Book and Movie Review: The Girl on the Train

Image: Goodreads

BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Last week, the real-life Book Club Babes discussed the bestselling thriller, The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, and I was delighted that it was our first meetup in which every single member had finished the novel! That fact that people weren't just showing up for the wine (not that there's anything wrong with that...) demonstrates just how good this book is!

Because I watched the film adaptation shortly thereafter, I decided to summarize my thoughts on both versions in one review. Did the movie live up to the book, or was it a total trainwreck? (Sorry, couldn't help myself!)

Book Rating: 4 out of 5

Before I begin, let me get this out of the way: Yes, The Girl on the Train is similar to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn in the sense that they are both popular thrillers that were published around the same time and feature an unreliable female lead. To give a quick plot summary, this novel is written from the POVs of three women: Rachel, an alcoholic struggling emotionally after her husband Tom divorces her; Anna, the other woman whom Tom leaves Rachel for; and Megan, Anna's nanny who is found dead.

Whereas Gone Girl is a psychological "he said, she said" thriller, The Girl on the Train is more of a traditional murder mystery. Despite its best efforts, I never got the sense that Rachel was Megan's murderer, just a pitiable drunk mess who cannot cope with her infertility, which she believes was the cause of her addiction.

And as much as I hated Anna for relishing her role as mistress, it was difficult to consider her aggressive enough to take matters into her own hands. Blame it on being a hardcore feminist I suppose (and the fact that over one-third of female homicides are committed by an intimate partner), but my intuition kept pointing to the men in this story as the real suspects, and that gut feeling turned out to be right.

Perhaps this is why I was disappointed that the book had such a catty tone, pitting these female rivals against each other. There were many comments from Anna and Megan about "winning" their lovers' hearts due to their superior looks, and Rachel suffered a fair dose of body-shaming as her alcoholism wreaked havoc on her appearance.

I understand that this is how adultery plays out in the real world, with women blamed as "homewreckers," but it was clear that this was the true red herring in the novel, not the mysterious redheaded man often found riding the same train as Rachel. Without giving too much away, in the end, the story is redeemed by placing Anna and Rachel in a position of solidarity against the true villain whom they should have been pointing fingers at the entire time.

Overall, this is a book that keeps you guessing, and although some members of our book club hoped for more of a twist, we all agreed that it was an enjoyable read. With multifaceted characters and plenty of drama, this is a great book for discussion and worthy of its fanfare.

Movie Rating: 4 out of 5

After Tim Burton's "Miss Peregrine" utterly ruined Ransom Riggs' amazing YA series, I went into the theater with reservations. I mean, who wants to get their heart broken twice in one week? Fortunately, this film directed by Tate Taylor ("The Help," "Get On Up") for the most part was an accurate depiction of the novel, save for these exceptions:

  • Lazy, but minor change: Setting the story in New York, instead of London (even though Emily Blunt inexplicably keeps her British accent as Rachel).

  • Hollywood's obsession with beauty: Not portraying Rachel as large and "off-putting" as she as described.

  • Because all people of color are the same, right?: Miscasting Latino actor Edgar Ramirez to play Megan's therapist, Dr. Kamal Abdic, without changing the character's name to match his different ethnicity.

Excusing the misguided attempt at cultural diversity, I thought that the cast was excellent. I especially loved Emily Blunt, who nailed the sad, slightly unhinged woman scorned who just wants to uncover the secrets of her blackouts, and Allison Janney, who came across as just the right amount of bitchy as Detective Riley.

Since it can't escape the comparisons, I did enjoy watching "Gone Girl" more, because the suspense was more intense and had higher stakes. Rosamund Pike is absolutely flawless in that film, and the manipulative game she plays as Amy Dunne is something that I could watch again and again. "The Girl on the Train" was a great adaptation in its own right, but not nearly as clever or gripping to warrant multiple viewings.

And honestly, if you're not even going to offer the killer cover of Kanye West's "Heartless" from the movie trailer in the soundtrack, then that's total justification for docking one star in its rating. Now that's something I'd put on repeat!

Movie Review: "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children"

Image: Coming Soon

Rating: 2 out of 5

Well, as much as I wanted this film adaptation to be a raving success, I came home last night angry and disappointed. To be fair, I've never been much of a Tim Burton fan, but I felt that his penchant for creepy cool tales would be fitting for the popular Ransom Riggs novel about a supernatural group of misfits.

Let's start off with the few pros of the movie. I enjoyed the casting: Asa Butterfield as Jacob was a bit wooden and Eva Green was inappropriately young for the role of the elderly Miss Peregrine, but overall the actors worked well together. I even accepted the strange decision to cast Allison Janney as Dr. Golan, who then changes form into the villainous wight known as Barron, played by Samuel L. Jackson, as simply a change in creative direction to support diversity.

The special effects were also impressive, and it was fun to see all the children show off their peculiar powers. I also greatly appreciated how the hollowghasts came to life: they were the tentacled Slenderman-esque monsters that I imagined.

Unfortunately, that's where my compliments end. All the world-building and character development that occurred in the first half of the film came crashing down as the plot veered off course.

Nothing about the last half of the movie adheres to the novel. This is because the studio is not likely to make any sequels. It dawned on me that when Jacob and friends actually rescue Miss Peregrine instead of watch in horror as Dr. Golan kidnaps her that there would be no cliffhanger ending. And when the logic of the time loop is altered so that Jacob's grandfather lives, that's when I literally threw my hands up in the air and gave up all hope for cinematic redemption.

This adaptation is a prime example of how insulting it is when Hollywood uses the original ideas of authors to make money, and yet spit in the faces of the fans who are so passionate about these stories.It continues to boggle my mind why directors can't just look at books as paint-by-numbers. All the hard work has been done; you just need to follow directions and fill in the colors. And yet, this task was clearly too difficult for Burton.

As soon as I learned in the trailer that Emma and Olive's peculiarities had been swapped, I saw massive red flags but chose to remain optimistic. Now that I've seen the movie in its entirety, I can't even recommend it to non-fans of Miss Peregrine. It's a clumsy, nonsensical mess. All I can hope now is that my intuition is correct and Hollywood won't be turning Riggs' sequels into equally horrendous failures. Fingers crossed!

Movie Review: "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Happy Valentine's Day everybody! What better way to celebrate the holiday of love than watching an adaptation of a Jane Austen classic with the walking dead thrown in?

Last Wednesday, a small group of ladies from my book club joined me to watch "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," which was directed and written by Burr Steers. I was feeling optimistic going into the theater, because I had skimmed several positive reviews and thought the casting was great.

The actors did not disappoint. Lily James made an excellent, feisty Elizabeth Bennet, Sam Riley played a brooding and badass Mr. Darcy, and Douglas Booth provided major eye candy as Mr. Bingley.

What surprised me the most, however, was how much was changed from Seth Grahame-Smith's parody novel. I don't want to spoil either the book or the film, but there were certain characters who were supposed to transform into zombies and never did, as well as vice versa. The movie also added the element of "vegetarian zombies," ones that could eat animal brains to slow down the progression of the sickness.

Despite the leaps of faith you have to make with this plot, I was certainly entertained. There were elements that I missed from the book, including Elizabeth eating the hearts of ninjas and kicking the ass of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but it was clever and female-empowered. Matt Smith played a hilariously flamboyant Mr. Collins who had just as much of a crush on Mr. Darcy as the women in the audience.

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" isn't Oscar-worthy, but nobody who sees it will be expecting that high of quality. Critically speaking, it's currently rated 6.4/10 on IMDb and a 5.5/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, but it's still great fun.

I don't know any other movie where you'll both swoon over a love story and scream at jump-scares. If you're a Jane Austen fan and are looking for a passionate film for Valentine's Day that the man in your life will actually enjoy, I recommend "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." As the tagline promises, it's "bloody lovely!"

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 2

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Well...where do I start? Ever since I finished reading The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, I can't say that I've been looking forward to seeing Mockingjay on screen. My initial enthusiasm for this bandwagon has unfortunately faded into begrudging acceptance of the end.

My disappointment has nothing to do with the film's production. I've enjoyed "The Hunger Games" cast, especially Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks as Effie, both of whom did not have near enough screen time in this finale. Instead, all the attention is turned towards Katniss and her crew's mission to assassinate President Snow.

Collins' magic was in the arenas, and without them, all that's left is a sub-par dystopian tale in which no one really learns their lesson. I wrote a major rant about this book, so naturally I went into the theater with low expectations.

On the plus side, the film was very well done, and I enjoyed the trek to the Capitol as the rebels dodged all the various booby traps. One of the aspects that frustrated me about the novel is that Katniss' point-of-view is very limited. However, once you're out of her head, you can be more engaged with the other characters and the action-packed plot in front of them.

Despite the thrills and suspense, I felt pretty meh about this movie. Not surprising to the fans of the books, the ending of this film was depressing as hell. Beloved characters were lost, gone in the blink of an eye. Although the bad guys get their just desserts, you don't walk away feeling accomplished. And just like in the novel, the story's epilogue seemed artificial and forced.

I'm glad to put this series behind me, and I can only hope that Hollywood has had its fill of dystopias, at least for a while. Of course, this is doubtful, given the vast fortune that's at stake. Lionsgate entertainment vice chairman Michael Burns revealed that he's interested in making Hunger Games prequels featuring previous years in the arena. As much as I'd like to see a young Haymitch become a victor, I agree with Forbes:

If Lionsgate is indeed determined to give the fans what they want, what they risk doing is basically turning the franchise into an annual (or bi-annual) fictionalized version of the Hunger Games for multiplex consumption. They will have turned the franchise into a fictionalized “to the death” version of American Gladiators, which would basically complete the transformation from “explicit critique of bread-and-circuses” to “prime example of bread-and-circuses.”

As a fan who went from excitement to disillusionment, I just want to put this story to bed and move on with my life. Instead, I'll have to submit to watching this cash cow get turned into one of Collins' mutts: a zombie-like, demented version of itself.

Movie Review: Far from the Madding Crowd

Rating: 4 out of 5

So in the chaos of moving and starting a new job, I haven't done much reading, to be honest. But I did manage to make time to go the movie theater, something I only do occasionally. As much I would have preferred to read the book Far from the Madding Crowd before seeing the film adaptation, let's face it, I never liked the author anyway.

Based on the 1874 novel by Thomas Hardy, the movie stars Carey Mulligan as Bashsheba Everdene, a fiercely independent English woman who comes into a large inheritance when her uncle leaves her a large farm to manage.

Bathsheba is courted by three suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer who becomes poor after losing his flock (played by Matthias Schoenaerts), William Boldwood, a lonely older man of great wealth (Michael Sheen), and Francis Troy, a sergeant jilted by a former lover (Tom Sturridge).

For those unfamiliar with the story, I won't give away the details, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised that it had a happy ending. Having suffered through Hardy's most famous and oh-so-depressing novel, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, I expected another romantic tragedy. For once, I'm glad that I was wrong!

I'm a total sucker for period dramas, and Far from the Madding Crowd is an excellent one. The English countryside is absolutely breathtaking, and I loved the cinematography and musical score. I'll admit that it may be too slowly paced for some viewers, but all the actors did an excellent job in this character-driven tale.

I wasn't familiar with director Thomas Vinterberg prior to watching this movie, but I was pleased to see David Nicholls on the crew as screenwriter, given that I enjoyed his novel One Day and its subsequent film adaptation starring Anne Hathaway. Overall, I can see why this movie is critically acclaimed, and I recommend it to anyone who's a fan of 19th century history and literature.

Movie Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

I just want to say that I deserve so much gratitude for taking one for the team and watching this movie, which we all expected to suck. Well, suck it did, but at least not as badly as I thought it would. Three cheers for super low expectations!

To better explain my rating, I thought that I would break each element of the film down and grade it individually. There's so much discuss, so let's get right to it!

The plot: C+. I'm not going to summarize Fifty Shades of Grey here, because if you've been living under a rock the past couple of years, then that's not my fault. Although I have not fully read the series, given how crappy it is, I knew that this movie was the first of a trilogy. This didn't stop me being disappointed with how and where the film ended. Many viewers may feel that there was nothing redeeming about Anastasia and Christian's relationship, but I felt that it should have left hints of reconciliation since they end up married with children at the end of it all. Unfortunately, the cut-off point just gives the viewer a bad taste in her mouth.

The casting: B. I give Dakota Johnson a lot of credit for doing well despite the poor source material. Everyone has been saying that Ana is much more likable on screen than in the books, and I commend Dakota for giving her character a personality. Jamie Dornan, on the other hand, is a better model than he is an actor, and I couldn't stop staring at his expressionless, rapist-esque face and wish that Ian Somerhalder had been cast instead. Dakota looked great, but Jamie ironically looked too vanilla for such a kinky bad boy role.

The dialogue: D. Holy crap. No seriously, holy crap, as in any college student who utters that phrase, or any other PG-rated terms, shouldn't be participating in BDSM. The conversations were so stilted and awkward that they detracted from the erotic mood. The lines were funny without meaning to be, and they were just a reminder of how ridiculous E.L. James' writing is. At least the inner goddess monologue wasn't included!

The sex: B-. I feel that the sex scenes were more visually appealing than emotionally, meaning that they superficially portrayed two attractive white people, but they didn't focus on real pleasure. I knew that the film wasn't going to be that explicit since there was no full-frontal male nudity, but I enjoyed the consensual scenes in the playroom. Is the sex an accurate and healthy depiction of BDSM? Absolutely not. Was it sexy at times? Sure, although I think true FSOG fans should find an X-rated adaptation instead if they're looking for something more hardcore.

The music: A+. Hands down, the best part of this film was its soundtrack. The songs appropriately fit each scene, and they were diverse across genre. From the modern twists on old-school classics, like Annie Lennox's version of "I've Got a Spell on You" to the club tracks of The Weeknd, everything worked harmoniously. And how sexy was Beyonce's remix to "Crazy in Love?!" I've been playing it on repeat for days!  

Bonus...The literary courting: F-. So, first off, Christian is super condescending when he asks English major Ana which author made her fall in love with literature, whether it was Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, or Thomas Hardy. He assumes Austen, because he's being sexist, and she surprises him by answering Hardy. To court her, he sends her a first edition of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, to which I demand: WTF?! That has got to be the WORST choice to woo a woman. Is nobody going to point out that the novel was about a RAPE?! Spoiler alert: Tess is raped by Alec, and it ends with her murdering him in revenge and being sent to prison for her crime. If that's not romantic, I don't know what is!

Overall, unless you're a massive FSOG fan, you're better off saving your time and money. Check out the soundtrack, but don't bother watching this movie. The production is such a train wreck: the actors despise one another, and the director most likely won't do the sequels because she hates the author so badly.

You want to watch a great love story featuring some hot eye candy and smoldering sex scenes? Hop on the Outlander bandwagon! There's even torturous flogging on that show too, just out of the bedroom where it belongs.

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Rating: 3 out of 5

Sigh...after more than a decade in the universe of Middle-earth, I'm so sad that the journey is over. However, I'm more depressed that it ended with such a disappointing finale.

In "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," there are so many loose ends to tie together: Smaug must be defeated, Lake-town must be rebuilt, and Erebor must be reclaimed. Not to mention, all the plot lines that have to be connected to bring the story full circle.

Unfortunately, the pacing was so off that you walk away without a true sense of closure. Smaug is defeated within the first 20 minutes, and the build-up to the battle seems more significant than the battle itself. When the company of dwarves loses its beloved members, the rest of the fight is simply forgotten with Bilbo ready to bail without saying goodbye. The ending of the fellowship, this sure isn't.

Granted, it's been forever since I've read the book, so I could be mistaken to call the movie's tone inauthentically cold. Unlike "The Return of the King," in which I bawled during the last half hour, I didn't feel much of an emotional connection to the characters. The film was sterile, simply going through the motions.

It certainly didn't help that the emphasis on CGI and special effects made you feel like you were watching a very long video game cut scene. All the uniqueness of the previous two films' technical advancements felt overdone during a massive battle scene. No epic speeches to rally the troops, no panoramic shots of landscapes previously based on paintings or set miniatures, just a whole lot of computerized soldiers on a digital landscape.

While I enjoyed the character development of Thorin as he fell victim to the dragon-sickness of greed, there was little other acting of depth. Ian McKellen was reported to be so miserable from acting in front of nothing but a green scene that he thought about retiring from acting altogether. "The Return of the King" won 11 Academy Awards; I'll be surprised if this movie wins any.

Sure, there are enough redeeming qualities to make this film enjoyable, but I'm such a die-hard Tolkien fan that I couldn't imagine not watching this in theaters, no matter what the critics said. But I also couldn't imagine that the final installment of this series would be so lackluster. Goodbye Middle-earth, we leave you going out not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1

Rating: 4 out of 5

Over Thanksgiving break I watched "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1" more out of obligation than anticipation. I've been vocal about how much I despised the ending of The Hunger Games trilogy, so this movie is just one step before the major letdown.

That being said, I enjoyed the film more than I thought that I would. Even though it stops short after Peeta's rescue mission, it was engaging enough during the buildup to keep things interesting.

I also liked the casting of the new characters: Alma Coin, president of District 13 (played by Julianne Moore), and the district's Roman-inspired squad consisting of Cressida, Messalla, Castor, and Pollux. I've always loved Natalie Dormer (of "Game of Thrones" and "The Tudors" fame), and I look forward to her role as Cressida growing in "Pt. 2."

Similar to "Gone Girl," this movie emphasizes how media can influence events by spreading certain messages via mass communication. The emerging rebellion on the Capitol is not nearly as important as the cat-and-mouse game that Katniss is forced to play with President Snow through her various propaganda videos and the district's hacking into the Capitol's telecom system.

As for Katniss herself, I much preferred her character on-screen than in the book, because readers of Mockingjay are limited to her point-of-view--which, let's be honest, totally sucks because she's a crazed, drugged-up trauma survivor suffering from PTSD. She's still that same person, but fortunately she must share screen time with all the other characters who are actually getting things done.

And despite his infrequent appearances, I give major props to Josh Hutcherson for deftly expressing Peeta's torturous mental and physical decline. BuzzFeed insightfully reported that "Mockingjay: Pt. 1" challenges Hollywood stereotypes by inverting the "damsel in distress" trope. Here, Peeta is the vulnerable victim and Katniss is the action hero who must save him.

In fact, I would argue that all the characters in this saga are more nuanced and multi-dimensional than the plot as a whole. I may hate the way that Suzanne Collins ends this chess game of hers, but damn do I love the pawns. I can only hope that these amazing actors can evolve in such a way that transcends the fate that awaits them in the final installment.

Movie Review: Gone Girl

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

One thing you should know about me is that I am a total wuss when it comes to things that are even remotely scary. I never watch horror films, and I avoid most crime shows, because "CSI" gives me nightmares.

This is because I'm more frightened by scenarios that have real-life potential. I'm totally fine with White Walkers, Nazgul, and Dementors, but serial killers and kidnappers? No thanks!

So I surprised myself by going to "Gone Girl," the adaptation of the bestselling thriller by Gillian Flynn. I hadn't read the book (see reasons above), but I had heard enough about it to know that it wouldn't be my cup of tea. However, I figured that since the twist had been spoiled for me by the blogosphere, I could handle the suspense.

Holy moly, was I on the edge of my seat! I made the mistake of seeing this movie in theaters at 10pm, causing me to lose a lot of sleep. Be forewarned: your mind will be reeling from replaying scenes over and over--not to mention, it will make you doubt your trust in your loved ones and go to bed with one eye open!

For those few readers unaware of this story, it follows Amy Elliott-Dunne, who has gone missing on her fifth anniversary to her husband Nick. Nick is immediately suspected for her disappearance, especially after investigators discover her diary that describes his past aggression and violent attacks toward her.

Once the public hears that Amy was pregnant and Nick had been committing adultery with one of his students, all hell breaks loose and he is branded as a wife-killer. It's up to his legal defense and his sister Margo to help him escape imprisonment and possibly the death penalty.

What I wasn't aware of was how early the twist is revealed. I won't spoil anything, but once the plot develops, it becomes an exhilarating new kind of story. Between the two unreliable narrators, it's a race to the finish on who will be the more convincing.

As a former journalist and student of media studies, what I loved most about this film was its spotlight on the importance of public perception during high-profile court cases. One only has to look at the cases of O.J. Simpson, Scott Peterson, Casey Anthony, and even Darren Wilson to understand that how people view you is infinitely more vital than your verdict.

Whether you're guilty, innocent, or awaiting judgment like Bill Cosby, your reputation is everything. Nick Dunne was fighting not only for his life, but also for his name. It's intriguing to theorize how "Gone Girl" would have been different if Nick and Amy swapped genders or if they were people of color. Privilege is often the greatest ally you can have to protecting your perception.

If you're looking for a movie that will keep you up at night thinking, then "Gone Girl" is for you. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are absolutely fantastic in this Oscar-worthy film directed by David Fincher (the genius behind "Fight Club" and "The Social Network") and written by author Gillian Flynn herself; Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry are excellent at playing their parts as well.

I may not have planned to see this movie, but I'm so glad that I did!

Movie Review: The Normal Heart

Rating: 4 out of 5

Typically, my Sunday nights are spent engrossed by "Game of Thrones" and "Silicon Valley," but this week HBO had other plans for me. When I heard that Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, and Jim Parsons were starring in "The Normal Heart," I was intrigued despite its heartbreaking subject matter.

The film is based on the 1985 play by Larry Kramer, an autobiographical work chronicling Kramer's activism in New York City during the AIDS crisis. Ruffalo plays the Kramer-esque character Ned Weeks who founds the Gay Men's Health Crisis after several close friends become victims to what was called the "gay cancer."

However, Ned quickly becomes embroiled in a series of fights: one with his older brother who does not accept his homosexuality, one with an apathetic society in which the government, media, and straight culture are ignoring this epidemic, and one with his own peers who fear that his aggressive, confrontational personality will jeopardize their activist efforts.

Fortunately, Ned finds support in Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts), a survivor of polio and one of the few physicians willing to study this disease. He also falls in love with NYT reporter Felix Turner (Matt Bomer), a relationship that is put to the test when Felix learns that he is infected.

By end of the story's timeline in 1984, 7,239 cases of AIDS and 5,596 deaths were reported. Twenty years later in 2004, those numbers climbed to 940,000 cases and 529,113 deaths. The CDC reports that today over 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV, and 50,000 people are newly infected every year.

Obviously, this movie is a tear-jerker. I had not seen a story surrounding the AIDS crisis since the 2003 HBO miniseries, "Angels in America." In both, I applaud the network for detailing the disease honestly and without judgment. Nothing is sugar-coated as you watch the decline of these men suffering from sores, incontinence, and massive weight loss.

More tragic than the physical effects of AIDS is the feeling that everyone has abandoned and neglected you for simply loving the same sex. Although we know now that AIDS can infect anyone, not just gay men, much of the stigma and discrimination still remains. Jim Parsons' character put it well at yet another friend's funeral:

"Why are they letting us die? Why is no one helping us? And here's the truth. Here's the answer: they just don't like us."

The only silver lining to "The Normal Heart" was that it seemed slightly out-of-place given how much progress has been made regarding LGBT rights. AIDS is not the death sentence that it once was, as treatments have drastically increased lifespans. And although we still have a long way to go to combat homophobia and bigotry, it's no longer controversial when a film about AIDS is produced.

I wrote this review because the movie has literary origins, but it's also extremely relevant on Memorial Day. In one scene, Ned discusses why it is so important to teach gay history:

"Did you know that it was an openly gay Englishman who's responsible for winning World War II? His name's Alan Turing and he cracked the Germans' Enigma code. After the war was over, he committed suicide because he was so haunted for being gay. Why don't they teach any of that in schools? A gay man is responsible for winning World War II. If they did maybe he wouldn't have killed himself and you wouldn't be so terrified of who you are."

I agree completely that Alan Turing and other LGBT historical figures deserve equal representation in education. I cannot recall my high school having this lesson in its curriculum, a travesty anywhere in America, but especially in the more tolerant state of California.

So on this day, I salute all of the men and women who sacrificed their lives to protect this country, and specifically gay members of the military who faced greater struggles and scrutiny merely because of their sexuality. Since the repeal of DADT, I hope that all personnel are respected for their service and granted equal rights.

It's been almost 30 years since "The Normal Heart" was first performed. Let's just hope that it doesn't take another 30 for America to finally realize that...

Movie Review: Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Pt. 2

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

I'm not sure what I'm more embarrassed about: that I spent my Friday night watching "Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Pt. 2," or that it took me almost a year and a half to finally get around to watching it (see Pt. 1's review here).

Either way, I'm glad to say that I'm finished with the series. It seems so long ago when I read the books before the movies were released and found myself on this bandwagon. While I liked the supernatural, forbidden love between Edward and Bella in the beginning, I felt that Stephenie Meyer ruined everything in Breaking Dawn.

For those who are blissfully unaware of this story, let me summarize this outrageously far-fetched, poorly designed plot:

  • 18-year-old mortal Bella Swan is celebrating her honeymoon with her vampire husband Edward Cullen, and even though vampires don't have blood running in their veins, he somehow manages to impregnate her.

  • Bella is almost killed by her hybrid baby, who is growing at an abnormal rate, but is "saved" when Edward turns her into a vampire.

  • Bella falls in love with the daughter that almost destroyed her from the inside out, and names her Renesmee, because combining the names of your mother and mother-in-law is a totally normal thing to do. Nicknaming her "Nessie" is even more normal, by the way.

  • Bella's other love interest, werewolf Jacob Black, imprints on Renesmee, which means that he found his soulmate in a toddler and now has to wait years before consummating anything. But don't worry, she ages quickly!

  • The Volturi, aka the vampire mafia, hear word that a supposedly bloodthirsty immortal child has been born, and seek to annihilate it and the entire Cullen coven.

  • Things escalate into this huge battle between vampires and werewolves against the Volturi, but since Renesmee is actually only half-vampire and not immortal/dangerous after all, the Volturi discover that it was all a big misunderstanding and leave. Happily ever after ensues.

Ugh, that summary was painful to write; I don't know how Meyer could stomach the entire novel. She has a disheartening way of building up tension and then completely deflating it, whether it was ruining the highly anticipated honeymoon with a fatal pregnancy or foreshadowing an epic battle that never actually happens.

The saving grace of the film version (besides the sexy Lee Pace as Garrett!) is that Meyer changed the script slightly so that it wasn't as downright boring. Disappointing still, but an improvement nonetheless. But young-adult fiction fans of other action-packed blockbusters like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games will fall asleep during this snoozefest.

It's unfortunate that authors can't seem to find that happy medium between making the finale a bloodbath and eliminating all obstacles with little sacrifice. Because what's frustrating about Breaking Dawn is just how easy it all seems.

Bella is blessed with powerful defensive capabilities as a vampire despite her lack of grace, intrigue, or uniqueness as a human. Like her new relatives, she becomes strikingly beautiful and strong, but without the thirst and pain of adjusting to her undead lifestyle.

It wouldn't be that difficult for young female readers to interpret the message of this saga as "Find a prince to marry and have babies with, and all your problems will be solved! Love conquers all!"

And what's more upsetting about Renesmee than her disturbing aging special effects is that she's branded by a man since the moment of her birth. Sadly, she inherited from her mother a lack of autonomy; instead of having the opportunity of making her own decisions, she's immediately defined by her partner.

I could go on and on about how the Twilight saga needs a hearty dose of feminism, but I'd be writing for as long as vampires live. All I'll say is that I'm relieved that this bandwagon has finally come to an end. "Breaking Dawn, Pt. 2" was better than the book, but given how bad it was in print, the silver screen couldn't make a significant enough improvement to warrant recommendation.

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Oh wow, did this movie make my entire year! I think that all of us Tolkien fans have approached this trilogy with much-deserved skepticism, given that director Peter Jackson is stretching The Hobbit into three movies and padding the plot with a lot of invented material. Even as much as I love Legolas, I was worried that his cameo and the creation of Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly, weren't going to add much value to the already amazing story.

However, I am so glad that this sequel lived up to my expectations, because very seldom has a 2 hour, 40 min movie been this exhilarating! Even my friend Celia, who is not familiar with the novel, enjoyed herself.

And how could you not? Every scene, from the lighthearted barrel escape to the dramatic confrontation between Gandalf and Sauron, kept you on the edge of your seat. It's funny that despite already knowing the fates of these characters, every danger they faced still riveted me in suspense.

Of course, the magic of Tolkien is greatly enhanced in the 3D version. It's still mind-blowing to see how far cinematic technology has come; watching the film with its high frame rate elevated the experience by immersing the audience in Middle-earth. You'll appreciate each release of an arrow or buzz of a bee so much more if you spend those extra couple bucks and view the film the way it was intended to be viewed.

If you're more impressed by acting than action scenes, not to worry either. It was easy to relate to each character, because they all had very specific motivations: Thorin and the dwarves to reclaim their homeland, Thranduil to protect Mirkwood from the evils of Dol Goldur, and Bard to make up for his ancestor's failings and save Laketown.

That's not to say these characters are one-dimensional. Martin Freeman did an amazing job portraying Bilbo, as we got to catch a glimpse of how the One Ring is slowly corrupting his mind. This usually good-natured hobbit is beginning to succumb to the darkness which will only be destroyed on Frodo's own adventure.

But if you're simply nodding your head impatiently, because you only care about one particular character, let me cut to the chase: Smaug has got to be the best depiction of a dragon that I have ever seen. Dare I say, possibly the best monster on film ever.

I absolutely cannot wait to watch the behind-the-scenes footage to learn more about Smaug's creation, because holy moly was he fantastic! And I'm not just saying that because he was voiced by the charming Benedict Cumberbatch, but let's face it, that certainly helped!

I only docked this movie a half-point because with so much going on, oftentimes I felt that scenes changed too abruptly--especially during important moments like the one between Kili and Tauriel! And of course, the biggest abrupt change is the ending: yet another frustrating cliffhanger that forces fans to wait another year for the much-anticipated conclusion.

Let me know what you thought of "The Desolation of Smaug," and be sure to check back soon for my final book review and my summary of 2013!

Movie Review: Catching Fire

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Apologies for the delay, but I'm finally recovering after suffering a cold for the past couple days. But I'm back and ready to share my thoughts on November's biggest film!

I may anger a lot of fans by beginning my post this way, but here it goes: I know that The Hunger Games gets compared to Twilight simply for being blockbuster series with teenage love triangles, but a part of me now understands the comparison.

Hear me out!

The similarity has mostly to do with my opinion of each story's ending rather than anything serious, like female autonomy and benevolent sexism. It's just that at this stage in my life, I'm watching these movies just to go through the motions because I'm dreading how it all will conclude.

Those who have been reading Book Club Babe know how much I despised Mockingjay, so it makes sense that I was only moderately excited about seeing "Catching Fire." (If you want to see me ecstatic, join me at the "The Desolation of Smaug" premiere!)

But just like "Breaking Dawn" was so horrendous that I haven't even gotten around to finishing the final film, I'm feeling lukewarm about this dystopia. To me, the genre needs a well-deserved break because this bandwagon feels two years old.

(Speaking of outdated, here's another inflammatory opinion: "Divergent" sounds like a cheap knockoff riding the dystopian wave, and watching the trailer before "Catching Fire" only reinforced my belief that I'm so ready for something new).

That being said, I'm not here to judge a movie based on its inevitable sequel. I actually have little negative to say about "Catching Fire," like so many other viewers.

All the actors in the film did a great job, from Jennifer Lawrence suffering nightmares as Katniss to Stanley Tucci as the sickeningly sycophantic Caesar Flickerman. I was simultaneously admiring and scorning the Capitol's display of weath, with their flamboyant costumes and ostentatious parties.

In fact, it was interesting to watch this movie with both my parents this time, since my dad and I are the only ones in my immediate family who have read the book. My mom hadn't even seen "The Hunger Games," so all she knew was the quick explanation we gave her on the way to the theater.

Ever filled with kindness, my mom found it difficult to stomach the story, and I don't blame her. The unnecessary violence and disparity in socioeconomic power is disgusting and infuriating. I can only hope that people desire the same change in our own society as they want for Panem.

All in all, watching "Catching Fire" was timely during Thanksgiving, reminding me to grateful for all that I have. And even though this whole splitting the finale into two films is another trend that won't die, I'm just thankful that such a disappointing ending will be recreated by an amazing cast and crew.

Now move over dystopias, and make way for the hobbits!

Movie Review: Some Like It Hot

Rating: 4 out of 5

If you guessed my birthday, you would be correct! I'm officially 24, transitioning from my "Screwing up is encouraged" early twenties to "Maybe we should get it together?" mid twenties.

And while I don't always feel like a full-fledged adult--given that I ate pizza for breakfast today and am still on my family's cell phone plan--I also don't think that milking my metabolism and rollover minutes is the end of the world.

I mean, it's days like my birthday where I'm actually proud of myself. I've got a Master's degree and a great job, with enough money to save, invest, and pay my crazy expensive rent and student loan.

I've also got a loving family and fantastic friends who threw me an Old Hollywood-themed birthday party! We made martinis and margaritas, stuffed ourselves with Chinese food, and played fun games.

Did your bday party have a "Wuthering Heights" guestbook?

Did your bday party have a "Wuthering Heights" guestbook?

We also watched Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot" (1959). This film is set in 1929 and stars Marilyn Monroe as Sugar "Kane" Kowalczyk, a young woman in a female band called "Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators," which is headed to Miami.

Actors Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play Joe and Jerry respectively, two Chicago musicians on the run after they accidentally witness the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre. To escape the mob, they dress up as Josephine and Daphne and board the Syncopators' train.

Of course, with Monroe being the blonde bombshell that she is, both men compete for her affections--which is difficult and hilarious while they're dressed as women. I won't give anything away, but it's definitely a fun flick to watch with your girlfriends.

I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised with "Some Like It Hot." I've never been one to glorify Monroe, but I had read and seen "My Week with Marilyn." I've also decided to watch more classic films, but have been mostly disappointed so far. I guess I'll just to have to accept that I don't understand what all the fuss is about over Audrey Hepburn. So while I may not want my breakfast at Tiffany's, "Some Like It Hot" was full of crazy antics and funny one-liners.

And if you're wondering why a book blogger is writing a review of this film, then check out my last post where I reviewed "Nerds Like It Hot" by Vicki Lewis Thompson. In the book, Thompson alters the plot: Instead of the male leads running from the Mafia, it's the female protagonist with the hit on her. And to further her disguise, she puts on a blonde wig and dresses up as Marilyn herself.

On its own, "Nerds Like It Hot" wasn't the best read from Thompson, but I appreciated this movie even more because it was fun to compare the two stories. This was the first film I watched of Marilyn, not just about her, and I'm glad that I did. I'd love to hear what you think of the actress--and would appreciate more classic movie recommendations to add to my list!

Lastly, thanks to everyone who's been following this blog. It's been a blast being Book Club Babe, and I hope to continue doing so for many more birthdays! 

Movie Review: The Great Gatsby

Rating: 4 out of 5

Well, well, old sport! I'm glad to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the latest rendition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary masterpiece which most of us know and love.However, I can understand why critics are especially negative with this film.

With Baz Luhrmann as director and screenwriter and Jay Z as executive producer, we all knew that this could have been an extravagant hot mess. Of course, most still think it is, but I'm of the opinion that it could have been so much worse.

I mean, who could deny how absolutely gorgeous the costumes, cars, and sets were! I'll deal with Gatsby's irritating repetition of his catchphrase "old sport," because all the shimmer and sparkle made me want to throw on a flapper dress and learn the foxtrot!

Given all the pomp and circumstance, I wasn't expecting such a character-driven film. I felt that the casting was excellent, and I'm not just talking about Leonardo "He STILL doesn't have an Oscar?!" DiCaprio.

Carey Mulligan was an exquisite Daisy, torn between her love for Gatsby and her obligations as a respectable married woman. Joel Edgerton nailed it as her racist, possessive husband Tom Buchanan. Even Tobey Maguire made a decent Nick Carraway, but that's mostly because both he and Nick have people constantly wondering, "How did this square get into the cool kids' club?"

Sure, this movie was over-the-top and melodramatic. Might I add that the 1974 version was too, just without all the fireworks and confetti. And don't forget that Fitzgerald's characters were written to be affected and biased! Everyone's playing a role in this grand vision inside their own heads--which is why it's so tragic when everything falls apart.

Cinematically, this film suffers from its emphasis on gratuitous 3D scenes. I could do without the frequent shots of the two mansions across the bay or the tacky depiction of Myrtle's unfortunate end. But after watching "Romeo + Juliet" and "Moulin Rouge!," it's not like Luhrmann's flamboyant style was at all shocking.

What I wasn't expecting was how clever this adaptation was, tipping its hat to the one before it. I caught two references to the 1974 predecessor, one where a party guest repeats Mia Farrow's famous line, but this time to Nick instead of Gatsby.

The hissy fit in which Farrow throws clothes at Robert Redford was also altered to Dicaprio delightedly tossing the clothes to Mulligan to display his newfound wealth.

Even the soundtrack was more subtle than I thought it would be. I smirked when I heard "Crazy in Love" during Gatsby's tea party-induced anxiety, but the songs work in a weird way. And if Kanye West, Lana del Rey, and Gotye make The Great Gatsby more relevant for the Millennial generation, so be it.

So on a scale from "The Golden Compass" to "Fight Club" in terms of how good this adaptation was translating book to film, I'd give "The Great Gatsby" an above average. Perhaps along the same lines as "The Hunger Games."

I think that The Telegraph's review put it best when finding the perfect piece of dialogue to sum up the sentiment of this remake:

“Do you think it’s too much?” frets Gatsby, after burying Nick’s living room in flowers in advance of his fateful afternoon tea with Daisy. “I think it’s what you want,” shrugs Nick. Then Gatsby, with a thoughtful look and no apology: “I think so, too.”

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (3D 48fps Update!)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Two weeks ago I saw "The Hobbit" with friends in traditional 2D, and yesterday I went to the theaters again with my family--but this time in 3D high frame rate. You can check out my original review, but here's a few additional thoughts on the differences between the versions:

Only Peter Jackson could have made me care about 3D and high frame rate.

The last 3D film I watched was "Spy Kids 3D: Game Over" over nine years ago. Even at 13-years-old, I knew that everything about that movie sucked. My mind lumped in the crappy technology with every other crappy element--plot, dialogue, character development, etc. Thus, despite the Elijah Wood cameo in "Spy Kids," I never felt inclined to see another 3D film.

That is, until I started hearing about the revolutionary advances that Jackson's team was making with "The Hobbit." I was intrigued watching behind-the-scenes footage of the overly vibrant sets and costumes, and I decided that if anyone was going to make me fall in love with 48fps, it would be the director that made my favorite story come to life.

The technology is worth the hype.

To my pleasant surprise, 3D glasses aren't made with red and blue lenses anymore! Why didn't I let it sink in that a LOT has happened with 3D technology in nine years? Mea culpa. I guess that I put off trying the experience out again for so long because of the fact that I wore glasses, and I didn't feel like wearing another pair over my own. It's been almost a year since my LASIK surgery, and it certainly makes watching something in 3D more enjoyable. (If only the frames actually fit people's faces! One disadvantage was that mine kept slipping down my nose.)

Despite the ill fit, I was blown away by the differences in visual effects. From the dizzying effect as the dwarves escaped the goblins in the mountain to the fluttering of every feather of the eagles, the high frame rate made everything feel so real. I've had issues with certain films on Blu-Ray players, for example, because it's like watching a poorly lit soap opera, but seeing "The Hobbit" again was like looking through a window. If you're worried about 48fps making things too crisp and losing the fantasy vibe, I give you permission to be relieved!

Ultimately, your opinion will not change, only deepen.

I've skimmed the negative reviews that litter the Internet, including those at Rotten Tomatoes and Slate. I've come to the conclusion that the advanced technology will, in the end, not make that much of a difference in how you view "The Hobbit." If you're like me, and absolutely loved the previous trilogy with every fiber of your being, then the prequels will be worthy of your admiration. Nothing compares to LOTR, but my geeky friends and I were happy campers.

That being said, if you're some Michael Bay fanboy who prefers boobs and explosions, then a three-hour fantasy epic will never win you over, no matter how innovative. Most of the complaints came from critics who never cared much for Tolkien or had never read his books. (Slate's Dana Stevens even admitted that she resisted any literature that contained wizards. You're telling me you couldn't find an actual fan on your staff? Next!)

Conflict of interests aside, I'll respect a movie adaptation review so much more if the critic read the book first. I'm not saying it should be required (because goodness knows I haven't always had the time to squeeze the novel in before my theater excursion), but fans of "The Hobbit" will appreciate criticism from someone who's familiar with Middle-earth versus someone who whines about all the singing.

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I thought that I would just start out by saying this: For those of you who complained about "The Hobbit" being too long of a film, I have these three points:

1. Your attention span needs work, and I pity your inability to put down your phone long enough to recognize cinematic wonder.

2. You clearly have not paid attention to Peter Jackson's body of work, because otherwise you would not be surprised by its length.

3. After waiting nine years to escape into Tolkien's universe on-screen again, I left that theater wanting so much more. Only three hours of magic after over 78,000 hours of waiting?! If you whined even the teeniest bit, you are not a fan, and I don't know why you even went.

As Twitter would add, #SorryNotSorry.

Ok, with that rant out of the way, I know that my awesome readers will be glad to hear that "The Hobbit" was well worth the wait! I'll try not to give too much away if you haven't seen it yet, but considering that the film has already made approx. $85 million dollars this weekend, breaking the December opening weekend record, chances are you've made a trip to your local theater.

The version I saw was the basic 2D, 24fps, but I'll be checking it out again in 3D, 48fps, over the holidays, so I'll make sure to provide an update of the visual differences. That being said, even though I didn't see the film as it was intended to be seen, it's still great eye candy. The fact that those landscapes actually exist on our planet still boggles my mind--and makes me want to book a flight to New Zealand, stat.

And speaking of eye candy, let me have a fangirl moment for a second. When "The Fellowship" was released, I was 11 years old, but seeing Orlando Bloom as Legolas on screen for the first time probably incited early puberty for many girls like myself. Never will elves be of the Keebler variety in my mind again.

Now I was under the impression that Legolas would make a cameo in "An Unexpected Journey," but alas, we'll all have to wait for "There and Back Again." Although other elves, such as Elrond and Galadriel appear in their immortal glory, I went into the dwarf-centric film thinking that the odds of a character making me melt like before were nil.

That is, until this guy showed up.

When Kili barged into Bilbo's hobbit hole, both the girl sitting next to me and I blurted out, "Hellllloooo," as if to say, "Well, aren't you a sight for sore eyes among a group of prosthetic noses and braided beards?" We promptly sat back, knowing this  movie just tipped into amazeballs territory.

I sincerely did not pay much attention to the casting, nor to any information, since I hate feeling like I've seen everything about a film before it's hit theaters. I recall vaguely my mother mentioning this young Aragorn lookalike, but I'm glad my memory escaped me because it's nice being pleasantly surprised.

(By the way, Kili's played by a relatively unknown Irish actor named Aidan Turner. After a quick glance at his IMDb profile, clearly there's an episode of "The Tudors" I need to rewatch.)

Ok, ok, I'll stop. Angry rants and fangirl rambling, what has become of Book Club Babe? Apologies, moving right along...

What else can I add? The soundtrack was phenomenal, a wonderful balance between new and familiar. Not to mention, fans will enjoy the dwarf drinking song, which showcases Tolkien's whimsy. The entire cast's acting was excellent, from Martin Freeman's reluctant bravery as Bilbo to Richard Armitage's thirst for vengeance as Thorin.

And I don't think an audience has been so excited to see a villain as we were when Gollum slinked in. There's a reason Andy Serkis (who is part-Armenian, don't ya know?) is king of motion-capture performance art. He was simply brilliant, and the riddle scene was everything I wanted and more.

I won't provide a list of differences between the book and movie, but be aware that creative license is taken when emphasizing parts downplayed by Tolkien, such as the prominence of The White Council, the Necromancer, and even Radagast the Brown. Much of these changes I believe are to the viewer's benefit, since Jackson pieces together information explained in The Silmarillion and the Appendices that otherwise would not be apparent since The Hobbit was told from Bilbo's perspective.

So re-read the novel if you can, and make your own conclusions about this adaptation. Although nothing compares to the LOTR trilogy, Jackson follows through with another hit. Highly, highly recommended!