Posted in Adaptations, Reviews

Adaptation Review: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train is about an alcoholic woman who witnesses something out of the window of a train and finds herself entangled in a mysterious web of lies and deceit, not exactly unwillingly. It’s based on a supposed best-selling novel but if you saw my post about my Most Disappointing Books of 2016, you’ll know that I didn’t really think much of the book. I wasn’t really planning on watching this movie after I missed it in the theaters but then I saw Luke Evans in Beauty and the Beast and I just had to see more of his work. So that was basically my sole reason for watching this movie haha.

I must say that I enjoyed the movie a lot more than I did the book. I think it’s a story that is really just better told on the big screen rather than in words. In the book, I thought the characters were incredibly irritating. They were basically suburbian white people bored with their lives so they made tons of bad decisions just to make their lives a little bit more interesting. This was the impression I got from the book. Although the movie stayed very true to the book, they were somehow able to evoke a lot more sympathy from me for the characters. Not too much because I still thought they were suffering from a case of White People Problems, but enough that I was at least able to understand where they were coming from and why they were acting the way they were. This was especially true for the main character of Rachel. I don’t know if it’s Emily Blunt’s superb acting or my own experiences with cheating that has brought me a new perspective on the story, but I definitely appreciated the character of Rachel a lot more. I could understand her motivations and where she was coming from and why she was so obsessed with the couple she was watching from the train. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that she was relatable, but I definitely sympathized with her a lot more in the movie than I did in the book.

Reviews of the book have compared it to Gone Girl and that has always baffled me because it is nothing like Gone Girl. The plot twist at the end was pretty average and not as mindblowing as people make it out to be. However, if you compare the movie to Gone Girl, I can definitely see where you’re coming from. The tone is pretty much the same, interweaving images of the perfect American neighborhood with the dark and downright twisted musings of our characters. There’s always this quiet air of suspense throughout the movie where you’re expecting a physical jump scare like BOO! but in the end, what you get is a mental scare that quietly creeps up on you. Makes for good entertainment, I must admit, and this quiet, dark tone is much better captured on screen than in the book.

Overall, I thought the movie was a pretty good adaptation, one of those which stay loyal to the book yet somehow tell the story better. Those are the best kinds. I really enjoyed Emily Blunt in this movie too and if I didn’t know she was a great actress before, I do now. Can’t wait to see her in Mary Poppins next year! Extremely different from this movie, which was more a spoonful of cough medicine than sugar, but somehow still enjoyable, in a twisted sort of way.

Cheers and happy watching!

Posted in Reviews

Review: The Hunger Games

So I know that this is incredibly outdated because the whole Hunger Games phenomenon has kinda died down already but I figure, now’s the best time to be as objective as I can without the influence of the hype right? Plus, I recently reread the series again so my points are quite fresh in my mind. There will be spoilers ahead but honestly, if you haven’t read the books or at least seen the movies, what have you been doing?

Something that caught my attention from the get-go, something which I didn’t notice the first time I read the series, was that Suzanne Collins writing is really quite sub-par. She writes in a very simplistic and straight to the point manner, which is great for action scenes and when the plot is really picking up, but at other times, it becomes quite jarring and makes the story flow not quite as smoothly. My experience reading the series felt like riding a bus. When the plot is going slow, the pace of the writing is akin to a bus starting and stopping on a small road, making the ride quite jerky. But when the plot really starts to pick up, it’s like the bus is on a highway and we’re going at a steady but fast pace. Suzanne Collins’ writing is perfect for describing the action scenes and is great for fast-paced stories because she just tells you exactly what is going on without any kind of flowery writing or embellishments, which makes these fast scenes easy to follow. Unfortunately, when nothing is really happening, this kind of writing makes for a less than smooth reading experience. I was surprised to find that the Games and the fast-paced parts of the story actually only make up about a third to a half of each book. Those were obviously the most memorable parts of the story so I had forgotten that we actually spend a lot of time in the preparations leading up to the Games and Katniss wandering around District 13 in Mockingjay. This is where Suzanne Collins mediocre writing comes to light.

Aside from a jerky reading experience, Suzanne Collins’ writing also affected her characterization of Katniss. I found Katniss to be difficult to understand as a character and somewhat inconsistent in her actions. It was hard for me to predict what she would do next and understand why she did those things after the fact. This is especially true at the end of Mockingjay where she voted yes for another Hunger Games and then assassinated Coin. I know it was intended to be a plot twist sort of thing but these sort of apparent inconsistencies in her character made me find it difficult to really understand her. I don’t think it has anything to do with her characterization really but rather, I think it’s down to Suzanne Collins’ depiction of Katniss and her obscurities in fleshing out the character. For being the main protagonist, we really don’t get to see much inside of Katniss’ head and figure out what her motivations and intentions are. I think one example where her actions baffled me the most was her sudden willingness to go to District 8 and film a propo in Mockingjay, even though up to that point, she was completely against the idea of being the mockingjay and was still suffering from PTSD from her first two games, so it didn’t make sense that she would want to go into a warzone like District 8 at that time. Her ability to act like a lovesick schoolgirl in front of the cameras in the first two games also kinda rubbed me the wrong way. Katniss doesn’t seem like the type of girl who can act so flawlessly, even if her life and the lives of the people that she loves are at stake. Perhaps it was Suzanne Collins’ way of brushing aside those instances, simply describing her as “giggling” and “burying her face in Peeta’s chest”, without letting us into her thoughts, that made those moments seem so out of character.

However, what Suzanne Collins lacks in writing style, she makes up for with her brilliant plots and ideas. Even though I know this story so well, I was still blown away by the twists and turns, like the reaping of the Victors, and the sheer detail and creativity in the creation of the Games, especially the clock arena in the Quarter Quell. Suzanne Collins sure knows how to create compelling and fascinating stories. Her stories are definitely perfect for the big screen, given how action-packed they are, and the movie adaptations are one of the very few which I think live up to the books and may even surpass them. I also like how this is one of the few dystopians that actually continue the story a little bit after the rebellion and shows us what life is like after. I feel like a lot of dystopians chicken out and leave the story at the height of the rebellion or at the very beginning and I’m glad that Suzanne Collins saw the story the whole way through.

Something that I truly wish for this series, something that would have turned it from great to excellent in the hands of a capable writer, is multiple POVs. I love how Suzanne Collins’ story is so fleshed out and how the politics intermingle with the Games to bring about a revolution. The problem is that we get to see none of that. We only see what Katniss sees and in the grand scheme of things, she really doesn’t see a lot. The only interesting perspective we get from Katniss is her time in the Games. Every other time, she is clueless as to what is going on around her and she’s either just hunting in the woods or trying to get a grip on her own reality. What I wouldn’t give to see Haymitch as he tries to mentor these ignorant kids and navigate the politics of the revolution with what’s going on in the Games, Prim and Gale as they watch their sister and friend fight for her life on national TV, Peeta in the first Games and his Capitol torture and through his hijacking, Finnick as he worries about Annie in District 13, Katniss’ mother, President Snow, Coin, Plutarch, Beetee, Johanna, literally anyone else. Multiple perspectives would have given us, the readers, a much greater understanding of the world and the intricate political plays at hand. Katniss is literally the most clueless character in the entire series so I think it was a great disservice to the wonderful story that Suzanne Collins created by only following her perspective.

Last thing I want to say is about the love triangle. This love triangle is one of the few that I can tolerate and when I first read the series, I genuinely didn’t know if Gale or Peeta would have been a better match for Katniss and I was fine with either of them or neither of them. Upon reread though, it is clear from the first moment we are introduced to Peeta that Gale doesn’t stand a chance. It might be hindsight bias on my part but as I read about Gale and Katniss’ interactions and as I understood Gale as a character, I could see that Gale and Katniss never would have worked. The two of them are just too similar and Gale would never have provided Katniss with anything that she couldn’t have gotten on her own. My favorite line from the series is definitely Gale’s assertion that Katniss would pick whoever “she can’t survive without”. Going by that, the obvious choice is actually Prim. Katniss would not be able to survive if Prim died, which of course she did and we saw that Katniss was basically in a comatose state for the weeks she was back in District 12 until Peeta returned. But since the very beginning, Peeta was there whenever Katniss was on the brink of death. He gave her the bread when she was on death’s door, he saved her from Cato in the first Games, and he brought her back from the brink after Prim’s death. The whole bomb thing is not even the issue with Gale and Katniss. Katniss simply doesn’t need Gale to survive because whatever Gale can provide, Katniss can provide for herself. Maybe in another life, Katniss and Gale would have worked out but from the moment Peeta was reaped, she was lost to him for good. She was constantly wondering about Peeta and when she thought about Gale, it was only to wonder what he thought about all the kissing she was doing on national TV. Gale also would have never understood Katniss’ ghosts and demons from the Games and this became painfully clear in the way Gale strategised for the rebellion. Those differences in ideals were a bridge that could never have been crossed between the two of them. So basically, Everlark 5ever LOL.

To sum up, while the Hunger Games suffers from a mediocre writing style, it ultimately comes out on top with a brilliantly thought out world and plot. It definitely translates better to screen and I’m glad that it became as huge as it did. It is a story worth remembering and was a groundbreaker in the modern dystopian literature, paving the way for many more but still maintaining its status at the top. This series is so important and it introduced me to my favorite genre in all of literature, so it will always have a special place in my heart.

Cheers and happy reading!

Posted in Adaptations, Reviews

Adaptation Review: Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

Today I bring you my review of the Netflix adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Basically, it boils down to three words: Vastly Fabulous Delight.

After having just finished my reread of the book series and delving into the many fan theories out there, this adaptation just completely fit the bill. Not only was it loyal to the original source material, at times repeating lines verbatim, it also perfectly captured the tone of the series, not an easy feat to translate onto screen. Half the fun of ASOUE is the literary jokes thrown in, the playful use of prose, and the breaking of the fourth wall by our witty narrator, Lemony Snicket. Difficult to capture on screen, but the adaptation did it perfectly by making Lemony an actual character and narrator to the audience. Patrick Warburton’s smooth velvety voice is absolutely perfect for the role of Lemony and that casting was pure genius.

Speaking of perfect casting, Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf is a delightful take on this villainous character. NPH flawlessly shifts from snarky and humorous to scary and menacing in a couple of breaths, and it is a delight to watch. Count Olaf’s theatricality is also brought to the forefront, given NPH’s own playful acting. Overall, Patrick Warburton’s and NPH’s performances perfectly capture the tone of the series and completely steal the show.

If half the fun of ASOUE is the playful tone, the other half is the V.F.D. conspiracy and the desperate need for answers that Daniel Handler incites in his audience. I was pleasantly surprised to find that unlike in the book series where the first mention of V.F.D. only comes at the end of book 5, we get to delve into the V.F.D. story right from the first episode. There are so many little references that only avid fans would be able to spot, like references to a certain sugar bowl, and I love how the V.F.D. organization is really brought to the forefront in this adaptation. I literally squealed every time there was a reference to something that is only mentioned many books later, or even something that is only mentioned in the Unauthorized Autobiography. Perhaps this is Daniel Handler’s way of appeasing us after all these years? I certainly got a lot more answers from watching the first few episodes than I ever did scouring the Internet and rereading the entire series again. The whole plot with the parents also completely blew my mind and damn it, I should have known better than to fall for it, but I totally did. Daniel Handler, you’re breaking my heart.

I honestly think that the Netflix adaptation is as perfect as an adaptation can get. It stays loyal to the books but makes some permissible changes and provides us with some extra information. My only complaint is the not-so-good CGI and the somewhat stiff acting of the Baudelaire children. But I have faith that the acting will improve and if anything, it sort of fits with the naivety and innocence of the children in comparison with everyone else around them. As for the CGI, it does sort of go along with the quirky and sometimes purposely outrageous events that happen. It sort of fits with the idea that the entire show is sometimes just poking fun at itself. Still, it can kinda detract from my full enjoyment of the show sometimes, but not enough to make me stop loving it.

All in all, a perfect adaptation, and I am eagerly anticipating the second season!

Cheers and happy watching!

Posted in Reviews

Review: All the Wrong Questions

All the Wrong Questions (ATWQ) is the prequel series of sorts to A Series of Unfortunate Events (ASOUE), both by Lemony Snicket. I read this series in the hopes of uncovering more about V.F.D. and the bigger mystery that was only briefly touched upon in ASOUE, and in that respect, I was kinda disappointed.

This series follows Lemony as a teenager on his apprenticeship for V.F.D. in the town of Stain’d By The Sea. It’s very much a separate, contained story and has little to do with any of the events in ASOUE. Even so, Daniel Handler stretches the plot throughout the four books, only giving us little piece by little piece at a time. I learnt a new phrase in this series – a fragmentary plot. This is where everyone only knows a small piece of the puzzle but nobody knows the whole thing, which of course leads to a lot of confusion. I’ve learnt that this is Daniel Handler’s favorite way of telling a story, except that he has all the pieces and he refuses to give them all to you, even at the end. I found the plot of the series to be a little lacking though. It wasn’t very intriguing to me and although most of it is unraveled in the last book (unlike in ASOUE), by that time I got so bored that I didn’t really care much for the big reveal. I think I was expecting too much of a tie-in to ASOUE and I didn’t expect this to be a self-contained story.

What I did like about the series though was the interesting characters. Lemony’s gang of associates were a fun bunch and Ellington Feint was a surprisingly complex character with so many layers. She keeps you guessing till the end whether she’s a good person or not (and until now, I’m still not sure, although I suppose that’s the point). I was also happy with the cameos of the younger versions of some of our favorite V.F.D. members. The series also had an interesting noir feel to it and I really felt like I was in this mysterious town of Stain’d By The Sea as I was reading. Daniel Handler’s writing is of course top notch as always and I actually preferred his writing in this series compared to ASOUE because it was funnier and somehow less dumbed down? Not that I think the writing in ASOUE is too simple or anything like that but there was a lot more humor in his writing in this series that requires you to pay attention otherwise you’ll miss it. Although I didn’t enjoy this series that much, if Daniel Handler is writing it, it’s automatically at least 3 stars for me. Daniel Handler is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors of all time and I’m interested to read all his other books, even those that don’t take place in the Lemony Snicket universe.

Sidetracking from ATWQ, I’ve recently discovered an awesome tumblr website, The Snicket Sleuth, which has basically every theory and answer you could ever need about V.F.D. and the whole Lemony Snicket universe. Even if his theories are not completely correct, they definitely shed some light on some interesting points and they made me realise just how thoroughly Daniel Handler plans his world and stories. There is so much to discover in the Lemony Snicket universe for anyone patient and intelligent enough to connect the dots and that puts Daniel Handler on, like, J.K. Rowling level! I am most definitely not patient nor intelligent enough to try to connect all the dots myself so I’ve been really enjoying reading all these theories. I’ve also started watching the Netflix adaptation of ASOUE and the first episode already blew my mind with little mentions of deeply buried plot points and an epic plot twist. I’ll do a review of that adaptation once I’m done with it. All I know is, I’m totally obsessed with the Lemony Snicket world all over again and I don’t think I’m getting out anytime soon!

Cheers and happy reading!

Posted in Reviews

Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Today I’m going to be doing a series review of one of my favorite book series as a child: A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. The first time I read the series was probably when I was between the ages of 10-14? So now, 10 years later, I decided to reread the series to see what kind of new insights I might glean the second time around and with much older eyes. This post might contain spoilers.

A Series of Unfortunate Events (ASOUE) follows the three Baudelaire siblings after they learn that their parents perished in a terrible fire, leaving them the Baudelaire orphans. Throughout the series, they are shuttled from guardian to guardian, mishap and misfortune and an evil villain named Count Olaf following them every step of the way. Count Olaf will stop at nothing to get at the Baudelaires’ fortune and cooks up all sorts of evil schemes. Later in the series though, the Baudelaires learn of a secret organization that seems to involve them and everyone they have encountered. Sounds pretty dark for a children’s series, no?

That is precisely why I think this series is so important for children (and adults) to read. As a child, I was a huge fan of Disney (still am) and their ideas of happily ever after and all your dreams coming true. ASOUE is the complete opposite of that. Happily ever after does not exist in this series. Just when you think that maybe something good can finally happen, something unfortunate always comes along at the last minute. If Disney movies take huge leaps of probability to give you your happy ending, Lemony Snicket (pen name of the real author, Daniel Handler) takes huge leaps to give you an ending full of despair and misfortune. And he doesn’t apologize for it. In fact, he tells you on the back cover of the first book that you would be better off reading something else. Yet, this is the sad state of our world. Happy endings don’t just come easily to us. Even if we work for it, it might still not come to us. I think this is an important lesson for kids to know growing up. Sometimes, life just doesn’t work the way we want it to. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Nothing ever goes right for Violet, Klaus, and Sunny despite their cleverness, resourcefulness, and persistence. But they never give up trying. They never give up trying to convince people that Count Olaf is bad, even though 7 books in, people still don’t believe them.

What I love about Violet, Klaus, and Sunny is that they are actually smart. Violet is an inventor, Klaus has read basically every book in the world, and Sunny is a freaking baby who says extremely clever things and has the sharpest front teeth. Their skills combined allow them to get out of any situation they find themselves in and I love the message this puts forth. You don’t like something, don’t just sit around wishing for change, be resourceful and change it yourself. And especially don’t wait around for someone else to do it for you. The adults in this series are incredibly incompetent and stupid and they never believe the Baudelaires when they say Count Olaf is in disguise. Don’t even get me started on Mr. Poe. The Baudelaire siblings really have to fend for themselves the entire time.

Another thing that struck me while reading the series a second time was the idea that it is not enough to be kind. Despite their fair share of encounters with villainous or downright stupid adults, the Baudelaires also meet many adults who are kind and treat them with respect. Unfortunately, those adults are unwilling to be brave enough to stand up for the children or help them in any real tangible way, and I honestly think that was one of the saddest parts of the series. Kindness and politeness helps no one who is in real trouble. It takes a special kind of courage and nobility to really right the wrongs in the world. That brings me to the big secret organization that is introduced later in the series, which consisted of people trying to be that noble or at least, “just noble enough”.

When I was reading this series 10 years ago, I was more caught up in the mystery of who this secret organization was and how they are involved in the Baudelaires’ lives. Spoiler alert: we never get any satisfying answers. Sure, we get a few tidbits here and there and maybe we could piece together the whole picture if we were clever enough. But it’s definitely far from a satisfying conclusion. And now I realized that was the whole point. We don’t always get the answers we want in this world and we don’t always get to have that sense of closure. There are several fan theories out there about what happened to the Baudelaires after The End, what happened to the Quagmires, and all sorts of other questions. Lemony Snicket actually gives us the answer: The Great Unknown.

The Great Unknown was introduced in The Grim Grotto as a large and mysterious submarine in the shape of a question mark. The first time I read this series, I was dying to know who was in that submarine, where it came from, whether it was part of V.F.D. Now, I realized that that submarine was a literal metaphor for The Great Unknown. In The End, we learn that the Quagmires decided to take their chances and enter this mysterious submarine. That was Lemony telling us that the Quagmires decided to venture out into The Great Unknown, but most importantly, that they were brave enough to do so. So many times in our lives, we just don’t know about the future or what happens if we make certain decisions. The Great Unknown is large and mysterious and scary, so scary that even villains like Count Olaf are afraid of it. Still, the best people are those who don’t let that fear stop them from venturing out into the world and confronting the unknown head-on. Very clever, Lemony.

As a side note, Daniel Handler’s writing is so incredibly fun and interesting. It is so snarky and he goes off on tangents that can actually be important for the story. I’ve never seen a writing style like his and I can honestly say it is the most unique one I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Daniel Handler really knows how to play with prose and words and it definitely adds an extra layer (or two) to the story.

Last thing I wanna mention is one of the recurring themes throughout the series, which I didn’t even realize was a recurring theme until the last book. This is the idea that children should be protected from the knowledge that terrible things happen in the world. This is the reason why nobody tells the Baudelaires anything about V.F.D. The adults want to protect them from the knowledge that there are terrible terrible people in the world and that there are not so terrible people who may still do terrible things. By the end of the series (or even halfway), it is painfully obvious that the Baudelaires already know this from first hand experience and therefore don’t need to be coddled in this way. Parents should be preparing their children for the world’s adversities so that they can face them head-on. As Violet put it, “[Our parents] didn’t want to shelter us from the world’s treacheries. They wanted us to survive them.”

So those were some of my thoughts rereading this series again 10 years later as an adult. I was definitely able to see a lot more of the deeper meaning behind what Daniel Handler was trying to convey, beyond the basic plot points. Although the plot of V.F.D. itself is still incredibly intriguing and like an itch I can’t scratch! I’m going to read the spinoff series, All the Wrong Questions, next and hopefully get some more answers. In the meantime, I’ll just look up fan theories on tumblr. 🙂 I’m also going to try and watch the Netflix series this summer, which is one of the reasons why I decided to pick this series up now actually.

Cheers and happy reading!