Thanks to Jennifer Romano and Talk of the Town! Read here. Quote from yours truly: “As my blog rolls into another year of entertainment, rife with comic book adaptations, sequels, Oscar bait, arena shows, and theatrical productions big and small, sometimes I wonder if I am choking the life right from this hobby of mine. Can you imagine if every time you saw a film that your OCD tendencies forced you to rush home, throw some quippy hoo-ha on the internet, and wait eagerly for 3.5 comments to appear? Ah, well, it’s still too much fun to stop now—anticipate Volume THREE Roy’s Movie Migraine shortly.”
Excerpt: “Regarding BUT HAVE YOU READ THE BOOK jazz, my mother ALWAYS asked that question. Guess what? She very seldom had actually read the books herself; I preferred to write my book reports based on the more enjoyable movie versions!”
Reel Roy Reviews 2
Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital)
I get asked this repeatedly when I see a movie based on a piece of literature (sometimes using that term very loosely), if I dare to have some issue with the film: its narrative structure, character choices, execution, blah, blah, blah. The questioner always seems to imply that my review is somehow thereby deficient, that I didn’t do my homework.
This scrutiny arose when I found the Twilight movies a tedious bore, when I thought Hunger Games was overrated nonsense, when I dubbed Mortal Instruments insipid idiocy, when I felt American Sniper was dangerous propaganda, and when I perceived Wild to be self-aggrandizing tell-all myth-making. I didn’t read any of these uber-popular tomes – I only saw the film treatments. And I’m not going to read the books. Stop asking me. Please.
Here’s the thing. I don’t want to have to read the book to understand and enjoy the movie. A good movie adaptation will anchor the narrative pulse points in a novel or biography and add visual flair to make the piece cinematic, comprehensible, and it’s own entity. Think Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Black Stallion, The Godfather, There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Foxcatcher. Hell, think Gone Girl.
If it’s that imperative to read the book and see the movie to get the complete entertainment value, well, I just won’t. To me, that’s lazy film-making, and that’s coming from someone too lazy to read the books. So there.
If Kurt Vonnegut and Janet Evanovich had a baby whose doting uncles were Raymond Carver, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and Mickey Spillane, that baby very well might be Tom Joyce. The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report relates the sordid and satirical tale of Batley, a small post-industrial town in Central Pennsylvania, a burg terrorized by a nasty group of thugs (“The Slain”) and populated with a carnival tent full of freaks and weirdos (and that’s just the City Council). The central mystery (and it’s a compelling one) is why this town has been targeted, who’s pulling the strings, and why.
I won’t spoil any of the surprises, but the book is a zippy page-turner with just the right balance of mirth and mayhem to engage the most jaded of readers (me).
Joyce employs a rotating cast of narrators, including a hard-boiled and hard-drinking gumshoe; a universally reviled local journalist (named, oddly enough, “Tom”); and assorted colorful characters, including, among others, a foul-mouthed little person who runs a road-side freak show, a confidence man who grows increasingly less confident in his choice of allies, and a huckster demonologist/psychologist with a heart of gold.
Joyce has a great pulpy literary voice, informed with a cheeky sensibility, a knowing cynicism about the uniquely American ability to wave the flag while we stab each other in the back, and a genuine flair for marrying creeping crud, visceral thrills, and rich Mayberry-quirk characterization. This book is naturally cinematic in its execution, cable-ready for HBO or AMC or (likely) FX to develop a raw, ribald anthology series from the frothy material.
The novel is composed of a series of journal entries, letters, documents, and reports (via the various narrators delineated above) offering the cumulative effect that we, as readers, are suddenly privy to a hotbed of small-town intrigue as the mystery unfolds through hearsay, redirects, and anecdotes (see Carrie, The Color Purple, or even The Sound and the Fury for other examples of this technique). This, coupled with Joyce’s pragmatic, glib, and witty writing style, makes for an adventurous reading experience – Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew for adults.
Here’s looking forward to big screen (or small screen) adaptation, wherein I can finally ask others, “Did you read the book?”
Cheryl Schuman: “That’s just AWESOME!!!! Congrats to you!!!! You are amazing, and you and your mama [Susie Duncan Sexton] are indeed gifted writers….so …you may be surprised….but I’m not!!!! Tickled for you!!!!”
Helen Cochrane: “Jean Cochrane Tunstall is ordering two copies of your book, Roy – one for herself (Jean and Tommy love watching movies) and one for a movie critic friend Robert. Your grandmother Edna was like my other mother.”
Here’s a bit from Roy’s review of Lifetime’s Flowers in the Attic: “There’s just not much more to say, other than my heart cries for Burstyn who carries a pained look on her marcel-waved noggin throughout, seeming to telegraph this singular thought: ‘Where is my agent? I’m gonna kill him.'”
My memories of V.C. Andrews’ lurid “young adult” novel Flowers in the Attic consist of my female high school chums hiding dog-eared copies of the church-window-covered-neo-gothic pulp novel behind their “world history” textbooks as our poor instructor hopelessly tried to enlighten us on what real-life dramas unfolded on the planet for centuries.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” especially when the students never learned about the past in the first place.
Speaking of history repeating (alas, no, not the fabulous Shirley Bassey/Propellerheads number … but listen to that ditty here), Lifetime has decided to dig the goofy Flowers in the Attic out of mothballs and stage its second cinematic adaptation. (By the way, is Lifetime still “television for women” or is it “not for women”? I have no idea but that has always been a reductively embarrassing tagline, if you ask me.)
Yes, Flowers in the Attic now has, not one, but two film adaptations. Some novels barely even get one – The Sound and the Fury anyone? (No, the 1959 Yul Brynner version doesn’t count, though James Franco is working on a new one.) … But Flowers in the Attic gets TWO in only twenty-plus years time.
The first film version – with Academy Award-winner Louise Fletcher as the grandma-from-hell and dippy Victoria Tennant as her dippy daughter – was released in theatres in 1987. And, now, another Oscar-winner (why?!?!) Ellen Burstyn steps into Fletcher’s orthopedic shoes, accompanied by google-eyed, flat-affect Heather Graham as her daughter.
The plot? Oh, brother, the plot. I have to say that the WTF?! schadenfreude part of my soul was transfixed by all the crazy. I felt like Kathy Griffin on Benzedrine watching this tale that seemed written by a 12-year-old girl high on Pop Rocks and Tab.
In short? Graham’s character is a Stepford-50s haus-frau with an idyllic mid-century homestead, four beautiful toe-headed Village of the Damned kids, and a husband who travels a lot with one of those indeterminate 1950s “account executive” kind of jobs. Dad dies in some unidentified calamity, mom struggles for about one commercial break, and then reveals to her kids that she is secretly part of an uber-wealthy family who disowned her when she skipped town to marry the brood’s now-deceased papa.
The clan ventures to a spooky mansion right out of a Bronte novel, meet their mean religious-fanatic bully of a grandma, and are spirited into a spare bedroom with a conveniently adjoining attic because their dying grandfather will never put their mother (Graham) back in the will if he learns of their existence. Whew!
As if that wasn’t insane enough, the kids spend five years (?!?) or so in this bedroom/attic set up, are periodically whipped by their grandmother for their heathen ways, are fed arsenic-laced doughnuts, and then learn the birds and the bees in a very unfortunate turn of incestuous events, including finding out that their dad was actually their mother’s “half-uncle” (which was the first time I’ve ever even heard that familial term). One of the baby twins dies (from the arsenic doughnuts, natch) and the older brother and sister (the latter played by Mad Men‘s Kiernan Shipka, taking on the role originated by first Buffy the Vampire Slayer Kristy Swanson) fall in love (!) with each other (!!) and run away with the surviving baby twin sibling. Good lord.
(And, yet again, Hollywood has saddled a young actress – Shipka – with a series of unfortunate wigs. Seriously, is effective tonsorial styling beyond impossible in today’s film community? I may have to start a whole new blog just talking about that.)
Yes, I have layered on the holier-than-thou snark, but, damn, this train wreck is entertainingly atrocious. I’m wondering if this work of “literature” is where all my small-town contemporaries learned their great love of “family values.” (Oh, I’m gonna get zapped but good for that comment.)
There’s just not much more to say, other than my heart cries for Burstyn who carries a pained look on her marcel-waved noggin throughout, seeming to telegraph this singular thought: “Where is my agent? I’m gonna kill him.”
I don’t know why Lifetime remade this (or even why we watched it!). Bully for them, though, as it has done boffo, sequel-generating ratings in this current climate where everyone is obsessed with “young adult” serial lit that carries a head-scratching brew of religious, sexual, and authoritarian overtones. And in that climate, who needs “world history” textbooks when we have Flowers in the Attic?