Adam’s Film Friday: A Review of Gone Girl

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What makes a story newsworthy? Is it that the people involved have an intriguing background, or is it that we can relate to their story? Is there more to the story than we as the public aren’t privy to? Would we view the story differently if we knew the whole truth? All of these questions are explored in the film Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name. The film takes its viewers on a roller coaster of emotions complete with an all-star cast and a top-grade director. What you’re left with is a stunned reaction and an overall feeling of WTF?

Closely following the book, Nick and Amy Dunne have been married for five years. Amy suddenly goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary. Her husband Nick comes under suspicion and begins to act aloof and questionable when under the press’ microscope. During the investigation Nick begins to look guiltier than ever and everyone, including even those closest to him, begin thinking he is guilty despite his proclamation of innocence. Did Nick, the all-American perfect husband, kill his wife or are things not what they seem to be on the surface?

Gone Girl was one of the best page-to-screen adaptations I’ve ever seen. One factor that supported this was that the author of the book, Gillian Flynn, was responsible for writing the screenplay. The same emotions I felt while reading the book were felt throughout the film: the bone chilling scenes, the shock of the twists, and the utter disgust I felt towards certain characters were all still very much present throughout the film.  Much of the film’s dialogue was taken directly from the novel, which gave it such a genuine feeling of truth in the adaptation.

gg1From the first scene to the last shot, I was completely immersed in this world of mystery and double meanings, and could not physically wait for the next scene. I say physically because the emotions took me on an emotional roller coaster, and sometimes I needed a minute to think about what had happened and grasp it. It sometimes toys with your emotions more to see the actions of a film play out in front of your eyes rather than what you feel while reading the pages of a book. That is definitely true here. The film was under the proper care of director David Fincher, a director who meticulously crafts every scene no matter how important/anti-climactic. He is also known for having very dark lighting and dark cinematography and this works perfectly for the tone of this story. While at its core it’s a very dark story, there are small bits of humor sprinkled throughout. Every scene was exquisitely put together, from the shot choices to the lighting, sound, and score. The score is flawlessly crafted by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (the third collaboration between them and Fincher).

In my opinion, the film’s success depended entirely on the perfect casting of Amy. You needed an actress who you can relate to at face value, but know nothing about her beyond that. As a viewer, you know all about Amy’s superficial information: hair color, eye color, what clothes she wears, etc. Her personality, however, is a complete mystery. Rosamund Pike was the PERFECT choice for Amy. While she’s not a household name, she’s someone who dove head first into the complexity of the character and was ultimately successful in her portrayal. From the first time you hear her character speak, she was Amy.

gg2Ben Affleck’s acting has never been better. I never thought I would say this but Tyler Perry was really good in his role as Nick Dunne’s attorney Tanner Bolt. I was most hesitant about his casting because the character of Tanner is crucial to Nick’s story. Perry is known to play very over-the-top characters, so while I had some faith that Fincher wouldn’t ruin the film by miscasting the role, I still felt a level of skepticism. Perry’s delivery of one of his last lines had me laughing out loud and I realized how true the sentiment was behind the line. Kim Dickens as Detective Booney and Carrie Coon as Margo Dunne were excellent supporting players. They both have long careers ahead of them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if their names are mentioned during Oscar buzz.

All in all, I think this was a perfect adaptation of the book. I loved every aspect of the film, and would have gladly watched a five-hour version, as I was so engrossed. For all the controversy surrounding the end of the film, I felt that it was a cherry on top of this sundae of a film. It will stick with the viewer for days, weeks, and even months. I would suggest it to anyone who loved the book, or anyone who was intrigued by the trailer or promotional material. I will say, that after viewing this, you will never look at tabloid headlines the same way again.

7 out of 5 Stars

Gone Girl (2014)
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
R, 149 Minutes

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Adam’s Review of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

gggfWhat if you lost everything of value in your world? What if, after losing all this, the world watched your every move, judging you for the decisions you made, as well as analyzing everything down to your smile and your response to questions? What if you and your family were the only ones who knew the truth of your situation, yet no one on the outside believed you? What would you do if you felt the world caving in, but knew the truth that would set you free? Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn addresses these issues and many more in a thrilling mystery of epic proportions.

Nick and Amy Dunne have been married for five years. Like any marriage, theirs has been through a lot, including the loss of both their jobs, as well as relocating to Missouri from New York City to help care for Nick’s dying mother and Alzheimer’s stricken father. On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy has gone missing and Nick is the primary suspect. He acts inappropriately and smiles at the wrong time, leading everyone to suspect that he is to blame for Amy’s disappearance. The only people who are on his side are his sister Margo, and to some extent Amy’s parents. What follows is a story of deceit, intrusion of the media, and how public opinion can quickly change due to one off-handed comment.

I have never in my life been so enthralled by a book. I know I’ve said this before about The Great Gatsby, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Angels and Demons, but those books pale in comparison to the emotions I felt while reading this book. I’ve never been so emotionally involved in a book to the point where if I didn’t know what happened next, I wouldn’t be able to live anymore. It was the type of book where just one more chapter turned into a few more, and before I knew it I had read the whole thing in 24 hours. Even though the book is a quick read, every word matters. Every scenario builds upon the last, and the climax leaves the reader stunned.

Gillian Flynn has a way of writing characters that bring out emotions in the reader. Never did I think it was possible to hate one of the main characters as much as I did (I will not say which character for those readers who have yet to experience this book), but the passion I felt towards hating this character made reading the story even better. It bought out in me emotions that up until this point only movies had been able to. I truly didn’t think it was possible for a book to do so. Flynn’s writing had this cinematic flair to it with a Hitchcock-style twist, which made the book that much more effective for me as a reader. I will admit to gasping out loud probably 150 times while reading this book. Additionally, switching between Nick and Amy’s perspectives helped to get a fuller understanding of the events of the novel. So often when a novel is told from one perspective the reader doesn’t get the full story. The dual narration provided a full explanation of all of the events of the story, and made it that much more powerful.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to any reader who likes a good mystery. Gillian Flynn creates a world using characters we know in a world we know all too well. The backdrop of modern society with paparazzi and the 24-hour news cycle really enhances this classic story of betrayal and the truth behind it. I think anyone who reads this review that hasn’t read Gone Girl yet needs to go get the book and experience the pure excitement of it. I am beyond excited to see the film adaptation and see how it translates to the screen.

7 out of 5 Stars

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Crown Publishing (2012)
Hardcover: 432 pages
ISBN: 9780307588364

Adam’s Film Friday – A Review of The Bling Ring

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How far would you go to be famous? Would you throw your family or other loved ones under the bus to achieve the slightest bit of notoriety? In a society where more people know who Kim Kardashian is rather than the author of the Declaration of Independence, one must question the morals we raise our kids with. In The Bling Ring, based on the article and book by Nancy Jo Sales, Sofia Coppola takes us on a journey that attempts to figure out how a group of youths was able to pull off a string of high-end burglaries. They target people who have what they want: money, nice clothes, power, and most of all, fame.

Marc (Israel Broussard) is the new kid in town, and one of the first students he meets is Rebecca (Katie Chang), who is obsessed with everything having to do with Hollywood. One night, the two enter unlocked cars and steal money and credit cards. Later on they are bored at home one night, and through an internet search find out Paris Hilton’s address and that she is out-of-town for an appearance. They decide to go to her house, break in, and see how the rich and famous live. After bragging about their achievements to their friends, Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farminga), and Chloe ( Claire Julien), they decide to pay their old friend Paris another visit. This sets off a crime spree against other rich and famous young stars, including Orlando Bloom, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, and Audrina Partridge. Consumed by their closeness to fame, the group starts becoming careless and soon their deeds begin to catch up with them.

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I thought the best part of the movie was Emma Watson’s performance. Even though in the trailer Watson (undoubtedly the biggest name in the film) was viewed as the main character, her role in the final film was that of a supporting character. Her character, Nikki, was based on Alexis Neiers, the suspect who gave the original interview that the film is based on. I felt that she had the whole attitude of her character down pat. Watson said that to prepare for the role, she watched a lot of reality TV and even created a fake Tumblr as her character. She had the accent of a party girl down perfectly, and even though she had such a small role (and such an empty character), she was really able to create something memorable.

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I also thought Coppola’s vision for the movie was very interesting. She based her screen play on Sales’ article entitled “The Suspects Wore Louboutins”, in which she interviewed Alexis Neiers and her alleged connection to the group. From there the story sort of took on a life of its own and those in The Bling Ring became celebrities in their own right. They each had their own story to tell, and I thought Coppola’s interpretation of those stories was really spot on. The film was quick-moving and the story didn’t drag. My only complaint was that some of the dialogue seemed a little too fake, and I got the sense that it was Coppola’s interpretation of how teenagers would talk in these scenes. It seemed too made up, and didn’t flow well at times.

All and all, I thought The Bling Ring was an interesting take on the lengths some people will go to achieve their 15 minutes of fame. The film, though not one of Coppola’s best works, was entertaining, and I thought Watson’s performance made the movie and showed off her comedic chops and how good of an actress she really is.

3 out of 5 Stars

The Bling Ring (2013)
American Zoetrope
R, 90 Minutes

Adam’s Film Friday – A Review of The Wolf of Wall Street

twowsWhat makes a man successful? Is it money, nice cars, a big house, a good-looking wife, or all of the above? In the film The Wolf of Wall Street, based on the autobiography of the same name, Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Jordan Belfort, a tycoon who seemingly has it all. He has a good job, tons of money, and a beautiful house. Despite these riches, we are taken on a journey to see the other side of living such a life. The film poses this question: in order to have it all, does one have to lie, cheat, and steal to achieve that success?

Jordan Belfort is an up and coming stock broker who gets laid off from his first job after the market crashes on Black Monday.  To make ends meet, he takes a job in a Long Island boiler room selling questionable penny stocks. Due to his Wall Street training,  he is able to sell these stocks with ease and eventually recruits Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), as well as some other immoral characters to start a pump and dump company. This attracts the attention of federal agents, who question the ethics of this new company. Belfort enjoys the high life, but will he be able to keep this illegal business going or will his deeds eventually catch up to him?

Let me start this review by saying I thought Leonardo DiCaprio was really good in this role. Do I think it was his best performance to date? No, but I do think the role suited him well and showcases why he is one of the great actors of our generation. I would have been really upset if he had won the Oscar for this movie because I think he has had other, more deserving performances that have gone overlooked. I think this was a good performance in a not-so-great movie. After a while, the story became predictable. I got to one point in the movie where I looked over at my brother and said, “I bet he’s going to have sex with this hooker and then do a line of coke on her ass.” It was three hours of the same repetitive story line, and I think the film could have been edited down more, with some of the repeated scenes left on the cutting room floor.

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Another thing I questioned was Jonah Hill’s Oscar nomination. I thought he was very deserving of one for Moneyball, but in this performance he seemed to play an early 90’s banker version of Jonah Hill. I thought there was nothing memorable about his performance, which seemed very campy and appeared that he was trying too hard. I did think that Matthew McConaughey (in his one scene of the movie) was much more memorable as Belfort’s mentor and first boss Mark Hanna. Also a great breakout performance was given by Margot Robbie as Jordan’s second wife, Naomi. I thought acting-wise she was a great match for DiCaprio, and despite being a new comer to the business, she was able to hold her own and even outshine DiCaprio in some scenes. I look forward to seeing where her career takes her because I think she will be a big star.

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In the end, I thought The Wolf of Wall Street faltered more than it succeeded. I think the film was just too long. Had some of the less important scenes been edited down or cut out completely, the film would have had a better flow and been more enjoyable all around. I think it bought up a good point about the lengths some would go to for success, but the message was lost in too many scenes of coke binges and sex with random hookers.

3 out of 5 Stars

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Paramount Pictures
R, 180 Minutes

Adam’s Film Friday – A Review of The Great Gatsby

tggpAre there such things as second chances? If something doesn’t work out the first time, should we just let it be and not try again? If a book is adapted into a bad film the first time, should it just stay a book and never be made into a film again? As I expressed in my page to screen review of the original Great Gatsby film and book, I had hoped that this recent remake would be able to capture some of the magic from the book that the original film adaptation hadn’t. I had seen the trailers and my expectations were high given how dazzling and colorful they seemed. Could those two and a half minutes translate to a film that made me forget the travesty of the first attempt of adapting this novel for the screen?

For those of you who have never read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel (shame on you) or seen the first film (don’t waste your time), The Great Gatsby tells the story of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a recent Yale graduate who moves to West Egg, Long Island. There he is reunited with his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), who live on the other side of the bay in East Egg. While living in his modest cabin, Nick moves next to the mansion of the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), about whom not much is known. In fact people aren’t even sure he actually exists.  All that is known is that he throws the most extravagant parties, which are the social events of the year. One day Nick receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties, and through a private meeting with Gatsby finds out that he was once romantically involved with Nick’s cousin Daisy, with whom he is still madly in love. One afternoon, Nick invites Daisy over for tea at Gatsby’s request to reunite him with his long-lost lover. Sparks immediately fly between the two and they begin to have an affair. Who will Daisy choose, the man she gave her word to and has given her her current status in society or her former love, who seems to be the true love of her life.

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I am so torn about how I feel regarding this film. There were certain aspects of the film that I loved and really appreciated, yet there were other things that just fell flat. I thought that it was visually stunning. The party scenes were exactly as I imagined them, and I thought that director Baz Lurhmann did exceptionally well creating, at the same time, a world of mystery and delight . Another thing that was amazing about the film was the music. Lurhmann has a way of making the music another character in his films, which really brings the story and characters to life. The score for this film was executive produced by Jay Z and had many current artists recreating some jazz-age favorites with a modern twist. The music definitely helped bring to life the grandiose ideas behind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characters.

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Something still fell flat in this translation. It was better than the first film, but still lacked some of the spark that existed in the book. I thought Carey Mulligan seemed very out-of-place as Daisy and looked like a baby compared to the rest of the cast. The way Lurhmann decided to tell the story as a flashback from Carraway’s perspective, as he’s being admitted to a rehabilitation center for alcoholism, was a good choice, but again something fell flat. It lacked the magic of the book, and the anticipation I felt when reading didn’t seem to follow me as I watched the film.

In the end I thought it was better than the first film, but still not as good as the book. Writing this review several months after I saw the film, has helped me write a more honest and accurate review. At first I was so enamored by the music and the lights I wouldn’t have given it such a critical review. I’ll end with this piece of advice: if you have to see a film version for a class pick this one, but if you have time, stick to the book (and this is coming from a non-reader.) Until next time, happy viewing.

3 out 5 Stars

The Great Gatsby (2013)
Warner Bros.
PG-13, 143 Minutes

Adam’s Review of The Crone’s Jewels (Pantheons #3) by E.J. Dabel

tcjejdThe Godfather 3, Mockingjay, and Scream 3 are all third installments that failed to live up to their predecessors. What is it about the third book or movie that just leads to such disappointment? Was it laziness on the author’s part or was it, as an audience, that we just didn’t care about the series anymore? Whatever the cause, I was hoping that Pantheons: The Crone’s Jewels by E.J. Dabel would break my third installment curse and equal the quality of the first two. Would my 27-year streak continue or would it be broken?

As referenced at the end of the previous book in the series Isaiah made six clones of himself, each of which had to complete a mission. The first clone’s mission is to travel to see Odin, accompanied by Amanda Golden, to get access to the Sleipnir so they can gain access to Taraturs. They do this so they can discover the fate of Cronos after his battle with the Balor of evil. Along the way we are introduced to new gods, hailing from Norse, Aztec, and even Japanese mythology. Through it all, we see the clone constantly tortured by Amanda, who calls him clone and often talks down to him. Will the mission be a success or will they fail to do what Isaiah had set out for them?

I will admit, this installment of the series didn’t grab my attention as quickly as the previous two. Perhaps it’s because I started reading it at the wrong time (in the middle of a very chaotic move, both personally and job-wise), but it took me a few attempts to really get in to this book. However, once I got over the bump of starting over and over, I really did enjoy the story. Once again, Dabel makes you care for the characters. He allows you the emotion of rooting for the underdog and you find yourself happy when something goes in their favor and upset when they are knocked down. I really enjoy that about his writing, because so often you read about characters that seem so distant and clearly fictitious that you can’t root for them. However, in this particular story, you find yourself rooting for Clone 1 to finish his mission and you want to see where the story goes next.

Another thing that I found really interesting about this book was the incorporation of the characters of Thor and Loki. As we’ve seen them in other forms of entertainment as two of the main characters in The Avengers, it was fun to see them in a story containing mythology. I feel that with the comics and the movies, both characters are so watered down with regard to their mythological side.  That being said, I really enjoyed seeing this new side to them. It was almost like watching a movie you love but from a different perspective. Different aspects were highlighted and as the reader I got a better understanding of the characters and more of their history. As a side note, if a movie is ever made of this novel, please do not cast Chris Hemsworth as Thor. He is about as dull as watching paint dry. Tom Hiddleston as Loki can be allowed, because he was pretty awesome in the role.

All in all I am really glad that I saw this book through to the end, as I was really nervous based on my initial reaction to the work. I really enjoyed the other two other books in this series, and I was looking forward to reading this work. I think that it is a little bit slower initially than the first two, but it picks up quickly. I still like the second installment the best so far, but I am glad I continued with this journey and finished up part three. I eagerly await reading part four, which as I saw on Goodreads, will be out in the fall.  Keep your eyes open!

4 out of 5 Stars

The Crone’s Jewels by E.J. Dabel
Sea Lion Books (2013)
eBook: 190 pages
ASIN: B00DZF439G

Special thanks to Sea Lion Books for my review copy!

Page to Screen: Adam’s Review of The Great Gatsby

gatsby-original-cover-artWhat defines a book as a “must read?” Is it that regardless of how old it is, people still relate to the story or still care about the characters? Or is it that one influential person really liked it and proclaimed it a “must read” and people listened?  One such “must read” (which for me was basically a “to-read” until I saw a movie trailer for it) was The Great Gatsby. Once I saw the trailer for the Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby, I couldn’t believe I had never read the book. It seemed like a giant party set in the context of the roaring 20’s (my favorite time in American history.) The complexity of the story seemed intriguing and I knew I had to check it out from the library. I read it in less than 48 hours and was obsessed with everything about it. I loved the characters, I loved the love story, I loved the symbolism, and I just loved the simple, yet complex feel of the work overall. I was told there was a movie version of it already made, but that it was not a great translation from page to screen. Even so, I wanted to try it out on my own and see if my new favorite novel could become my new favorite movie.

Sadly, for once I have to agree with the critics. From the moment I started watching the movie, I automatically felt a disconnected to it. Lost was the magical world Fitzgerald created, gone were the extravagant parties I wanted a time machine to witness, and sadly, most everything else special about the book seemed to be missing. I just couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. How could this movie have gone so wrong? Francis Ford Coppola, the genius behind the Godfather trilogy, wrote it and was a huge factor in bringing it to the screen. With a cast like Mia Farrow, Robert Redford, and Sam Waterston in the lead roles, the characters should have jumped off the screen and been bought to life. Out of the three main actors, the only one I truly believed in his/her role was Sam Waterston as the narrator Nick Carraway. He was able to portray the every-man really well.

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The magic aura and appeal of Gatsby and Daisy were lost in the translation from page to screen. These two characters are pertinent to the story, and if you miscast them you might as well not make the movie, as their story is the heart and soul of the novel/movie. Redford as Gatsby didn’t have any mystery to him. He didn’t seem like someone who was unattainable, and something about his character just was lost. He didn’t have that magic feeling about him, he just seemed like an average Joe with a really nice house. I’m trying to think if it was his acting or if it was just Redford in general, but either way he didn’t seem like the Gatsby I envisioned. When I was reading the novel, all I could think of was a young Warren Beatty or Marlon Brando playing Gatsby. They seem so clouded with mystery that I think they would have effectively portrayed one of the greatest literary characters ever written. Mia Farrow was also horribly miscast as Daisy, the lost love of Gatsby, who in a way is the original Kim Kardashian. She has no responsibility; she goes around from guy to guy, party to party, not caring about anyone’s feelings but her own. Mia Farrow seemed too white bread to play this character. In the book, she’s described as the most beautiful woman in the world, a Greek Goddess. Perfection. I couldn’t help but envision a blonde Natalie Wood or Faye Dunaway playing this character. Someone with a little bit more substance to them, but not Mia Farrow.

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One hope I have for the new Baz Luhrmann version is that the magic is ignited and visible throughout the story. There is something so classic about the story, yet it also feels so modern. I think the incorporation of modern music, modern themes, and modern special effects really do the original story justice. I loved Baz Luhrmann’s version of Romeo and Juliet as it was a fresh take on a classic story.  It still had the heart of soul of Shakespeare, but was a new and interesting way to present the story. I am already enjoying the trailers I’ve seen because it seems like they finally got it right. Gatsby seems like that mysterious figure, that person that no one really knows. I really hope Luhrmann is able to keep this mystery alive. Let’s just hope it doesn’t turn out a hot mess like the previous version.

Book: 6 out of 5 Stars

Movie: 1 out of 5 Stars

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Scribner
Paperback: 192 pages
ISBN: 9780743273565

The Great Gatsby (1974)
Paramount Pictures
PG, 144 minutes

Adam’s Review of Game of the Gods (Pantheons #2) by E.J. Dabel

gotgRevenge is one of the most powerful feelings in the world. Mix that with feeling like you have to prove yourself for past mistakes, past failures, and what you have yet to accomplish, and this combination will drive you like no other. That mixture can have characters that are calm in nature driven to extreme actions. Pantheons: The Game of the Gods by E.J. Dabel, the second book in the Pantheon series, discuss all of this, along with the incorporation of characters we grew to love from the first book in the series, Pantheons.

Taking place a year after Isaiah’s battle with his father Zeus and the events of last novel, Isaiah is training in order to be better prepared for the next battle with his father. He is training with the mysterious man who rescued him in the last battle, and is trying to grow in certain areas, such as working with his lightning bolts. While this is happening, the powers that be decided that the teenage Gods must compete in the Fourth Great War (the legend was explained at the beginning of the first novel). However because the Gods are now in the bodies of strong teenagers, a game of tasselball (the game of the Gods) instead of a Great War will be played. Throughout the story, we see new characters introduced, old ones re-introduced, and find Isaiah learning about his true abilities.

I was hoping that I would enjoy this novel as much as the first one and boy did I. I regret not reading these back-to-back, because I did have to keep referring to the first novel to remind myself of characters.  I really enjoyed reading about the new developments of  my favorite characters. Isaiah is a great protagonist and great lead character because you root for him and want him to succeed. You see that he is human, despite his abilities that most humans don’t have, and you can’t help but cheer for someone who seems like the constant underdog. I enjoyed when the Red-Rovers were introduced and enjoyed their characters.

I didn’t mention this in my review of the first novel, but I was constantly double-checking the facts about the gods. I knew they would all be proven true, but I was amazed by the research that went into the novels. Dabel incorporated a ton of different gods, not only Greek, but Celtic, Babylonian, Norse, and Maori Gods and Goddesses. This made me really enjoy the historical background of the novel and opened me up to a brand new array of history. I had never researched any of the other Gods, but I definitely thought it was interesting to read about them to see their similarities and purposes among the different cultures. Even though this may be meant for a younger reader, I think it will not only prove to be entertaining, but also informational to all ages.

Like The Godfather Part II and Catching Fire, I think this second installment in the series was stronger than the first. It caught my attention from the first second and was able to keep me riveted until the end. This is my third time reading a novel by E.J. Dabel, and this was by far my favorite endeavor. Dabel really understands the characters and material he is writing about and this really shows in the context of the novel. He is able to give the reader what they want while always leaving them wanting more. I look forward to reading my next Dabel novel and hope they will continue to keep me engaged.

5 out of 5 Stars

Game of the Gods by E.J. Dabel
Sea Lion Books (2012)
eBook: 267 pages
ASIN: B008FEP09O

Special thanks to Sea Lion Books for my review copy!

Adam’s Review of Tragedy and Triumph by Kathrin Rudland

ttkr“Family always comes first, no matter the situation. Your loyalty lies here, in our traditions.” Many people growing up often hear those words and often times take them to the grave. The discussions and themes behind family ties are one of the many pillars discussed in Tragedy and Triumph, a historical fiction novel written by Kathrin Rudland.

Truman Haden is only a boy the night his world his turned upside down and changes forever. He is sent away from his home because his parents are suffering from yellow fever and are close to their deaths. In a letter he receives from his father posthumously, his father preaches to him that he must do everything in his power to fight for the values that the South was founded on, and fight to protect the way of life in the South. The novel takes place before and during the Civil War in America, so these values would be slavery.  His world is changed when as a young lawyer he takes a trip to upstate New York to the small town of Elmira, a town known for its anti-slavery stance. There he meets an abolitionist woman named Elizabeth, who proves to be the polar opposite of his own views politically, but is a worthy match nonetheless. He loves debating her, and they often argue. As time goes by, the issue of slavery further divides the nation. Incidents happen that make Truman wonder whether or not he can stay loyal to the pledge he took as a boy, or whether he should consider changing. What unfolds while making his decision is an epic novel of loyalty and historical facts.

I will say that as a history major and history buff, I LOVED this novel. From the first chapter, beginning with how Truman’s life was turned upside down, to the promise he made, and finally to reading about his journey overall, I was completely enthralled. I enjoyed reading it so much that often times I kept finding myself saying “five more pages,” which turned into five more, and ended in me finally forcing myself to go to bed. Ms. Rudland paints just a vivid picture that allows the reader to see the story unfold right before his/her eyes and feel the true emotions of the characters. In the section describing the different abolitionists and detailing Elizabeth’s first time helping out with the underground railroad, I felt my heart beat out of my chest because I was nervous that she would be caught. The details of how people would get their next assignment on the underground railroad and how they had to be careful to avoid being watched was something I was not aware of. I was glad that these facts were included because it made the story that more realistic and really drew the reader in. I felt like I was in the story with Elizabeth waiting to get my assignment, wondering if someone was watching me as a spy.

The way the novel was written is very similar to a film such as Crash or 21 Grams, where there are many plots that all collide into one central plot. Many times a new character would be introduced, whether it be a slave, abolitionist, or soldier. I loved seeing the connection of this new character back to the main plot line or to Truman. Every time a new character was introduced, I had an “ahhh” moment when I was finally able to relate the character back to Truman, which helped the story evolve and took the story telling to another level. I loved seeing the different characters connect at different times throughout the plot. It really made me think of six degrees of separation. The author did an excellent job of introducing characters and making you care about each character, whether he/she had good qualities or bad. I often think that we don’t care about supporting characters (or characters who only have a couple of chapters dedicated to them) because we’re so focused on the main characters around whom the story revolves. However, because this story was so character driven, without those supporting characters the novel would’ve fallen asleep.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is just getting interested in the Civil War or someone who has a serious interest in American History. Although the main story is fiction, the facts are very real. The author’s writing style and the characters will make you invested in this book, so be prepared for some late nights.

6 out of 5 Stars

Tragedy and Triumph by Kathrin Rudland
iUniverse (2012)
Paperback 244 pages
ISBN: 9781475921700

Special thanks to Courtney at Author Solutions for my review copy!

Adam’s Film Friday – A Review of Les Mis

lesmisposterWhen waiting for a movie to come out, often times anticipation plays with our mind. When we finally see the movie, it doesn’t live up to the hype that we imagine the final product will be. Often times, even though we have a pre-conceived notion of what the movie will be and how it will look, as well as what choices the director and actors will make, it just doesn’t hit the mark somehow. There’s no denying I have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Les Miserables movie. I even wrote a post about the women of Les Miserables (which you can read here). Although it is not the first film adaptation of the classic Victor Hugo novel, it is the first adaptation of the musical, which itself is adapted from the novel. I have been following the progression of this film from the first announcement, to casting announcements, to the first leaked pictures, to the first trailer, TV spots, and even random cast members on talk shows. I couldn’t get enough clips and literally could not wait any longer to see the movie. Would the hype of the movie ultimately ruin it for me? Would it be everything I had imagined it to be? Would it be a bigger let down than Mockingjay of the Hunger Games series? So many questions were finally answered when I saw the movie on Christmas Eve.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Les Miserables begins by introducing us to Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a convict who served 19 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread. After he is paroled by the no-nonsense Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), he realizes he cannot exist with his old identity because his papers have labeled him a dangerous man. After a chance encounter with a bishop, Valjean vows to be a better and honest man. Over the course of the movie, you witness the story of a student revolution, a mother’s unwavering love for her child, a love triangle, and finally a story of redemption, all told with an amazing score and incredible songs.

Ok, I cannot wait anymore to tell you what I thought of the movie. I absolutely loved it. I thought it was one of the best musical movies ever made. One thing which made it one of the best musicals ever made was the decision to sing live while the cameras were rolling, as opposed to pre-recording the songs. With live singing, you experience the emotions the actors were trying to get across.  The songs came across much more genuine than they would have had the actors pre-recorded the songs. Although this is not the first time an actor has sung live on the set (I believe Rex Harrison sang live for My Fair Lady), this is the first time 100% of the scenes in a musical were sung live 100% of the time. It was an incredibly intimate way to portray the story of Les Miserables, and it worked perfectly. I hope more musicals decide to try this in the future.

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The performance of the movie was none other than Anne Hathaway as the factory worker-turned-prostitute Fantine. From her first scene to her last scene (over the course of 20 minutes), she captivates the audience with her portrayal of this tragic character. She gets her hair cut on-screen and you can see the fear and despair in that particular shot in her eyes. She became this character who literally is in a downward spiral with no hope of ever getting out of it. Fantine’s signature song “I Dreamed a Dream” was moved around in the movie compared to its placement in the musical. In the musical it is right after she is fired from the factory job, and in the movie it is right after her first experience as a prostitute. The movement of this song made the already sad lyrics even sadder. To put the cherry on top was how Hathaway decided to sing the song. She decided against belting it, instead going for a quieter version. Her version was so emotional, so raw, and so heartfelt that every time I’ve seen the movie (which is now up to three times), it breaks my heart and I feel a single tear coming down my cheek. I also have to give credit to director Tom Hooper for his shot choice during this song. It is shot in one long take with a minor cut in the beginning, and is just focused on Hathaway’s face. You could feel her emotions jumping off the screen. It was an incredibly effective way of shooting this scene.  If she is not this year’s best supporting actress for her performance as Fantine, then clearly all the Academy members went to the bathroom during that scene because it is utterly heartbreaking.

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Some other strong performances were Samantha Barks as Eponine, the street urchin who gets the short end of the stick in a love triangle, and Eddie Redmayne as the student revolutionary-turned-love sick puppy named Marius. Samantha had previously played Eponine on the West End Stage and the O2 25th anniversary concert. She lights up the screen with every scene she is in, and she really showed restraint in her vocal changes. Having come from a stage background, she said that she was used to singing to 2,000 people in a theater and that she had to learn to retrain her voice to strip down her singing. She really gives a great debut performance and will have a long movie career ahead of her. Eddie Redmayne as Marius was able to take one song I really don’t love, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, and make it a heart-tugging performance. He had a boyish quality that Marius is often missing in the stage show, and he really added validity to the story that he had never been in love until he saw Cosette. Hugh Jackman was also Oscar-worthy as Valjean, and is probably in the final five of my Best Actor Oscar list, but unfortunately for Jackman it looks like nothing is stopping Daniel Day-Lewis and his incredible performance as Lincoln. However, Jackman was the perfect screen adaptation of Valjean.

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Someone who I feel is unfortunately getting the short end of the stick by many critics is Russell Crowe as the persistent inspector Javert. At the end of his career, would this one performance be what he is known for? Probably not, but he didn’t ruin the movie as many critics have stated. I actually thought as the movie went on his performance got stronger.  He was by no means one of the strongest voices of the cast, but he wasn’t as bad vocally as Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia (just even mentioning his croaking singing makes my ears hurt). In truth, he really had the unrelenting quality that any good Javert should have. His soliloquy was actually one of the strongest parts of the second half of the movie, and as in the play, we finally see some humanity in Javert. Also, I’ve heard that people don’t like Amanda Seyfried as Cosette because of her vibrato. I will say that after hearing the soundtrack, I was afraid it would be annoying and would make me hate the character of Cosette more so than I do already. However after seeing the movie, the vibrato in fact makes Cosette a more endearing character somehow. You often forget that Cosette is someone who (until she meets Valjean) has never known the true love of a parent. You forget how Valjean guards her, and through the imperfection in Seyfried’s voice you really understand the sense of innocence that her character has. Her performance in the epilogue was really heartbreaking and if you don’t tear up, you may be hollow on the inside.

lesmishughIn closing, I will answer the question I posed in the introduction: did the hype ruin the movie? No, it lived up to all of my expectations and surpassed many more. It wasn’t a let down like Mockingjay. It was everything I imagined it to be and was pure perfection. Not many movies can be labeled perfection and I think this is one that deserves that title. I would recommend this movie to anyone and everyone, even if you don’t like musicals. I think this story has developed a way to transcend the barrier of the musical. It has figured out a way to tell the story with music, rather than the music becoming an annoyance and taking away from the beauty of the story. In short, you have to go see this movie.

7 out of 5 Stars

Les Miserables (2012)
Working Titles Films
PG-13, 157 Minutes