Book vs. Movie: The Grapes of Wrath

First up on my Lit Flicks Challenge list (and my first rental from Classicflix) is The Grapes of Wrath.

This is one of those classics I can't believe I missed for so long, both in book and movie form. I had seen clips from the movie somewhere, and what I had stuck in my head was the close-up of Henry Fonda's earnest face making his "I'll be there" speech. My impression going in: this story has a Message. And so it does.

The focus is on the Joads, a family forced away from their farmland home, journeying to California to become migrant workers. While the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression are pretty heavy subjects, I was still surprised by just how raw the novel is. It's an unsanitized look at these people with all their flaws and problems. And as gritty as it is, I believe that it could have been worse, given the hardships that are hinted at which the Joads manage to avoid.

In the book, in addition to the chapters that follow the Joad family's journey, there are also shorter chapters that take a less personal, larger view of the problems of the times. Some of these were very powerful and worked quite well. I especially liked the chapters on the used car dealership and the roadside diner. As I progressed through the book, however, I began to feel that this device was wearing thin, and that Steinbeck had run out of things to talk about in these bigger-picture chapters.

Overall, it's a well-written novel about a serious subject. And it did get me wrapped up in it so that I was really feeling for these characters. I particularly liked Ma, even from her first appearance in the book. In her introduction, we are told that "her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding." The story gives her a lot more steps to climb. I preferred book Ma to movie Ma, but I liked Tom Joad in both versions very much.

Before seeing the movie, I was worried about Henry Fonda's performance, especially his ability to speak in the country dialect of the book. Maybe it's because the clearest picture I have of Fonda is as the very intelligent, articulate character in 12 Angry Men. But he handles the role of Tom Joad brilliantly, never seeming above it while still bringing out a certain sincerity with dignity that is important to the character. Fonda's performance is wonderfully restrained yet powerful, beautiful against the often over-the-top, make-your-eyes-as-wide-as-possible-for-effect acting going on in this movie. With the exception of the bit where he sings, I found Henry Fonda's performance riveting, and for that alone I would recommend watching the movie.

Would I recommend the book? Yes, although with some hesitation. The novel is really depressing. As I progressed through the book, I found myself anticipating with dread the next tragedy that would befall the family. The book has an interesting theme about sin versus holiness that is nowhere near as prominent in the movie. Both stories show that people do better helping each other, although the book drives the point home harder. Sure, we've all got to eat, but only looking out for your own is selfish and doesn't work for the greater good, we get it. The movie, while still serious, has some lighter moments to it, like Grandpa explaining what he'd like to do in California and the family's reaction to Tom's homecoming. The movie also has a much different ending.

The book's ending is a bit of a shocker; I won't spoil it here in case you haven't read it yet, although I will say that it made me feel that a certain thing was set up in the book only for the ending, which felt somewhat cheap to me. The ending does fit in with the rest of the novel and provides some hope for the future, but the whole thing is still pretty bleak. Which I suppose is the point -- the issues faced by these people could not be easily fixed. The movie's ending is more hopeful and uplifting, although it didn't ring as true to me. Also, in both versions of the story, I was disappointed that Tom's part is finished up before the end.

So, what's the final verdict, book or movie? Both. The story in either form is an interesting look at a difficult time in history. The book definitely has more meat to it and a bigger agenda; the movie is a bit more entertaining while still illuminating the subject. While I don't think I'll be coming back to either book or movie soon, I'm still glad I checked out both versions of this classic American story.


Favorite Movie Decade

If you would have asked me yesterday which decade produced most of my favorite movies, I would probably have said the 1960s. But after seeing the decade graph based on David Bishop's top movie list, I decided to put my top 50 list to the test. This is what I came up with:

It turns out that the 1950s and 90s tied as my favorite movie decades! What happened to the 60s? Well, in making my chart, I discovered that a couple of movies I would have thought of as 60s movies were actually from 1959. Oh, so close. Can I make up my own decade? If I could, 1954-1964 would have the top number of my favorites. (Although, that would be 11 years instead of 10, wouldn't it? Hmm.)

By the way, I also tried my results as a bar graph, which was slightly easier to read, but I went with the line graph because it makes a big "M" for movies!

What's your favorite decade for movies? I know I need to watch more films from the 30s. Am I missing out on a lot of good stuff from the 70s?


My Top 50 Favorite Films

Probably every movie lover makes a favorite film list at one time or another. Fletch over at Blog Cabins just posted a list of his top 50 films, encouraging others to do the same. That was all it took to get me going. (Yeah, I'm also one of those people that feels the need to respond to every email survey I receive from friends. Sharing opinions is fun!)

Top 10 is one thing, top 50 might be even trickier. I've grouped my choices into a few different categories, leaving my favorites for last on each list. It should be noted that these are my personal favorites, which is pretty subjective and basically comes down to the movies I have watched and enjoyed repeatedly, films which get quoted the most in my little world. These are not all necessarily the same movies I would put on a list of the best films ever made. But what good is a movie best list if it's not films you actually enjoy watching, anyway? And so, without further ado, my favorites:

Alfred Hitchcock movies:
Rear Window
Dial M for Murder
North by Northwest

Billy Wilder:
The Major and the Minor
Some Like it Hot
The Apartment

Orson Welles:
Citizen Kane
The Magnificent Ambersons
The Third Man

That Thing You Do!
Singin' in the Rain
A Hard Day's Night
The Wizard of Oz
Guys and Dolls
West Side Story
An American in Paris

Out of the Past
The Maltese Falcon

Chick Flicks:
Sense and Sensibility
Out of Africa
You've Got Mail

Back to the Future
The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars IV: A New Hope

Newer Favorites:
The Princess Bride
Catch Me If You Can
A River Runs Through It
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Much Ado About Nothing
Joe Versus the Volcano
Quiz Show
The Hunt for Red October

Older Favorites:
Dr. Strangelove
Born Yesterday (the William Holden version, of course)
Father of the Bride (the Spencer Tracy version, of course)
Seven Days in May
12 Angry Men
Gone With the Wind
The Hustler
The Philadelphia Story

If I could only choose one out of all of my favorites as my top pick ever, it would probably be The Maltese Falcon.

By the way, I know there are only actually 49 here. I didn't count wrong, I was just afraid of missing some great movie and feeling bad about it later. So I'm leaving a spot open for floating favorites -- when I think of one that didn't make the list, it will become my current 50th.

Now it's your turn. What's on your list?


All I am saying is give classic movies a chance

In case I haven't made it clear here yet: I like movies. I especially like old movies. And while I'm sure the argument can be made that what is old is not always classic and what is classic doesn't always have to be so old, I tend to use old and classic interchangeably when it comes to certain movies. Please bear with me on that.

I think more people should watch classic movies. I like to introduce people to my old favorites. And so I've decided to start a series of posts on what I'm calling Overlooked Oldies. Here I'll highlight some lesser-known titles which, despite having been skipped on AFI's top movie lists, still deserve some attention.

(By the way, I don't claim that my classic movie knowledge is exhaustive. If you have an old favorite worthy of some more movie love, let me know; I'm always happy to see an old classic I've missed. Along those lines, I am making ClassicFlix my new best (movie) friend. It's a rental site devoted to classic (pre-1970) films and tv shows, including many hard to find titles. What a great idea!)

First Up: The Major and the Minor

This 1942 movie marks the Hollywood directorial debut of the great writer/director Billy Wilder (Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard).

The premise: Susan Applegate (Ginger Rogers) has decided, after one year and 25 jobs in New York, that she's ready to return to her sleepy Iowa hometown. Unable to afford the train ticket home, she poses as a 12-year-old so she only has to pay half-fare. On the train she meets Philip Kirby, (Ray Milland) a Major returning from a trip to Washington where he was attempting to get into more active service.

Because of bad weather and a misunderstanding, little "Su-Su" agrees to go with her "Uncle" Philip to the military academy where he is currently teaching. There she will have to continue her masquerade while dealing with 300 eager cadets and her growing attraction to the engaged Major Kirby.

There's some great moments in the movie, like Su-Su being invited to stay for the school dance. When Fred Astaire's most famous dancing partner is asked if she can dance, what is her modest reply? "A little."

Ray Milland is at his most charming here as Philip Kirby. Watch him squirm during his talk with Su-Su as he tries to protect his "niece" from the cadets who have been applying their lessons on military tactics to putting the moves on Susan. Philip's concern is touching and funny: "You don't want to be a light bulb, do you?" "It's never been a particular ambition of mine." Ray Milland manages to portray Philip's growing affection for Susan without it ever feeling creepy.

It also helps that the 31-year-old Ginger Rogers is not really believable as a 12-year-old. While she does a nice job softening her voice and expressions when she is being Su-Su as opposed to Susan, it's still pretty ridiculous that anyone would buy it. This is not a fault of the movie, instead it makes for some interesting twists on ideas of innocence. Who's the first to see through Susan's act at the academy? The 12-year-old sister of Kirby's fiancee. "You may bluff the grown-ups; you can't bluff me." The cadets ("junior wolves") are just as predatory as the crumbs Susan was always fighting off in the city. Those who should be innocent aren't, and those who should know better don't, or pretend not to. It all works in the framework of the story, making for some delightfully funny situations.

If you haven't seen it yet, check out this cute comedy, just one of many Billy Wilder gems.


Book vs. Movie: Is the book always better?

Movies: Ruining The Book Since 1920 - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever

This cool Threadless t-shirt (Movies: Ruining the Book since 1920) displays a definite point of view on the issue. But can it really be said that the book is always better than the movie adaptation?

In trying to understand why people generally seem to prefer the book to the movie version of a story, I came up with this theory: Perhaps we just like best what we knew first. Which, in most cases, is the book. Here's how it goes: you read a book, love it, find out it's been made into a movie, see the movie, and end up disappointed. Of course in reading the book first, you couldn't help but form ideas about how the characters looked. You loved all the little details that didn't make it into the limited time of the movie. And so you come out of the theater or close the dvd box feeling strongly that the book was so much better than the movie.

The problem with my theory is that it should work in reverse; if you saw the movie first, you should prefer it over the book. But this just doesn't happen nearly so often. Sure, seeing the movie first leaves a lasting impression of how the characters look. But it's usually fine to imagine them that way when you go ahead and read the book. Also, the details in the book usually end up enriching the story you already know, so you can still come away saying that the book is better than the movie.

Can the movie ever be better than the book? One thing against this is that books that are popular get made into movies, which creates high expectations. (Let's face it, if the book is terrible to start with, it probably won't get made into a movie.)

But in some cases, I actually do like the movie better than the book. One examples of this for me is Gone With the Wind. The book and movie are both long, but I am much more likely to re-watch the movie than to re-read the book. Some of the things that got left out from the book (like things involving the KKK and Scarlet's additional children) are not really missed in the movie. The costumes and sets actually enhance the story to me, showing the grandeur of the old South and the devastation caused by the war.

Another example of a movie that I would pick over the book is The Hunt for Red October. I could watch that movie endlessly and probably recite most of the dialogue off the top of my head if you asked me to. I have tried to read the book several times and have just never gotten through it. The extra detail in the book feels tedious as opposed to interesting. Plus, reading the book doesn't give me the pleasure of seeing Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery.

Another case in which I always seem to prefer the movie is when the story is based on actual events. Almost every time I see a movie about someone's life or some spectacular event and it moves me to read more about it, I wind up disappointed. The events, people, drama, excitement, etc. have all been changed for the big screen. Let's face it, life isn't like the movies. Things are left unresolved, things happen that don't make sense in some grander scheme or plot. Real life is better to live; enhanced life is better in the movies.

But I'd like to present a middle ground. Sure, the book is often better than the movie in certain ways. But movies are unique, and can do things that books can never do, which can make them better. Why can't books and movies be friends? Instead of always having to pick a side, let's make it ok to like both the book AND the movie.

On the same subject of books and movies, I found this cool Lit Flicks Challenge from The Bluestocking Society. The idea is simple: read 5 books that have been made into movies and watch at least 2 of the movie adaptations. I wish I would have found this sooner, since I just read and watched The Thin Man (the first time for each) in an attempt to catch up on classics I somehow missed. Fortunately, I've just started another book along those same lines, so I'll make it my first pick.

1. The Grapes of Wrath

There are so many other book/movie combos I've already enjoyed, but I wanted to try some that I hadn't seen or read yet. I came up with:

2. Jane Eyre
3. Matchstick Men

Two more to go, and I think I will go for books where I have already seen the movie and enjoyed it:

4. Awakenings
5. Build My Gallows High (the basis for the great noir film Out of the Past)

So, that's my list for now, since for this challenge I can change my mind and my books if I need to. If anyone is looking for help on a list of their own for the challenge, let me recommend the following, where both book and movie versions are good: The Princess Bride, Much Ado About Nothing, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.


Every old movie is new again

Sometimes it seems like there are no new ideas in Hollywood, that every story has already been told, retold, and revisited. Some examples of movie remakes include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, King Kong, Ocean's Eleven, Sabrina, and War of the Worlds, to name just a few. This doesn't even begin to touch on movies that were popular enough to produce sequels, prequels, reboots, re-imaginings, or a series, like Star Wars or the growing collection of Batman movies.

I'm not anti-remake as a rule, in fact I think sometimes a movie remake can be better than the original. Being inspired from the old does present certain challenges, however, especially if the source movie is well-known and well-loved. Then the new movie is bound to be closely scrutinized to see how it measures up to the original. For this reason, classic movies are often a great source for remake material, since oftentimes the older version has been all but forgotten or can easily be changed to be made more current.

There's been some buzz about a few movies lately that I'm definitely interested in based on the source material. So here's my thoughts on some upcoming sci-fi movies borrowing from some old ideas:

Star Trek XI (or Star Trek Zero)
Cons: It's a prequel. I don't get the fascination with prequels. (I'm talking to you, George Lucas.) Fans can be cruel when characters/plots set in an earlier time don't match up with what has already been established. Plus, it's pretty impossible to make things look truly older, given the quality of newer special effects. Didn't we see that in Enterprise?
Also against it: this is an odd-numbered Trek film, for those of you that believe in that curse.
Pros: It's Star Trek! Leonard Nimoy is playing Old Spock.
Verdict: I'm a Star Trek fan, but I've never been really attached to the original series, so I probably wouldn't even notice small deviations. It might be predictable and a desperate attempt to keep the Star Trek franchise going, but I'm willing to give it a shot.

Cons: First of all, let's talk about numbers being used as letters. This is no longer clever (and perhaps never was). It's just strange, and in this case, confusing. Are we supposed to read it as Trzn? That looks like it should be the title for an updated Tarzan movie. Why not say Tron 2, or Tron 2.0 or even The Second Coming of Tron? This choice alone scares me a great deal.
Pros: Jeff Bridges is all gung-ho about it, and is returning to play Flynn.
Verdict: The original Tron was great because it was so different. The style and idea of it -- there's nothing quite like it. Will the new special effects capture the old feeling of wonder? Is it a retelling of the old, a new updated story, or a sequel? Will Brue Boxleitner return as well? I'm curious, but feeling afraid for this one.

The Day the Earth Stood Still
Cons: Keanu Reeves. I'm sorry, Keanu fans, but his inherent dopey-ness makes it hard for me to take him seriously.
Pros: Mad Men's Jon Hamm and Jennifer Connelly are in it. The original is great.
Verdict: Updated special effects might actually enhance the story, if they don't take over. And a message of peace is always welcome. I'm excited about this one.

Will these films fail spectacularly, or join the list of successful remakes? Only time will tell. But now's your chance to weigh in with your opinions, if only so you can say "I told you so!" later.


Who doesn't love a good movie party?

What's better than watching movies? Watching them with your friends at a movie party, of course! I've done movie parties with family, as a fun girls' night in, for kids, and to introduce friends to classic movies. I also like to have my own private Oscar party, where it has become a tradition for me to use the time to make the very crave-able Emeril's Cheese and Potato Lasagna. But I must say, I have never had a movie party fancy enough to be called a cinema soiree. Yet.

Hopefully that will change soon! Turner Classic Movies is joining up with Triscuit & bon appetit to present a Cinema Soirees contest. Look here for the details and to enter. All you have to do is pick a classic movie to serve as the theme for your fabulous event, and share your ideas for incorporating Triscuits into your party. I am so entering!

What movie is my inspiration? I can't tell you. Yet. Maybe when I win, I will post some fantastic photos of my fancy soiree. Whatever happens, I am looking forward to seeing what themes are chosen and how they turn them into inspiration for Cinema Soirees. If you win, feel free to invite me.


Do movies have healing powers? The best movies to watch on a sick day

We are now entering that wonderful time of year known as cold & flu season. I am feeling a bit run down myself right now, all stuffy and coughing. This got me thinking about how I love to watch movies when I'm home sick. Just like I yearn for my softest bedding and chicken soup to make me feel better, it seems only natural to me to put on a favorite movie for comfort.

Can movies really help heal you? I know they make me feel better. The next time you're sick, why not try a movie? It will help you distract yourself from how miserable you feel and might keep you still enough to give your body's defenses a chance to work. So get your favorite blankie, keep your tissues handy, and put on one of these movies. (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Don't substitute watching a movie for getting professional medical advice and then blame me. Thanks.)

With that out of the way, here's my list of some great movies to watch on a sick day:

Pride and Prejudice (the BBC version)
Five hours of Jane Austen goodness, this is the best for when you need a lot of time to recuperate. It's quiet and slow-moving enough that you can fall asleep watching it and good enough that if you drift in and out you can enjoy any scene you happen to catch.

The Princess Bride
If you're not feeling up to reading (and you can't get your grandpa to come over and read to you) try watching this movie instead. Is there anyone out there that hasn't seen it yet? The familiarity of it will make it all the more comforting.

Star Wars: A New Hope
You don't want anything too mentally taxing when you're sick, and this movie is not at all brain-draining. Good is good, evil is evil, the ending is happy. You can also use it to inspire some visualization to fight your infection: imagine those X-wings are blasting away at the germs inside you, blowing them up like the Death Star. Feeling better yet?

The Pink Panther (the original, of course)
One for the "laughter is the best medicine" category, this movie stars the brilliant Peter Sellers as the bumbling (and slightly tragic) inspector. It holds up to repeated watching, too; even knowing the comedic moments that are coming, it is still laugh-out-loud funny.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
This one may make you slightly jealous as you watch Ferris have all kinds of fun on his "sick day". Or it may make you a bit tired watching him run all around Chicago. Just try to enjoy it vicariously and plan on taking your own mental health day sometime when you're feeling better. Which hopefully will be very soon!

Did I miss your favorite sick day movie? Let me know!
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