Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Book Review)

Big Little Lies is a seven-episode series starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman & Shailene Woodley. It’s airing on HBO in America this Sunday (19th of February) and looks like it will air on Sky Atlantic in the UK sometime in March.

Based on the novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty, the show was created by David E Kelley & directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (director of films such as Wild & Dallas Buyers Club). Having just read the book, I figured it was time I do a quick book review for anyone who may be interested in either the novel or the TV show…

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

What It’s About: (via Amazon)
Perfect family, perfect house, perfect life; Jane, Madeline and Celeste have it all . . . or do they? They are about to find out just how easy it is for one little lie to spiral out of control.

My Thoughts:

I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed this book as it’s certainly not my usual sort of genre (give me Stephen King, fantasy, dystopian, or post-apocalyptic!). Is it chick lit? I hate that term – It’s so condescending. And I hate the so-called chick lit genre as it tends to be the “silly” books that are given this label. I suppose it’s certainly aimed at female readers, though.

I haven’t read reviews at all but I would assume the main comparison being used to describe this book’s story & overall feel is Desperate Housewives, which would be extremely accurate. I have a confession: I’m not a girly girl & watch very few girly things but I watched all of Desperate Housewives (despite its AWFUL title, which almost made me not watch it in the first place). But then the opening DH scene started with a tragic death and a woman who then happily realized that it meant she wouldn’t have to return (some kitchen appliance she’d borrowed – can’t remember) to the now-dead woman. And I was hooked! Well-written dark humor with rich characters is something I can get behind. Who cares what label you give it? I don’t think Big Little Lies is quite as good as that first season of Desperate Housewives (as with all shows, DH went badly downhill in later years) and it doesn’t have as much of that darkly humorous streak but it’s a fun satire on parents, particularly mothers, and the crazy world of school politics.

Big Little Lies starts with a tragic & unexplained death on the night of the adult-only trivia fundraiser taking place at the novel’s school. Our three main characters, Jane, Madeline & Celeste, each have five-year-olds attending their first year of school. This is a fairly long book that I found a very quick read thanks to the way it was broken up into so many chapters & the way most chapters ended with statements from witnesses who were there on the trivia night. After the opening chapter in which someone has died, the novel then goes back to the beginning of the school year to introduce us to all our main potential victims and murderers. I loved not even knowing who ends up the victim, which kept me reading as I was anxious to find out. The witness statements at the end of the chapters give us little clues along the way as to what may have happened.

Big Little Lies isn’t exactly some piece of “worthy literature” but it was a light & entertaining read and should make for an enjoyable TV series. I’d actually like to see them up the dark humor for the show if they can. The book sounds more shallow than it actually is – It tackles some heavy issues, especially at the end, but it could’ve done with sticking more to its sassy satire we mainly glimpse in the witness statements and through the character of Madeline. Speaking of Madeline, the casting of Reese Witherspoon for this role is absolute perfection – I can totally see her as this outwardly superficial character with the deep down heart of gold. I can also see Woodley & Kidman as Jane & Celeste now even though Celeste won’t be how I pictured looks-wise but Kidman definitely has the right sort of personality & manner to suit the role well. With a lot of big names involved, including Jean-Marc Vallée as the director, I think the show is in good hands & I’m looking forward to seeing how they adapt the book.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Here’s the UK trailer for the TV show. I think they’ve upped the drama! Hope the show doesn’t take itself too seriously…

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My Top Ten Wooden Movie Actors/Characters

I’m just messing with you! 😉

I had 16 to choose from for this list and I couldn’t really leave six out so I’ll count down from 16 (but I’ll still call it a “Top Ten” to stay consistent with my other lists. Ha! I’m so annoying).

So here are My Top Ten Wooden Movie Actors/Characters (and my favorite film from each). But counting down from 16 just to be awkward…

Honorable Mentions:

16. James Woods
My Favorite Movie: Videodrome

15. Kurtwood Smith
My Favorite Movie: RoboCop

14. Shailene Woodley
My Favorite Movie: The Spectacular Now or The Fault In Our Stars

13. Joanne Woodward
My Favorite Movie: Oh dear – the only one I’ve seen is Philadelphia! But I so love her long, romantic marriage to Paul Newman. Look at them! So beautiful… 🙂

12. Evan Rachel Wood
My Favorite Movie: Across The Universe but The Wrestler is great too

11. Woody Allen
My Favorite Movie: Um, I’ve only seen one & he wasn’t IN it. So, Midnight In Paris

My Top Ten:

10. Natalie Wood
My Favorite Movie: Miracle On 34th Street

9. Alfre Woodard
My Favorite Movie: Scrooged

8. Woody Strode
My Favorite Movie: Once Upon A Time In The West

7. Scott Eastwood
My Favorite Movie: Who cares?! Look at him!! Okay, I’ll go with Gran Torino…

6. Elijah Wood
My Favorite Movie: The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy

5. Woody Harrelson
My Favorite Movie: Natural Born Killers & Zombieland

4. Ed Wood
My Favorite Movie: Well, Ed Wood…

3. Clint Eastwood
My Favorite Movie: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly or Escape From Alcatraz

2. Woody
My Favorite Movie: The Toy Story Trilogy

1. Edward Woodward
My Favorite Movie: The Wicker Man
(Edward Woodward tops the list on name alone. It’s so fun to say… Say it ten times fast!)

How much wood would an Edward Woodward chuck chuck if an Edward Woodward chuck could chuck Edward Woodward?

Non-Stop, The Spectacular Now & Used Cars Movie Reviews

Hope you all had a nice weekend! I have three more mini-reviews for you. This time we have a movie I was expecting to love but didnt, one I expected to like but hated, and one big ‘ol MEH movie. Let’s begin…

Non-Stop (2014)

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Jason Butler Harner, Anson Mount

My Opinion:

This is the big ‘ol pile of MEH. I always fall behind on reviewing movies I watch at home but tend to keep on top of the ones I actually go to see. Well, I went to this one in the cinema (theatER!) last year but couldn’t summon up enough enthusiasm to review it. Liam Neeson is doing his Taken role again. I don’t know how he ended up being so typecast but I’m not too bothered as he was never exactly a favorite of mine anyway. At least that annoying Maggie Grace isn’t in this.

The plot is… okay, I guess, but it’s not helped by some lame acting and some laughably predictable moments. I mean, this is the basic plot on Wikipedia: Neeson is a U.S. Air Marshal on a flight to London when he “receives text messages on his secure phone stating that someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred into a specific bank account.” That actually sounds quite exciting, doesnt it?! It does! That’s why I went to it even though I can live without most popcorn action movies. I remember I was in the mood for a braindead action movie when I went to this, though, so I had some fun with it despite it being pretty damn ridiculous.

I was reminded when getting that plot synopsis that Neeson plays an alcoholic Air Marshal. Because he’s TROUBLED & has ISSUES to overcome, people! This is why the passengers aren’t sure if they can trust him when he starts acting like a raving lunatic! lol. I kind of forgot just how silly this one was. I didn’t totally hate it or anything. If you want a simple action movie where you won’t have to think & you like Liam Neeson being all Liam Neeson-y, give this a watch in your comfy living room.

My Rating: 5.5/10

The Spectacular Now (2013)

Directed by James Ponsoldt

Based on The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler

My Opinion:

I was desperate to see this movie when I heard about it but then it never came out in the UK and, much to my annoyance, I wasn’t able to see it for ages. All I kept hearing was that it was this generation’s Say Anything. Naturally, being my age, I adore Say Anything so I was like “I must see this Spectacular Now movie!!!”.

Umm… I guess I can see the Say Anything comparisons. If Lloyd Dobler (the sweetest, most perfect boyfriend in the history of film) had instead been a selfish, alcoholic prick. Yeah… the only thing this movie has in common with Say Anything is a role-reversal of the one-sided love story (Diane Court clearly doesn’t love you, Lloyd. But every female my age does, at least!). 😉

I suppose my expectations were too high for this movie after the Say Anything comparisons. I’ve not read the (I’m assuming YA) book this is based on – maybe it does a better job with Miles Teller’s character? I guess calling him a “prick” wasn’t totally fair – his character is just aimless & he has issues that lead to him drinking too much but he’s not exactly outright horrible to Shailene Woodley’s character. Wait, no – he really is kind of a prick. He clearly likes her but she’s crazy about him and he’s too self-absorbed to care about any negative impact his actions may have on her. It felt like he was just using her so it was very hard to like him. I think I just expected to like & care about the characters a bit more. This may be partly down to Teller, who I just can’t make myself like (even after Whiplash).

Woodley was good – this is the type of role that suits her way more than the one in Divergent. But her character is such a pushover, which was a little disappointing. I liked seeing Brie Larson, who I really liked in 21 Jump Street & Short Term 12, in a small role plus Jennifer Jason Leigh (eXistenZ!). But, if this is the current generation’s definition of a love story, then young people need to lighten up & watch a proper romance film. The Spectacular Now was far too dramatic and, unlike Say Anything, had no fun moments despite the heartache. On its own, not being compared to other movies, it’s certainly not a bad film. Don’t let my disappointment keep you from watching it if you’re interested – I know I just hyped it up in my mind too much. Just remember that it’s very much a “drama” if you decide to watch it and that you may not like Teller’s character.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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Used Cars (1980)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Kurt Russell, Jack Warden, Gerrit Graham, Deborah Harmon

This was on Netflix so I gave it a watch since I like Kurt Russell, Robert Zemeckis, and, of course, the Eighties. I figured it couldn’t go wrong with those three things and maybe I’d get a few little laughs out of it. I hated it! I know that movies from my beloved decade haven’t all aged well and some can contain jokes that are seen as un-PC today. That sort of thing doesn’t usually bother me as I grew up with it but this movie just went a little too far with the cruel humor and outdated sexism.

First of all, (this isn’t really a spoiler as it’s obvious this is what’s going to happen) the only character who doesn’t come across as a selfish jerk (Jack Warden) dies and it turns a bit into Weekend At Bernie’s with some of the antics with this poor guy’s dead body (never mind the fact that he was essentially MURDERED for his crappy little car dealership. by his twin brother, no less!). I know death can occasionally be humorous in certain black comedies (Heathers rules) but this one didn’t sit right with me in a silly 80’s comedy. Kurt Russell & Gerrit Graham, who work for this guy and his dealership, do show a little sorrow but their main goal is to save their own jobs at whatever cost. It’s hard to care about them at first as they’re very hard to like but the movie redeems itself a tiny bit when the only female character who isn’t there just to be a pair of tits shows up (more about her later) but they’re cruel & do use her at first (luckily, they instead work with her by the end – the second half of this movie is much better than the first).

As for the women in Used Cars, they were treated no better than Warden’s dead body. I’m not a girl who’s going to demand that women be in every movie ever (two of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption & Stand By Me, don’t even have any women in them) but I expect female characters to be treated with the same respect as the male characters. Deborah Harmon is the only important female character and she’s fine but she’s also seen as quite helpless & needing Kurt Russell to come to the rescue since she can’t run a car dealership on her own (what do women know about cars?! actually, I admit that I know nothing about cars). I’m glad they work with her, though, (after cruelly lying to her about something important and of course sleeping with her) and as I said, the movie redeems itself a little in the second half. 

Hey – can I just go off topic & mention that I immediately recognized Deborah Harmon from the TV show Just The Ten Of Us? Am I the only one in the world who watched that short-lived Growing Pains spin-off?? I loved it! It had THREE Nightmare On Elm Street girls in it (THE Heather Langenkamp wanting to be a nun, the girl who turns into a bug, and “girl on bus” in Nightmare 2 – Yes, I discovered the “girl on bus” connection years later when the Internet came around). But back to this shitty Used Cars movie…

I know guys like boobs and there are loads of naked women in movies. I didn’t get that annoyed at the lead male characters in this sleeping around and using strippers to sell their cars. However, I found the very looooong scene where the male stars predictably expose a woman to a TV audience (without her approval) then actually zoom in on her breasts to be a step too far. And it went on for what felt like forever while she did nothing but scream like an idiot. Then, to top it all off, Graham’s character ends it by actually “honking” her boob. Seriously. He may have even made a honking sound effect (I’d check to verify but can’t be bothered). Umm. No. Unless you’re in a relationship with us, never ever “honk” our boobs. Plus Harmon’s character’s boobs get groped by a stranger for no apparent reason toward the end of the film. WTF? Gotta love the 1980s, I guess… I suppose I was more offended than I would have been watching something like Porky’s as you expect that sort of thing from that decade’s sex comedies and I didn’t realize beforehand that Used Cars would be like that.

Oops – this mini-review ended up being fairly long. I do go on a bit when I’m annoyed! Only watch this if you really love movies from the Eighties and you get excited by seeing people like Wendie Jo Sperber in a very small role. Yay! Wendie Jo Sperber! Luckily she went on to be in the much much much (much) better Zemeckis film Back To The Future. That movie is perfection – what the hell happened with Used Cars?! Ugh.

My Rating: 4.5/10 (it gets an extra half a point for Wendie Jo)

The Fault In Our Stars (2014) Review

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The Fault In Our Stars (2014)

Directed by Josh Boone

Based on The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Starring:
Shailene Woodley
Ansel Elgort
Nat Wolff
Laura Dern
Sam Trammell
Willem Dafoe

Running time: 125 minutes

Plot Synopsis:
Shailene Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen-years-old cancer patient who is forced by her parents to attend a support group, where she subsequently meets and falls in love with Augustus Waters, portrayed by Ansel Elgort.

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My Opinion:

I read this book last year (you can see my review HERE) and I liked it a lot. It was my first John Green book and I thought he did an excellent job bringing these characters to life and making us care about them (I’ve just finished my second John Green book, Paper Towns. Hmm… Not as much of a fan of that one. He’s a very talented writer, though – I’ll certainly read more from him).

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It’s annoying when they don’t do a good job adapting books into films but, at least as far as YA books go, they’ve been doing a damn good job with some of them lately. I think The Hunger Games films have been great so far (especially Catching Fire) and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is still one of my favorite films of the past few years and was an extremely faithful adaption (helps that the author made the film himself – I also reviewed the book HERE). Well, I’m very happy to say they did an amazing job with the adaptation of The Fault In Our Stars and I really have no complaints. Some things were left out as usual due to length, such as a bit about Augustus’ life prior to meeting Hazel, but I don’t think it was necessary for the film anyway.

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Shailene Woodley was good as Hazel (when I reviewed Divergent I wondered if maybe this movie would suit her better. I was right – The Fault In Our Stars feels more like the right kind of role for her). However, the true star here is Augustus Waters (played by Ansel Elgort). I’m an old lady reading YA fiction but can TOTALLY understand young readers falling completely in love with the character of Augustus. He’s charming, funny, cheeky, confident, handsome… the kind of boy teenage girls dream of, in other words. Luckily, I think Ansel Elgort captures this character and I’m sure he has loads of young female fans now. And there’s a great chemistry with Woodley so it’s very easy to get sucked into the story and believe that they’re a couple. I really can’t find fault with anyone cast in this film – they all played their roles well. The best friend of Augustus was made maybe a little too “funny” for the movie but that’s a very minor complaint – he was kind of the “comic relief” in the book as well.

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Summary:

If you loved the book, you’ll love the film. It’s an extremely faithful adaptation and, having enjoyed the book, I’m very happy with what they’ve done with the film. I don’t think anyone was miscast and I’d find it very surprising if you’re a YA-aged female who doesn’t fall in love with the character of Augustus Waters after watching this movie (and/or reading the book). However, although I love reading Young Adult fiction, “teenage melodrama” isn’t normally my genre of choice for the most part (The Perks Of Being A Wallflower being an exception). So the film probably deserves a slightly higher rating than what I’m going to give it but I rate based on a combination of personal opinion as well as “worthiness” (I feel I have to explain myself after you all picked on me for my Godzilla rating). 😉 It’s not a movie I’ll necessarily ever watch again but if I was a teenager right now I’d probably watch it over & over & over and declare it the best movie ever. It’s a very good YA film.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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**I’ve become a member of The Stone Cold Bitch Club as I shed no tears while watching The Fault In Our Stars (I do find some movies to be tearjerkers, though – you can see my list HERE).

Here are some reviews of The Fault In Our Stars from other WordPress bloggers:

Stone Cold Bitch Club:

Me!
Zoe
Cara
Abbi
Rob

Crybaby Club:

Melissa
Tom
Box Office Buzz
Natalie
Natasha
Anna

In Between Club:

Mike

Which club do YOU belong to? Let me know! If you’ve reviewed this, I’ll add a link to your review above under the correct category. 🙂

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Divergent (2014) Review

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Divergent (2014)

Directed by Neil Burger

Based on Divergent by Veronica Roth

Starring:
Shailene Woodley
Theo James
Ashley Judd
Jai Courtney
Ray Stevenson
Zoë Kravitz
Miles Teller
Tony Goldwyn
Maggie Q
Kate Winslet

Running time: 139 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)

The story takes place in a dystopian post-apocalyptic version of Chicago where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues. Beatrice Prior is warned that she is Divergent and thus will never fit into any one of the factions and soon learns that a sinister plot is brewing in her seemingly perfect society.

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My Opinion:

See that up there in the plot synopsis? “Dystopian post-apocalyptic“! I freaking love dystopian. And post-apocalyptic. And especially the two together – dystopian post-apocalyptic!!! And in my usual anal list-making ways, I already did a list of My Top Ten Post-Apocalyptic Movies HERE. I also love current YA fiction so Divergent is right up my alley, which is probably why I enjoyed it more than it may have deserved.

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First of all: I’ve not read the books. I used to read a lot more and I always try to read a book before seeing the movie if it’s the type of book that interests me. But I just don’t have the time to read anymore (I’ve been reading Doctor Sleep since December. I’m finally almost finished – should be done by June!). I LOVED The Hunger Games books (and the movies have been very good adaptations, especially Catching Fire, review HERE). But as good as they are, I never quite fully enjoy the movies as much when I’ve read the books since the books are better 90% of the time. So, with Divergent, I thought “screw it!”. It might be nice to just sit back & enjoy a movie series without having to overanalyze and constantly compare it to the books and to not know how it’ll all end. So I quite enjoyed this story even though it’s a not-as-good Hunger Games with a story that doesn’t come together as well and characters that aren’t as well-developed or acted. I know it’s YA fiction but it feels more “shallow” than The Hunger Games, which does make you think a bit. I don’t know if maybe it works a bit better in the books but the story was at least entertaining enough that I do want to see the rest of the movies to see where they go with it.

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I liked Shailene Woodley but don’t think she’s as strong of a lead actress as Jennifer Lawrence is in The Hunger Games (sorry – it’s VERY hard to not compare the two). The hubby especially didn’t seem to like her for some reason so… I don’t know. I think she may be one that female viewers like more than male viewers do whereas both sexes seem to love J-Law. I would think Divergent will have far fewer male fans than The Hunger Games does, which seems to appeal to everyone. Divergent FEELS more like young adult fiction aimed mostly at girls than The Hunger Games does. Well, I don’t care what the hubby says – I’ve liked Shailene Woodley so far in what I’ve seen her in & she at least seems like a “real world” teenage girl. I think she also has very lovely, expressive eyes & I’m looking forward to seeing how she does in The Fault In Our Stars (another YA book I loved. Review HERE). I think that type of thing may suit her more than something like this, which has a lot of action and far more violence than I was expecting. (It’s actually very violent, for any parents who may be reading this & wondering. The content is as violent as The Hunger Games and there’s a lot more hand to hand combat, almost making it feel even more violent than The Hunger Games).

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As for all the other characters, I found them a little weak & underdeveloped compared to Woodley’s. Ashley Judd as Woodley’s mother was one of the better characters but we don’t get to see as much of the two of them together as I’d have liked. Her brother & especially father may as well not even be IN the movie for as little as we learn about them. And, I’ll keep this as spoiler free as I can but… One character has a secret yet has a tattoo that gives away that important secret?! Whaaat? That seemed stupid. And Kate Winslet was fine but a total cookie cutter character. Zoë Kravitz wasn’t too bad and she’s pretty cute (it helps to have really attractive parents, I suppose). I just really felt no connection to anyone beyond Woodley – hopefully we get better character development in the sequels so I don’t have to read the books.

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Summary:

I enjoyed this movie but it definitely has its faults. The story is a bit of a mess and doesn’t come together all that well (I was a little confused at times). I’m hoping the sequels will be better and that the characters will be further developed. Basically, it’s just not as good as The Hunger Games and feels more “YA”. But I do like the overall concept and the amount of good YA fiction these days with strong female characters is a great thing to see.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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First Look: Shailene Woodley Is Sick, Lovesick in The Fault In Our Stars

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Link to full article here: SlashFilm

It’s going to be a big year for Shailene Woodley! I’m looking forward to The Fault In Our Stars (I’ve not read Divergent). I really enjoyed the book (my review is HERE). I do love all the great young adult fiction that’s around these days. Here’s hoping this movie can be even half as good as The Perks Of Being A Wallflower film (which I loved as much as and probably even more than the book). 🙂 Now if only they’d release The Spectacular Now in the UK so I could finally see it…