Tag Archives: Books to Film

Side Comments of the Month IX

Side Comments of the Month IX

My current books for review, courtesy of San Francisco Book Review and Penguin USA.

1) I have no idea how I landed on the Penguin Books marketing list but I was stoked they sent me a preview copy of Nora Roberts’ latest book, Dark Witch. It was absolute serendipity. The day before the book arrived, I was staring at all the Roberts novels in the Berkeley Public Library, puzzled over which book I should check out first. But getting a free book solved my little conundrum!

I wish I knew who to thank for this unexpected treat. Since I don’t, I will just say this: thank you, anonymous person at Penguin USA, for putting me on your mailing list. I want you to know I am an absolute sucker for free books.

 

 

The awesome Ender's Game poster by Martin Ansin.

2) This weekend, I watched Ender’s Game with my ten-year old nephew. As one of those books I felt was unfilmable when I first read it, I checked it out mainly to satisfy my curiosity. The adaptation shifts many things about but it’s a perfectly satisfying science fiction film. I liked it. I’m glad I didn’t stay away just because Orson Scott Card is Not a Nice Person. Some days I do manage to convince myself that yes, “the author is dead.”

I was relieved that most of the controversial scenes in the book were toned down and that the ages of the characters were adjusted. Like the adaptations of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Ender’s Game would have been impossible to film if they stuck to the original ages. (Ten year-old Kirsten Dunst played the six-year old vampire Claudia; a fourteen-year old Maisie Williams first played nine-year old murderer Arya Stark. At the start of Card’s novel, Ender is six.) I think Asa Butterfield did a good job as Ender Wiggins, a child with a fragile psyche and the instincts of a killer.

When I read the book, I really loved the idea of a mind-controlled video game. I don’t know what I was expecting but the filmmakers visualized the game well. While I was disappointed that Valentine didn’t have enough screen time, with so many scenes toned down or cut for a PG-13 rating, it was inevitable that some subplots would be discarded, too.

On a fangirl note, Asa Butterfield has the most intense blue eyes I’ve seen on the large screen since Elijah Wood first wore hobbit feet.

 

A Space Brothers manga cover by Chuya Koyama.

3) I haven’t seen Gravity yet but two other fictional astronauts have kept me at the edge of my comfy chair. Adam and I got totally sucked into the ongoing anime series, Space Brothers (2012). Its Japanese title is Uchuu Kyoudai.

The Nanba brothers, Mutta and Hibito, love space exploration so much that they do goofy things like trace the progress of the International Space Station and look for UFOs. As kids, they both swore that they go into outer space. As adults, though, only one brother is on the road to reach his goal… until the other one gets a huge wake-up call, and becomes hell-bent on catching up.

Space Brothers is set a few decades into the future so some of the technology feels like pure science fiction. Yet I can’t doubt the rigorous training for astronauts—both mental and physical—that’s depicted in all its minutiae. From  JAXA to NASA, both Mutta and Hibito jump through hoops just for a shot at their shared dream.

While sometimes heavy-handed with extolling the virtues of scientific discovery, the real soul of Space Brothers lies in the strong, complicated bond between the two main characters. They’re always competing and yet they’re always protective of each other. It’s sibling interaction at its best.

Fullmetal Alchemist is the only other series I can think of that depicts such a complex sibling relationship. If you loved that aspect of FMA and can appreciate “info dump” series like Nodame Cantabile and Bakuman, Space Brothers is definitely worth checking out.

 

Side Comments for the Month VII – the Mindless Violence Edition

Side Comments for the Month VII – the Mindless Violence Edition

There are spoilers for Battle Royale and Hellsing Ultimate in this post. To read the spoilers, highlight the invisible text with your mouse.

 

The "class photo" from the ending credits of Battle Royale is a disquieting coda to the film.

1. In Things I Should Have Viewed Ten Years Ago, I finally got around to watching Battle Royale (2000) on Netflix. It’s a beautiful movie. Now that’s what I call gratuitous violence done right! It also has just the right amount of gravitas. While watching I tried not to get attached to any of the characters in case I’d have to see their heads blown apart. The massacre in the lighthouse is especially poignant. I was rooting for the guy with the GPS system; unfortunately, he does not survive.

Incidentally, I can’t believe that the mousy male lead, Tatsuya Fujiwara, also plays the villainous Light in the Death Note movies. He will play Shishio Makoto in the upcoming  Rurouni Kenshin sequels, too. I think I need to catch up on my live action film adaptations.   

Going back to Battle Royale, though, the film ends on an optimistic note in spite of its high body count. I haven’t heard good things about the sequel, so I’ll probably won’t touch it. I might check out the novel. But yes, I’d love to see Battle Royale again.

 

2. Adam and I also finished watching Hellsing Ultimate (2006) a few days ago. It’s one of those anime series that I cannot figure out if I liked it or not. It has a lot of objectionable content, ranging from gratuitous amounts of blood to rape (specifically, mind rape and necrophilia.) While I seek out violent entertainment of the Quentin Tarantino variety, I do draw the line at scenes depicting the rape of a murder victim, with the violation carried out in full view of her young daughter. That’s just sick.

Still, objectionable scenes aside, Hellsing’s vampire anti-hero is fun to watch. I never latched on to the sparkly vampire trend so I’m happy that Alucard is a throwback to the old gothic traditions. I do wish, though, that Hellsing Ultimate’s basic plot was more than Vampires versus Immortal Nazis. Nazis can get so tiresome

Hellsing Ultimate reminds me of the second season of Code Geass with its ability to make my eyes roll hard, with such things as the Vatican deploying its secret army of gun-toting priests. There’s also a female character perennially addressed as “Sir” in complete ignorance of the proper forms of address. (That seriously does not make sense. Integra

I like giant robots.

Hellsing is supposed to be the last member of an ancient noble family. Even if she was a marchioness, a viscountess, a baroness, or a baronetess in her own right, she should still be addressed as Lady Hellsing.) Call it nitpicking but a major theme of the story is the love of tradition and the continuity of the social order. A character that’s supposed to uphold these things wouldn’t allow anyone to call her Sir. I know it’s irrational on my part, but this bothers me more than the gun-toting priests!

 

3. Lastly, I caught Pacific Rim with my nephew and my brother-in-law over the weekend. I know it’s not doing well in the United States, but since I am a fan of Stringer Bell I hope it earns most of its money back overseas. Pacific Rim is a great popcorn movie. No heavy cerebral processing is required! The film definitely satisfies the ten-year old boy part of me that wants to see Giant Robots Fight Giant Monsters. I love that my two adopted home cities, Manila and San Francisco, are both destroyed within the first five minutes of the film. 

Pacific Rim probably the closest thing I’ll get to a good live action Neon Genesis Evangelion film. Even if it doesn’t have a whiny Shinji or a tsundere Asuka, I’ll take it.

 

 

Side Comments for the Month V

Side Comments for the Month V

There are spoilers for Iron Man 3 and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in this post. To read the spoilers, highlight the invisible text with your mouse.

 

Any excuse to use this photo is good enough for me. From Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes (2009).

1. So I watched Iron Man 3 like the rest of the world. I liked it a lot and I found it superior to Iron Man 2. Then again, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of my favorite movies, so anything that teamed up Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. again was bound to hit my sweet spot.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 actually have many things in common: the seemingly pointless voiceover narration at the beginning, the red herrings, the lead character being a fish out of water, the holiday decorations, the bait-and-switch bad guys.

I read a few reviews online, and I can see how the film probably upsets some of the hardcore comic book fans. (I grew up reading more Uncanny X-men myself, and you cannot imagine my nerd rage with X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand. So I can sympathize.)

I digress, though. As someone who likes Robert Downey Jr. and the film that revived his career, I am willing to cut Iron Man 3 some slack. It’s not The Godfather of superhero movies but it’s an above average popcorn film.

Incidentally, this may be the second time RDJ’s been handcuffed to a bed frame. He’s beginning to make a habit out of it.

 

"Did you ever try to do embroidery with a gun in your hand?" Mrs. Hudson is a woman to emulate.

2. For the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970). I picked up the soundtrack, purely out of curiosity, from the classical music section of the Berkeley Public Library. I was actually looking for more Hans Zimmer when I found it. (Zimmer’s work on Guy Ritchie’s Holmes films—especially the main theme in “Discombobulate”—has been great music for writing.)

Since I liked the idea of song titles like “221B Baker Street”, “The Diogenes Club”, and “Watson’s Rage,” I gave The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes a good listen and it exceeded my expectations. I cannot claim to be any sort of expert in musical matters, but this particular musical score pleases me. I’m terrible at identifying musical motifs and themes, but I have no problem picking out the Sherlock moments as it recurred throughout the entire CD.

 

3. Due to my enjoyment of the soundtrack, I did not hesitate to borrow the film when I found a copy at the Mechanics Institute.

I’m not sure if I liked Robert Stephens’s conventional interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. (I confess that the idea that he was Maggie Smith’s ex-husband fascinated me more.) Colin Blakely as Dr. Watson was uninspired but I attribute this to the writing. When he started ranting at Holmes—for having started a rumor that they were gay lovers just to be rid of a client—was hilarious. Too bad Watson wasn’t given more scenes like that.

The Holmes brothers having a "friendly" conversation.

The idea of a young-ish Christopher Lee as Mycroft Holmes just floored me. My mental image of Mycroft Holmes remains that of a rotund man with rosy cheeks, like Richard Griffiths or even G.K. Chesterton. Christopher Lee seems better suited to play Sherlock himself, which he has done so several times.

A lovely French actress named Geneviève Page played the main female client. She’s definitely a throwback to all the dainty damsels in distress who seek Holmes’s advice throughout the canon. It especially pleases me, for obvious reasons, that Billy Wilder did not name her character Irene Adler.

It’s just too bad that the central mystery was child’s play—some of the clues were just too obvious—and better editing would have fixed the pacing. Despite these complaints, I still finished watching The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes because the dialogue was incredibly witty. Bon mots were distributed equally among characters—even Mrs. Hudson got a couple of quips.

As it’s usually the case with non-canonical adaptations, I enjoyed this for its fannish interpretation. Billy Wilder’s take on Holmes’s sexuality and his gentlemanly reticence is totally in line with more contemporary revisions of Holmes. Laurie R. King’s version of Holmes, for instance, is that of a consummate Victorian gentleman—a man who would never take advantage of a woman, even a naked amnesiac spy.

Maybe in the future, I will tackle the Basil Rathbone DVDs and content myself with Holmes vs. Nazis. When I think about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s penchant for secret societies and the footprints of gigantic hounds, I can’t really fault Billy Wilder for writing Holmes vs. the Loch Ness Monster. It actually makes sense… at least, more sense than Nazis.

My overall verdict: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is flawed but interesting. The music makes all the difference. Check it out if you can find it.

My, my. This has been a very Sherlockian entry, hasn’t it?

Side Comments for the Week

Side Comments for the Week

1. I was beginning to feel like the last person in the Northern Hemisphere not to have seen The Dark Knight Rises, so I finally went out and caught it. I won’t bother commenting about it at length, seeing how everybody else has. I will admit, though, that Alfred almost made me cry.

2. Adam and I finished watching Fate/Zero last week. It’s vastly superior to the earlier series, Fate/Stay Night, in terms of visuals and plotting. Kiritsugu Emiya doesn’t get on my nerves as much as his son does, even if they have the same intentions. Saber is ten times more powerful in this prequel, and I can’t help but adore a woman fighting in full armor.

Even if I found it occasionally wanting, I still appreciate Fate/Stay Night  for giving me one of most memorable quotations in anime: “Extravagance is our enemy.”

Why I find this hilarious is a long, boring story.

3. So Peter Jackson just announced there will be a third Hobbit movie. I have mixed feelings about this. I was lucky enough to visit Matamata two years ago when they were rebuilding the Shire. What I saw there really rocked my little hobbit world. But a third movie?

I remember a time when they couldn’t even get the rights to The Hobbit sorted out and no one wanted to direct it. This current situation feels odd.

Film Review: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Film Review: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

A slightly different version of this entry originally appeared on my old blog on January 6, 2010.

This review has some mild spoilers. To read them, highlight the invisible text with your mouse. 

 

I’ve been waiting since summer, with equal parts of excitement and trepidation, for the new Sherlock Holmes film. I saw the trailer months ago and I was aghast. I was quivering with fear and excitement.

Yes, I love Guy Ritchie’s first two films, and I worried about this complete stranger when he got married to Madonna. Yes, I like Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law a lot, but they are not the first actors to come to my mind when I think of Holmes and Watson. So there was a lot of fangirl hand-wringing on my part.

Months ago, I made a pact with two other Sherlockian friends to watch the film so we could bash it apart together. I was even prepared to do this: I had re-read through two-thirds of Leslie S. Klinger’s New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, and stopped with the less-than-stellar stories in “The Casebook.”

Alas, that pact remained unfulfilled. Right now, TJ is in Manila, I’m visiting the US, and Rain is marooned somewhere in the Middle East. I had to watch this film by myself.

What can I say? After trying to zero out all expectations, I was actually pleasantly surprised. After hemming and hawing about it, I have now accepted that I like it. And yeah, I’d probably watch it again.

A tiny screen capture of Sherlock Holmes. A Warner Bros. image.

There, I said it. Let all the purists wring my neck. There’s something about this adaptation that reviewers either violently love it or hate it. I think I’m one of the few who like it with some reservations, but even saying so will definitely result in some violent reactions. Whatever.

Why do I like it? I appreciate all the little details that show that the filmmakers did their research, down to the obvious bits like Holmes never wearing a deerstalker and not saying “Elementary, dear Watson.” I appreciated the more subtle bits, like Holmes shooting V.R. (Victoria Regina) into his apartment wall, the existence of Watson’s long-suffering bull pup, Mrs. Hudson and the Baker Street Irregulars making an appearance, and the detailed explanations behind each deduction. Yes, Holmes was a pugilist and a master of martial arts. These details are all true to the short stories and the novellas. Hell, even bits of dialogue are lifted directly from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, like Holmes yelling “data, data, I can’t make bricks without clay!”

I even like their theory on why Holmes would let Watson pack the gun. This is one of the few mysteries in the Doyle stories I feel is never satisfactorily resolved.

What I didn’t appreciate, though was the obvious toying with fans. There are old fans who have argued this question to death, and there will be new fans who will argue it out all over again: Holmes/Watson or Holmes/Irene Adler?

Crazy people on the internet argue about stupid things like this, and I feel that this film was trying to please both the straight and the yaoi fanbases, and failed miserably. I read somewhere that the filmmakers wanted to highlight Victorian homo-eroticism and the gay reading of the Holmes/Watson relationship. If that was so, why is so much time dedicated to Adler in final cut? Did they chicken out at the last minute?

I’m only going to shout this once, but here goes: GUY RITCHIE, YOU TROLL. I’M GLAD YOU RECOVERED FROM YOUR MARRIAGE TO MADONNA, BUT REALLY, YOUR FILM WILL FEED THE SHIPPER SHARKS FOR YEARS.

I guess the guy doesn’t realize that people have been arguing about Holmes’s sexuality since Reichenbach. Hmm.

The film does have some warts, though. I got the feeling that Robert Downey Jr. didn’t have the time to learn the violin, and that aspect of Holmes’s was served up to the comedy gods. I felt that Watson’s limp wasn’t convincing (then again, Watson in the stories couldn’t remember if he was shot in the leg or shoulder…) I wish they used some other plot other than Evil Secret Society Wants to Rule the World, but evil secret societies are a favorite with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Perhaps my only real complaint about the movie is that it rips off Fullmetal Alchemist. The moment Holmes drew a pentagram on the floor with chalk, I was thinking, “Edward Elric, here we come!” The murders, the map, the alchemy symbolism, the need for five sacrifices… ah, I believe I’ve seen that all before. I’m definitely giving Fullmetal Alchemist too much credit here—they obviously drew on the same sources for inspiration—but still. A few plot twists would have been refreshing.

But that’s the problem with adaptations, right? That there’s little breathing space for originality while dealing with such a well-loved character?

Holmes himself would think it’s a three-pipe problem.