Category Archives: Reviews

White Oleander Film

Based on White Oleander by Janet Fitch
Directed by Peter Kosminsky
Starring Alison Lohman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Renée Zellweger, Robin Wright Penn, Billy Connolly, Patrick Fugit

Where does a mother end and a daughter begin?

The film adaptation of White Oleander is how film adaptations should be. A tool to capture the feel of a book, not just the story. Creating a visual companion to the story the reader is already in love with. Peter Kosminsky did a beautiful job bringing the book to life.

While the film does differ from the book quite a bit, a fan of the book won’t find themselves yelling at the screen about what parts were left out or skimmed over. The most significant change is the number of years and number of placements Astrid goes through. The book takes place over six years, from the summer Astrid is 12 until she turns 18 and can leave the foster care system. Within these six years Astrid goes through six different placements; Starr, Marvel (& Olivia), Amelia, Claire, MAC, and ending with Rena. In the film they cut it down to three placements in three years; Starr, Claire, & Rena. They don’t count MAC as a placement though Astrid is placed there twice. Initially I was a bit annoyed by this. In the book, each placement teaches Astrid a new lesson. Each placement builds up to the final confrontation with her mother. Giving Astrid a new tool to use against her, to pry herself away from her and to eventually show her mother that she is a person and not just her daughter.

However, the way that Kosminsky sets up the story, picking and choosing the most significant lessons, it allows for the story to still be told but in a more visually pleasing and understandable manner. Astrid begins her journey by being placed with Starr. While Starr’s does seem to rush by at lightening speed (Astrid & Roy’s relationship is more hinted at than stated. If you didn’t read the book you’d be left wondering what the hell just happened. There are a few scenes of the two making eyes at each other, Astrid goes to the construction site, asks if everyone is gone, then Starr is running into Astrid’s room with a gun. It’s a bit sudden) you get the gist that Astrid is lost and is searching for something that her mother cannot give her, their tapestry is beginning to unravel. Astrid is placed in MAC with the explanation that there are just too many kids and Astrid needs special care due to the gun shot wound. MAC sets up Astrid & Paul’s relationship. There is a wonderful scene added in where Astrid and Paul sneak away from a group while they are out. It is here where the comic book store is introduced and the two have a brief discussion on art vs cartoons/comics (By the way, I don’t know if it’s just because he’s in my head, but the clerk at the comic book store reminded me a little too much of Noah Antwiler aka Spoony One. Again, I have no idea why, he doesn’t even look that much like him.) which cuts to the two sitting on a pier drawing people that are nearby. It shows their relationship growing and that Astrid is learning how to trust again. Then Astrid is placed at Claire’s. Again, Claire’s seems to go by a bit faster than expected, but I don’t think you would really notice this unless you had read the book. However, like with Starr, you get the gist: Astrid discovers what it means to be cared for then her mother takes this away. Astrid is sent back to MAC where she avoids everyone, even Paul. Paul leaves for New York and Astrid chooses to be placed with Rena. While, again, Rena’s is rushed over (Astrid’s relationship with Yvonne is non-existent and Sergei is never even mentioned) you get the gist: Astrid has been hardened and is now ready to face her mother head on. Then comes the final show down between Astrid and Ingrid. The entire conversation is a paraphrased version of what is in the book, and it is perfect, Lohman and Pfeiffer did a phenomenal job. You can feel the tension between the two. The film comes to a close at the trial, Paul and Astrid are waiting for them to call her in to testify. Court lets out and Astrid is told that her mother asked her lawyer to leave Astrid alone. The film ends with Astrid’s suitcases and a voice over about how her mother was denied the appeal but still received fame for her artwork and Astrid’s connection to her mother now that Ingrid has let her go.

Throughout the film, the only change that really bothered me was the decision to make Claire a blond. While they did try to circumvent this by making her more of a dirty blond with subtle brown streaks, it still doesn’t make much sense to me. Not so much that I will bitch and complain through out the entire film, just enough to tell you guys about it ;). In my mind, Claire’s being a brunette set up the foil to Ingrid perfectly. Claire was soft, sweet, & timid. Her brown hair makes her average. Beautiful, but average. Whereas, Ingrid is hard, critical & sharp-tongued. She is described as the most beautiful woman most people have ever seen. Ingrid’s appearance alone is striking & unique, where as Claire takes something that everyone has and makes it beautiful.

However, there were two subtle changes that I actually really liked. One was the decision to make Ingrid an artist rather than a writer. The reason for this was that it would be more visually interesting to see Ingrid painting or creating an art piece rather than writing. While at first I wasn’t happy with this decision, really, Ingrid is shown actually working so little that it doesn’t make much of a difference. Plus it brought about one of my favorite lines; as Ingrid is brushing Astrid’s hair and showing Astrid her latest work, Astrid says that she likes the piece, Ingrid asks her why she likes it and Astrid can’t say, to which Ingrid says to her, “You can’t be an artist if you don’t see. Why do you like it?” For some reason this line has resonated with me and every time I find myself in front of a piece of art I stop and ask myself why I like it.

The other was the fact that Paul gets a chance. In the book Astrid stays with him more because he is broken like she is. It almost sounds like she doesn’t really love him as much as just wants someone around to keep her humble or to keep her from forgetting what she’s been through. Whereas in the film, she loves Paul. When she goes back to the comic book store and finds that he has been writing her all along, you can see the glow on her face. She is relieved that he remembered her. Again, when he comes back to help her through the trial she is so happy to see him. She watches excitedly as the bus pulls up and the shot holds on the door of the bus as you wait to see him walk out. You can feel her anticipation to see him again. It’s a great scene and I wish that love was presented more in the book.

In the end, I obviously think the book was better, but not by much. The film, though missing a lot, took what it needed in order to tell the story and translate the feeling that you get while reading the book. This was my first introduction to Alison Lohman and Patrick Fugit, who have both burrowed a soft spot in my heart. I adore Lohman’s voice and you get to hear it at it’s best in White Oleander with a monologue in both the beginning and the end. Michelle Pfeiffer is spectacular as Ingrid, I can’t imagine anyone else playing her. Though I have a feeling that some might not like Renée Zellweger’s role, she does it magnificently, flawlessly pulling off the softness and anxiety of Claire. The score is hauntingly beautiful, reminding me of a music box. Most of all, I appreciate Kosminsky’s choice to film from Astrid’s perspective. Most of the shots are from over Astrid’s shoulder or following behind her as she moves down the hall. It feels organic and like you’re there witnessing her story. Which is the feeling that the book creates; it is Astrid’s story from her point of view. To be told any other way would be a betrayal to the book.

White Oleander

by Janet Fitch

White Oleander is the story of Astrid Magnussen as she struggles through the foster care system after her mother is sentenced to jail for killing her boyfriend. Throughout the story, Astrid not only grows in age but also as an individual. She starts off as a child without a voice, so accustomed to her mother influencing it, and ends discovering who she is as a person separate from her mother, with a voice of her own.

Janet Fitch writes with a grace and a beauty that is more poetic than typical prose. She has created a world of characters with strengths and flaws distinct to each one. she is an author who can find beauty in the most harsh or even mundane of realities.

Ingird is a beautiful yet harsh character that I’m sure was fun to write. She has a harsh tongue and a claustrophobic idea of beauty, but she expresses each with such eloquence that it is hard to not be drawn to her. Astrid, on the other hand, is quiet and observant. She sees the beauty in flaws, warming up to the most flawed of the bunch. I have to say that one of my favorite characters is Claire. She is the perfect foil to Ingrid. Soft, timid and kind to Ingrid’s hard, severe, and critical. While Claire comes off as weak, she obviously cares about everyone and everything around her which acts as the best lesson for Astrid: Care but not so much that it overrules your life.

I first picked up this book some point in my Freshman year of High School. I was hooked from the first read through. Every time I reread this book I find a new lesson which pertains to the overall issue in my life at the moment. This is what I love about this book; no matter where I am in my life, I will find something in this book that will help me, be it a character, an event or even just a passing quote. White Oleander is one of my favorites and will be for a long time to come.

My review of the White Oleander film adaptation

The New You

by Kathleen Leverich

The New You by Kathleen Leverich is about Abigail Hunter, a girl who has just started her first day in a new school wishing she could be anyone but who she is. After what she feels was a humiliating day she hides in the phone booth rather than boarding the bus with the other students. While hiding, she searches the Yellow Pages for “New Identities” in hopes of finding a place that will provide her with a new self. To her surprise she discovers a store called “The New You”. In a rush of hope and excitement Abbey takes the subway to the shop she hopes will change her life. Instead she finds a closed hair salon which is occupied by three twenty-something year old women. Before Abbey can leave however, she nearly faints and the three women let her stay until she is feeling better. One thing leads to another and the women decide to give Abbey a new hairstyle, one that she (thankfully) loves much more than the one she had (personally, I wouldn’t trust three chicks I just met to have a go at my hair all willy-nilly, but whatev’s, to each their own). After a chapter’s ado over Abbey’s new hair, she is sent home where she finds herself alone and she collapses into bed. She awakes to find that she has been in bed for a few days due to the flu. She is told that she did not actually visit “The New You” and that she came straight home in a cab. The next day she discovers that the route she took is out of order, the neighborhood doesn’t exist and there is no shop called “The New You”. In school she is coaxed by a teacher to tell the dream to the class. This strikes the interest of some of the other students and by the end of class she finds that she now has an identity. Two of her classmates begin speaking to her and strike up a friendship, inviting her to hang out at the mall with them before she gets her hair cut. The book ends at the mall where Abbey discovers the truth behind her dream and her new identity.

The New You is a good book, not brilliant nor the best I’ve ever read, but still good. Definitely more for a younger crowd, say Junior High age or younger. It has a neat sort of Sci Fi/Time Travel twist to it, though I guess that is up to the reader to decide. It can be predictable at times (I guessed the “twist” pretty soon off the bat) and the writing can be a bit stiff at times. I would definitely recommend this to kids entering their teen years, who, like the main character, are searching for their own identity. It has a good moral without being didactic and holds the interest pretty well. All in all, it was a good, fast read, probably better for a younger crowd, but still worth the read.

She’s Come Undone

by Wally Lamb I just finished this wonderful book today. It’s depressing at times but still amazing. You really do fall in love with Dolores and keep reading in hope that something good will happen for her. There were a few times when I kept thinking, “God, nothing good is going to happen for this girl, and nothing good is going to result in this book. I don’t need to be reading something so utterly depressing.” But I kept reading in hope that something good was going to happen and it did. I think it was harder for me because the things she kept experiencing were things that I can all too easily relate to. But then again, that’s what made it just that mush better. When Dolores starts taking night classes and she says that they had to sit in a circle and introduce themselves, I couldn’t help but laugh and ask in amazement why, if they’ve been doing that since the 80’s, no one has declared it dated or useless and stopped doing it. Also, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of pride when I could understand Lamb’s references to the 60’s and 70’s. My parents raised me well, I guess. What I loved the most, though, was the way it ended. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I love stories that end right rather than perfect. Stories that end with a happily-ever-after and a little bow on top, all the loose ends neatly tied in place feel forced to me (COUGH Lost COUGH). I love when a writer just ends the story, the characters are still living and trying their best to get by. Nothing is perfect, but nothing is terrible. Because that’s the way life is; we live our lives the best we can until the day we die. Perfect things can happen but life will continue after that, be it good or bad. We all continue living and that’s the fact of the matter. Anyways, that’s how this book ends; right. Her life isn’t perfect, but she’s not miserable. She is, for once, happy.

Of course I have to bring up the author, Wally Lamb, who is in fact male. The fact that he was able to pull off such a female voice is extraordinary. So much, that had their not been a picture in the back of Lamb, I would have assumed it was a pen name. Who knows, maybe it is and some woman out there has pulled one over on us all.

Though this book can get depressing, the pay off is totally worth it. Lamb writes with a beautiful flow that breathes life into every one of his characters. Definitely worth a read.

House of Leaves

House of Leaves

by Mark Z. Danielewski

I finally finished House of Leaves and I am a bit relieved and a bit sad at the same time. It was such a wonderful book that I would recommend it to everyone, especially those who adore puzzles and/or Academic stuff.

I actually finished it a few days ago. It wasn’t until today when I couldn’t remember the author’s name and I decided to google it that I decided to tell you all about it. The Wikipedia site is, I feel, the main proof for how great this book is for those who love puzzles, secrets and mysteries. There is so much more to the story rather than just what is laid out before you. Not only that, but it’s also amazing how much this book has inspired people. YouTube is full of videos of people’s interpretations of the book. Such as The Navidson Record (which would be a bit creepy were you to watch it whilst sitting alone in the dark), House of Leaves(The Navidson Record)- Trailer (a ‘mock’ trailer for a would be film version of the book) and House of Leaves – Intro (an amazing intro to another would be movie with GREAT typography graphics). Also, The author’s sister (who happens to be Poe) made an entire album based off of the book, one of the singles being Angry Johnny.

It’s very hard to explain it without either giving things away or confusing everyone so much that it scares them out of reading it. What I can say is that it’s griping and compelling. One thing that really hooked me to it was the realism that Danielewski writes with. Every line felt true. There were times when, though I am well aware that it is a fictional story, I started to wonder if Johnny was a real person and what he was doing and how he’s dealing with it all. Hell, I’ve started to wonder if Johnny was lying and Zampanò is a real person and The Navidson Record is a real movie and we all have just been oblivious to it’s existence. I’ve grown so frustrated with books that have a compelling plot line but the writing is so fake that it just ruins everything. What I like to call ‘fan fiction’ writing has taken over a lot of literature and the sad thing is that books with this style of writing are becoming more and more popular, Twilight being a major one. Writing that sounds like it’s the first draft and nothing was really thought through but just jot down in desperation for something to write. The causes being anything from publishers just wanting more money, fast, to authors wanting the same thing, even readers who wouldn’t know inspired writing if it slapped them in the face. This is the reason I can’t stand to read ‘serial’ novels or ‘paperback’ novels. The reason I tend to not trust book reviews (I gave up on movie reviews a long time ago and never really read music reviews, so I guess it’s a good thing that I now depend solely on my own intuition and preferences when it comes to entertainment). Danielewski has renewed my hope in good authors who can create not just a story but a world. A world so real that I miss the characters once I have finished the book and find myself wanting to know where they are, what they’re doing and why they’ve left me in silence for so long.

In closing, I found this comment on what the meaning behind chapter 21 might be whilst sifting through YouTube videos;

“Anyway, I kind of have an idea(though it may not be correct). I think that his story is a way of justifying himself for not giving us a ‘good’ ending. It’s a way of telling us that this is reality, that there is no answer to your questions. Ambiguities come and go without answer or reason. Things happen that are unrelated to the big picture, things that ultimately don’t matter, whimsical things.”

I think that sums up the entire book. There is no perfect storybook ending and the entire thing is so anti-Hollywood that it makes every sentence, every word feel that much more real, that much more whimsical and that much more of a love story.

Boy: Tales of Childhood

by Roald Dahl

Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl, is a charming autobiography based on his life from Kindergarten to graduation from High School, along with a introductory chapter on his parents. Though we now know that we cannot take Roald Dahl’s autobiographies as 100% truth, they are still fun to read and make his life seem like a magical world not unlike Charlie or Matilda.
One of the most prominent parts of Boy for me was his representation of his teachers. It really gives some insight into why most, if not all, of the adults in his books come off as cruel and, at times, pure evil. Oddly, though, my favorite chapter is “A Drive in the Motor Car”. It was delightful and hilarious, not to mention it definitely shows the time difference. When the kids are screaming, “Let’s make it go sixty!” (pg. 101) I couldn’t help but laugh aloud. Growing up in an age where sixty miles per hour is the average speed limit on the highway, it was amusing to read the excitement of the kids to go a speed that we have become so accustomed to.

All and all, it is a fun read, even for those who aren’t well versed in the writings of Roald Dahl.