Saturday, December 31, 2011

Finding Forrester (Movie Review)

This is the season to be with family and what better activity can you do than watch movies? Among the movies I watched with my family for the first time, I have decided to talk about on involving growing up and (my favorite) writing. This 2000 film stars the great Sean Connery and is called Finding Forrester! 


The Story
Basically, Jamal Wallace (played by Rob Brown) is an African American 16 year old who loves to write, but is growing up a basketball-oriented Harlem neighborhood. His life is changed when he is dared to break into a spooky apartment rumored to contain a murderer and he meets William Forrester (played by Sean Connery).

Name THAT Genre!
This is a really heart warming story. My cousins described this movie as a serious film, which is partly true. I would say it is a “Coming of Age” story mixed with a drama. Even having watched the film, I am not sure exactly what genre it is, but whatever it is was good.

Sir Sean Connery
I’ve said before that I love Sir Sean Connery (did you know he was a knight?). With his Scottish accent and quick wit, who would not love this great actor? This movie finds him playing a reclusive writer who wrote one novel and then was so disgusted with the literary critic world that didn’t write again. This role is just pure fun. In this movie, we got to see Connery as a more intellectual figure than the man of action we usually see from his previous roles. This movie also makes him a teacher, which would carry on into his next role as Alan Quatermain in “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”. There are just some amusing scenes in this movie, such as one with Sean Connery calmly riding a bicycle with cheerful music in the back ground. It just made me laugh. This movie also has him using modern words. For example, it has Sir Sean Connery saying, “You’re the man, dog!” If that does not sell you on this movie, I don’t know what will.

Other Notable Cast Members
There are several enjoyable people on the cast who make this movie really great. Rob Brown, who played Jamal Wallace, was good. He had a nice sense of humor and portrayed his character with lots of spirit. If you are an X-men or True Blood fan, you might recognize Jamal’s love interest because she (Claire Spence) is played by Anna Paquin, who played the X-men character Rogue and True Blood’s Sookie Stackhouse.

The Movie’s Message
This movie has a wonderful message of hope. As I write this review, there is less than two hours before New Years, when the year will change from 2011 to 2012. This is the time of looking to the future and hoping for the best. This movie takes the hopes of one young man and shows what he can accomplish if he learns to be exuberant. If we were watching “Dead Poet’s Society”, then I would say that Jamal needs to "carpe diem" (or seize the day) and with them help of William Forrester, he does seize the day. As a writer and a person who does not know what the future holds I love the message of this movie.

Conclusion
This is a wonderful movie. It has a nice message and a great cast. I especially liked the Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allen Poe references. I felt proud to know the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle they were referring to even before Jamal named him as young Stanford. I realize such things don’t mean much to some people, but it is cool to me. Any way, it’s a good movie and you should watch it. Well, that’s that. The last review of 2011. Boy, its been a swell year. Here’s to 2011 and the year we have yet to meet. I hope the Ponsonby Britt Report incites you to read or watch things you have never seen or heard of and I hope it also incites me to grow as a person and for me to watch some of the classics of literature and cinematography. Again, “Here’s looking at ya!”

Trailer/Quote

“The key to writing is to write not to think!”
--Sean Connery (as William Forrester in Finding Forrester 2000 ___)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Patriot Games (Movie Review)


 When a book is adapted into a movie, the adaption can go different ways. On one hand, adaptations can be loose (take for instance the newest Sherlock Holmes film series. It has similar characters, but there are several differences). On the other hand, adaptations can exactly the same. Two examples I can think of are Dan Brown’s book the Da Vinci Code and Stephen King’s short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. Most people hope the movie is exactly the same as the book, so they can enjoy the thrills and chills by revisiting their favorite piece of literature. Yesterday, I watched an adaption of a book I had reviewed previously on this blog by Tom Clancy. The movie title, just like the book title, is Patriot Games!
 

The Story
When I reviewed the book I wrote a summary and I think I’ll quote it now as it still remains the same in the movie:
Patriot Games was a thriller about a former marine turned history teacher who has worked the CIA unofficially a few times. On a trip to London, he stops an attack upon the Prince of Wales and his wife by Irish terrorists. When he finally recovers from his injuries from his heroics, he believes this is the end of the excitement, but it is only the beginning.

Harrison Ford
There are a few major names in action movies, but few in my opinion come close to the talent of the great Harrison Ford. Perhaps best known for his role as Indiana Jones in all but the newest film (which is not as good in my opinion), Mr. Ford has this air of confidence which he seems to bring to the roles I have seen him in. I was delighted when I heard Harrison Ford played Jack Ryan (the main character of the story) and I must say I was not disappointed with his portrayal.

Other Notable Cast
This is a wonderful cast. For example, a forceful figure in the movie, Admiral James Greer, is played none other than James Earl Jones (you know Darth Vader’s voice among other wonderful roles). Also Sean Bean plays the role of Sean Miller (aka the main bad guy). I must say Sean as Sean Miller is wonderful and he really fits the role (although I have never seen him another role I must say he was good in this one). I must also give a shout out to the possibly youngest of the cast: that of Thora Birch who played Sally Ryan pretty well (even if she did seem older in this movie than she was in the book…). One interesting thing I found out afterwards in looking at some sites is that although this is a heavy irish character population in this story, only three actors (Richard Harris, Patrick Bergin and Jonathan Ryan) were actually irish. Weird.

Differences with the Novel
Although this is a good movie, I would say the book is better. It just seemed to me that they took out some important parts of the novel. I mean, I love Harrison Ford’s portrayal of his character as well as the rest of the cast involved, but there was just some things plot wise that I really missed. For example, in the novel all characters are important and have some sort of depth to them so you care for them when they are in trouble. However, when a British agent is killed its like, “ok. That’s nice.” When you read that scene in the book you had (at least I had) gotten attached to the character so it is sad when he is killed. Of course, movies can not give everything that books give in the way of details nor do they have the time to spend focusing on every little thing.

While I under the movie did have time constraints, I think it wasn’t as good without the presence of Buckingham Palace. I know the hero of the novel is American and this isn’t about the royalty figures, but I did miss seeing them. I mean, the way Clancy made Jack a knight and the fact they actually got to sleep at the Buckingham Palace were both really amusing, so I missed some bits of the story.

Conclusion
If you have not read the novel, then you will really enjoy this movie. They have a wonderful cast and the scenery was pretty. There are some details missing from this movie which fans of the book might miss, but it would still be a good movie.

Trailer/Quote

Here’s hoping you never get mad at me,”
-- Samuel L. Jackson (as Lt. Cmdr. Robby Jackson in Patriot Games 1992 Paramount Pictures)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Arsenic and Old Lace (Movie Review)

 As my friends and family know, I am a highly dramatic person. In fact, I am taking a drama class at school. We’ve done several monologues, but more recently we were assigned to do scenes with two or three people. My group was assigned a very funny scene from a play by Joseph Kesselring, so I did some research and found a movie adaptation for that same play (actually I found it randomly). This 1944 movie, staring several wonderful actors including Cary Grant, is called Arsenic and Old Lace!
 

The Story
The basic story is this: there are two little old ladies (played here by Josephine Hull and Jean Adair, who also were in the play this is based on). Everyone considers them the “nicest most caring people you ever did see”, but, like the rest of the family, they are crazy. Unbeknownst to everyone, they have been killing lonely old men as a sort of charity. When their nephew Mortimer (played by Cary Grant) discovers one of their 12 dead bodies in (of all places) the window seat, his life becomes even more insane.

Cary Grant
At the very mention of this actor, a whole nation of women cry out and swoon…or something like that. Supposedly, Mr. Grant considered this not one of his better roles, but I really think this a perfect role for him. His expressions (both vocally and physically) make the movie even more enjoyable. I also like it, because his role as Mortimer was helpful to me as I tried playing him in the scene in drama.

 Photo Caption: Cary Grant realizes this is a good performance...that or the body in the window seat...

Other actors
There are so many great actors, so let’s see if I can address at least some of them.
  • Peter Lorre appears in this film as the creepy and skittish Doctor Einstein. Lorre was this Austrian actor who was perfect for this role. Maybe it’s his accent that makes him creepy, but whatever the case he’s just really humorous and he works well as a straight man for Raymond Massey.
  • Raymond Massey was this Canadian actor probably well known for this role and his role in the 1955 film East of Eden. I’m not as crazy about Massey (though he did a good job) because I know someone who would have done a better job in the role Massey got, but I’ll mention him later.
  • A personal favorite of mine is Edward Everett Horton. He was the narrator for the Rocky and Bullwinkle segment “Fractured Fairytales”. I really loved seeing him in this live action movie. He’s funny live action as well!
  • The last person I’m going to mention is John Alexander. He (along with Josephine Hull and Jean Adair) had been in the stage play. He plays Teddy Roosevelt Brewster, who believes himself to be THE Teddy Roosevelt.  His role is just hilarious. Whether he is digging the panama canal in the basement (where they would put the bodies of the men the aunts kill) or running up the stairs shouting “charge!”, he was hilarious.

 Photo caption (left to right): Peter Lorre, John Alexander, and Raymond Massey

Boris Karloff
With all respect to Raymond Massey, the real person I can see in the role of Mortimer’s brother, Jonathan, is Boris Karloff. Jonathan is tall and grim fellow who escaped from prison and who had killed 12 people (the same number as the aunts). Dr. Einstein had given him plastic surgery while being drunk (and after watching a particular horror film), so Jonathan has scars on his face which always reminds people of a certain actor or monster. The writers seemed to have agreed with me because they give the actors all these jokes about how Jonathan looks similar the Frankenstein Monster and the actor who played that role. These jokes might also be caused by the fact that Boris Karloff played the role of Johnathan in the play, but when the creators of this movie tried to get him they couldn’t get him as the movie distributor he had contracts with forbid it. I still think the jokes would be funnier if the Frankenstein Monster would be in this movie.



Photo Caption: the Frankenstein Monster 

Conclusion
This is a hilarious film and should not be missed. The whole cast is wonderful (I wish I could mention them all in this blog, but that would take forever). I think I’m going to add this to my favorite comedy movies list, that is if I ever create such a list.

Trailer/Quote


Aunt Martha! Men don’t get into window seats and die!
--Cary Grant (as Mortimer Brewster, Arsenic and Old Lace 1944 Warner Brothers)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Casino Royale (Book Review)

 James Bond is one of the most well known fictional spies. He has been portrayed by 8 actors (if you count Barry Nelson in a TV movie and the David Niven James Bond parody film “Casino Royale”). Whether you watch these movies (and TV show movie) or not, you know who 007 (Double-0 Seven) is, but where did he first appear? If you are mainly a cinematic-based person, you would think that his first appearance was the 1963 film “Dr. No”. But, NO! That is not his first appearance! In reality, his very first appearance was in the 1953 novel by Ian Fleming, which is called Casino Royale!

Writing style
Ian Fleming is a wonderful writer. His writing pieces have become part of pop culture, so I don’t really have to think to say he most definitely would be classified under the classic writer title. His style actually surprises me. I always thought the literary James Bond would have more vocal lines. Instead, the reason Fleming’s books have become classics (at least in my eyes) are their description. Mr. Fleming has this attention to detail which I really don’t see in the movies. I guess this attention to detail spurs from his time as a spy (not a James Bond sort of spy, but he did work in the spy agency world enough to catch on). In addition, there are much more thoughts and feeling which round out his characters that you also don’t normally see in action novels. To say the least I think you would miss out if you just watched the movies, because you don’t usually get to see all these feelings and thought s when you watch a movie. You can’t jump into James Bond’s head to see what he is thinking, fearing and feeling.

Plot
Basically, a Russian agent by the name of  Le Chiffre (which translates to be "the Number/cypher") needs to make up a lot of funds in a short amount of time, so he heads to the Casino in Royale. M (whose first appearance is also this book of course) sends his best agent/gambler for the job and of course that agent is James Bond. 007 is helped on his way by a fellow MI6 agent named Mathis, a CIA agent named Felix Leiter (who would appear in several other James Bond novels) and of course the beautiful Vesper Lynd.

A Different Bond
Upon reading this book I was surprised to find how different Bond is from what I have seen in the movies. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still the confident and tactically knowledgeable man you see in the movies, but he does have feelings. Fleming’s writing adds depth to Bond by allowing us to see behind the “razzle-dazzle” to see his feeling, worries and sometimes even his doubts. In this book, I see James Bond doing things I actually can’t see actors like Sean Connery doing. Sean Connery—just love saying his name—‘s Bond is always perfect and, while I love his rendition and his acting in general, I have to say that is not the Bond we see here. James Bond here is able to vomit after nearly getting killed by a bomb, and even more scandalous he is able to fall in love. This James Bond is vulnerable to say the least. He is not the perfect James Bond I have always pictured and I must say that is not a bad thing.

“This is not a romantic adventure story…”
Sort of continuing the whole “imperfect” Bond, the story itself is not what you would expect. I must admit I thought this story would be less important and maybe not as good as the other stories. Right off the bat Fleming has a story which could be set in real life. I mean, life isn’t perfect and this novel reflects that fact. The villain of this novel puts it best when he says, 
This is not a romantic adventure story in which the villain is finally routed the hero is given a medal and marries the girl. Unfortunately these things don’t happen in real life.
I didn’t realize how true this quote was until the end.

Views on Women
One thing I have always been annoyed about is Bond’s treatment of women. I don’t know what Fleming believed, but James Bond had this to say on this subject:
“Women were for recreation. On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around. One had to look out for them and take care of them.”
 He even adds later,
“These blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to the men.”
As a man of today’s generation, I am disgusted at Bond’s words toward women. They shouldn’t be forced to do things they don’t want to do. I know some wonder women who didn’t wear frocks who have done some wonderful things. Just think what the world would be like if Rosa Parks or Maya Angelou stuck to their gossip. Would we be where we are today without them to guide the way to a better way of life? I like Ian Fleming and James Bond, but things like these statements make me hesitate.

Conclusion
This is a good novel. The descriptions are wonderful and the story is thrilling even to very last page. In some ways, the movies (at least the ones I’ve seen) don’t give this author and character justice. I will say I’m not a fan of some details, but if you forgive those scenes this is good book! If you enjoy James Bond you might like this!

Quote / Picture of the Author
 “Mine’s Bond—James Bond.
--Ian Fleming (as 007, Casino Royale pg 052)

And so an icon is born.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cannery Row (Book Review)


 In English class, we were assigned a novel by our long haired easy going teacher. I wasn’t that crazy about reading the previous novel (which was Catcher in the Rye, which is why I did not review it here), but after reading the new assigned book by John Steinbeck I have faith restored in good classic literature. There are so many classic novels by John Steinbeck, but the one I read and about to review is the 1945 book called Cannery Row!


Writing Style
If literature was to be divided in to three parts there would be a section for classics (the really good), the well written (the pretty good), and the unique stories (the fairly good). There would be technically a fourth group known as the terrible, but I tend to think that all stories have their own unique parts to them no matter how terrible they are.

This book has me perplexed. I have to say it’s both a unique story and a classic at the same time. I have not read a Steinbeck novel before (though I have Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden on my To Read list), so I don’t know what they are normally like, but Cannery Row is most definitely unique. If you asked me halfway through reading what the point of the story was, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. The story depicts a lot of different people and their lives in little community in Cannery Row, Mantaray. Upon finishing reading this book, however, I realize that this book does have a point: to show life; its struggles and some of the people effected by all of it.

Plot
Cannery Row has a very unique plot. When you start reading it, you have no idea what direction Steinbeck is trying to go with the story. Steinbeck, however, was trying to show life, so his plot wasn’t as linear like most stories. There are several mini stories about several different people and all these stories were connected, much in same life is all connected. This is the story of Henri the painter, Lee Chong the grocer, Dora the whore house facilitator, Doc the marine biologist and Mack and his boys the bums. This is the story of Cannery Row. I have to quote the book because only Steinbeck himself can show this community’s variety.

“Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.”
See? That is a perfect example of how Steinbeck shows two sides of the same coin. He shows the good and evil of life and that why Steinbeck is designated as a classic writer.

Conclusion
I wasn’t crazy at the beginning when I was assigned this book, but this grew on me. Steinbeck is an interesting writer. Perhaps not my favorite style, but its still good!

Quote / Picture of Author

“How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise—the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream-be set down alive? When you collect marine animals there are certain worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book—to open the page and let the stores crawl in by themselves.”
--John Steinbeck, Cannery Row pg3


King Solomon’s Mines (Book Review)

If you have watched the movie League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (or read the comic it was based on by Allen Moore), then you know about Allan Quatermain, who was a prominent figure in both the comic and movie. He was played by Sean Connery, which says something about how powerful a figure this hunter and adventurer is to be played by such a legendary actor. However, where did Mr. Quatermain first appear? Most of the characters in Moore’s League are literary icons, so it makes sense that one of the main protagonists also comes from a book. Well, today, I am going to review an 1885 story by H. Rider Haggard, which is one of Quatermain’s early appearances. The novel is a lovely adventure called King Solomon’s Mines!


Writing style
When I saw that this book was published in 1885, I admittedly thought what most people of my generation think and that is: this book is going to be boring and slow because it was published 126 years ago. However, upon actually reading this book, I can happily say it is far from boring. It is a wonderful adventure. I mean, the plot ran very smoothly. It only took me a month to read it (and that is my usual time it takes to read a novel considering I have a second book for assigned reading).

Based on my three part writing style system, I would say this book is classified in the first section: the classic writing section. This is really well written and just really good. Haggard gave some great metaphors in his work, such as when he compares the color of sunset to a “blush like a cheek of a girl”. This book has some of the key elements of a good adventure which any writer must include if they want to have a good adventure-thriller (think of the Indiana Jones theme when reading this), for example, the story must have:
  • One important character with two or more foil characters
  • A couple deaths if the protagonists are in a group larger than three
  • A cold and heartless antagonist leader (or leaders, depending on their length)
  • A treasure which the protagonist(s) seek
  • At least one place in the book for the villain to do something evil to a unnamed random character to show what they are capable of
  • Two or more battles between the heroes and the villains (one to get the ball rolling, and another being the final battle. More such battles can be added as well, though those can some times be unnecessary)
One element which was not really touched on was the love interest. However, being in Africa, it makes sense we don’t meet someone who connects to Quatermain.

The Story
There are actually two stories in this novel. One story is of Allan Quatermain and his comrades in their search for a long lost brother and King Solomon’s Mines. As I mentioned, the story element of treasure is an important part of an adventure story (whether it’s a movie or book). King Solomon’s Mines are like Eldorado in that it has tones of tales about it enormous supply of diamonds, but no one has ever gone there and lived long enough to enjoy the shiny rocks. At one point when the group actually finds the Mines (not much of a spoiler btw), Quatermain comments, “Monte Cristo is a fool to us,” which is, if you know the tale of Monte Cristo, quite a statement.

The other story is that of their mysterious African guide named Umbopa. I won’t say anything about it, because that would spoil the story, but it’s cool.

The Antagonists
If the treasures hidden from the rays of the sun within King Solomon’s Mines are seemingly infinite, then so is the number of antagonists in this story. Death is an important enemy throughout the novel from the beginning to the end. In fact, at one point there is even a giant statue of a skeleton with a spear which the narrator (Quatermain) refers to as death (which is just a great visual that makes me want to see any movie adaptations just for that scene).

My favorite antagonist from this story would have to be the very old creature named Gagool. She is just fun because she very old and creepy. Throughout the novel, many characters state that they can not remember her being young, so her actual age remains a mystery. Gagool does not help matters by stating that she might or might not be the same woman named Gagool who tricked Quatermain’s treasure-seeking predecessors 10 generations before. She’s described almost like an animal and she has this horrible laugh which “always sent a shiver down [Quatermain’s] back, and which for quite a while took enthuseasium out of [the group].”

Attitude toward Africans
One thing which I am always concerned about when I read older books is their attitude toward specific groups of people. Africans were my main concern given the setting of the book. Many books might have portrayed Africans in not the best of ways in this age of literature, so you can understand my concern. Therefore, I am glad to say this concern is unfounded.  Umbopa is in almost an equal to his European companions. He is not portrayed as a savage and Mr. Haggard (rest his soul) did not discriminate against race when he placed savagery into one of his characters.

Allan Quatermain: Haggard vs. League version
I’ve seen two different versions of Allan Quatermain: the version of him from this book and the one portrayed in 1999 in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (well, actually three if you count the movie as being separate from the comic). In the comic, he is portrayed as the second in compound of the team, which is a bit of a twist on this appearance here in the book where he was the leader of the group (just like the movie adaptation of the League, but then he is portrayed by Sean Connery, so that makes total sense).  At the beginning of the League versions we see a very different Quatermain. In the comic, we see a drug-induced Quatermain. If Haggard’s stories are cannon in the League stories, then it means something happened in one of his other stories in the Quatermain series which drove the adventurer to such a low.

Conclusion
This is a nice book. I wish more people would ignore the publishing date of the book and read this book, because I know of a lot of people who would enjoy this book. This is a very well written story and had me chuckling at several points (not because of cheesyness as there was none, but because of the interactions between Quatermain’s group of white men and the Africans who had not seen white men before). Just an enjoyable read. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes adventure.

Quote / Picture of Author
“The truth is like a sharp spear which flies home and fails not,”
--H. Rider Haggard (as Ignosi, King Solomon’s Mines pg 169)


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Happy 52nd Birthday to Rocky and Bullwinkle!

Fifty-Two Years ago yesterday at 5:30 p.m. ET on the ABC television network, a unique series staring a flying squirrel and a talking moose first aired. As you can guess by the name of this post, that series was the Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends!

Jay Ward & Bill Scott & their impact
 Few know who Jay Ward or Bill Scott were and what their impact to animation was. They created many iconic characters and shows, such as George of the Jungle (yes, there was something before the movies and the new animated tv show!), Cap'n Crunch, and most majorly for me: the Rocky and bullwinkle show! Their comedy style illustrated in their shows has inspired The Simpsons, Darkwing Duck and so many other comedy shows! (in fact, the first episode of Family Guy played homage to the show by having June Foray, the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirel, make a cameo as her iconic character).

"That Voice...Where have I heard that voice?"
Ok, sorry, had to do that title! I just had to! On this show, there were so many talented people! I wish I could name them all! Bill Scott did Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-right (among others). Edward Everett Horton and William Conrad were both narrotors for the show (Horton for Fractured Fairytales and Conrad for R&B). Hans Conried voiced the devilous Snidley Wipelash. Charlie Ruggles voiced Aasop and Daws Butler did Aasop Jr. Walter Tetley played Sherman (from Mr. Peabody). Paul Frees did so many voices including Boris Badenov. Last but not least was June Foray, who was the voice of Rocky the flying Sqirel, Natasha Fatale, and a host of others. If you search any of those names, you will see how much stuff you are familiar with and you might say, "hey, I remember that!"
The Segments
There were so many great segments on the show. There was Dudley Do-right, Mr. Know-it-all, Aasop and Son, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Fractured Fairytales in addition to the Rocky and Bullwinkle segments. All were very funny and enjoyable.

Ponsonby Britt
Hope you didn't mind that I did this one last. Ever wonder where the name of this blog comes from? Well, I can say my name is not Ponsonby Britt (though I wish it was!). Ponsonby Britt was the executive producer of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, George of the Jungle, Hippoty Hopity, and Fractured Flicks. Its an impressive carrier he had. Oh...did I mention he was fictional? That right! Jay Ward and Bill Scott didn't want to take all the credit so they made Britt up!

In honor of Jay Ward and everyone else's impact on my own childhood, I created this blog!

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Catch Me if You Can (Novel Review)


A little while ago, I reviewed the musical staring Aaron Tveit, which recently closed on Broadway on September 4, 2011 (after 32 previews and 170 regular performances, one of which I went to) and will next year have a national tour. Today, I will review the actual novel by the actual Frank Abagnale Jr. This book, published in 1980, is, of course, titled Catch Me if You Can!


Writing Style
As I mentioned in my review of Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games, I separate writing styles into 3 groups. The first is the older English (like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie) with its slower pace (for people who had lots of free time). This could be considered the hard reading group for most people, but it’s not that hard for me. The next group is the middle writers, whose styles are well developed and have lots of details (like Tom Clancy or Dan Brown). The last group is the easy writers, whose vocabulary is not as developed and thus are faster to read (at least for me).
Catch Me If You Can seems to fit well in the third group. This non-fiction story is entertaining but it is not loaded with lots of details like descriptions of the people or places. This story could be a great and easy read for anyone. It is not be hard to understand and it's not that challenging detail-wise, but that is not why this story is good. It is good, because it is entertaining and it is a true story.

The story
            If you read my review of the musical, then you know the basic story, but I’ll review it any way. To quote the back of the book, “Frank Abagnale, alias Frank Williams, Robert Conrad, Frank Adams, and Robert Monjo, was one of the most daring con men, forgers, imposters and escape artists in history. During his brief but notorious criminal career, Abagnale donned a pilot’s uniform and copiloted a Pam Am jet, masqueraded as the supervising resident of a hospital, practiced law without a license, passed himself off as a college sociology professor, and cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks—all before he was twenty-one.” So needless to say, it’s a fun read.

The Differences between the Book and the Musical
            As to be expected, there are some differences between the book and the musical I saw. For example, in the musical a nurse is the love interest who he confesses about his real identity, but here in the book, it is a stewardess (though the nurse did appear in the story). who he confesses to. In addition, the whole being a lawyer thing is quite separate from his love interests (though there was a woman involved anyway) and is much more entertaining.
            One significant difference I noticed between the book and musical is the presence of FBI agent O’Riley. Right off the bat is the name of the agent. See, O’Riley is not the real name of the agent. At the time the book was published, the agent was still part of the agency, so Abagnale changed his name to O’Riley. Based on a M*A*S*H* reference during the time he was a doctor in the book, I would guess this name was taken from that great show, but that’s just an assumption on my part.  However, now that he has retired, the musical used his real name which is Carl Hanratty. In the musical, O’Riley is a major star. He’s the co-star of the show and produces a second perspective for the story which is slight one sided in this book. I am not sure how much of Carl’s performance was true, but I did note that in the spots where an FBI agent was present (who was not O’Riley) in the book, the musical placed Carl. I guess it makes sense and makes this more than just a one-man show. In the book, however, we don’t actually see O’Riley, though he is mentioned at last three times.

Who really is Frank Abagnale?
            When you read the book, you will see two images of the same man: one of a suave and debonair con man who masqueraded as a Pam Am pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, a sociology teacher, an FBI agent, a bank guard an investor and so many others. The second image, however, is very different. It is the portrait of a man who is just skin and bones with fleas and feces in his uncut or shaved hair. How did this one man go from having his own crew of stewardesses (at one point in the story) to only having rats and insects to keep him company in a damp waste-infested dungeon? Well, I’m not going to tell you! I’m going to let you read it!

However, that being said, I think I’ll share something more. At the end of the book, there is an interview with the writer (as this edition of the book was released a few months before the movie adaptation came out) and I thought this question was significant and reverent to this section’s title:

Conclusion
This is actually a good book. I’m considering buying myself a copy so I could reread the book after I return the copy I’ve been using to the public library, if that says anything about if I like it or not. I would recommend this book to people who like adventure, thrillers and just a sense of humor. If you are looking for an entertaining easy read, this is the book for you!

I’ll review the movie soon!

Quote / Picture of Author
"A man's alter ego is nothing more than his favorite image of himself,"
--Frank Abagnale Jr.
(Catch Me If You Can, pg 1)









Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Of Terrorists, teachers and the American Dream

What do you get when you mix terrorism, a vacation in Europe and Tom Clancy? You get the 1987 novel Patriot Games!

Plot
Patriot Games was a thriller about a former marine turned history teacher who has worked the CIA unofficially a few times. On a trip to London, he stops an attack upon the Prince of Wales and his wife by Irish terrorists. When he finally recovers from his injuries from his heroics, he believes this is the end of the excitement, but it is only the beginning.

Themes
            Tom Clancy’s story is still thrilling even today. Granted, the problems at the time in Ireland, which caused Clancy to pick an Irish antagonist group, is not as prevalent today. However, the theme of terrorism is prevalent. Through the decades since this novel was published, terrorism has moved from Ireland to the Middle East. Even with the cultural changes, the same fear can still be felt in parts of the world where terrorists are active. If one ignores the ethnicity and the mentions of the Soviet Union, this tale of terrorism could fit in the present age. I mean, isn’t it still a fear that the Prince of Wales could be killed? Of course he is much older now, but the idea of someone that important to a culture being threatened by terrorism is frightening.
I can actually picture Prince Harry and Kate Middleton in the role of the prince of the story, which is quite terrifying. If someone threatened them in the same way, I don’t know what the world would be like and how much the people of Europe would work to get the culprit (let alone what they would do to them). I wish there was a time this story would not be prevalent.

Writing Style
            I must regretfully say this is the first book I have read by Tom Clancy. I have read lots of books, but never a Clancy novel. It was thrilling as I expected it would be and quite enjoyable (as I hoped it would be).
When I read a novel published in the 1900s or earlier (like my favorite: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), it is much slower to read that say one which was published in the early 2000s. This is because of the difference in vocabulary. This novel is in the middle. It only took me a month to read (which is slow for me, but had other books I was required to read).

Author Comparison
The author I would compare Clancy to would be Dan Brown, because they both are quite popular thriller writers, though Clancy has definitely written a lot more novels than Brown (my library where I volunteer has resorted to part of a rolling cart so the novel bookshelves don’t overflow).

Negatives
            The one problem I had reading this novel was there were so many characters. At times for me it is hard to remember who is who, but that might not be as confusing for other people. Oh, another thing is the cover. Look at it. Imagine yourself pulling the trigger of that gun. How would you do that? I mean you have the trigger, but handle which you grip while you pull the trigger is on the wrong side of the trigger (should be in back of it). Other than that, it is a good novel.

Conclusion
            This was an enjoyable novel. Perhaps one day, I’ll read another book by Clancy. I actually wrote this review a little while ago, but I still think the book is cool. When I read this, I was thinking “this should be movie”. I just realized the day of me posting and typing this I found a movie adaptation. I’ll review and watch it soon!

Quote / Picture of Author
“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”
--Tom Clancy

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Catch Me if You can (Musical Review)

Last but not least was the musical based on a true story about Frank Abignale, Jr. If you watched the 2002 movie adaptation, staring Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hanks (which I hope to watch and review soon!), you know I am talking about none other than: Catch Me If You Can!


Theatre
The theatre which this musical adaptation was shown was the Neil Simon Theatre. This was a theatre I passed a few times on my explorations of the city. In fact, the first day I was in the “Big Apple”, I ate dinner with my parents (who were also with me on the trip) at a good restaurant right across from Neil Simon, so I knew exactly where it was located. The inside of the theatre had an older feel to it, which seemed appropriate given the time period of the musical. The style of the architecture seemed to have either Roman or Greek (not sure which), though that doesn’t seem important.


Seats
Just like the three performances before this one, our seats were wonderful! I can say that my seat (row F seat 14) was really close to the stage as tt was in the sixth row. No complaints what-so-ever! 

Photo Caption: this was the second best curtain. it looks like clouds...was some sort of projection...

Plot
Frank Abagnale Jr. (played here by Aaron Tveit) was a con man. Under the guise of a Pan Am pilot, supervising resident doctor and a lawyer, he cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks. I point out that he had no flying, medical, or law experience and did not even finish high school. On his adventures around the world, he was chased by several world agencies including the FBI and did I mention he was under 21?
Along the way, he romances tones of stewardess, nurses, and so many other women. One woman (played Kerry Butler), of course, would be his down fall. However, I won’t say anything more as that would roughen all the fun! 

Needless to say, this is a very intense funny musical. Think of it like a real life version of Oceans 11, except this time there was more than one con and more than one focus of the con. I am really surprised all that Abigdale did while being in his teenage years and without going through high school.


Cast
Aaron Tveit (aka Frank Abagnale Jr.) was great. He had this wonderful voice and was charming. At several points in the musical, he broke the fourth wall and became the narrator of the show. This was very entertaining! I think Mr. Tveit will go far…
  

The FBI agent who was chasing Frank, Carl Hanratty, was portrayed that night by Nick Kenkel. This was actually his first time playing this part, because he was standing in for Norbert Leo Butz (who had been in the role for the tonys and also most of the other productions). Mr. Kenkel was previously just one of the agents, but that night he had his big break. For his first time as that role, he did a really good job! Very cool!

The whole cast was actually really good and should be congratulated for their excellence.


Cultural References
Being a musical based on a real life event (if changed slightly), there are references to real life culture icons. For example, there are many references to the DC comic character known as the Flash. In a scene where Frank is shown as being around sixteen or so, he joyfully reads Flash #1, which was a real comic published in 1959, which is 4 years before the more recent scenes in the musical takes place (which makes sense as these are within a childhood flashback). Later on, he even uses the alias of Barry Allen, who is the alter ego of the Flash.

This is the comic I was talking about

Set


One interesting thing about this musical was the set.  We’ve seen four different sets on our trip, but this was unique in a few ways. Sure, it wasn’t dark and spooky like Addams Family, or comic book-esque like Spiderman, or even flashy like How to Succeed, but it was colorful. Its vibrant colors gave the show sort of an air of fantasy and magic to the story, while continuing to be based on reality. Even the costumes were flashy and over the top, truly “taking [us] for a spin” (to barrow from the first song).

Another fascinating thing about this production was where the orquestra was located. In the other performances we’ve seen reviewed here, the orcastra was in the orquestra pit right in front of the stage. This performance’s orcastra, however, was different in that it was on the stage it self. The part I could see reminded me of a normal band you see in the movies at one of those older night clubs. They were on this pink flout-like stand. I know that doesn’t really describe what it was, but its really hard to explain. On one end was the Orquesta and the other, there were tables for some of the actors could sit in the background. So, basically, the orquestra was a backdrop, the music maker and part of the action at some points.

Interview
Another interesting thing which made this different was what happened afterward. After the performance, there was a question and answer session with Aaron Tveit. Very insightful. He talked about past works and how the current work is doing. Basically, there was the usual questions you would expect to hear at this sort of thing (even the will you marry me question, which I want to say I did not ask). So, here goes the Ponsonby Britt Report’s first exclusive thanks to my notes:

 What is this role like?
  • tiring but worth it
How did you prepare for this role?
  • read book, talked with real Frank W. Abagnale Jr.
Will you marry me?
  • I’m pretty busy right now
How is acting in a professional  way like?
  • loves what he does
  • never gets old, never gets stale
  • “they want to see you agiant, to make sure it wasn’t a fluke” (referring to casting directors)
  • long hours
After that, we went outside and got that same actor to sign my play bill. Also, we got the assistant director to sign. He was so thrilled when we asked after we had chatted for a little bit about the actors work and such. Made his day! Or rather night!


Photo caption: Aaron is signing and the assistant Director is behind him
  
Permanent Marker is Aaron, Pen is Assist. Director
Conclusion
This was a very fun musical. It was sort of like a modern version of Music Man plus a little more reality to it.  This musical really was a great way to end my trip to broadway and I’m glad I went and saw it! It was a great show and it really made my day when I saw it! I’m not sure what one is my favorite. They have all been great and I look forward to memorized songs and singing these songs.

Once again, I don’t own Catch Me If You Can, and at the moment I don’t know who does…I guess Frank Abignale…but I’m not sure.

 The following was from the Tony Award proformence which has two great songs: