Tag Archives: review

Book v. Big Screen: Gone Girl

10 Oct
David Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl stars Ben Afleck and Rosamund Pike, and was released to theaters October 3, 2014.

David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, and was released to theaters October 3, 2014. Flynn wrote the screenplay.

Undoubtedly, this is what we all want to hear: “How does it compare to the book?” Book readers revel in the masochistic practice of scrutinizing the film adaptations of our favorite novels, probably because the pain makes us feel more alive, and despite the fact that I am of the school of thought that forgives films for the heresies they must commit in order to keep the visual media gods happy, no one can escape a straight-up, side-by-side comparison. (Read my book review of Gone Girl here.)

Gone Girl, the movie and the book, unfolds the mystery of the missing woman Amy Elliott Dunne and her husband Nick Dunne. Nick’s story begins on the morning of Amy’s disappearance from the couple’s home in North Carthage, Missouri, while Amy’s story begins years earlier, when the two first meet at a party in New York City. From there, the film alternates between the two voices as viewers learn that the truth is never one-sided.

Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) tells the story of a budding romance through the pages of her diary. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) begins his story on the morning of Amy's disappearance. Whose story do we believe?

Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) tells the story of a budding romance through the pages of her diary. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) begins his story on the morning of Amy’s disappearance. Whose story do we believe?

The film, a killer 149 minutes long, maintains an obsessive loyalty to the novel in a way only a loving, infatuated mother could swing, so it’s no wonder that the novel’s author, Gillian Flynn, also wrote the screenplay for its Hollywood adaptation. Flynn lifts quotes straight from the page and sets them to Pike’s silky narration and includes them in screenshots of diary entries. Even the pacing–which switches from Nick’s perspective to Amy’s and back again–mirrors that of the book, and this format is the only thing that doesn’t seem to translate well to the screen. Instead, the pacing leaves  the movie stumbling over itself before it gets the chance to run as the plot escalates toward the last third of the story.

Affleck’s maddening cool guy routine with his punchable face is spot on, and Pike portrayed Amy with breathtaking perfection, but credit is due to the unsung heroes of the movie: the supporting cast playing Margo Dunne (Carrie Coon), Nick Dunne’s twin sister, and the lead detective on Amy’s missing person case Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens). Both women stole scenes with the weight they added to an otherwise insane plot. Nick and Amy are so intense, so lost in each other, and so dysfunctional, that it takes the stellar and understated performances of Dickens and Coon to bring the film back toward a solid reality and away from the precipice of the unbelievable.

Kim Dickens' Detective Rhonda Boney gives the film--and its increasingly chaotic spiral--a realistic foil.

Kim Dickens’ Detective Rhonda Boney gives the film–and its increasingly chaotic spiral–a realistic foil.

In the meantime, the true star of Fincher’s vision is the true star of the movie and provides us something that Flynn couldn’t in her novel: the barren landscape of the Dunne’s massive suburban home; the starkly contrasting image of a search party sweeping their flashlights across the forests of Missouri; flashes of red blood over the beige and grey of the Dunne’s idyllic lives. Coupled with a chilling score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Fincher’s direction takes a thrilling book and translates it into an equally thrilling film.

Book or Big Screen: Is it possible to say that they are equally good? That a book isn’t dishonored by its film adaptation? That the film adaptation doesn’t botch the whole thing? It’s definitely possible to say that Gone Girl won’t need a reboot in ten years because the first didn’t do the job well enough. Thanks to Flynn’s screenplay and Fincher’s vision, the film stay incredibly loyal to the book that should appease everyone but the most zealous readers. Read the book or watch the movie; watch the movie first then the book; it actually shouldn’t make a difference this time around, just make sure you do both.

Readers, beware: While you will hear a lot of familiar lines, and you will see scenes that Flynn painted so vividly in her novel you feel like you’ve seen them before, every adaptation will have its casualties. Lord knows this movie shouldn’t be any longer than it already is, and because of those constraints, a few minor elements get washed out: Boney’s lingering obsession with the case, Shawna Kelly’s development. We can nitpick, but there isn’t much to be wary of.

Viewers, beware: You are in for a long haul. While Gone Girl never feels tedious, it is extremely detailed, and when you read the book you will know why. Get ready for a wild ride of emotion, and make sure you’re prepared to step out of the theaters and straight into the bookstore, because it’s just that good. I will say that the book medium seems to fit the plot’s format a little more snugly, but Fincher manages to capture the true spirit of the novel and the true nature of its horrible characters quite well. You’re not missing out on much for having not read the book.

On Olsher’s “From Square One”

10 Dec

from_square_one.largeI don’t always read non-fiction.

But when I do, I read about a topic I love and it’s written by a former correspondent for NPR.

“From Square One” is a lovely, quick read. It’s more an interesting memoir about a personal relationship with crosswords than an historical account or a philosophical explication of crossword puzzles. Olsher writes like any good radio personality speaks: never overbearing and when humorous is wittily so–those kinds of punchlines that hit you two sentences later and make you chortle to yourself even when you’re in public.

Everyone goes to crossword puzzles for different reasons, the way everyone goes to alcohol for different reasons, but we all have overlapping habits to some extent (for example, Olsher and I both make a personal rule for easier Monday/Tuesday puzzles: we only allow ourselves to solve words attached to the Across-1), the way lots of alcoholics have overlapping extraneous habits (for example, always following one drink with a second drink, or whatever alcoholics do). In any case, Olsher’s personal anecdotes and his interviews/encounters with other crossword enthusiasts comforted me with a feeling of solidarity. They also challenged me to exercise my mind more. They also depressed me with a reminder that there are people like 20-year-old Tyler Hinman who can finish a Saturday “Times” puzzle in just over four minutes. (I think my personal record is thirteen words on Saturday.)

“FSO” reads easily, and if it does anything for you, it will surely make you want to go out and buy a newspaper.

On Updike’s “Rabbit, Run”

13 Jul

I considered titling this post “Sex and Updike,” but that seemed more than redundant, so I’m going to maintain a pattern.

Reading Updike has and will ever be a challenge for me—a constant struggle against the easy high road of feminist indignation—not because Updike’s undoubtedly genius prosaic skills somehow redeem him for his misogyny, but because misogyny isn’t and shouldn’t be the primary focus of his novels, especially Rabbit, Run. Sex is and should be.

Sex, in the shameful light portrayed in Rabbit, Run, becomes the motivation of every action, every scene, every development in the plot. It is both liberation and weakness. The guilt applied to sex through centuries of Western Christian ideologies rears its ugly head (Get it? Head?) in the most entertaining way possible: via Rabbit Angstrom’s crises-driven escapades.

Rabbit is a former high school basketball star, a small town hero who can’t seem to adjust to being an average young father and husband. His fear of normalcy spurs him toward drama. Rabbit runs toward situations in which he can win and conquer and be notable. He runs away from anonymity. He runs with his dick flapping in the open air, and maybe he would’ve been much happier if he had just fapped at home instead trouble-making on the streets of his hometown.

Maybe I derive my affection for Updike’s prickly protagonists from only this: a pity for people who only value themselves on a scale of sexuality, on a scale of dumb broad to virile male athlete.

On Egan’s “A Visit From the Goon Squad”

15 Apr

Sometimes experimental fiction opens my mind to a revelatory sensation equivalent to stepping out of my New England apartment into the first warm day of spring, or reaching the pinnacle of a hill on a fixed-gear 1980 Schwinn Collegiate, or being covered in kittens. Sometimes experimental fiction makes me want to punch someone in the mouth. And “A Visit From the Goon Squad” makes me feel all of these, depending on the chapter (and the time of day and the amount of food consumed prior to reading).

“Goon Squad” follows an aged punk rocker, his high school punk rocking friends, a kleptomaniac, and hosts (I mean HOSTS) of other characters. Each chapter focuses on a different character, switches time periods and geographical setting, shifts perspectives. The changes between chapters is jarred me, but only because it was unexpected. Egan wanted the novel to read like an album is heard, and she succeeded. Each track is distinctly its own, but the album is undeniably a whole.

The characters are socially connected, however loosely, to each other from chapter to chapter, but also by a  little thin but steely tendril that latches on to each character and won’t let go (the way Band-Aids will stick to you forever and even when you rip them off they leave that residue of accumulated dirt and lint): their revelations about time.

“Time is a goon,” says one character, an overweight, outdated rock star plotting to commit suicide on stage during a final concert tour. Each character approaches time differently. Time is the antagonist to many of them and a space for illumination and safety for others. Another character, a young boy with Asperger’s, obsesses over pauses in rock songs. These pauses give him relief, a break in the painful anticipation of the actual end of the song, that final quiet.

Revelation: The chapter featuring this young boy is my favorite; it’s written as a PowerPoint slide. Normally I gag when something as formal as PowerPoint is introduced in something as fascinating as a novel, but Egan used the format to significantly alter the reading experience. I was forced to turn my book on its side. That simple action may not seem incredibly deep, but it was a challenge to me. I felt kind of a like a rebel. (This isn’t unlike Mark Danielewski’s attempt at revolutionizing the reading experience with “House of Leaves,” but it is less annoying.) This chapter used the PowerPoint slides to create a more imagistic narrative, like shape poetry for a Microsoft Office generation. (See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpLOg4aUiEY)

“Goon Squad” is a rock song, or an album, full of pauses in its characters’ lives. And, while the experimental vacillations between chapters could be disruptive to reading, Egan’s prose secures the novel’s structure.