You know you love me: xoxo GG – Gossip Girl vs Great Gatsby

So…. In the last few months I have finally surrendered to the time-sucking vortex that is Netflix. I grew tired of listening to my friends talking about these amazing shows and endlessly watching movies and so, I joined the club. I have found myself binge watching shows that were cool ten years ago that I never watched but wanted to see what the fuss was all about. One of those shows was Gossip Girl.

Don’t stop reading.

Yes. I know. It’s not the most sophisticated of shows (but is delightfully sultry and addictive). But I’m going somewhere with this. I promise.

So, after a couple of months of compulsive watching and Chair shipping (Ed Westwick *sigh*)

I found myself at the end of my journey until someone enlightened me that it had been inspired by a book. A series actually. By Cecily von Ziegesar. Obviously, I got curious and my local library stocks the whole series (Never heard of Asimov or Tolstroy but Gossip Girl, oh yes) and thought I’d try book one.

As it happens, I also have another book open on my Kindle at the moment. The seminal-now-it’s-a-classic The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald and I found myself hopping between the two and I noticed something.

They are actually kinda similar. Different ultimate story-lines but the “social commentary” element is pretty like-for-like.

I’ve been having a long standing debate with a fellow writer about changes in modern literature and how different books and writing are viewed now to how it was back when authors like Fitzgerald were writing so I thought it would be fun to compare two such different tellings of such similar worlds. The classic vs the modern. So here goes…

(Oh and spoiler alert. I’m going to have to reveal who Gossip Girl is so if you don’t want to know, look away now)

Plots:

Gatsby: “Nick becomes drawn into the captivating world of the wealthy and — as he bears witness to their illusions and deceits — pens a tale of impossible love, dreams, and tragedy.” (Quoted from IMDB).

Kinda similar right? A nobody telling the stories of the crazy and wild world of the extraordinary elite.

Winner: Draw. Who tells it better? Neither and both. Gatsby is a world of jazz and champagne. Gossip Girl is more Beyonce and yoghurt on the Met steps. Each draws you into the world it is exploring. Gatsby is more artistic and so wins on drawing the world around you but Gossip Girl is more immediate, putting your feet on the ground right in the middle of the world, shooting for vibe rather than visuals.

Social Commentary:

Both offer a scathing and yet almost lustful commentary on the (often) ridiculous and scandalous lives of the rich and endowed. Neither book is outright scathing. Instead, they use exaggeration and (often) ridiculous characters to throw a spotlight on these worlds and moreover the people in them. In this respect, both screen adaptations are somewhat less concerned with the commentary element so are discounted for this round.

Winner: Gatsby by a mile. Gatsby has some beautiful quotes and observations about the world while Gossip Girl is a somewhat shallower novel. While Gatsby will make you sit back and ponder, Gossip Girl will just make you wonder why anyone would ever want to know any of these brats.

The Parties:

What is the world of the rich and pompous without a few parties…

Did I say “few”?

Oh and that’s just season one.

Winner: Gossip Girl. Gatsby has some stunning parties but they are all very same-y. Gossip Girl offers everything from débutante balls to burlesque clubs, saints and sinners to pool parties.

Tv/Movie vs Book:

(I know a LOT of you will disagree with me on this but) These two books are rare exceptions where I actually prefer the screen adaptations to the written ones.

Characters:

Welcome to two books where just about every character is 100% dislikable. Technically the point. We are supposed to be judging these people and their indulgent lifestyles but if you ask me, both works take it a little far.

Jay Gatsby/Serena Van De Woodsen

The unknown. The intrigued. The ‘it’ character. The one with the mysterious past. The one everyone wants to know and is at all those wild parties (often hosting them), is always at the centre of the of all the love triangles and the one everyone is always gossiping about. They are also both effortlessly beautiful and catch eyes in any room they enter.

And trust me when I say, the rumours around Serena (particularly in the book) are just as wild and varying. To quote: “You got kicked out of boarding school because you are a perverted slut who made marks on the wall above the bed in your dorm room for every boy you did. You have STDs. You were addicted to all kinds of drugs and busted out of rehab and now you’re dealing your own stuff. You were a member of some cult that killed chickens. You have a F!?! baby in France.” As Serena smoothly replies “Wow I’ve been busy.”

Winner: Gatsby. In the movies, its a close race. Both actors are stunning, and the characters are pitched well drawing the audience in, and a lot of the ridiculous elements of the gossip girl rumours are tamed down. However, book vs book, Gatsby is definitely the more intriguing character. Serena just comes off as shallow, dull and spoilt to the point I am actually fairly indifferent to ever find out what she actually did “last summer”.

Nate Archibald/Daisy Buchanan

Continuing on my gender-bender theme. Meet the love interest for above. Five key features. 1. Blonde. I don’t know why but this type of character always turns out to be a blonde. 2. Taken. Nate is Blair’s guy and Daisy is Tom’s wife. Cue love triangle. 3. Rich. Well obviously. 4. They are inherently “good” characters. They have the sweet, innocent façade thing going on that hides a wilder devil just waiting to burst free. In love too young and now looking to explore something more akin to passionate.

Oh and 5. Dislikable. Again, I much prefer the movie versions to the books versions. Actually in fairness, Daisy isn’t dislikable (in my opinion) so much as bland. Even in the hands of Carey Mulligan she came out very wishy-washy and that classic soft-spoken, annoyingly giggly, “oh I love him so” character. Nate is just dislikable. In the show, Chace Crawford does his best to inject some life into the character to make him more than “the hot guy” but in the book, he’s as weedy as the smokes he’s constantly dragging on.

Winner: Euck. Neither.

 Gossip Girl: aka (spoilers) Dan Humphrey/Nick Carraway.

Struggling writers. Broke. Drawn into this world they are naive to and somewhat sceptical to. The outsider commentator. Funnily enough, in the book Dan is somewhat different. She describes him as a skinny, vampish, sour and somewhat snipy teen with some serious attitude issues and an addiction to Serena that borders on stalkerism. He is only redeemed in his devotion to his little sister. In the book, he and Serena deserve each other. Honestly. The self-obsessed floozie and the sour stalker. And (at least in book one) while he is into obscure arty things, no real mention of being a writer. However, TV show Dan and Nick could be twins (Penn wins, sorry Tobey).

Winner: Nick. On the book anyway. Dan if we are considering the movie/tv show.

Which brings me neatly to the most important category:

Writing:

Gossip Girl sucks. There. I said it. It ranks down there with some of the worst written books I have ever read. It absolutely stuns me that a publisher put it out in the state its in. It reads like a twelve year old wrote it (albeit a sex-obsessed twelve year old). There is no finesse, no artisty. It jumps about as it feels like it with no real flow. It honestly reads like a bad diary. It is the epitome of everything I hate about modern commercial fiction. There is no sign of any poetry. No descriptions (beyond listing the designer names on the labels which FYI doesn’t count). The dialogue is un-inventive and constant. It is just sex, scandal and go-go-go.

Gatsby on the other hand, is beautiful. It famously has some stunning quotes from it but all in, it is a breath-taking piece of art. THAT is what true writing. Even if like me, you find the story neither engaging nor dull but just somewhere forgettable in between, you must read this book to enjoy Fitzgerald at his best. If you ask me, this is one book where the writing is 100% let down by the story.

Winner: You kidding right? (Gatsby)

So who wins? Classic or Modern…

An overwhelming 4:1 to Gatsby in the book department. Chalk up a win for the classics.

Let the debate begin…

You know you love me… xoxo Maxi

Celebrating the Emerald City: 75 years of Dorothy

I was stunned to find out recently that this week has seen the 75th birthday of the Wizard of Oz. It’s one of those movies we’ve all watched. It’s hard to believe we first walked down the yellow brick road in 1939 with Dorothy and her friends. Based on the book by Frank Baum, it is one of the most loved movies of the twentieth century. So in recognition of this amazing milestone, here’s a look at the journey this story has made and a few of the Oz-themed spin-offs we’ve seen over the years.

1. The Book

It all started with a book. It always saddens me to discover how few people have actually read the book (or worse, don’t even know it was a book in the first place). Frank Baum’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is definitely a must-read for any book enthusiast.

2. The Movie (The Wizard of Oz)

Of course, the iconic movie in which we saw young Judy (aged 16) and Toto whisked away to the magical land of Oz to embark on a musical journey to the Emerald City to meet the mystical wizard. From it we gained some of the most well known melodies in musical cinema, as well as some memorable lines.

“Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

[youtube http://youtu.be/vQLNS3HWfCM]

3. The Music

One of the best loved songs from the movie, Somewhere Over The Rainbow has become iconic in itself. Almost cut from the movie due to long running times, it went on to win the Best Song Oscar and became the Judy Garland song. It has since been covered by many artists, including Katherine McPhee, Pink and Jane Monheit (below). Other songs we’ve since seen redone include If I Only Had a Brain (most recently by Robbie Williams).

[youtube http://youtu.be/PSZxmZmBfnU]

[youtube http://youtu.be/-cawSHMzoU8]

[youtube http://youtu.be/EP_5veYs1vE]

[youtube http://youtu.be/0GpyBU2DVkE]

3. Wicked (the book)

Having read this book, in some ways it doesn’t fit into this list and in others it does. Maguire does write in the Oz world created by Baum and he tells the story of Elphaba, the misunderstood green witch. It is not an easy book to read. Anyone expecting to read the same light hearted fun story from the stage show will be sadly disappointed. That is not to say it isn’t a brilliant book. But it is a statement book. It is a political, social and ethical commentary that is very definitely not for children. Interesting fact, Maguire fashioned the name Elphaba from Baum’s initials L-F-B. Still, it is the platform from which much of the modern adaptations have sprung.

4. The Stage Show – The Wiz

The Wizard of Oz has walked the boards many times, most recently in a surprisingly short musical version by Webber and Rice, treading the boards in 2011 and then closing again a year later. It used much of the music from the film plus new tracks from the amazing Webber and Rice,so its short run came as a little bit of a shock.

5. Wicked the Musical

Perhaps the most famous spin-off in modern times, the amazingly popular stage show tells the story of Glinda and Elphaba through their school days and how they became the characters we know in the 1939 movie. Funny, witty and incredibly catchy, it is an impossible-to-not-love musical that has caught the imaginations of audiences around the globe. The lead parts have been played most famously by Kristin Chenoweth (Glee) and Idina Menzel (Frozen, Glee, Enchanted) but have also seen other famous faces like Kerri Ellis (WWRY, Wicked in Rock) and Meghan Hilty (Smash, 9-5) as well as Joey Grey (Cabaret) as the Wizard in the original cast.

[youtube http://youtu.be/3g4ekwTd6Ig]

6. Once Upon a Time

ABC’s latest juggernaut pays homage to Baum’s work. The TV series, based on the idea of  fairytale characters who have been cursed to live in the real world, takes a visit to Oz in its third season and I’m sure it won’t be the last we see of the Emerald City.

8. Oz: The Great and Powerful

The latest adaptation starring Mila Kunis, James Franco, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz is the most modern version of this old story to make it to the silver screen. This lavish spectacle forms the prequel to the original and tells of the wizards arrival in the world of Oz.

 7. Wicked the Movie

Showing our love for this old tale is far from waning, the next big project is the adaptation of the wickedly (sorry, too tempting) successful stage show into a movie. Details are still sketchy. It is known that neither Chenoweth nor Menzel will be reprising their roles as both have been informed they are ‘above age’ for the roles. It will be interesting to see who will attempt to fit into either of their rather impressive shoes.

Sweden vs England: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Print to Screen.

A brief introduction.

Welcome to my first print to screen post. I’ve been wanting to do one of these for ages. It’s a running pet peev of bookworms when screenwriters/actors and/or directors take a book we’ve loved and turn it into a movie disaster, or likewise, it’s a lovely surprise when they do the inverse. So this series of posts is dedicated at looking at that transition and how well the material survives.

This blog is primarily about books. I feel this important to point out before we begin. Yes, this is a dual movie review but it is done very much in the light of them being interpretations of a novel. Where I am negative, I am negative not of it as a film, but as an adaptation of written work. In my opinion, you can watch movies based on books in two ways – either as movies or as renditions. I watch them as both but here talk about them mostly as the latter.

Swedish version. Director: Oplev

The theme of Oplev’s rendition of this book seems to be gritty realism. His cast are, on the whole, far rougher around the edges, his style of filming more cut up and his basic plot format  (thanks to screenwriters Arcel and Heisterberg) is very no-nonsense.

Mikael Blomkvist is not a pleasure for the eyes. While this is purely taste, I could rather have done without seeing Mr Nyqvist with his shirt off. In my head, I certainly saw Blomkvist as more attractive simply because he is cast as a womaniser but I can appreciate Oplev’s emphasis of the other side of Blomkvist, and while it may not have been to my taste, can appreciate it in its cinema-graphic effect. For me, Nyqvists interpretation is very hit and miss. In some places, particularly towards the end, he encapsulates Blomkvist brilliantly but in others I find him melodramatic (particularly in action sequences) and far more ‘trigger happy’  shall we say than in the novel. In the novel, despite all his various character flaws, Blomkvist always bases his actions on information, in the movie he is rather prone to making careless assumptions.

Lisbeth Salander and I have a love hate relationship in this movie. Rapace is perfect for this character. Her rendition is actually uncanny in places and for this, I have the upmost respect for her. As an actress, and from an acting point of view, I can point to very few flaws. However, I found the scripting of her bizarre. Lisbeth in the book is a character who hoards information and yet, very often, it is Blomkvist and not her that makes the breakthroughs, contrary to the book. I did not like the handling of her mother. Agneta is the one person who Lisbeth truly loves. To have written that she has not visited her in years takes away the soft, vulnerability that Larsson uses this relationship to highlight in Lisbeth. And considerably diminishes her justification for trying to kill her father. And herein is my biggest problem with this adaptation. In the movie, Salander is about revenge. It is how her backstory is constructed and highlighted in her treatment of Martin. Yes, in the book Salander does seek vengeance  particularly from Bjurman, but as Blomkvist points out several times, she has her own moral code. In the book, Salander never murders. To quote “analysis of consequences”. I do not like how the ending with Martin was handled. It takes away from the core of the character. While she might, having faced that situation in the book, have done exactly the same thing and walked away, in the book Larsson had the room to explain her and her reasoning. In the film, she just came across as cold-blooded and blood-lusting.

My final contention with her is her image. In most of the promotion she is described as ‘punk’. Salander is not punk, she is slob – an observation Blomkvist picks up on at the beginning of the court case in book three. The first shots of Salander in the office I thought turned her into something she isn’t. By the end, her look calms and moves much more in line with the book, which begs the question why Oplev felt the need to dress her as a gothic punk in that opening sequence.

The handling of Blomkvist and Salander’s personal relationship was masterful both by script, director but particularly actors. I bought into their relationship and Rapace in particular really gave that sense of reluctance and almost confusion that Salander feels in the book over him. Indeed, and here I shock myself, I actually  preferred the movie’s handling of it to the book.

The Vanger family are well played, particularly Henrik. All stayed true to their characters. While I did not like the ‘lets all meet in the boardroom’ scene – it felt like a parody of a Agatha Christie novel, I expected Poirot to turn up and explain who the murderer was – it was a clever way to establish characters quickly.

I thought the prioritising of plot was carefully done and well handled. This film must have been hell on the cutting floor, and I don’t envy the directors and producers of those decisions but I think on the whole, they made the right ones. There is a lot missing but I think the right content eventually made it to the story though I could have done without the weird zooming in on pictures thing the director had going on.

The handling of the crime plot was a bit… weirder. I did not like that they killed Anita off, presumably because she was easier to handle dead. One less character. And the order of their discovery of the girls murders seemed indiscriminatingly random. I don’t understand why they didn’t follow the book in this sense. And I loathed the addition of the break-in at Haralds.

For me, I actually liked that the prison sequence was moved to the end. Indeed, I thought the whole ending was handled well but for one detail. Whether it was on purpose or by accident, I don’t know but if it was the latter, it was very careless. Having just come from a scene where Salander openly admits to murdering a man (albeit by omission) – we then have a scene of Berger (whose name I only know because I read the book incidentally) and Blomkvist hearing that Wennerstom has committed suicide and Blomkvist pulls an unconvinced face. It feels like the implication is that Salander had something to do with it, particularly including the knowledge of the theft. If it was by accident, it was sloppy. If it was on purpose, I dislike this intensely.

Locations were stunning. Visually it was breathtaking as a movie. I adored the score. Some of the background music was absolutely beautiful and really fit the movie. I thank eternally Oplev for choosing not to use gothic/punk music. As a pure movie, it’s not brilliant. It’s well filmed, well acted and well put together. It draws you in and keeps you there. But there’s something missing. It has lost some of the books charm. As a rendition, it is only so-so, in that, I mean, if I had to choose between the pure story-telling, I would still choose the book. It’s funny. When writing of the book, I described it as a character study. I describe this film as crime/action/adventure. And sadly, when it comes to cinema, these two just don’t overlap. And so while both book and movie share the same plot, they tell completely different stories.

English Version: Director: David Fincher

It’s funny. I intended to make notes as I watched this movie because I didn’t think I’d be wanting to rewatch the two and a half hours. This is how far I got…

“It starts well”

That kind of sums up my view of this movie. It’s brilliant. I will grant from the off that being able to understand the dialogue without the aid of hack and often unrealistic subtitles does help its cause but still. Right from the beginning it feels cleaner and more professional than its international counter-part.

First thing I will say. I deplore the choice of music for the credits. As afore mentioned I dislike the association with punk that I don’t feel suits this book and this is the direction Fincher went in. So, one nil to Sweden. Also, I will be honest, I actually had to double check the title in the credits to make sure I’d turned on the right movie. I take it there is now an unwritten law in English cinema that every movie Daniel Craig appears in tries to be James Bond. The credits are visually stunning but I thought it would have been nice to draw away from Mr Craig’s other work a little.

Talking of Mr Craig, his interpretation of Blomkvist is brilliant. Both compelling and believable, and well, any movie which Daniel Craig’s chest is on display is going to get a thumbs up from me. Where as Nyqvist was hesitant with the character, Craig created a far stronger, firmer character that I really liked right from the off, and fitted better with the Blomkvist in my head.

It appears both Fincher and Oplev read the same handbook on Salander’s appearance. I actually snorted at her ridiculous Mohawk in her first scene. Again, she calms throughout but I think Rapace just got the look better. I am not going to try and split the two renditions, acting wise. Both are excellent, considering the difficult nature of such a character, I was absolutely stunned by both actresses and call it a draw. The biggest difference was the quality of the scripting, and this is true throughout, but particularly with Salander. Whereas Rapace had to deal with lines and situations that didn’t suit the character, the Salander in the Fincher movie is written beautifully. Many of the lines are taken verbatim from the book. Of note, I adore the kitchen scene which was lacking in the Swedish version. Mara is just given more to work with.

This leads to the biggest reason why Fincher’s movie works better. It stuck to the book. Everyone’s stories were handled better. Wennerstom. Berger (who actually even got a name in this version – Robin Wright could have stepped right out of the pages). Amansky (who I adored. Not how I imagined him but I thought it was a fun twist). Palgrem. The various Vangers. And the Cat. I will forever thank Fincher for taking screen time for the cat. I found it an important part of the book. It sets the tone in some ways.

It is also a lot truer to the crime plot. And this for me, works sooooo much better. Plummer’s sequence at the beginning, much better lays out the back story and creates a much stronger backbone for the overall movie. On that note, Plummer is genius. I adore the dry, dark humour he brings to the movie. It suits the overtones Larsson chose to run through his novel and so gets a thumbs up from me. I adored the delivery of the line ending with “my family”, not to mention Craig’s face after it.

The handling of the ending was much cleaner in this version for me and left me a lot happier than the Swedish version. Salander is not implied as a murderer. For even though you could argue she did approach with the gun she didn’t pull the trigger and it is left to you as a reader/watcher to decide if she would have done. I found this an important detail, twisted by the Swedish version, done right by Fincher. I loved that we actually got to see the sequences in Zurich (just saying that Mara makes a stunning blonde) and the ending was heartbreaking. I thought the decision to have that conversation with both Palgrem and the coat vendor, really brought out the betrayal that Salander felt. In this I say, movie one, book nil. I liked the addition.

Of course, there were always going to be issues with a very English lead in a movie about Sweden. Accents range from the ridiculous to the awful. Craig, Mara, Skarsgård and Visnijc were the only ones that managed to stay consistent throughout, everyone else was a bit up and down. And visually I MUCH MUCH preferred Oplev’s vision. For me Fincher took Hedeby too gradious. I liked the rustic, more rural look of the Swedish version. And of the two scores, Sweden once again trounced the English version.

I loved this movie. Both as a movie and as a rendition of a book. And that’s rare. It’s normally one or the other. I would highly, highly recommend it and cannot wait to see what they are going to do with the sequel.

Overall Ratings

Character Interpretation: M. Blomkvist: Daniel Craig (though I’m biased)

Character Interpretation: L.. Salander: It’s a draw. Both impressed me greatly.

Relationship Salander & Blomkvist: Craig & Mara

Crime Plot: Fincher


Oplev’s version

Rating (as movie): 7/10 – aside from some dodgy acting from Nyqvist and some weird direction choices its a goodmovie.

Rating (as a rendition): 5/10 – it made a valiant effort but its betrayal of the fundamentals of Salander’s moral code really drag it down for me.

Fincher’s version

Rating (as movie): 10/10 – just a brilliant movie.

Rating (as a rendition): 10/10 – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that has stayed so true to its literary material and still made it out the other end a brilliant movie.