Archive | Book Matters

The Stellar Success of ‘TFIOS’: Now What?

The following is a report originally published in Word and Film.

As The Fault in Our Stars heads into its second weekend of release, it remains to be seen if it will emerge as one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters. Either way, though, it’s safe to say the adaptation of the popular young adult novel is a wild success. Pulling in nearly $50 million its opening weekend, it outstripped even optimistic box office predictions, not to mention The Edge of Tomorrow, the Tom Cruise sci-fi action movie that opened the same day. That’s right: This little weepie about two teens with cancer knocked a Tom Cruise movie out of first place at the box office. (Actually, the Angelina Jolie vehicle Maleficent also beat it out.) What’s more, “TFIOS” cost only $12 million to make, in contrast to the $175 million it cost to make “Edge.” And what’s even more, given its groundswell of support, “TFIOS” required a marketing budget of less than half of what movie studio 20th Century Fox usually spends to publicize a summer film. The profit margin is huge.

Granted, that’s a whole lot of business blather. But in Hollywood, money talks. And the big question now is whether the success of “TFIOS” will change what we can expect in the multiplexes in the years to come. As veteran Hollywood reporter Anne Thompson has observed, mid-range films — ones with budgets between $5 and 100 million — aren’t getting made anymore. (Annie Hall would have been made as an independent film today.) We’re all acquainted with what’s being produced instead: superhero and action movies galore. Sure, fantasy YA has already secured its position on the marquee; the massive success of such franchises as “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games,” and, most recently, “Divergent” has made sure of that. But given how much money “TFIOS” cleared, might big movie studios be ready to adapt other “grounded” (non-fantasy) YA novels? And — the mind reels — might it be ready to put more money behind grounded YA novels that star females? (Indiewire’s Inkoo Kang reports that, of the 100 highest-earning movies of 2013, movies with a female protagonist earned twenty percent more on average than movies with a male protagonist.) Continue Reading →

‘Violette’ Is No Bed of Roses

The following is a review originally published in Word and Film.

Violette, about French author Violette Leduc’s quest for success, may be the ultimate literary love story: At core, it depicts how the creative process can be seen as a love affair, both with ourselves and with an imagined audience. It takes a lot of fortitude to sit still with the imagination – to trust that, if we hang in there, we may produce something worth sharing with the world. In this sense, Leduc, who throughout her career had the temerity to demand love for her controversial self-expression, was powerfully strong if also powerfully frustrating. Much like this movie.

To be clear, “frustrating” is putting it nicely. Radical self-exposure was Leduc’s strength in her writing but her weakness as a person, a fact that director/co-writer Martin Provost captures in excruciating detail. French actress Emmanuelle Devos channels Leduc’s inability to contain her rawest feelings – her jealousies, her resentments, her neediness – so effectively that the result is an almost unbearable character. Almost. A woman who won’t rest until she is wanted on her own terms may not be an easy story but it is an important one. Continue Reading →

‘The Fault in Our Stars’ Delivers

The following is a review originally published in Word and Film.

The movie does justice to the book. I’ll start there, since that’s the most important news about The Fault in Our Stars for the multitudes already in love with John Green’s book. For those unfamiliar with this best-selling young adult novel about a romance between two teens with cancer, there’s also good news: To dig this movie, we don’t need to be in love with the book.

But let’s pull back, shall we?

Sixteen-year-old Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is depressed. The Stage IV thyroid cancer that has “colonized her lungs” may have stabilized but she could relapse at any moment. Not to mention that it’s hard to lead a typical adolescent existence when she has to lug an oxygen tank everywhere and has been staring down death since the age of thirteen. So Hazel holes up in her bedroom rereading An Imperial Affliction, a story (within this story) about a child with cancer, while her parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) worry.

Things change when Hazel’s mom forces her to attend a support group for kids with cancer (led by a Jesus freak played by comedian Mike Birbiglia). There, she meets the irrepressible Gus (Ansel Elgort), a seventeen-year-old former basketball star who’s lost a leg to a sarcoma now in remission. Gus announces he “fears oblivion,” which sparks sharp words from the pragmatically philosophical Hazel. (There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it.) “Sparks” being the relevant word, the two commence a courtship and travel together to Amsterdam to track down Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), the author of Affliction. Then the Big C makes a rude reentry. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy