Today I met a kid named Marvin. It was a pleasure and a privilege and a truly strange experience.
The challenge is to find a movie that…
- you genuinely like (not “so bad it’s good”)
- came out in your adult life post-2000, and
- is rated below 50% on Rotten Tomatoes
I didn’t find many low-rated movies that I strongly disagree about. The exception is Speed Racer (2008).
Next time someone says to me, “The book is always better than the movie,” I can say: “Hah! You have not seen War Horse!”
Stories evolve. Later versions are not necessarily better, and stories told using different media have different strengths and different constraints. Nevertheless, though the movie owes much to both its predecessors—the children’s novel written by Michael Morpurgo and the stage play that uses puppets by Handspring—the movie is hands down the best version.
The relationships between the characters have been tweaked to support the story better. The story itself has been tweaked to smooth the pacing and heighten the drama. Moreover, the settings shine. A book can describe a setting evocatively, but not every book does. Spielberg’s pictures are worth many more thousands of words than Morpurgo gave us. Meanwhile, the anti-war didacticism, which sometimes upstaged Handspring’s puppets in the play, is toned down to the point that it’s almost absent from the dialog of the movie. After all, on the big screen, the horror of war speaks for itself, and anyway, there are other stories that better show its terrible cost. This is not the story of the lives and deaths of human soldiers, nor even the story of a boy who loved his horse. This is the story of a horse that went to war.
It’s beautiful, and so absorbing that I didn’t realize until after I’d watched it twice that it’s two and a half hours long!
According to the reviews, not everyone likes the old-fashioned “honest, emotionally direct” storytelling, calling it overly sentimental, and some deride it as mere family-friendly entertainment, too clean to be serious about its ostensibly grim subject matter.
I refuse to dislike the movie on those grounds. Is it calculated to be emotionally satisfying? Maybe. But it satisfies, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies.
See below for a short summary, a very very detailed summary (with SPOILERS), a list of the changes I liked in the movie, a list of some of the movie reviews, and a few other thoughts.
I knew that the book would be different from the stage play because halfway through the film of the stage play the organizers showed a short “making of” documentary describing the development of the play and its puppets. Just how different, I could only imagine.
Now I know. It’s hugely different.
See below for more on the book’s characters, settings, plot, style, but you might want to read the book first, because it’s short and this post has SPOILERS. You might also want to read my post on War Horse (the film of the stage play).
When and Why I Read War Horse
I recently saw a film of the stage play. I wanted to compare the story as it is told in the book.
Genre: Children's Historical Fiction / Animals
Date started / date finished: 31-Jul-19 to 31-Jul-19
Length: 188 pages
ISBN: ASIN B00457WZEI
Originally published in: 1982/2010
Amazon link: War Horse
Sometimes the medium is the message. When I watched a Singapore screening of the play War Horse which had been performed in London at the National Theatre, I was underwhelmed by the plot and script but full of admiration for the puppetry that brought horses (and a hilarious goose) to life on the stage. Hats off to Handspring Puppet Company for an awesome performance and the engineering and practice that went into it.
I found this performance to be a bit mystifying. It featured the Soweto Gospel Choir and an international fusion dance group. The choir moved around and danced during the performance. Overall, I would say there was a lot of energy and movement and skill, but I felt the lack of a discernible story to tie it all together.
I was impressed with the first bit of this movie, which had very little predictable dialog—very little dialog at all. It’s just scenes of Sad Keanu, basically…
John Wick is alone except for his vintage hot rod and a puppy thoughtfully gifted to him by his late wife. So when the entitled, oblivious son of a Russian crime boss takes a fancy to his car, steals it, and kills the puppy, leaving him completely alone, what does he do? Why, he goes back to his life as the best professional assassin ever, letting nothing stand between him and his doomed target. (I mean, you know it’s a revenge plot, right?)
Gone are the days when noir was black and white and grey; here you’ve got grey, sure, but also yellows, reds, blues, and greens. It’s slick and modern and moody. I guess the stylization is a big reason the violence was not unenjoyable. There’s a lot of death, but it’s not a lot of senseless grunting and bloody messes. It feels clever. More than that, it feels just. It’s also got some rather funny deadpan moments that keep it from feeling too heavy.
See below for a plot summary with SPOILERS.
I have nothing good to say about this book. I do not understand how it can possibly be a bestseller.
I’m not the only one who feels like it’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Here’s an excerpt from a PW review of Wintersong that encapsulates my objections succinctly:
“The plot meanders, the stakes are ill-defined, and the characters lack depth and verisimilitude.”
If you think I’m cherry picking and only this one snooty publishing gatekeeper disliked it, yes, I am cherry picking—but here are some notes from an editor and book blogger who was similarly underwhelmed.
If you want to know more about why I didn’t like Wintersong, dive in to the rant below.
When and Why I Read Wintersong
I am reading this for the Middle Grade / Young Adult Fiction Book Club. It is marketed as a retelling of the 1986 movie Labyrinth.
Genre: young adult fantasy / romance
Date started / date finished: 13-Jun-19 to 17-Jun-19
Length: 448 pages
ISBN: ASIN B01C2TAATC
Originally published in: 2017
Amazon link: Wintersong
This book of folktales was a gift brought back for me from Uzbekistan with a couple of other items:
The booklet is not a top-quality production, and has some flaws and errors. By far the worst error is that one of the stories was accidentally split into two parts, the second part printed on an earlier page and the first part printed on a later one! Still, the translation is accessible, the introduction is informative, and the folktales are entertaining.
The stories are a mix of humor, wisdom, and foolishness. The central character, Mulla Nasreddin or Nasrudin, is known by a variety of names with a variety of spellings. He is sometimes clever and sometimes obtuse.
See below for some examples of his shenanigans.
When and Why I Read Mulla Nasreddin Folktales
This small booklet was purchased for me recently in Uzbekistan.
Date started / date finished: 12-Jun-19 to 13-Jun-19
Length: 46 pages
Originally published in: 2018
I am, still, not a fan of James Joyce.
I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as a high school student. When I re-read it again recently for the Hungry Hundred Book Club I asked myself, more than once, why I’d even bothered, not having liked it the least little bit the first time around.
Enough was enough, I told myself. Lesson learned. I was never going to read more Joyce. Life’s too short to spend time trying to like stuff I don’t actually like, regardless of how ‘important’ the stuff purports to be. But then, I read more Joyce anyway! Why did I do that?!
When and Why I Read Dubliners
The Irish Embassy in Singapore invited local readers to participate in Bloomsday by reading James Joyce's short story collection Dubliners and coming for a discussion on 14 June 2019. I saw it as an opportunity to pursue the question of whether Joyce is really the founder of ALL modern fiction, as has been asserted.
Genre: literary fiction (short stories)
Date started / date finished: 30-May-19 to 05-Jun-19
Length: 150 pages
ISBN: Project Gutenberg 2814
Originally published in: 1914
Gutenberg link: Dubliners