Tag Archives: drama

Book Review: Countdown Is a Childlike Recollection

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I picked up Countdown by Deborah Wiles more for its unique format, which uses photographs, pamphlets, quotes, song lyrics, and other memorabilia of the 60s between chapters to place the reader within the time and to broaden the scope of the book’s plot by showing what is happening outside of the protagonist’s personal story, than for its synopsis.  Definitely it’s outside of the genre that I prefer, being a realistic, wartime novel.  The story follows protagonist Franny Chapman, a young girl living in Camp Springs, Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C., in 1962, during the Cold War, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Franny’s father works on the air force base in Camp Springs.  Her grandfather is also a war veteran who lives with the family and suffers from PTSD.  Franny lives in fear: fear of death, fear of humiliation, fear of social isolation.  As much as Wiles shows us the 1960s, she also shows us the typical childhood of a child in the 1960s, of any child of any time, dealing with the frustrations of school, the drama of trying to belong in a peer group, childhood crushes, secrets kept from parents, family drama, etc.

I appreciate Wiles’ rather accurate representation of childhood.  Wiles admits in an author’s note at the novel’s end that she drew greatly from her own childhood recollections, and Countdown does read almost like creative nonfiction, again to her credit.  I appreciate that this is a wartime novel that I didn’t loathe (usually I do), but then again, this is not a typical wartime novel that focuses on soldiers, but it focuses instead on the civilians, whose way of life I am more comfortable sharing.

Wiles touched on many of the aspects of American life and controversy in the 1960s (or as far as my scant knowledge is aware): PTSD, the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the growing awareness of racial inequality….  Franny, being young and mainly unaware of the intricacies of these situations, was not a narrator to give me any great insight into these events; rather Franny’s perspective offered the raw, emotional fear that these events inspired in the average citizen.

And there’s “fear” again.  I guess if I had to, I would say that that was the overarching impression that this book gave me of the 60s: fear paired with a desire for 50s normality (white picket fence, manicured lawn, and 2.5 kids, et al.).  Whether this was the overarching feeling of the 60s or if it was merely Wiles’ adolescent impression of the time, I do not know.

Readers of the book should not look for deep insight into the 60s but a glance, as if flipping quickly through the pages of a newspaper of the time, and should rather look forward to a realistic childhood adventure and drama, which are well-portrayed, mixing the ordinary with the extraordinary, but are not as well-executed as some that I have seen.

***

Wiles, Deborah.  The Sixties Trilogy, Book 1: Countdown.  New York: Scholastic, 2013.

This review is not endorsed by Deborah Wiles or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret: The Book That Was Meant to Win Oscars and the Caldecott

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I finally got hold of a copy of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret and tore through it.  I took it out Thursday night.  I was done by Sunday afternoon.  For me, that’s a quick read, but as I pointed out to my mother when she expressed her surprise that I had finished, it’s only 26,159 words and 158 pictures.  For those looking for some perspective, that’s just over fifty typed pages of text; this review is just over one page including the independence claim.

This book was made to be cinematically adapted.  Film history is central to the plot, and film can be so much better appreciated as moving picture than as stills, though it is obvious that Selznick has done his research.  The book even includes sketches of creatures never created and set designs for Méliès films.

I wondered how much Martin Scorsese had changed the plot, but as it turns out, Scorsese adjusted very little; he cut one or two characters to more fully focus on others, avoided some of the injuries incurred in the drama, and tweaked the dialogue and the staging of a few scenes.  One of the main differences between the book and the film is the focus put on more minor characters.  Selznick’s book more narrowly focuses on Hugo’s and Georges Méliès’ story.  Scorsese expands Hugo’s idea that all the world is a machine and all the men and women in it merely cogs and that no cog is extraneous in a machine, so no person is extraneous.  Scorsese decided to treat all the characters in his story, then, as with the importance and respect that the world would give them as vital cogs.  The Station Inspector, Madame Emile, and Monsieur Frick are given their own individual stories in Scorsese’s film.  In Selznick’s novel, they are cogs to move Hugo and Méliès towards their destinies, vital but meant to be virtually unseen, as one sees the clock’s hand move without seeing the inner workings.  Both are interesting ways of viewing the people who come into and disappear out of our lives.  I don’t think that I judge either as having more merit.  Though I enjoyed knowing the back-stories of these characters in Scorsese’s film, in Selznick’s book, I appreciated the speed and focus of the story too.  If Hugo had stopped to observe others, I wonder if it would have seemed to slow the plot and maybe even break Hugo’s character.  Hugo in both versions is focused and task-oriented; I don’t know that he would be distracted by the interactions of the crowd as the audience is in Scorsese’s film.

I want to amend too what I said earlier: Selznick’s book is more like a flipbook than a picture book.  One turns the pages, viewing each full page illustration, and follows the story that way till the flipbook is interrupted by text, which expands upon the story, offering ideas that could not perhaps be grasped as fully in illustrations alone, names and relations, for example.  It is a beautiful symbiosis of text and image, film and book.

Beyond being beautiful and revolutionary in composition, this is a delightful story of finding family and friends, the importance of dreams, and a person’s ability to “fix” another.  I add my praise to others’.

****1/2

Selznick, Brian.  The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  New York: Scholastic, 2007.

Hugo.  Dir. Martin Scorsese.  GK Films and Infinitum Nihil, 2011.  Film.

This review is not endorsed by Brian Selznik, Scholastic, GK Films, Infinitum Nihil, Martin Scorsese, anyone in the cast, or anyone involved in making the film.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader and viewer.

Film Review: The Inventive Hugo of Martin Scorsese

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I finally did it!  I finally went out and saw films!

One was Hugo, the cinematic adaptation of Brian Selznick’s graphic novel dare I say “revolutionary” graphic novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  I have not yet been able to get my hands on a copy of the book for any longer than to flip through the pages and admire the detailed, dynamic, black-and-white illustrations (for those who will understand, much in the style of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick).  Having done that much, I recognized the dynamism and imagination of Selznick’s illustrations in the film.  Having seen that much, I think I can claim that Hugo in some ways, then, captured the spirit of Selznick’s novel, which I look forward to reading, especially after seeing the film adaptation.

I very much enjoyed the film version of the story, though as the friends with whom I saw the film said afterward, the film’s plot is more loose than I generally enjoy.

But aside from plot, there are real reasons to see the film:

The cinematography is absolutely stunning.

Another feature of note is the risks that the director, Martin Scorsese, took in looking back on a bygone era of film and reintroducing it to a modern audience beside 3-D (Hugo was very much intended to be a 3-D film; even wearing Hank Green’s 2-D glasses to prevent the film from being ruined by my dislike of and discomfort when watching 3-D films, I could tell and appreciate that) and highly advanced computer animation.  Hugo includes snippets of reenacted Georges Méliès films, produced between 1896 and 1913, of a style that would be laughed at if presented alone to modern audiences, I feel.  The colors are strange, the costumes are blatant, and the effects can hardly compare with what computers have allowed present-day filmmakers to do.  For its time, my friends and I agreed, those films would have been fantastic, especially as Hugo talks of them as the introduction of imagination and dreamscape into film.

By including such films, Hugo compares itself to them, naming itself a reintroduction of imagination and dreamscape, a label that I would almost allow the film to claim for its creative storytelling and mix of modern and ancient.  But there are many films more imaginative and more dreamlike than Hugo, including I think it must be said, James Cameron’s visually stunning Avatar (2009).  However, these film clips remind me of the graphic novel upon which Hugo is based, graphic novels being an incorporation of words and pictures and, in some ways, a reclamation of the picture book for older audiences.  The film clips suggest to me that Hugo was made in the spirit of the original graphic novel, as Hugo reclaims Méliès’ films for the modern audience and integrates different storytelling and filmmaking techniques.

A tale of humanity, of searching for love, of searching for purpose, and of the necessity of healthy interactions between humans, Hugo is a philosophically heavy film, and I would actually say that at times, it seems to preach.  But I mostly forgave the film these speeches were poetic, and the tale—the dangers and interactions between characters—kept my  attention.

Hugo.  Dir. Martin Scorsese. GK Films and Infinitum Nihil, 2011.  Film.

This review is not endorsed by GK Films, Infinitum Nihil, Martin Scorsese, anyone in the cast, or anyone involved in making this film. It is an independent, honest review by a viewer.