Category: movies

Mary Poppins: When the Movie is Much Better than the Book

Mary Poppins, the movie, was always a favorite of mine growing up, and it continues to be a movie that resonates well with me today. The music, the story, the characters, the whimsy. It all comes together in a fantastic combination. There’s a reason it was nominated for 13 Oscars and won five (including Best Actress).

So of course I’ve been drawn to other Mary Poppins-related works. I watched Saving Mr. Banks and thoroughly enjoyed it as well. I loved the concept expressed in the film that Mary Poppins hadn’t come to save the children, but rather to save the father. And that line stayed with me after I watched the movie, kicking around in my head until at last I wondered why in the world I hadn’t ever read the original book by PL Travers?

When I saw the book on sale on Kindle, it was an easy purchase.

Having now read the book, I believe I will trot it out often as a prime example of a time where the movie adaptation is much, much better than the book. People love to say that all the time: “The book was better than the movie.” And having studied adaptation for my English masters thesis, there’s a ton I could say on the subject. Often, it’s just a matter of a person expressing their preference of literature over film. Often, they’re right. Books can be much more nuanced than films.

But it’s not always true.

In PL Travers’ version, there is no real plot. Mary Poppins arrives because the last nanny left. Not because the children were necessarily horrible (though you could infer that in places), but just because she decided to leave. There’s no grand line of nannies out front. None of them get blown away. More importantly, Mr. Banks has almost no role to play whatsoever. He’s a background character. Bert makes a single appearance in one chapter. The family isn’t “broken”. Mary Poppins isn’t there to save anyone. She’s there to have a series of whimsical adventures and then get whisked off by the wind when it changes direction again.

(The original also had serious problems with racist depictions of characters, to the point that a chapter was revised twice in an effort to solve them. Whoops.)

So what’s actually in the book that made it into the movie? There’s a talking penguin at one point. The scene where they all go floating in the air for tea is there (minus Bert). Bert and Mary go into a picture (sans children). And Mary leaves at the end. (Spoilers!) Other than that, the only thing left is the sense of whimsy of the book. Even Mary’s character is quite different. She’s fairly self-obsessed in the book, and not very nice throughout the story, despite how much people seem to adore her.

I love the whimsy, but the lack of a plot and any character development was a huge disappointment. True, perhaps my expectations here higher because of how it had been depicted in Saving Mr. Banks, but even without that, the book is a let down. The things that made the movie so remarkable are absent in the book.

I’m not sure how well the novel sold. Clearly well enough to inspire four sequels before the movie came out, and then three more after that. But I would definitely contend that the character Mary Poppins would have long ago disappeared from pop culture had it not been for the remarkable film.

Is the book worth reading? Sure it is. It takes all of an hour or two to get through it. But I just gave it a 6.5/10. It’s fine, but nothing to write home about. And yet I’ll recommend it to anyone the next time they insist books are superior to movie adaptations. There’s no hard, fast rule to adaptation. In this case, Disney took the character, the basic premise, and then altered accordingly, leaving really only the whimsy of the original intact. So is it “faithful”? Not to the plot or characters, certainly. I can see why Travers was upset by the changes. It wasn’t her book anymore.

But if anyone ever adapts one of my books and brings the sort of quality and shine Disney brought to this one? I would sing their praises.

Just sayin’ . . .

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A New Tolkien Super Fan

Over the holiday break, I had one main goal: watch the entirety of the extended editions of both Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies. (What can I say? My wants in life are simple.) I watched them in what I feel is the best order: Hobbit first, followed by Lord of the Rings.

(A quick aside here. I realize the Hobbit trilogy got a fair bit of hate from the geek community, and rewatching them just barely, I feel like this hate is unearned. Are they as good as LOTR? No. But not everything can be “Only Fantasy Movie to Ever Win Best Picture” good. That’s okay. People criticized it for having an Elf/Dwarf romance, though LOTR is full of an Elf/Human romance and we’re all cool with it. Yes, I realize one was “canon” and the other wasn’t, and I realize many of the gripes with Hobbit come down to it exploding a simple child’s book into an epic trilogy o’warfare. But I believe if you look at it as a prequel to LOTR and not as just a Hobbit adaptation, it works wonderfully. And if you watch it first as a lead up to LOTR, it all meshes together great. I love all six movies. Period.)

This time through, I let my older two kids watch the movies. Tomas is 14, so it was a no-brainer to let him watch, but DC is just 10, and I debated some before giving her the green light. (She’s watched plenty of Marvel movies, so it wasn’t much of a debate, but still.) Both of them enjoyed the movies, but I was really surprised to see who ended up loving them the most.

DC became a huge Tolkien fan the moment she saw the Elves. She’s started writing stories about dwarves and elves. She’s learning how to write the Tengwar alphabet. She’s halfway through listening to Fellowship on audio. (She says it’s the best thing she’s ever read, including Percy Jackson, her previous favorite.) She asked if we could watch all the “making of” documentaries, and she’s enjoying all of them.

She’s a big, big fan.

It’s been fun watching her catch fire for the series, and great that there’s so much for her to dive into. She’s working on learning Elvish grammar even. I’m not sure if this fire will continue to burn, but seeing as how we have 6 movies’ worth of special features to get through, I imagine it’ll last at least a few more months.

Everyone needs to find the things they love on their own. Some things I’ve trotted out for my kids and been a bit sad when they didn’t love them as much as I did. But every now and then, you have your kids end up loving stuff even more than you do.

And that’s a great feeling, speaking as a librarian. I think a lot of us got into the business because we like connecting people with things that are perfect for them, whether it’s information, books, movies, or music. With DC and LOTR, I hit a home run.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

What are Your Favorite Westerns or Steampunk Movies?

Since I’m writing a steampunk western now, I’m in “immerse myself in the genre” mode. I like to watch different films that intersect with what I’m writing. I’m not all that up to date on steampunk movies. I’ve seen a smattering of them, and I like the general vibe of them, but they’re mostly an unknown to me (from what I remember.) Westerns are something a bit better versed in, dating back to watching them all the time as a kid. (One of my favorite college classes was on film adaptations of westerns. That was a fantastic class.)

So I’m up for any and all steampunk movies. (And yes, before you ask, I’ve watched Wild Wild West. Hopefully I end up with something better than that . . .) I mean, I’ve seen steampunk movies, but none are really standing out in my head as movies I’d like to return to again and again. Maybe they’re just eluding me.

When it comes to westerns, I’d love recommendations as well. Here are my top 10 westerns:

  1. Shane
  2. Unforgiven
  3. High Noon
  4. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  5. True Grit (Coen Bros adaptation)
  6. Silverado
  7. Rio Bravo
  8. The Magnificent Seven (old version)
  9. The Searchers
  10. Tombstone

To get on this list, I have to be able to remember the movie well enough to tell you what it was about, as opposed to all the other westerns I have seen. So I’m looking for something that sets it apart. But more than that, I’m looking for a real western. So Blazing Saddles was out, even though I love the movie. Same for Maverick, honestly. It wasn’t Western enough. Too funny. (Though I’d like this book to have some humor in it.)

I’ve seen many more westerns. (Yes, The Good the Bad and the Ugly), but these are the ones that I’d be most eager to watch again at the moment. Feels like there should be some Eastwood up there, though. Pale Rider? Outlaw Josey Wales? I’m happy to talk Westerns all the time, so it’ll be an interesting process to write one and see what comes out.

In the meantime, what made your top 10 list for westerns? Please share.

For a great overview of another list, check out this one by Cinefix. I love these:

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

There are Plenty of Great, Original Movies Out There

One constant complaint I hear echoed across the interwebs is that the days of original movies are over. How all we get are superhero movies and sequels. And certainly there are plenty of examples of those movies to point to. I wouldn’t argue that tons of superhero movies and sequels are getting churned out by Hollywood all the time. But the way the argument’s often presented, it’s that “no good, original movies are being made.” And that’s just not true at all. Plenty of good movies are being made. They’re just not making as much money as superhero movies and sequels. So you could argue the American public has bad taste (or, at least, repetitive taste), but when has that ever really been in doubt?

And anyway, I feel like there’s a whole lot of confirmation bias going on anytime this comes up as a topic. (Confirmation bias, if you didn’t know, is when you recall or refer to information selectively in a way to prove your preconceived argument.) Let’s take science fiction movies as an example. Just in the past decade, what are some fantastic, original science fiction movies that have come out?

Arrival, Gravity, Ex Machina, The Martian, Interstellar, Inception, Wall-E, District 9, Edge of Tomorrow, Moon, Looper. That’s eleven really strong films, pretty much off the top of my head, and that’s not even going into movies that might be more “pop” like Pacific Rim.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize that the majority of the push behind films these days has been to support a few tent pole franchises, and so the Star Wars and the Marvels of the world get a whole ton of attention, while movies like Arrival or Edge of Tomorrow can come and go without making nearly as big of a splash. And so I understand the concern that if good, original movies don’t make more money, then they’ll disappear altogether.

But of course, the flip side is that there are also plenty of bad, original movies that get made. Originality is no guarantee of quality, just as being a sequel or a remake is no guarantee of the opposite. My only real desire is that good movies continue to be made. The new True Grit movie was a blast, I liked it more than the John Wayne original. I like the new Planet of the Apes movies more than the originals. Is this bad? Do I fail in movie taste? I don’t think so. Good movies are good movies.

This all is inspired by Denisa and me finally being able to watch Arrival last night. What a phenomenal movie. I thought about doing a full review, but there wasn’t a way I could do it and not include spoilers, so I thought I’d just mention how great it was here on the blog, and encourage anyone and everyone to check it out. It’s on Amazon Prime at the moment. Science fiction, linguistics, and deep thinking, all rolled up into a very accessible package. No wonder I loved it.

So to those who are worried about the fiftieth Marvel movie coming out, don’t sweat it. If Marvel movies ever stop being good, people will generally stop paying to see them. Yes, you still have movies like Transformers being made, but I have yet to feel a lack of good stuff to watch out there, whether it’s television or movies.

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Favorite Sports Movie

I’m off to another meeting in Bangor today, so time is tight. But I thought it would be interesting to have a quick discussion topic. Favorite sports movie of all time.

There are a few movies that jump to mind right away, of course. Hoosiers, Field of Dreams, Rocky, Chariots of Fire, Rudy, Caddyshack, Raging Bull. I love a good come from behind victory. I love character building stories. But I’m always amazed at some movies that I have missed.

(For example, I just asked a friend this question, and he mentioned Escape to Victory. A movie where Sylvester Stallone is a POW in a Nazi camp, and he organizes a soccer game against the Nazis to cover their escape. I have literally never heard of that movie before in my life. How have I been missing out all this time? This sounds almost as good as Over the Top, where Stallone is a truck driver entering an arm wrestling tournament.)

In any case, my personal favorite sports movie has got to be The Natural. Robert Redford. Adaptation of a fantastic book by Bernard Malamud. I must have watched that movie at least seven or eight times over the course of my life. I love everything about it. The acting The writing. The soundtrack. The story. The cinematography. Just a fantastic movie, though at this time, it probably retains the top spot out of nostalgia more than anything. Movies I watched when I was younger just have an easier time of the competing in lists like this.

Anyway. What’s your favorite? It has to be primarily about sports, but I’d love to hear what you love, and why.

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