April 20, 2012

Coming soon: Bel Ami

Girls, get set to swoon for the next Robert Pattinson film adaption, that promises to have the young British heart throb getting his kit off and spending much of his screen time in the bedroom.

No, I’m not talking about the final installation of Breaking Dawn – hitting cinemas in May 2012 is Bel Ami, a adaptation of French author Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel, set in 19th Century Paris.

The English translation of Bel Ami – The History of a Scoundrel – hints at the nature of Pattinson’s character. As Georges Duroy, he will be portraying an ex-soldier who forges a career in journalism by seducing a series of high-society women.

Among his conquests are Uma Thurman, as Madeleine Forestier; Kristin Scott Thomas, as Madame Walter; and Christina Ricci, as Clotilde de Marelle.

The novel was turned into several films – including Bel Ami (1939) and The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1949) – and theatre productions.

The role seems to be a good choice for Pattinson. It will no doubt appeal to his fans, who are pining to see evidence of his sexual prowess, and at the same time allows him to shed the chastity belt of Twilight’s Edward Cullen.

I love a good period drama and, going by the trailer, this film appears to have a sufficient amount of steamy, bodice-busting escapism.

Look out for my review when the film is released in Australia on May 24.

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

April 14, 2012

Guest Review: Running with Scissors

I feel very privileged to be publishing this guest review by Lana Penrose – a very talented lady who has worked as record company promotions manager; music journalist; music television producer; personal assistant to an iconic pop sensation; and author. Lana’s best-selling non-fiction title To Hellas & Back was optioned for film development in September 2010. She is also the author of Kickstart My Heart and is working on two other manuscripts. Please join me in welcoming Lana to ‘Book or Big Screen?’

Don’t you just love those occasions where a memoir leaves you feeling good and drunk?  You find yourself releasing involuntary guffaws as you merrily wobble around each page, inadvertently startling your City Rail contemporaries out of their slumber.  That’s how it was for me when I devoured Augusten Buroughs’ Running With Scissors a few years ago. I digested each page faster than an amphetamine- gobbling conspiracy theorist swilling chardonnay chasers. I laughed myself stupid. And then came the movie.

Now it is with some trepidation that we humble readers venture into cinematic terrain.  After all, how many times have we been let down? How many times have we lamented, “The book was, like, a billion times better than the movie!”  We eye off directors and screenplay writers with trepidation and ambivalence as they chew their bottom lips. If they don’t do “our” books justice, they can expect an abrupt nipple tweak!

For me, the appeal of Running With Scissors – the book – was found in its innocence and gut-tickling hilarity. My dependency was forged around the effortless narrative delivery and the quirky storyline where comedy burst from the macabre, aimed at the armpits. Even the title grabbed me, summing up the author’s unconventional upbringing in three simple words.

Running With Scissors is the story of Augusten Burroughs. Born into a fractious world in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he contends with an alcoholic father and a mercurial mother – the melodramatic and misunderstood Diedre; an oppressed poet with illusions of grandeur. She relates to seven-year-old Augusten as though he’s a contemporary and their bond is strong. But as Burroughs enters his teens and his mother all but regresses, the word “crazy” arises. It soon becomes evident that this brand of crazy goes way beyond “eccentric", “wacky” and “zany”. Diedre is out-and-out nuts; in fact she’s of the “toothpaste sandwich” variety.

Insanity soon permeates almost every character as Augusten’s life opens up to prove that truth really is stranger than fiction. Joy can be found in psychiatrist Dr Finch, with whom Augusten finds himself firmly ensconced. The good doctor offhandedly references the “Masturbatorium” adjoining his office, hooks patients on sedatives and divines hidden messages from his ablutions. His daughter, Hope, telepathically converses with a dead cat, while his long-suffering wife, Agnes, grazes on dog kibble.

As Augusten’s young mind grapples with all this and more, his whip-fast wit is evident on every page. The complexities he contends with orbit around the mind, relationships, sexuality and family dysfunction as love’s undercurrent flows tranquilly beneath the choppy surface. You couldn’t ask for more when it comes to film fodder. But … what if they wrecked it?

With DVD in trembling hand, I pushed Running With Scissors into my player, pleased to see that the right cast was rallied. Joseph Cross plays Augusten Burroughs, bemused and lovable. Annette Bening seems to have a wonderful time playing the neurotic Diedre. Brian Cox is equally superb as fruity Finch. The film also features Alec Baldwin (Norman Burroughs), Gwyneth Paltrow (Hope Finch) and Joseph Fiennes (Neil Bookman).

But … was it a fair adaptation? I hear you gasp. Well, as a devotee there were hurdles to clear. A couple of characters were dropped. (Fair enough.) The body-shape of Natalie Finch was altered. (Why?) I found my disbelief unsuspended during a couple of Bening’s sedation scenes. (I forgive her.) And some of the more distasteful truths found in the book were only vaguely implied to ensure character connection and overall quirkiness. (I get it.) It therefore … worked! (Do you feel the relief?)

I pondered how writer and director Ryan Murphy had pulled it off and decided he probably loved the book as much as I did, his passion spilling gleefully into his work. He managed to capture the visual imagery I’d imagined myself. The human frailty was perfectly accompanied by visual cues peculiar to the seventies: sharp collars, helmet hairdos, gaudy oranges, candy pinks and olive greens, as ridiculous as they were delicious. And the story came even more to life courtesy of 10CC, Elton John, Al Stewart and Manfred Mann. So in a nutshell Murphy remains nipple-tweak free.  He added sound, colour and texture to an already riveting story, his stylisation playing asset to his screenplay, which, although not a direct facsimile, loses little and elicits laughs.

For those with a penchant for dry humour, in my humble opinion, both the book and film Running With Scissors make the grade, being of particular appeal to those “toothpaste sandwich” crazy.

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

April 10, 2012

Defying common sense, logic and nature: How ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ compares from book to film

What I love most about writing this blog is that it drives me to read books that I would ordinarily overlook.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen would have never piqued my interest. Without the release of its film adaption, fronted by the equally magnificent Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, I doubt that its oddly descriptive title would have induced me to pick up a paperback, let alone read its blurb.

If, by some curious circumstance, I did end up with a copy of Paul Torday’s unassuming little novel in my hand, I think the blurb would have turned me off. Even now – having read the book and loved it – the back cover description is deceptively dull:

“When he is asked to become involved in a project to create a salmon river in the highlands of the Yemen, fisheries scientist Dr Alfred Jones rejects the idea as absurd. But the proposal catches the eye of several senior British politicians. And so Fred finds himself forced to set aside his research and instead figure out how to fly ten thousand salmon to a desert country – and persuade them to swim there…”

A middle-aged male scientist. Fly fishing. British politics. The Middle East. Snore.

Even though I have a harbored a great admiration for Ewan McGregor since he twirled around a bedazzled Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge, and have enjoyed every one of Emily Blunt’s cinematic outings, the trailer for this film adaptation also failed to raise even a flutter of interest.

And yet, I am beginning to consider myself a committed blogger. I want this humble little site to someday develop into a resource for anyone who is interested in discussing film adaptations or debating deviations in plot – whether they hold particular personal interest for me or not.

So I did pick up the book, and I did read the blurb. I even handed over $24.95 at the counter and took it home to read. And boy I’m glad that I did.

The book is very cleverly done. From the very first page it sets off at a cracking pace. Constructed through a series of documents – emails, letters, inter-office memos, memoir extracts, interview transcripts, daily diaries and newspaper articles – each element of the story is clearly presented in a format that is ideal for its facts to gradually leak, and for the motivations of its characters to strategically unravel.

It is a refreshingly original read that turned out to be about so much more than salmon fishing… The salmon is only the vehicle, the catalyst for a much broader tale. Is it a love story? Is it a mystery? Is it a political satire? Once you realise that the characters’ desire to see “shining fish running in the storm waters of a desert land” is only the beginning, you will turn each page with an eager determination to find out what the point of the whole thing actually is.

When the scriptwriters reached the end of the novel, they must have been disappointed – or least thought that it wouldn’t translate well on the big screen – because the inherent message, the meaning, the crux of the story is so very different in the film adaptation.

It begins with Ewan McGregor’s Alfred Jones, who is endearingly funny and charming. Unlike the Harriet Chetwode-Talbot of the novel, Emily Blunt’s character is taken-in by his eccentricities and smiles. Even Alfred’s fiercely independent wife Mary is a little more human.

The British Prime Minister’s pompous director of communications, Peter Maxwell, has his scarlet silk lined suits substituted for “Patricia Maxwell’s” matronly aprons, power suits and heels. At first I lamented this obvious effort towards political correctness, but Kristin Scott Thomas endears the viewer very quickly. She is delightfully oblivious to her own absurdity, and makes some welcome waves in an otherwise smooth stream.

There are so many changes between the novel and the film, both in plot as well as in purpose, but to list them would be to give away too much of each. What I will say is that where the novel opted for conspiracy the film introduced beautiful Scottish scenery... Where the novel had severity, the film injected human feeling… Where the novel sought shock value, the film aimed to meet your every hope and expectation.

Of course Hollywood had to ramp up the love story, but I didn’t expect that it would be at the loss of ALL of the novel’s political implications. Nevertheless, the film is artful, touching and beautiful. As my brain ticked off each change by the scriptwriters, I unerringly agreed with the value of each – they added to the creation of a film that viewers can invest in completely. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable film that will leave the cinema with you.

I hope this blog encourages you to read and watch outside of your ordinary, just as it has done for me.

The verdict:
Book or Big Screen? Book
The film is: 4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities

April 3, 2012

Guest Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I am very pleased to be publishing this review from Sue Ann Muller. Sue Ann is an avid reader and moviegoer from Bondi, Australia, who is currently studying with the aim of changing careers and becoming a journalist. Thanks for your contribution Sue!

Don’t wait until you are in your retirement years to see this film. It is funny, witty, and poignant and just happens to be about British retirees down on their luck looking to India to cheaply outsource their golden years.

The retirees travel to the ancient city of Jaipur, India to the charming though dilapidated Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – where the phones don’t work, taps drip all night, and spicy curries are served under the guise of roast goat dinners.

The film is a pared down version of the book These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, and gives less attention to the lives of the residents prior to their coming to India. Jaipur has replaced the high tech city of Bangalore and troublesome family members are not dealt with at all.

The cast is the best of British acting royalty. Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith play bewildered older women whose lives have left them short of money and options. They rise to the challenge of living in India, “Like Darwin’s finches, we are slowly starting to adapt.” Tom Wilkinson is a retired High Court Judge with a secret past and childhood origins in India.

Bill Nighy steps out of his usual role as the boozy, sleazy older man and instead plays a longsuffering, loyal husband in a marriage that has outrun itself, with a wife who despises India and refuses to accept its quixotic mix of beauty and poverty.

Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) plays the optimistic charmer managing the Marigold – brow beaten by his mother and torn between making a traditional marriage and a love-match.  Sonny has endearingly upbeat solutions to all the problems the Marigold throws at him. “Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, then it is not yet the end.”

Academy Award nominee Thomas Newman is responsible for a gorgeous soundtrack which is a mix of East meets West using traditional Indian instruments. It evokes the beauty, chaos and timelessness of India. The films cinematography colourfully illustrates the vividness of street life in India – noisy, smelly, exotic and teeming with humanity.

Ultimately the film is fun and uplifting. The hotel guests go to the Marigold to retire cheaply while creating a minimum of fuss but discover that life can never be boring in India and that if you are open to it life will continue to surprise and delight.

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

April 1, 2012

The Hollywood Effect

Each year, Dymocks Bookstores in Australia asks its customers to vote for their favourite books of all time. The top 101 is then compiled into a list, and prominently placed in each store across the country.

The “Dymocks Booklovers’ Best” contains everything from the classics – To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22 and Nineteen Eighty-Four – to new releases.

Browsing through the titles, I can’t help but notice how books with recent film adaptations dominate the list… The bookstore shelves are brimming with paperbacks with movie tie-ins glowing from the paperback covers.

Films obviously have a profound impact on what people are reading… A popular book might make a movie option possible, but it is the film that really sends the book flying off the shelves.

Taking out the top spot on the 2012 list – which was released in April – is, you guessed it, The Hunger Games Trilogy.

Suzanne Collins’ books were also popular in 2011 (position 5 of the list), but its status as the latest Hollywood craze has allowed it to skip past the prior top 4: The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, The Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, and Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen.

In 2012, P&P and Harry Potter have held steady at positions 2 and 3, but the hype of The Millennium Trilogy has died off somewhat – Larsson now rests at 26. It will be interesting to see how The Book Thief fares, once its film adaptation makes it to the big screen.

Other notables include The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (one of my all time favourites) in 9th place, and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R Tolkien in 10th.

The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer was always going to be on the list somewhere – in 2011 it sat in 15th position, and in 2012 it has climbed a few rungs of the ladder to 12.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is also a list regular – in 2011 it took out the 25th position, but the immensely popular Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska-fronted film of 2011 has allowed it step up this year to number 7.

When the film adaptation of The Help by Kathryn Stockett was released in 2011, the book was added to the Top 101 for the first time. It debuted at 83 and has now climbed to 8th position.

Also new to the list in 2011 – thanks in large part to the popularity of their film adaptations – were Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (30), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (55), and The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (72).

The Notebook has disappeared from the list in 2012 (which is not surprising, since the film is much better than the book!), Water for Elephants is lagging a little at 84, and Extremely Loud (which has only recently reached Australian cinemas) is doing well at 42.

In 2012, there are also some notable first-timers: Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres at 24 (due to the charming Australian film of last year), Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy at 34 (perhaps in anticipation of Keira Knightley’s coming adaptation), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre at 53 (despite the film’s mixed reception), One Day by David Nicholls at 71 (another favourite of mine), The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd at 73 (rather late, considering the film was released in 2008), and The Woman in Black by Susan Hill at 82.

Other books-with-adaptations that feature on the Top 101 include Cloudstreet  by Tim Winton (14), The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (19), Atonement by Ian McEwan (20), The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (33), We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (37), The Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris (40), The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (44), Marley and Me by John Grogan (52), Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin (83), The Road by Cormac McCarthy (88), My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult (92) and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (97). Phew!

Next year is anyone’s guess… but I think it’s fair to say that Hollywood will have some influence.