Words and ideas can change the world.

Dead Poets Society

I know, I know, Dead Poets Society is a film, not a book, but it should be at the top of your to-read list nonetheless. Starring the incredible Robin Williams and directed by Peter Weir, this 1989 film tells the story of Todd Anderson and his peers at the very strict, very up-right Welton Academy. Tradition, convention and routine are fundamental features of this boys’ boarding school, everything taught word-for-word from the textbook. In short: life is boring, school is strict and the lessons are uninteresting and uninspiring. Everything a good boys school should be, right? Not according to John Keating.

John Keating is the new English teacher. He’s been employed to teach these boys poetry and is equipped with another one of those textbooks so beloved by Welton. But John Keating does not much care for by-the-book teaching and is therefore unorthodox by Welton standards. He is different. He is odd. He is a revelation. “Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary,” he whispers to the class. He has them listening with bated breath, engaged like no one knew was possible in a classroom setting. And he teaches them. About love, about poetry, about literature, about life, about dreams and about how all of these things intertwine.

Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society takes literature and words and poetry and illustrates their extraordinary power as tools of influence and growth and emotion in the lives of even the most flippant, careless and rebellious teenage boys. It demonstrates with incredible poignancy the potential for language to draw people together, transcend inhibitions and change the way things are done, thought and felt. Dead Poets Society is an intellectual and emotional feast.

If you haven’t seen it, it will change your life. If you have, do you agree?

Travelling ‘The Road’ as a cinephile

The Road FilmHaving recently read the ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy, I decided to watch the film version, intrigued by how one might go about translating McCarthy’s powerful words to the screen. Directed by John Hillcoat and featuring Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the father and son, the film version of ‘The Road’ promised to be a vivid reflection of the book with its bleak, grey and stormy film poster. The truth is however, that this poster is probably the very best aspect of the film. For me, a major let-down. 

I will not deny that the scenery and cinematography were well produced to mirror the bleak and frightening atmosphere of the book; the professionals behind these aspects of the film did a stellar job of setting a post-apocalyptic scene. However, that’s where the positive attributes ended for me.

The acting, the casting, the tension, the structure and the general focus of the film were all disappointing and by no means did the book the justice it deserves. McCarthy’s best-seller focuses predominantly on the relationship between man and boy, father and son; the brutality, fragility and strength of unconditional love and the measures one takes to protect and guide the beholder of one’s heart. For me, the book’s naked and poignant illustration of this very theme was the key to its success. The makers of the film however, didn’t quite seem to understand where the focus ought to be. John Hillcoat’s interpretation was a messy mixture of father and son, husband and wife, then and now and thereby distracted from the powerful journey of man and boy.

The acting was also, in my opinion, sub-par. Kodi Smit-McPhee, as a thirteen year-old, can obviously not be expected to deliver an Oscar-worthy performance, but that said, I was still not impressed. Nor was I pleased by Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of the father. The two together did not at all create a sense of family love with many of the moving lines that I remembered from the book delivered in such a way as to hardly convey their intended poignancy and weight, leaving me almost entirely unaffected. The only time throughout the film that I felt myself provoked was upon seeing a couple of the more disturbing images that, it must be said, had nothing to do with the acting or the relationships.

In retrospect, I wouldn’t label the film as ‘terrible’ or ‘disastrous’ and can acknowledge that others may have greatly differing opinions of it to me, but I cannot at all say that I enjoyed it. Though the basic storyline remained relatively true to the book, the essence of McCarthy’s message was lost and in my opinion, that is a tragedy. The book version of ‘The Road’ is a magnificent and thought-provoking read, one that I recommend to everyone. The film however, is not.

Let me know what you think of the book, the film and how you would compare the two!

The Oscars just got nerdy

Not too many weeks ago I talked about how six of the nine Best Picture Oscar nominees were based on films and, although none of these won (the winner being ‘The Artist’), I think that literature deserves a round of applause for how well it has infiltrated the 84th Academy Awards. Of the many and varied categories, ten were won by book-based films proving, I feel, that literature is certainly not a dying art for without it, we wouldn’t have such a spectacular group of Oscar-deserving films.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, Girls and Boys, Nerds and Bookworms, without further ado, here are the Oscar winning films that originated from within the wonderful world of books:

The Iron Lady

  • Best Actress – Meryl Streep
  • Best Makeup – Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

The Iron Lady Film The Iron Lady book

The Help

  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Octavia Spencer

The Help film  The Help book

Hugo

  • Best Cinematography – Robert Richardson
  • Best Art Direction – Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo
  • Best Sound Editing – Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
  • Best Sound Mixing – Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
  • Best Visual Effects – Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann and Alex Henning

Hugo Film Hugo Book

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  • Best Film Editing – Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Book

The Descendants

  • Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) – Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

The Descendants Film The Descendants Book

I adore films but I have to say, I got a nerdy thrill out of knowing that the 2012 Oscars were so thoroughly infiltrated by books!

The Many Faces of Romeo

He started out as an incomprehensible fellow but he sure has made a name for himself, hasn’t he? Romeo Montague, the leading lad in what is oft considered the greatest love story of all time (albeit a bit of a morbid one), has changed his look more times than Madonna has, at the artistic mercy of a thousand different actors, directors and producers.

He began as a wholesome, tight-wearing, Elizabethan bloke, proclaiming his “wherefore”s and “thou”s to audiences of royalty and peasants, prancing across English and Roman stages and confessing his love to men masquerading as Juliet. (Let us all be thankful that women are now allowed to act.)

Romeo Montague

Yes, Romeo was what the corset-wearing, straight-backed women of the sixteenth century would have deemed a hunk. Nowadays however, men in tights and puffy sleeves are rarely classed as ‘chick magnets’, rather as ‘freaks’, and so, to keep the Shakespearean spark alive, our beloved entertainers have made the adjustments deemed necessary by modernity.

Film Romeos: 

After his noble beginnings in Shakespeare’s ‘Globe Theatre’, Romeo began to evolve, first appearing on the silver screen in 1968. Although he retained his traditional attire and romantically confusing dialect, it cannot be denied that this production was an enormous leap in the evolution of the two star cross’d lovers.

Romeo and Juliet 1968 Romeo 1968

Some twenty-eight years later, Baz Lurhmann got his hands on a Romeo and Juliet manuscript, transforming it from a traditional drama into a flamboyant, time-confused amalgam of romance, drugs, Los Angeles violence and bizarre costuming. But from within this weird cocktail of cinematography arose a Romeo embodied by Leonardo Di Caprio and ready to steal the hearts of girls around the world.

Romeo and Juliet 1996  Romeo 1996

2011 saw Romeo venture into the world of three-dimensional animation, starring in Kelly Asbury’s 3D production of Gnomeo and Juliet. And doesn’t Gnomeo just look dashing with his white beard and blue vest? I bet Shakespeare would be proud.

Gnomeo and Juliet Gnomeo

Theatre Romeos

Now, there are countless Romeo and Juliet theatre productions that I could talk about but I’m just going to mention those that I’ve personally encountered.

Firstly, there is the Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre Company’s 2005 production, specifically catering to a youth audience and incorporating a shocking combination of pink hair, miniskirts, profanities and a lot of theatrical sweat. Performed in the style of physical theatre, the production was an intense and moving physicalisation of the love, passion and impetuousness that made the play so famous in the first place. Romeo, in this instance, was your average teenage boy, fed up with school and more often than not unruly.

Romeo and Juliet Zen Zen Zo Zen Zen Zo Romeo

Now it’s 2012 and Romeo’s latest makeover has manifested itself in the Queensland Theatre Company production of Romeo and Juliet. Played by Thomas Larkin, this Romeo has already sparked a little controversy in Brisbane, Australia, with its apparently ‘over sexualized’ advertisements. Nonetheless, it promises to be a fresh and affecting remake of Shakespeare’s original, with possibly the most attractive version of Romeo yet!

Romeo and Juliet QTC Romeo QTC

Yes, this timeless story of young love, with its main male personifying all that women want, has graced the world’s many stages and screens and will continue to evolve long into the future. Shakespeare certainly did do a good job of writing a great love story, didn’t he? What are your favourite versions of Romeo and his lover? Are there any enormous gaps in my timeline of his evolution?