife is also trying to manipulate Offred who hasn’t become pregnant yet. She’s setting up an alternative situation with the chauffeur to help get Offred pregnant and Offred’s subsequent relationship with the chauffeur could end up making or breaking her. Offred also discovers an underground resistance movement but by the end of the book, her future is uncertain.

Another Margaret Atwood book, Amazing Grace, is also being made for tv. CBC and Netflix are cooperating on this 6 hour mini series about a mid 19th century maid accused of murdering her employer. The book starts off after Grace has been in prison for 10 years though she continues to say she has no memory of committing the crime. The story is told by Grace to a doctor. Margaret Atwood is going to appear in the series in a cameo role. Canadian actor and director Sarah Polley wrote the script with Atwood also having a writing credit. CBC will air the series in Canada and Netflix will carry it globally. There doesn’t seem to be an air date yet though one place I read speculated end of 2017 or early 2018.

Begorrathon Review: Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (book and movie)

In another entry for the Begorrathon 2017 Reading Ireland Month at blogs by  Raging Fluff and 746Books,  I bring you a look at the book and movie, Brooklyn.

Book:

Brooklyn (2009) by Colm Tóibín is a  little slice of life telling the story of a shy young Irish woman, Eilis, who emmigrates to Brooklyn in the early 1950s. She’s drifting through life, unable to find a good job. Her sister and local priest find an opportunity for her to give her a new start. She is to sail to America,  to Brooklyn, New York. We follow her on the journey as she settles into a boarding house run by a commanding landlady and is set up with a job. A nearby Priest looks out for her and she works in a local department store for a strict supervisor. She decides to take a night school course that the priest finds for her, in order to get a bookkeeping qualification and ends up meeting a fella. Life is starting to look pretty good.

But she returns to Ireland after her sister dies and things conspire to keep her there including the promise of a good job and the temptation of a new boyfriend.

But all of this really wasn’t in Eilis’s life plan, something she doesn’t really have.  It just happens to her almost by chance, and when she can’t decide what to do, she just goes with the flow. When she can’t decide to speak up and speak her mind even though we can read that she most certainly does have an opinion, she says nothing or does nothing. It’s not really even a coming of age type book because she never really comes to any particular realization, just takes the path of least resistance through her life which is why she ends up getting tangled up with two men. I found the character of Eilis to be weak and submissive and not very interesting. She had no spark at all.

It’s a nice little story, well written, but you get the feeling that the rest of her life is going to be more of the same, never doing or saying what she wants and letting everyone else decide for her, no matter which side of the Atlantic she ultimately chooses.

Movie:

The movie Brooklyn was released in 2015 and was adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby. It stars Saoirse Ronan, Domhall Gleeson and Emory Cohen with supporting performances from Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters. A top cast. How can you go wrong?

The movie Eilis seems a tiny bit more confident than the book Eilis, though still not a force to be reckoned with as far as taking her life in her hands. She starts her life in Brooklyn trying to adapt to the new culture, while feeling homesick for Ireland. Little by little, and with the added attraction of a handsome, polite Italian man, she is making that life for herself until she has to go home for a funeral. Once there, she seems to fall in with another man just as easily as she fell in with the first one though she’s not chasing these fellas.

As in the book, things happen and she goes with the flow in spite of herself and her better judgement. Will she return to the U.S. to Brooklyn, New York, a career that she’s building for herself, and the man that loves her or will she take the chance on a life in the small village where she grew up, living up to everyone’s expectations, with a man that .

The movie captures the time period of the early 50s in both locations. Montreal stood in for most of the Brooklyn scenes. The lovely Saoirse Ronan is very good as Eilis and I’ve heard her in interviews later where she’s said that she identified very strongly to Eilis’s situation, leaving home to establish her life elsewhere and struggling with homesickness. Movie Eilis has a bit more about her than book Eilis but both versions are shy, not very forth coming and a bit of a doormat over all. Emory Cohen as Tony and Domhall Gleeson as Jim are both good in parts that really aren’t fleshed out all that much. But the story isn’t theirs.

Links to lots more of the Begorrathon posts are here.

Begorrathon Review: Room by Emma Donoghue (book and movie)

My next entry for Reading Ireland Month is a look at author Emma Donoghue with a review of her book Room and a look at the movie that was made from it, screenplay also by Ms. Donoghue.

Emma Donoghue is an Irish-born writer now living in Canada so we claim her as one of ours as far as CanLit goes. She was born and grew up in Dublin where she also attended university. She was awarded a PHD from Cambridge in England and spent a few years traveling back and forth between Ireland, England and Canada but moved to London, Ontario in Canada in the late 90s where she now lives with her family.

Her 2010 novel, Room, is told from the point of view of five year old Jack and it won many awards, shortlisted for a number of others including the Man Booker prize. Room is the only one of her books I’ve read so far, but I do own a copy of her recent book The Wonder, on my bedside table.

Book Review: Room is told from the point of view of 5 year old Jack. He was born in this room and raised there and aside from what he sees on television, which isn’t “real” to him, it’s all he knows. His mother was abducted when she was 19 and has been held captive in this room which was built into a garden shed, for 7 years. The man that took her comes most nights and rapes her.

We are taken through their days and nights, what they do, what they eat, how they cope. Jack is quite happy, and he’s very smart and articulate, though his grammar and sentence structure is still that of a young child so it takes a bit to get used to it. You can read between the lines from Jack’s observations about his mother and her reactions that he doesn’t always understand her reality.

Eventually they emerge from Room and the rest of the book is about them coping with the real world, still from Jack’s point of view. The outside world isn’t “safe” and it’s vast and unknown and filled with people and is overwhelming to him. Although Jack is very close to his mother, “Ma”, you can also see that she is trying to raise him to be his own person.

I liked the book very much, and it was one I had a hard time putting down. It’s touching, sad and happy, too.

Movie:
Room: released in 2015
Emma Donoghue adapted the screenplay from her novel and captured the book’s essence quite well, I thought. You can’t always get inside the characters’ heads as easily in a filmed version of a book without the dreaded voiceover and she did it. She brought Ma and Jack to life, as believable people. She drew out Ma’s fear, sadness, desperation, frustration and insecurity and Jack’s innocence and joy, fear at the new world that overwhelmed him and his curiosity about it, too as both of them adapted to freedom.

The “Room” part of the movie is all from Jack’s point of view, with some of the freedom part of the movie from Ma’s point of view as she struggles to figure out who she is, dealing with the media and her family and trying to help Jack adapt and gain his own confidence. Mostly, though it’s Jack and the child that plays him, Jacob Tremblay, does an astonishing job for one so young. Brie Larson who plays Ma aka Joy plays it just right, too, first, with Ma’s determination to take back her life or at least give Jack a chance at one and then, with the weight of guilt, media attention, and post traumatic stress overwhelming her. She won the Oscar, a Golden Globe, a Critic’s Choice, a Screen Actors’ Guild and British BAFTA award for this role and deservedly so.

Emma Donoghue’s  website.