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I struggled to decide what to write about last night, and it didn’t help that I got home late and began the evening by catching up on Scandal. Spoilers: things are getting intense and I want to be Abby’s friend.

Anyway, this weekend I watched Odd Thomas, the movie based on the Dean Koontz novel of the same name. It is currently on Netflix, if my review happens to make you want to watch it. Odd Thomas is about a short-order cook, named Odd, at a local diner-type establishment who can see the dead, and this helps him solve murders for his detective friend and possibly father-figure (played by Willem Dafoe, who I think is always fun to watch). He is a strange dude, but pretty adorable.

odd thomas

He can also see these awful creatures called Bodachs, which helps him sometimes prevent death/murder. They don’t really say anything about deaths that aren’t murders or big tragedies, so I don’t know how those work in this universe. Bodachs like to hover around people who are either about to die, or cause the gruesome deaths of other people, because they feed off the pain and suffering. They’re pretty terrifying though, because if they find out you can see them, they’ll kill you. This particular fact causes much stress throughout the movie for our hero, Odd.

bodach

Then there’s Stormy, Odd’s One True Love, they’ll be together forever, girlfriend. She is also a manic pixie dream girl. And I mean the full-on, Wikipedia definition from the first paragraph. She’s pretty, she works in an ice cream shop, she talks like she’s stuck in a dream world, and she drives a vespa. If she is not a MPDG, I don’t know what is. As a result, I found her existence annoying, even though she was a tiny bit useful in helping Odd solve the mystery (though honestly he did most of it on his own). Stormy was mostly an object that Odd had to protect, while the other two female characters were a vague mother-figure (detective friend’s wife) and a random girl who tries to hit on Odd, then gets randomly murdered.

manic pixie dream girl

It’s rather unfortunate, actually, because otherwise I really enjoyed this movie. It was quirky in a similar way to Wristcutters: A Love Story (although that movie has decidedly better female characters). I also liked the mystery aspect of it, because it kept me guessing right up until the end (although one could argue about one of the final twists in the mystery as being cheating, but I’ll leave that to you to decide for yourself).

This movie kind of makes me want to read the Odd Thomas novel series by Dean Koontz. I’ve never read any of his novels. But the lame portrayal of female characters give me pause. At any rate, it’s a fun movie, and a different kind of supernatural than what’s so often mainstream. Odd Thomas himself is a decent enough character, and I think they explain/present his backstory concisely at the beginning – which is sometimes hard to do with a story like this. The world was established very quickly, and there’s really only one thing that doesn’t fit, but this happens at the end, so I don’t want to give any spoilers, but you’ll probably see what I mean when you get to it.

Now, I must be off to get ready for the first day of the semester! My LAST semester of graduate school! If all goes according to plan…

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Last week I finally watched Austenland, and absolutely regretted nearly every second of it. There are some VERY good reasons it only got a 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. Here’s the trailer:

At first glance, it looks like another movie about silly Jane Austen fans. I myself am a huge Austen fan (though I probably would never want to live in an experience like this one) – I’ve been to Bath, England, and checked out all her old haunts, and I’ve read all the finished books. Sure, I love Mr. Darcy as much as most Austen fans, but my favorite is probably Mr. Tilney. JJ Field portrayed Mr. Tilney in a BBC version of Northanger Abbey, and I’ve enjoyed his performances in other movies. Bret McKenzie is always funny (and also FIGWIT), and Jennifer Coolidge us usually hilarious. So I figured this movie would at least be funny, and maybe a little unrealistically cute, and I was ok with that.

Boy, was I horribly wrong.

I’m going to give a lot of spoilers for this movie, so if you, for whatever reason, really want to see this movie without spoilers, probably you should stop reading now. Though I highly advise against it. It’s terrible. Here’s why:

First, what the trailer doesn’t tell you is that all the men are actors paid to be there and pretend to fall in love with the women who show up for the vacation. Everyone is paired off, typical of a Jane Austen novel, and the women know the men are actors going into it. Personally, I felt this was a huge flaw, but mostly this is a product of the fact that it was meant as a romantic comedy. It was powerfully unrealistic, but in the end it did play an important role in the conflict – our main character, Jane “Erstwhile,” played by Keri Russell, can’t tell what’s real by the end of the movie and is extremely distraught over this and has trouble trusting her own feelings. This may have been the only well-written (or at least logically-written) part of the whole movie.

Basically all the characters sucked. They either weren’t likable, or their personalities were about as interesting as a cardboard box. Many of them were made to look mental (read: if you are a Jane Austen fan, you are probably mental). Jane is meant to be perceived as mental (her entire home is decorated like an old lady’s home, because that’s as close to Jane Austen’s style as they could get, apparently), but when she gets to Austenland, she ends up appearing as the only sane character. If that weren’t bad enough, she has absolutely no agency. Her character buildup is basically “Look, this girl is obsessed with Mr. Darcy, just like every other Jane Austen fan. Also her job is boring but we don’t really know what she does other than that she went to school for it for a little while. Eh, who cares, she just wants romance anyway because she’s a boring one-dimensional female character.” I struggled through the entire movie to figure out what she wanted in life, or at the very least out of this experience at Austenland. If she knew the men were all actors, she certainly couldn’t have expected romance out of the experience.

I will give them points for throwing a little twist on that particular plot aspect. Jane develops a relationship with the stableboy, who she assumes isn’t an actor, and isn’t part of the experience, more like proper hired help to make the experience run smoothly. As it turns out, he IS an actor, and he was meant to be paired up with her all along. He even pretends that he’s not part of the experience just to win her over. It’s kind of sick the way it all plays out, actually. The fact that this stableboy character was played by Bret McKenzie made him bearable as an antagonist character, but ugh… what a let down. It also seemed a bit cruel for a romantic comedy, but what do I know?

JJ Field did alright with the role he was given, but I really wish he hadn’t been in this movie. Same goes for James Callis. They, as well as Bret McKenzie, could all have done much better than this pitiful excuse of a movie, and I haven’t even gotten to the worst part yet. Unfortunately, they made JJ Field make a half-hearted attempt at being the “Mr. Darcy character.” He was all broody, and didn’t like to dance. But he didn’t stick to any other characteristic of Mr. Darcy. In fact, that detail specifically made me think the writers/directors of this movie may not have ever read a Jane Austen novel in their lives. Hell, it could have been Nicholas-Sparks-Land and you’d have the same story (with less awkward clothing and hairstyles).

So here’s the worst part:

This romantic comedy has an attempted rape.

They don’t call it that (using the term “assault” instead), of course, but that only adds to the horribleness with which they handled this particular plot point. Jane almost gets raped by the husband of the woman who runs the whole operation. JJ Field manages to rescue her just in time, and it is implied that this sort of thing has happened before.

And the old bastard gets away with it.

The night it happens, Jane brushes it off like it’s nothing, and the movie continues, and it isn’t brought up again until Jane threatens the woman who runs the place with reporting the guy simply because she is absolutely upset about the whole experience and how the love is all fake, etc. etc. She doesn’t consider reporting him because IT WAS A HORRIBLE THING FOR HIM TO DO, it’s just an afterthought to the rest of her awful experience in Austenland. THEN, at the end of the movie, when the woman in charge tries to smooth everything over by sending Bret’s character to the airport to apologize and pretend to still be interesting in her, Jane backs down and confesses that she wasn’t going to report the man who attacked her, so they didn’t need to worry about her ruining the business. She just wanted to go home. This bastard NEVER sees the consequences of his actions. His attempted rape is treated like it’s no big deal.

No wonder we have such a problem with rape culture in this country.

If it weren’t for that attempted rape scene, I could have just been annoyed I’d wasted my time with a boring movie. But that alone made me take a closer look at the whole thing, and just thinking about this movie makes me angry. Luckily I got it for one free night at Redbox and didn’t actually lose any money to it, which would have just infuriated me further.

So, avoid watching Austenland at all costs. It will not make you proud to be a fan of Jane Austen.

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“The book is always better.”

This is a phrase everyone is familiar with when it comes to movies and TV shows based on novels. We’ve all heard it before, and for a while it was “common knowledge.”

In recent years, I have come to realize that this is not actually always true, and it’s a lot more complicated than that opening phrase makes it seem. “The book is always better,” is a myth, and I’m going to crack it my way.

I choose to think of books vs. movies as two different art forms – two different ways to tell the same story. Then you have to consider who is behind the scenes. In the case of a book, it is mostly just one person letting their imagination run free, with some help from editors and beta readers. In the case of a movie, you have the writer, the director, the actors primarily, as well as an entire film crew that can vary in size. It is inevitable that these two groups will have the exact same ideas for how the story should be told. Very rarely does the original author get to write the script and be actively involved in the movie’s creation (whether or not those movies are better than other book adaptations is a debate for another time).

I am a huge fan of The Vampire Diaries. Don’t knock it ’til you try it. But after I finished the first season, the idea of waiting an entire summer for more of these characters sounded like torture. But hey, the series is based on a series of books, so they’re probably good, right?

Wrong. The Vampire Diaries novels were dreadful. I forced myself to read three of them before I had to give up before I tore them to shreds. They were terribly written. And apparently in the books, male vampires can’t get it up, so they just suck each other’s blood instead of have sex. Gross. Also, Damon is about 1,000 times more creepy in the books, and I am totally in love with that character in the show – so that was really unfortunate. I mean sure, he eventually redeems himself for a while, but the storyline goes to hell. Somewhat literally. For a while Elena becomes this weird, childlike, angel-creature, and abruptly loses all of her personality. Not that it was particularly great to begin with – she was more like Caroline was at the beginning of the show. Elena’s character in the show is brilliant – she has agency, right from the start you know that her greatest desire in life is to keep her loved ones safe, and everything she does reflects that (including all of her ill-fated and stupid decisions). In the books she’s a spoiled brat, the most obnoxious kind of stereotypical popular high school girl you could ever find. Julie Plec is a far better storyteller than L.J. Smith could ever hope to be.

Game of Thrones is my other favorite example of a show being better than the book it’s based on (I want to be clear that this is merely my opinion, but I know several people who share it). The benefit of the show is that you get to cut out all of Martin’s useless information that wasn’t edited out of his novels. Seriously, look at those things. They’re huge. The story flows much better on screen than it does in the books. But there are people who still like the books better. That’s fine. I don’t.

Another thing I have learned, related to this, is that if I read the book right before I see the movie, I end up hating the movie. But if I wait to read the book until after, or it’s been years since I read the book, the movie is brilliant and enjoyable. The Hunger Games is a great example of this. I thought it was an excellent film, and it told the story beautifully. Only later did I hear everyone complaining about it because certain things were changed or left out, but I still enjoyed the film. I might even go as far as saying I thought it was better than the book. When I went to see the 7th Harry Potter film right after I re-read the book for the umpteenth time (I think I literally finished it about three days before I went to the theater for a midnight showing), however, I thought it was terrible. Everything was wrong. But the friend I went with hadn’t read the book in ages, and she absolutely loved it.

MortalInstruments_c#41B39C3.JPG

Last week I went to see Mortal Instruments: City of Bones with my awesome roommate who likes the same TV shows and books as me. Though Clary seemed a bit passive in my opinion, I really enjoyed this movie. I have since started reading the book, and I’m enjoying that immensely as well. Is one of them better than the other? Sure, Clary is more active in the book (at least until Chapter 7, I haven’t gotten very far yet). But that’s not the only aspect that’s different. Personally, I thought many of the events in this story looked fantastic visually. Magic (though the Shadowhunters would take offense at that word) often does look really cool in movies. I had a similar experience with Beautiful Creatures, though I haven’t read the book yet.

So maybe the question is not whether or not the film is better than the book, but how we perceive the different mediums. I have stopped questioning which is better, and I look at them as separate entities. Both are telling stories, and some methods work better for one than the other. Don’t be so harsh to judge movies by their books. I think we should encourage book adaptation instead, because clearly Hollywood is running out of ideas when they just keep remaking what they’ve already done. There are billions of books to choose from, waiting to be told with a different tool.

This is why I am thrilled that one of Richelle Mead’s novels (Vampire Academy) is finally being adapted into film. Sure, the vast majority of the world’s movie-going population might be tired of vampires, but I never will be, and this is a brilliant story – FAR superior to that dreadful franchise featuring sparkling vampires. Ugh. Give me Rose Hathaway over Bella Swan ANY day!

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