Books to Screen 2020 and Beyond

As things go these days, uncertainties abound as to when movies will come out and in what way, big or small screen. So, for those who like to read before you leap, summer’s the best time to catch up with some of these books before their adaptations are released.


Hillbilly ElegyHillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

The runaway bestseller of 2016 is now an upcoming movie on Netflix, directed by Ron Howard. Born and raised a ‘hillbilly’ in Ohio, Vance’s memoir narrates his struggles to arrive at Yale Law School, a personal victory over poverty and a dysfunctional family and culture. He shares insights as an insider of an impoverished social sector. Screenplay by Oscar-nominated Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water, 2017). Early Oscar buzz for next year’s Academy Awards and Amy Adams a possible nom.

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Deep WaterDeep Water by Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith is no stranger to fans of suspense and psychological thrillers with Carol (2015), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), and the Hitchcock classic Strangers on a Train (1951). Deep Water (first pub. 1957) is another marital suspense thriller, directed by Adrian Lyne, who’d given us Fatal Attraction (1987), Unfaithful (2002) and the like. So, we know it’s in good hands. Gone Girl‘s Ben Affleck should be quite familiar with playing such genre, add in Ana de Armas, who’s superb in Knives Out, this one should be a thrilling escape.

The Last DuelThe Last Duel by Eric Jager

The historical novel is The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France, sounds like a sensational movie subject. Author is Eric Jager, medieval literature prof at UCLA. Director is the iconic Ridley Scott, who has brought us numerous big screen epics, Blade Runner (1982), Gladiator (2000), Alien (1979, 2017), just to name a few. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon co-write and co-star, with Jodie Comer of Killing Eve fame also in.


9 Perfect StrangersNine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Another TV series (Hulu) from popular Australian author Liane Moriarty whose Big Little Lies has been turned into two successful, star-studded Seasons on HBO. Nine strangers meet at a wellness resort dealing with their own issues and discovering secrets behind the place. Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy co-star. Moriarty has written 8 novels, so far, 5 of which are in various stages of development for the screen.


NomadlandNomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder

Nowadays you hear a lot about migrant workers. Back in the time after the Great Recession, there were workers living like nomads in their trailers and vans, travelling across the western states to look for work. Bruder’s book is about one such ‘workampers’, a woman in her sixties who becomes a nomad worker after losing her home. Frances McDormand stars. Written for the screen and directed by Chloé Zhao, who gave us the soulful The Rider (2017).


ShirleyShirley by Susan Scarf Merrell

Based on the second novel by Merrell published in 2014. Shirley here refers to the American horror/suspense writer Shirley Jackson, played by Elisabeth Moss. The story’s about a graduate student Fred and his wife Rose (Odessa Young) move in to live with professor Stanley Edgar Hyman, a literary critic teaching at Bennington College and his wife Shirley Jackson. Drama ensues when the characters interplay in their peculiar relational dynamics. Directed by Josephine Decker.

Normal PeopleNormal People by Sally Rooney

Irish millennial lit turned TV. And you thought the upstairs-downstairs kind of stories happen only in Downton Abbey. Rooney’s acclaimed book is about the clandestine romance between rich gal Marianne and Connell whose mother cleans Marianne’s house. The 12 episode TV series adaptation is affective and well performed by Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal under the helms of Lenny Abrahamson (Room, 2015) and Hetti Macdonald (Howards End, 2017) On Hulu, BBC3, and CBC Gem now.

Mothering SundayMothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Just announced. Booker Prize winning author Graham Swift’s novel will be adapted into film with a stellar British cast. Mothering Sunday was a day given to domestic servants time off so they could go back home to visit their mother and family. Again, a clandestine romance between two young people of different classes. Eva Husson (Hanna, 2020) directs onscreen royalty Olivia Coleman (QEII in The Crown), Colin Firth (KGVI in The King’s Speech), Josh O’Connor (Prince Charles in The Crown), and Odessa Young. 

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Greta Gerwig Creates A Third Way to Adaptation with ‘Little Women’

In recent decades, there seems to have emerged two paths to approach movie adaptations of literary works, especially for a classic: faithful to the source, or awash it with contemporary strokes.

Here’s the rub: total loyalty would trigger criticisms of movies being a kind of illustrated book, simply redundant. But gloss it over with postmodern touches could strip an adaptation of the meaning and authenticity of the original text. Debates arise as to which is a better path.

A few days ago, in a Writers Panel with five screenwriters at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Greta Gerwig presented a third way. She didn’t call it that, but that’s how I see it, a happy medium (pun intended). Her approach to Little Women is both loyal to the spirit and letter of Louisa May Alcott’s as well as creating a contemporary, artful production for modern viewers to enjoy.

 

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I’ve to quote her exact words as they are inspiring. Here’s the link to the video. The following quotes can be found from 27 to 36 mins. How does Gerwig handle the loyalty aspect? The writer-director did extensive research in preparation for her screenplay:

I wanted to treat the text of Little Women as almost a sacred text, also other texts that Louisa May Alcott and her family and other contemporaries had generated between letters, and other books that she’d written. I wanted to ground as much as I could in that. I wanted everything to be footnoteable (she well had coined a new word) and I wanted every line you ask me about and I can say it’s here, that I have my references.

How does her version relate with previous adaptations?

But the fact that it’s been adapted for screen seven times, it’s been made into an opera, and made into a musical and made into two anime shows, this is a loved and interpreted work. The way that something that’s been loved and interpreted many times you get this collective memory of what it is.

There’s the text, which is the book, and then there’s urtext, which is every time it’s loved and interpreted again. Urtext does have a relationship with the text, but it’s also separate… I wanted to deliver on the pleasures of Little Women as we’ve collectively come to know them.

And how does the collective interplay with the personal?

Gerwig instilled her own style and framed it in her own light. Quite a few things I’ve observed, the most obvious difference from previous versions is the structure, her juxtaposing the past and present timelines. The story is told as Jo’s memories seamlessly woven with her present as a struggling writer alone in NYC, a fresh take that adds depth and texture.

Gerwig paints the past with a golden hue signifying the warmth of cherished family memories and the present with a cool, blueish tone sending out harsher, lonelier vibes. She has also given an elevated role for Amy to interact with Jo, two seemingly rival siblings but could well be two sides of the same coin. Amy the pragmatic realist who grows up to understand too well her lack of economic status as a woman and who is ready to take financial security over real love ultimately gets both. Jo the dreamer and idealist, who’d vowed she’d never marry, has also carved out a path of her own.

So what does the ending mean?

I don’t want to say: O here’s what the ending means… I wanted to create something that’s open to interpretation along two lines. I think the movie belongs to the audience, so it’s down to the reflection you see…

With the layered ending, Gerwig effectively depicts the struggles of not only the book character Jo as an aspiring author in Little Women, but parallels it with Louisa May Alcott the woman writer in a man’s publishing world, and extending by implication to Gerwig’s own reality as a woman writer-director striving in a male-dominated film industry. The triple-layered final act opens the door to a golden future as we see a progressive school for boys and girls, and a published author giving birth to her work and keeping her own copyright. As for that third, invisible layer, I do wish Gerwig continual success in her writing and filmmaking career despite the obstacles she faces in the real world.

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Little Women Movie Review

Top Ripples of 2019 and the Decade

Can a Movie Adaptation ever be as Good as the Book?

 

 

 

 

Book to Movie Adaptations 2020

A list of upcoming book to screen titles for the new year, eclectic choices for different tastes, varied classics and contemporary notables. Looks like classic literary works of all sorts are enjoying a comeback on the big and small screens.

Classic Suspense:

Classic Mystery.jpgDeath on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Kenneth Branagh returns after his first Hercule Poirot take in Murder on the Orient Express (2017) which he directs. Once again, the prolific screenwriter/adaptor Michael Green pitches in. Interesting cast with Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Annette Bening.
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RebeccaRebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Lily James is ubiquitous ever since she comes out of Downton as Lady Rose. Now she’s the young and naive Mrs. De Winter in a psychological warfare with her nemesis, housekeeper Mrs. Danver played by Kristen Scott Thomas. Can the master of Manderley save her? But of course, he must save himself first. That’s Armie Hammer, equally ubiquitous.
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Classic Adventure:

The Call of the Wild.jpgThe Call of the Wild by Jack London

Harrison Ford heeds the call with action star Karen Gillan, Dan Stevens, and the Calgary-born, The Expanse star Cara Gee. Partially filmed in Yukon and some in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. Never heard of the Yukon Territories? This should be a good intro. I’m all for old classics, be they books or actors.
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DOCTOR D (1).jpegVoyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

Movie title Dolittle, an adventure spectacle with Robert Downey Jr. as the eponymous Doctor. See if you can identify the voices of these animals: Rami Malek, Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, Marion Cotillard, Octavia Spencer… just to name a few of the stars in this production. Coming out January 17.

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Classic Sci-Fi’s:

The Invisible ManThe Invisible Man by H. G. Wells

Classic sci-fi gets a resurrected boost. Wells’ novella and cautionary tale was first published in 1897. Now 123 years later in the 21st century, it’s adapted into a movie for the big screen. The Handmaid’s Tale Elizabeth Moss stars.
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Brave New WorldBrave New World by Aldous Huxley

Huxley’s dystopian, imagined future written in 1931 is adapted into a TV series almost 90 years later. Again, a mark of what makes a book a classic, especially a sci-fi work. Downton early-exit Lady Sybil Jessica Brown Findlay’s in.
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DuneDune by Frank Herbert

Another sci-fi classic, but closer to our time. A project by the acclaimed French Canadian director Dennis Villeneuve who has done some remarkable works like the Oscar nominated Arrival (2016), Blade Runner 2049 (2017) and Sicario (2015). Adapted into screen by Oscar winning writer Eric Roth (Forest Gump, 1994; A Star is Born, 2018). Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, and Oscar Isaac star.

Classic YA’s: 

Artemis_Fowl_first_edition_coverArtemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

The first of Colfer’s popular series is a Disney production with Kenneth Branagh directing. A trending genre, the YA fantasy series has great potentials to be successful. A strong cast including Hong Chau, Judi Dench, Josh Gad.

 

The Secret Garden.jpgThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Like Little Women, this classic young reader novel has had several screen adaptations. I have no qualms about this; it only helps to spark renewed interest in the book. This new adaptation will have Colin Firth who was in the 1993 version to play Lord Archibald Craven and Julie Walters as Mrs. Medlock.
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Contemporary Notables:

I Know this much is True.jpgI Know this much is True by Wally Lamb

Lamb’s novel about a twin brother’s advocacy and care for his paranoid schizophrenic sibling is adapted into a 6 episode TV miniseries. Mark Ruffalo will play both brothers, Dominick and Thomas Birdsey. Director Derek Cianfrance has a few fine works, the Cannes nominee Blue Valentine (2010), The Place Beyond the Pines (2012), and The Light Between Oceans (2016).

Little Fires.jpgLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Goodreads Choice of the Year Best Fiction (2017) and Novel of the Year on other sites, Chinese American writer Celeste Ng’s novel on class/race differences and aspirational conflicts in the idyllic community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, is adapted into a TV miniseries. Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington star.

Nine Perfect StrangersNine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Moriarty’s website states her books had sold over 14 million copies worldwide. On the heels of her successful Big Little Lies turned into the small screen, Nine Perfect Strangers has already secured Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy on board for the miniseries on Hulu. Her other books will follow.
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the woman in the window.jpgThe Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

A shaky narrator seeing a crime happening or being caught in one, Gone Girl was the first to kick off the trend. The Woman in the Window alludes to the Hitchcock classic Rear Window. Directed by Joe Wright (Darkest Hour, 2017; Anna Karenina, 2012), screenplay by Pulitzer winner Tracy Letts (August: Osage County, 2013), and an A-list cast with Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore.

 

 

 

 

‘Little Women’ is not just about heart, but mind, aesthetics, and other enjoyment

Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women is a joyous celebration of family and life. It’s an innovative feature, and a worthy rendition keeping Louisa May Alcott’s story intact and her spirit alive. The storytelling is shifted from linear to juxtaposing the timelines of seven years apart, from the March sisters’ teenage years to adulthood. A break from traditional adaptations of the novel, and a structure modern movie goers are familiar with.

LITTLE WOMEN (1)

So, instead of waiting for two hours to see what have become of the girls, viewers get to see how they’ve turned out from the start and throughout the film as the timelines switches back and forth. One effect is the intermingling of memory and present reality, adding texture to just linear storytelling. The editing is smooth as music and sound often overlap the changes of scenes like a visual dissolve.

The Oscar nominated director (Lady Bird, 2017) has surpassed herself in crafting an exquisite piece of artful creation. Unlike most other movies nowadays, Little Women is shot using 35mm film rather than digital technology. Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux offers viewers the inherent aesthetics of the medium, a grainy, more subtle visuals that augment picturesque New England in the exterior shots, and the depth and mood in the low-light interior. The picnic scene at the beach is pure delight. Mixed with Alexandre Desplat’s original music, the film is a beauty to behold.

Alcott’s 19th century American classic (1868-9) has been transposed to the big and small screen many times. No matter what your previously held memory is, Katherine Hepburn as Jo back in the 1933 first adaptation, or Elizabeth Taylor as Amy in 1949, or the 1994 adaptation with Susan Sarandon as Mrs. March and Wynona Ryder as Jo and a few up-and-coming youngsters such as Kristen Dunst, Claire Danes, and Christian Bale (as Laurie), Gerwig’s 2019 rendition is worthy to be the definitive version from now on as we head into the third decade of the 21st century.

The story is told from the point of view of Jo (Saoirse Ronan), an aspiring writer in New York at present. She reflects upon her path so far and reminisces on her family life, the cacophony of sisterhood in a busy household in Concord, MA, during the Civil War. A single woman author pitching to publishers, Jo’s struggles parallel Alcott’s, a woman writer in a man’s world. As well, it would be apt to refer to Gerwig’s own challenges as a female writer/director in the present day movie industry.

The film is an alchemy of authentic, period backdrop and set design, stylish yet down-to-earth costumes, fused with a fresh and contemporary synergy. Credits go to the four young actors bringing to life the March sisters Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Amy (Florence Pugh) as they live through hard times while their father has gone with the Union Army as a volunteer chaplain. Their neighbour and friend Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) remains a perpetual presence in their lives. Their altruistic mother, Marmee (Laura Dern), holds the family together and extends her care to those in need outside their home. She is the example of love and heart for her daughters to emulate. Her screen presence is comparatively small though as Gerwig lets her girls shine, especially Jo and Amy.

A touch of surprise for me is that Gerwig has kept the historic period and setting authentic without adding any postmodern quirks to shock or provoke. Her script allows Alcott’s points to flow out through the dialogues and characters within context. This is not fiery feminism, but an intelligent depiction of the status of women in the historic period. It’s an updated version doing justice to Alcott’s astuteness in her social critique which is, alas, still relevant today.

Kudos to Gerwig in bringing out the youngest sister Amy, not so much as a foil to Jo, but a worthy rival. Amy proves that even though bratty and capricious as a child, she has grown up to grasp a clarity in seeing the worth of a woman in her society, which is, not much. The realistic and rich Aunt March (Meryl Streep) has a firm view of this: it’s a lost cause with Jo who says she will not marry, or Meg who falls for a poor teacher and has to curb her material desires, and Beth’s ill health, she has put her hope on Amy to marry rich to dig the family out of poverty. Amy who has lived with her Aunt for a while when Beth is sick with scarlet fever understands her own situation with a cool head as she articulates it to Laurie. Knowing that she doesn’t have what it takes to be a truly great artist––she whose stance is to be great or nothing––Amy sees her predicament clearly. It all comes down to economics:

And as a woman, there’s no way for me to make my own money. Not enough to earn a living or to support my family, and if I had my own money, which I don’t, that money would belong to my husband the moment we got married. And if we had children, they would be his, not mine. They would be his property, so don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition, because it is. It may not be for you, but it most certainly is for me.

Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own comes to mind as she argues that economic disparity between men and women systemically disadvantages talented women to become successful.

In her research, Gerwig delves into Alcott’s other books as well as letters, thereby knowing her from a deeper perspective and not just from the novel Little Women. This understanding and appreciation is translated into the screenplay, capturing Alcott’s sharpness of mind and the sensitivity of her soul. Here’s a poignant scene as Jo pours out her heart to Marmee after rejecting Laurie’s marriage proposal. Has she made the right decision? In an interview, Gerwig says the words are all Alcott’s, from her book Rose in Bloom, except the last sentence added by Gerwig herself, equally brilliant, piercingly clear, and very Dickinson:

Women have minds, as well as just heart; ambition and talent, as well as just beauty. And I’m so sick of people saying love is all a woman is fit for. But I’m so lonely.

The March family has had their share of misfortune. But life can be beautiful for those who behold it as such and deem it meaningful to pursue one’s own dream or simply to enjoy one’s passion, no matter how short the allotment of time. Despite challenging personal and social reality, it’s a bliss to be alive, and yes, even better when one succeeds. Gerwig has effectively brought out this theme with both sensitivity and heart. The ending scene speaks to this truth. 

 

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

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Related Posts:

In Praise of Austen: Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own

Can a movie adaptation ever be as good as the book?

‘An Elephant Sitting Still’ is a last outcry of a young talent

ElephantSittingStill

I watched An Elephant Sitting Still while covering the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival in April. It remains one of the most unforgettable films in my recent memory, the directorial debut of Hu Bo, a Chinese writer-turned-filmmaker. Hu’s incisive narratives of the human condition won Best First Feature and the FIPRESCI Prize at Berlin International Film Festival in 2018. Sadly, this is the young director’s first and last film, for his career trajectory ended abruptly in October, 2017. Hu took his own life during post-production. He was 29. The feature has since played in numerous international film festivals garnering accolades which Hu himself would never have known.

Hu Bo graduated from Beijing Film Academy majoring in directing. Later went to Taiwan to further his training and came under the mentorship of the venerable auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien (The Assassin, 2015) and subsequently the Hungarian art film director Béla Tarr (The Turin Horse, 2011). Other than making short films and writing screenplays, Hu had authored short stories and an award-winning novella. His debut feature An Elephant Sitting Still was adapted from his short story of the same name.

Hu BoAt the 55th Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan last November, An Elephant Sitting Still won Best Feature Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Audience Choice Award. The Best Film prize was presented to Hu’s mother by the Taiwanese American director Ang Lee (Life of Pi, 2012; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000) who reached out to her with a poignant embrace.

 

An Elephant Sitting Still is a 230-minute cinematic allegory wrapped in haunting realism. In an unnamed town in Northern China, four characters struggle with their own personal predicament too messy to untangle, all in a day’s time. The four narratives intersect in Hu’s incisive screenplay.

A high school student, Wei Bu (Peng Yuchang), while defending a friend, accidentally pushes a school bully down the stairs leading to his death. Even more tragic, Wei later finds out he has been deceived by the very friend he tries to protect. Wei has to run away as the bully’s older brother Yu Cheng (Yu Zhang), a local gangster, is out looking for him. Yu himself is a man riddled with guilt as he has just witnessed his best friend dash out of the window to his death upon finding out Yu has been sleeping with his wife.

Meanwhile, Wei tries to persuade his unrequited crush, schoolmate Huang Ling (Wang Yuwen) to leave with him. Huang herself has to deal with her alcoholic single mother and is further troubled by the reverberation of her scandalous relationship with her school’s vice dean. The fourth character is a grandfather, Wang Jin (Li Congxi), who is pushed out of his son’s home as the young family needs to move to a smaller apartment in another place so to register their daughter for a better school. A dismal future awaits him away from his granddaughter.

Hu parallels the dilapidated urban environs with the inner world of his characters. Long takes and tracking shots place viewers right in the midst of relational conflicts. A Steadicam follows their uncertain footsteps; blueish-grey overtone transmits the bleakness of their situation. Hu takes time to let the camera linger on his characters’ faces, capturing their troubled psyche. Their seemingly emotionless appearance is reminiscence of Bresson’s ‘non-actors’. Often, their reticence conveys depths that words deem unnecessary.

There’s still another character which is mentioned but remains invisible, and that’s the Elephant. We’re told at the start of the film that it sits very still in a circus in the city of Manzhouli, a distance away. It’s indifferent to people’s taunting and objects thrown at it. The Elephant’s quiet composure exudes a mythical element these characters seem to yearn for. Here, realism is mixed with a touch of magic. As the four-hour film draws to an end, the sequence transcends rationale. Two young people, Wei and Ling, together with the grandfather Wang and his granddaughter depart on a journey to Manzhouli in search for the Elephant.

The ending shot is mesmerizing as the bus to Manzhouli stops temporarily in the night, the passengers get down for a stretch. From a distance, we see our protagonists stand in front of the beam from the bus and start playing hacky sack. The long stay of the camera on them is surreal but needed. The quest for the mythical being is motivational zeal for life, even just for a momentary pleasure. Then we hear off screen the sound of an elephant braying.

The Book Big Crack

Big Crack.jpgIn April I took a trip to Hong Kong and there in a bookstore I found the source material for the film, Big Crack*, written by Hu under his pen name Hu Qian. The book is a compilation of short stories, one of them being ‘An Elephant Sitting Still’, as well as Hu’s award-winning novella Big Crack’. I was eager to explore Hu’s worldview and compare his writing with his cinematic work.

‘An Elephant Sitting Still’ is a 15-page short story. Its protagonist is Yu in the movie, having slept with his best friend’s wife and struggling with guilt as he’s the reason for his friend’s suicide. Yu is drawn to search for the Elephant in Manzhouli, maybe for a redemptive reason. Towards the end, he finds the mythical beast, jumps into its cage and submits himself to let it deal a deadly blow to him, a fate he’s all too willing to accept, a soul that has been hinged on a meaningless existence. The other film materials are mostly philosophical concepts from the novella ‘Big Crack’

Hu’s writing is more direct and visceral than his cinematic creation. In the novella ‘Big Crack’, his characters are students in a bottom-tiered art college somewhere near a remote northern town. The term ‘waste land’ is used to refer to the campus and its adjacent town. The term is also used in the movie. In the book, the words ‘waste land’ are ubiquitous, together with Existential, nihilistic concepts like having no exit and nauseating stenches – as in the beginning of the film with Wei’s father’s furious complaint. In the novella, rampant violence is frequent among different dormitories of the school, often exploding in bloodshed. Violence is more restrained in the film, but often leading to tragic end.

I presume Hu’s use of the phrase ‘waste land’ is an allusion to T. S. Eliot’s epic poem. Eliot wrote ‘The Waste Land’ after WWI as the poet lamented the cultural and spiritual breakdown of Europe. Physical ruins could be rebuilt, but the collapse of moral and spiritual values was hard to replaced.

In what I think is a defying act in a country that monitors and censors Christianity in the public arena, Hu quoted the following verses from the Bible, words printed in bold:

“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time…. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.”

The Invisible Elephant

Hu is piercing in his observation of the moral void and dry, cracked condition of the human soul; the meaninglessness of life as he saw it could have become too overwhelming for him. But what about the Elephant? Is there a sliver of light coming through that crack?

Some had interpreted the Elephant as a symbol of the government, but considering the way that the beast appeals and draws the protagonists to seek for it, almost like a pilgrimage, that parallel just isn’t probable. Some critics had attributed it to the endurance needed to forsake the world and confront troubles with passive resistance.

When I first came across the mention of the Elephant sitting still, the Beatles song “The Fool on the Hill” came to mind. The lyrics point to a similar quietude and peaceful being, some see the lyrics as a reference to God, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth…” I incline to interpret as this, for evidence is overwhelming in Hu’s writing that he was troubled by the depravity of the world as he saw it and wanted to seek for what or who could have been the redemptive way.

As the closing credits roll to the end, we hear the mood has changed from the past three plus hours. We hear jubilant singing voices mixed with the theme music ‘Elephant’, sound of joy for the first time. And in the credits the following acknowledgement appears, ending the whole film:

“Original Acappella, Laomudeng Church Sunday Service Hymn”**

Before his death, a second feature was on the drawing board. Hu named it The Gate of Heaven. The spiritual yearning of this young talent is achingly apparent.

 

 

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

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*It’s my understanding that the book comes in only its original Chinese edition. There has yet been an English translation.

** Upon online research, I found that the Laomudeng Christian Church is serenely situated on the top of a mountain in Yunan, famous for its secluded and peaceful environs. The high-pitched A Cappella singing of its congregants is well-known.

Photo Sources:

Film still from Ripple file originally from MSPIFF
Hu Bo photo from Festival Scope Pro
Big Crack book photo from Amazon.com

 

Books into Movies: 2019 and Beyond

Feeling the post-Oscar blues? How about turning to books, before they in turn are morphed into a movie? The following are some upcoming books being adapted into movies in various stages of development. Some are coming out soon, some just announced.

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

The movie adaptation starring Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgärd and Jason Clarke is coming out March 19, directed by Testament of Youth (2014) helmer James Kent. In recent years, WWII historical fiction has enjoyed a sensational growth in popularity, The Aftermath is another one of this highly sought after genre. The transfer to movies, while not always as effective, lacks no enthused followers. The Aftermath is set in 1946 Hamburg, a British family and a German widower and his daughter had to live under the same roof during a de-Nazification operation.

Cats: The Musical 

Based on T. S. Eliot’s collection of poems Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats is hailed as one of the biggest hits in theatrical history on their website. Director Tom Hooper has another musical-turned-movie under his belt: Les Misérables (2012) which won 3 Oscars. Attractive cast in Cats the movie: Rebel Wilson, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, James Corden, Taylor Swift.

Death on the Nile & Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie

Kenneth Branagh will direct Wonder Woman Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer in Death on the Nile. Branagh will reprise his role of Hercule Poirot, after starring in and directing Murder on the Orient Express in 2017. Now over forty years after her death, Christie’s influence has not waned. A movie adaptation of Witness for the Prosecution has also been announced with Ben Affleck directing.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

John Crowley is no stranger to literary adaptations; his previous feature, Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn, was nominated for 3 Oscars. This time, Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Goldfinch reads like it’s written readily for the camera, considering the eclectic characters and the explosive storylines. Sarah Paulson and Nicole Kidman star. Screenplay adapted by Peter Straughan, who was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for co-writing the 2012 script for John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2012).

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Larson’s 2011 non-fiction is a captivating look into the power and social structure of Berlin during the emergent years of Hitler’s rule. Focus is on the the true story of William Dodd, a mild-mannered Chicago professor who becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany. And this is relatively hot-off-the-press: English film director Joe Wright will helm the production (See also the last entry of this post). Tom Hanks was originally linked with the role of Dodd (and a good choice I think); whether he will carry it through or just remain as producer is to be seen. This is one movie I’ll definitely watch out for. Before then, the book is a great read to prep for it.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Geared for a Christmas release, this new version of Alcott’s classic is written and directed by Greta Gerwig. Gerwig is acclaimed for her take on the contemporary young woman, her psyche and struggles in films like Frances Ha (2012) and Lady Bird (2017). How will she approach Alcott’s novel of a bygone era? And if you still have Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Kursten Dunst and Christian Bale from the 1994 cast stamped in your mind, now try to imagine Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Emma Watson, Meryl Streep and Laura Dern taking their places. Actually, not a bad replacement.

The Personal History of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

First off, I must say this is one of my all time favourite novels, but I’m no purist. While I welcome new representations and interpretation, I still hope the upcoming movie will be Dickens-approved. A most interesting (postmodern) cast: we have Dev Patel as Davie, Tilda Swinton as Betsey Trotwood, Hugh Laurie as Mr. Dick, Ben Whishaw as the ultimate villain Uriah Heep, Benedict Wong as Mr. Wickfield. Directed by Armando Iannucci (The Death of Stalin, 2017).

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier 

In this remake of Rebecca, Armie Hammer will play Maxim de Winter. And who will be Mrs.? None other than Lily James, ubiquitous after Downton Abbey (Lady Rose). Do you think she will make one successful Mrs. de Winter? What I’m most interested in, however, is the production design, headed by 6-time Oscar nominee Sarah Greenwood, whose filmography includes Darkest Hour (2017), Anna Karenina (2012), and Atonement (2007) among many other titles. I think Manderley is in good hands. But will the whole production beat the classic Alfred Hitchcock noir with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine? And who can be more chilling than Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers?

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

Another wildly popular genre in recent years along the line of Gone Girl and Woman on the Train etc. is the modern day thriller-cum-unreliable-narrator (and alas, they’re mostly women!) mystery novels. Finn’s (Now what’s with the writer whose real name is Daniel Mallory using a pseudonym close to Flynn, the Gone Girl author?) NYT bestseller is turned into a movie with a top-notch cast. (Aside: do writers nowadays write in preparation for a movie?) Directed by the much sought-after Joe Wright, who’d helmed Darkest Hour (2017), Anna Karenina (2012), Atonement (2007), and Pride and Prejudice (2005). Wright has a dream cast in his hands: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Juliane Moore. The movie adaptation is written by Pulitzer winner, playwright/screenwriter Tracy Letts, who gave us August: Osage County.

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Which one(s) of the above do you anticipate most? Others not on this list?

 

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Dano’s ‘Wildlife’ elicits showcase performance from Carey Mulligan

Wildlife is a detailed capture of the dissolution of a marriage, from the point of view of the couple’s only child. It is also a coming-of-age story as 14 year-old Joe comes to realize the elusiveness of permanence in his parents Jerry and Jeanette’s once loving relationship. If all these names sound too common, that just might be one implication of the film – a specific look into a general human condition.

Wildlife
Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeanette and Jerry in ‘Wildlife’. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

The film adaptation of Richard Ford’s novel is a selection in the Special Presentations program at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, screened as a Canadian premiere. It is the directorial debut of actor Paul Dano, co-writing the screenplay with Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick, 2017).

To those unfamiliar with Dano, maybe these titles will help you locate where he’s coming from and appreciate the variety of works he’s been in. Remember Little Miss Sunshine (2006)? He’s Olive’s older brother Dwayne who reluctantly gets into the yellow VW Beetle van and takes a vow of silence, or the dubious preacher confronting Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood (2007)as the harsh slave driver in 12 Years a Slave (2013), or in the 2016 TV mini-series War & Peace as Pierre. Not the handsome leading man but always the character actor.

The small family in Wildlife consists of Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal), a golf pro who has just moved into the town of Great Falls, Montana, with his wife Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and son Joe (Ed Oxenbould). Just as they thought they’re settling in Jerry is fired from his job as a golf instructor in a country club. After waiting for a while for her husband to absorb the loss of job and pride but with no solution in sight to the household finance, Jeannette decides to come out of the home to look for work, ultimately finding a position as a swimming instructor at the Y.

That just may not be the cause of the conflict. What begins the total meltdown is when Jerry, out of the blue, packs up and follows a group of men heading to the forests to fight a wild fire fiercely raging near Great Falls, not knowing when he will return or if he can get out of it unscathed. Feeling utterly alone and abandoned, Jeanette begins to react to her precarious situation by venting with some out-of-character behavior. The successful businessman Warren Miller (Bill Camp), Jeannette’s swim student at the Y, just happens to be a convenient escape route. All these familial changes and development are observed uncensored by their sensitive teenaged son Joe.

From this his first attempt at directing, viewers would be gratified to find Dano to be an actor’s director; especially with the excellent cast he has under his helm, this is doubly rewarding. Dano lets the camera rest on the close-up faces of his characters to elicit superb performance, taking his time to capture the nuances in restraints, outburst, or just about any sort of inner feelings to surface.

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Carey Mulligan in ‘Wildlife’. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

This is one of the best, if not the best, performance I’ve seen Carey Mulligan in, changing from the loving wife and devoted mother to the angry and desperate single mom with a son to raise, to totally losing it, testing the boundaries of norms and behavior, and finally to the determined woman striking out on her own yet still bound by unseverable, familial ties. Mulligan deserves an Oscar nom for her role as Jeannette.

Watching his mother get close to Miller, Joe is torn between devotion and incredulity.  Although a successful businessman, Miller is a limping, older man. Joe is utterly perturbed by his mother’s capricious turn. Dano creates some poignant scenes depicting the interactions between mother and son during dad’s absence from home. Often the passive observer, Joe is restrained with countless questions he cannot express in words.

Mulligan gets all the juicy lines. After Jerry is gone to fight the wild fire, Jeanette brings Joe along to Miller’s house for dinner, putting on heavy make-up and dressing in a seductive night gown. She dances with the man intimately in front of her son. In another occasion, she dons cowgirl attire and admires herself in front of the mirror, reminiscing her younger days. Jeanette answers her son’s dazed expression with this line:

“It’s good to know your parents were once not your parents.”

There is a former life in every parent that even the closest child would not have known or understood. There are many thought-provoking lines in the film, but this one is particularly poignant.

Dano takes the liberty to follow the spirit of the text and creates a cinematic ending. His visual wrapping up is clear and spot-on, especially the scene at the studio where Joe works part-time. The final frame of the three sitting down together for a studio shot with Joe between his parents speaks volumes. A wild fire may have been put out, but the smouldering lingers; and the one keeping it under control may well have been a teenaged firefighter.

 

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Update Nov. 16:

3 Nominations for “Wildlife” at the Film Independent Spirit Awards – Best First Feature, Best Female Lead, and Best Cinematography.

 

 

 

 

 

Reading the Season: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

For the tenth year, I’m sharing a Christmas read here at the Pond. For the first time, it’s a book written for young readers but is ever so relevant for us grown-ups. Herein lies the ingenuity of writer Madeleine L’Engle. Time to dig out that copy that you might have read when you were a youngster. If you haven’t read it, now’s a good time.

 

A Wrinkle in Time

 

Newbery Medal winner A Wrinkle in Time is the first book in the Time Quintet series of fantasy YA fiction about the Murray family, scientist parents and four children Meg, twins Dennys and Sandy, five year-old genius Charles Wallace, and that special friend of Meg’s, Calvin O’Keefe. The deceptively simple odyssey in time and space is packed with wonder and wisdom.

The book not only exudes insights but shows L’Engle’s remarkable foresights. Take this for an example, dematerializing and materializing  for easy transport. Published in 1962, the book came out four years before Scotty beamed Kirk up using the same method in the first season of Star Trek.

Or this fancy idea, ‘tesseracting’, that is, travelling through space and time via a wrinkle in time. The shortest distance between two points is not a straight line, but through a wrinkle when two points are folded. That’s fifty years before Christopher Nolan sends Matthew McConaughey interstellar travelling.

All concepts held in a simple plot. Meg, Charles Wallace, together with friend Calvin, go on an interstellar quest to look for Meg and Charles’ physicist father who had gone missing for almost a year while doing some classified scientific work for the government. This little, unequipped search party is initiated and aided by three celestial beings: Mrs. Whatsit, who’s much wiser than she appears, Mrs. Which, who doesn’t bother materializing but remains as a shimmering beam, and Mrs. Who, who speaks in quotes.

The more a man knows, the less he talks.

Their odyssey brings them finally to the planet Camazotz, where they find Mr. Murray confined by the evil Dark Thing, or IT (Surprise! 24 years before Stephen King’s book and now movie) The smart alecky Charles Wallace is easy prey and quickly influenced by IT. (And for Luddites, what better parallel to address our technology now, the evil IT) Ultimately, it’s Meg, our reluctant and timid heroine, who has to be the one to go fight IT to rescue her little brother.

The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men… God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.

Meg knows Charles Wallace is not himself but trapped and deceived, and must be snatched from the evil force IT. She has just one weapon as her ammunition, given to her by Mrs. Whatsit, that one thing IT doesn’t have: LOVE. With her single act of bravery, she brings the family together again.

When I was a child, I read like a child, I thought like a child. When I became an adult, I can read like a child and like an adult too. That’s the joy of reading A Wrinkle in Time. One can find pleasure in the adventure and feel the vulnerability of the children, as well delve deeper into its symbolism and parallels, and ponder its layers of meaning.

L’Engle writes to the child and the adult in us. She can convey scientific and spiritual concepts at the same time and in a way that both young and old (and those in between) can enjoy. There’s no conflict between the cerebral and the spiritual; they co-exist comfortably in L’Engle’s work. Not only that, they fuse together and from that alchemy rises a whole new, inexplicable entity: Faith.

That first Christmas day when a baby was born in a lowly manger, the war against IT had started to win. Although the last, painful battle on the hill of Calvary had not been waged, the outcome was cast, just because LOVE came.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

The Movie

‘Tis the Season to read or reread A Wrinkle In Time before the movie adaptation comes out in 2018. Helmed by Selma (2014) director Ava DuVernay, screenplay by Frozen (2013) scriptwriter Jennifer Lee, with some stellar beings including Rees Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine et al.

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Past Reading the Season Selections:

2016:  Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2013: Poetry by Madeleine L’Engle

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

2010: A Widening Light, Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season 

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

The Glass Castle: From Book to Screen

Jeannette Walls’ memoir had a “seven-year run on the New York Times best-seller list” after it was published in 2005, according to a NYT article . Now, 12 years later, a movie adaptation. So, the long wait is over. The wait, of course, belongs to those who don’t mind seeing a book turned into a movie.

As I’m a proponent of judging book and film as two different art forms on their own merits, I welcome movie adaptations. With this memoir, a non-fiction, I do feel the movie lacks the emotional punch as the first person narrative Jeannette Walls has so masterfully presented in her book. Walls’s memoir is a much livelier, engaging, and poignant piece of account depicting an extraordinary growing-up experience, a nomadic life of poverty until she and her siblings escaped from it.

As I’d mentioned in my review of the book, I was browsing in a bookstore when I picked up The Glass Castle randomly. The opening line captured my attention right away:

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.

That instantly drew me in. And for the rest of the book, Walls has not stopped captivating me with her growing up experience. She candidly shares how alcohol had ruined the potentials of her dreamer dad Rex, who had always dreamed of building them a glass castle. She tells us how her artistic mom Rose Mary had coped (or not), and the effects of their unconventional ‘parenting style’ had on the four children. Eventually, starting with the eldest, Lori, the children one by one escaped from their parents to NYC to start anew. As Jeanette saw her Mom digging through a Dumpster in NYC, she was a journalist at that time and living on Park Avenue. No judgement here, for the book explains all. The Glass Castle is a detailed account of Jeanette’s incredulous journey.

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Now, having said all that, I must state that the movie is still a watchable production. Unlike his previous realistic drama Short Term 12 (2013), writer director Deston Daniel Cretton has a tall order here: from the massive field of information in the memoir, to glean and pick just a few episodes to include in the film and string them up as a whole, while making them as interesting and captivating as the book. I know, Cretton must eliminate and condense, the difficult task of a movie adaptation.

Cretton chose to focus on the love hate relationships between father and daughter, and the actors have delivered, thanks to the performance of Woody Harrelson as Rex and the actors who play Jeannette as a youngster, Ella Anderson, and as adult, played by Academy Award Best Actress Brie Larson (Room, 2015). Harrelson is spot-on and dominates the screen.

Mom Rose Mary is played by Naomi Watts. And with this character, I feel there may be a miscast here. For one thing, since the film is heavily weighed on Rex, mom has a much minor role, which is a shortfall, for she does contribute to the children’s development, and taught them to appreciate reading, art, and the value of resilience, using the Joshua Tree as an object lesson, bent but alive. In my mind, Laura Dern could be a more suitable cast.

While the book is chronological, the movie juxtaposes the past with the present. It is done quite well, no confusion or disjointed feeling here. The editing is smooth and moves both storylines forward effectively. The scene of the accident when Jeanette has to cook as a young child and is burned badly is placed aptly at the beginning of the movie. Scars that can be seen visually is a good reminder of one’s past where memories could fade.

One of the main differences between The Glass Castle the book and the movie adaptation is distance. The book is intimate and close. Walls is such a straight forward writer that it feels like she’s right there sharing, opening up herself candidly to the reader. With the movie here, we are just like that, sitting afar as a spectator. It took me a while to engage.

The major issue is the mood. The book depicts a nomadic existence as Jeanette was growing up. The children were herded from place to place across States, often as dad Rex escaped from debtors. They had slept open in the Mohave desert, so, they could pick their own star as a present. Surely these may all be a disguise for their plight, euphemism offered by irresponsible parents. But none can deny the thrills and exhilaration of escapades and adventures. The togetherness of the siblings, the wonder of life are apparent in Walls’ descriptions. The word ‘dysfunctional’ had never appeared in my mind as I read the book.

The film however, focuses on the darker side. The abusive and volatile Rex dominates the screen. Poverty and gloom take over. The tipping point comes as the eldest Lori graduates from high school, and she makes an exit plan. We breathe an air of relief as the children one by one escapes to NYC. A few years later though, Rex and Rose Mary move out to be with them, so they can all be together again as one family.

Is a family being together always the best? As we see, togetherness may not be an ultimate good to pursue when harmony is impossible to reach. What’s more important is keeping oneself intact, one’s past reconciling with one’s present, the integrity of self. In the film, that is the turning point for Jeannette in the scene at the restaurant with an important client of her husband’s. Jeannette comes out from hiding about her family, albeit at the most inopportune moment.

The final scene is a beautiful wrap. The Walls gather together to have a family meal after Rex has died from illness. The siblings chat about their formative years in laughter. Resilience and loyalty to each other have kept them intact. A rewarding closure and a beginning towards a better future.

Do stay behind to watch the video of the real life Jeannette with her mom Rose Mary as the ending credits roll. And do sit through the credits until the very last line, wherein lies the emotional punch of the whole film:

“To all families, despite the scars, still find a way to love.”

~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

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Related Post on Ripple Effects:

The Glass Castle Book Review

Metropolitan (1990): Whit Stillman’s Homage to Jane Austen

Thanks to New York born and raised director Whit Stillman, one of Jane Austen’s characters in her juvenilia, Lady Susan Vernon, had a field day last year. For those wondering how that came about, do seek out Stillman’s film Love & Friendship (2016), or his movie-tie-in book Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated. 

But Janeites may not have noticed, back in 1990, five years before the pivotal year of wet shirt Darcy’s mortifying encounter with Lizzy Bennet, another Austen character was vindicated, Fanny Price of Mansfield Park. And they have Stillman to thank.

What does Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, published in 1814 England, have in common with a bunch of upper class college freshmen/women in 1990 New York City, calling themselves UHB (Urban haute bourgeoisie), worrying about an ‘escort’ shortage for their debutante parties during their Christmas break?

Wait a minute, UHB? ‘Urban Haute Bourgeoisie‘? Isn’t that the kind of targets that would have interested Jane? Our astute Jane who loved to wield her pen, piercing through the façade of the rich and privileged, shaking the underlying status quo of society of her time? Jane would have loved Stillman’s film. She would be amused by the characters in this comedy of manners and their social commentaries. Debutante parties? Jane would be surprised to hear they still exist in the 20th century. If she were to write the screenplay, Jane would probably be less subtle.

Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 10.03.38 PM

Stillman’s Metropolitan is not so much an acerbic satire but a gentle poke and  descriptive vignettes of the young UHB’s lifestyle and thinking. From his treatment of his characters, he is gentle and forbearing, albeit incisive, just enough to elicit some knowing chuckles.

In Mansfield Park, Jane presented a heroine that is a contrarian. Fanny Price is unadorned, impoverished, athletically challenged, a misfit and outsider when she enters the upper class home of Sir Thomas Bertram. But it’s her being principled and virtuous that make her stick out like a sore thumb. As Jane ends the book, Fanny gets the final praise, and an oblivious, but decent, Edmund as her ultimate reward.

Stillman’s Metropolitan is set in 1990 NYC. It has two characters that are a type of Fanny Price. First is Tom. He stands for everything that’s the opposite of the UHB. A self-professed socialist, Tom comes from the other side of the track. He wears a raincoat (albeit with a warm lining as he explains) in midwinter, and a ‘snob’ for public transit. Taxi? No, he’d rather walk.

Sure, his new found friends of the UHB know why. How many can afford to take the taxi as their usual means of transport and wears tux to parties? So, to their credit, despite knowing Tom might be from the opposite side of town, they receive him into their midst, especially as the girl Audrey likes him very much and wants him to help solve their, or her, ‘escort shortage’ to the debutante parties.

Audrey is a lover of books. She’s unpretentious, modest, and above all, a sensitive soul not unlike Fanny. In one scene, Audrey serves as a moral compass as the group gathers in the after party to a game that she disapproves of. That’s a Fanny incognito there. She insists on her stance despite everyone, Tom included, feels there’s nothing wrong with the game.

So there are the Austenesque parallels and types. You might be able to identify the Crawfords there too. The youthful characters are all serious in their viewpoints. One must give them credits. In their tux and gowns they discuss social theories. Therein lies Stillman’s gentle satire. While the sarcasm and humour is subtle, there are a few lines that are overt, lines I think Jane would have approved.

In this scene (above photo), Audrey and Tom discuss books. Audrey says Persuasion and Mansfield Park are her favorite Austen books, Tom is incredulous.

Tom:  Mansfield Park! You got to be kidding.

Audrey:  No.

Tom:  But it’s a notoriously bad book. Even Lionel Trilling – one of her
greatest admirers – thought that.

Audrey:  If Lionel Trilling thought that, he’s an idiot.

Jane probably would have thought, “Oh I wish I had written those lines.”

But wait, there’s more. Later in the party, Tom and Audrey continue to discuss Mansfield Park.

Audrey: You find Fanny Price unlikeable?

Tom: She sounds pretty unbearable, but I haven’t read the book.

Audrey: What?

Tom: You don’t have to have read a book to have an opinion on it. I
haven’t read the Bible either.

Audrey: What Jane Austen novels have you read?

Tom:  None. I don’t read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way
you get the novelist’s idea as well as the critic’s thinking. With
fiction I can never forget none of that has really happened. It’s all
made up by the author.

Oh I can see Jane ROFL.

 

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

 

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Stillman’s Love & Friendship: More than Book Illustration

Love & Friendship and Other Prospects

Mansfield Park: Jane Austen the Contrarian 

 

Upcoming Books to Movies 2017

Half a year’s gone already. How’s your reading and watching coming along? Here are some movie adaptations I anticipate for the latter half of the year.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

the-glass-castle-bookFinally, the movie adaptation is completed. More than seven years on the NYT Bestseller list, Jeannette Walls’ 2005 memoir of resilience and delight – yes, the two can co-exist – is high on my TBW list. After receiving her Academy Best Actress Award in another book-to-screen adaptation, Room (2015), Larson is back with her Short Term 12 director Destin Cretton. Interesting cast for the parents, Woody Harrelson as dreamer dad Rex Walls and Naomi Watts as uncouth artist mom Rose Mary. Coming out in August. Should be a good summer movie.

 

 

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach

Tulip FeverMoggach’s best known book is probably The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, among her many titles. Tulip Fever is the author’s first historical fiction set in 17th century Holland, evoking the paintings of Vermeer’s. The story begins with a rich merchant in Amsterdam commissioning a painter to paint his young bride. The rest is up to the further imagining of Moggach’s creative mind. From book to screen adaptation written by Tom Stoppard, directed by Justin Chadwick, who helmed the adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) and the excellent TV mini series of Dickens’ Bleak House. Cast includes Alicia Vikander, Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz. Coming out in August. Should be another good summer pick.

 

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder Book CoverAnother one high on my TBW list. This is one YA novel that appeals to both young and old, for the theme of acceptance and empathy is so much needed in our time. A look at the trailer shows the film is well cast. Room’s breakout young star Jacob Tremblay as disfigured fifth grader, entering school for the first time in his life; Julia Roberts plays mom and Owen Wilson is dad. Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 2012) directs. To be released November, 2017.

 

 

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express.pngDame Agatha Christie’s famous work has gone through many renditions on the big screen, small screen and even a video game. But the classic has to be the Sidney Lumet directed 1974 production with Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, and a young Sean Connery, just to name a few. This 2017 version is directed by Kenneth Branagh who will, of course, takes up the role of Hercule Poirot. Cast include Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Willem Dafoe, a modern classic in the making? Coming out November, 2017.

 

EXTRA, EXTRA: Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie

Ordeal by Innocence

Talking about Dame Agatha, the latest, yes just hours ago, it has been announced that the prolific writer – whose books have sold only less than The Bible and Shakespeare according to The Hollywood Reporter – will ring in yet another adaptation by BBC in time for the Christmas season. BBC touts a mighty cast with Bill Nighy, Catherine Keener, Matthew Goode, Eleanor Tomlinson among many talents. A jolly good Christmas for the Brits indeed. We’ll have to wait for Masterpiece to act.

 

 

 

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Related Ripple Effects Posts:

The Glass Castle Book Review

Wonder by R. J. Palacio: Required Reading for All

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 

The Second, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 

 

Voicing out for ‘Silence’ and other adaptations

It’s a bit sad to see Martin Scorsese having had to defend the cinema. He wrote the piece in the May 31 issue of The Times Literary Supplement in response to the review of his film Silence by the novelist and literary critic Adam Mars-Jones. It is telling that the director didn’t write a defence of his film, but cinema itself.

Here’s the contentious viewpoints of Mars-Jones’s review, entitled “Subtle absolutisms”:

The transposition of a novel like Endo’s Silence into film, however “faithful”, can only amount to a distortion, an exaggeration overall however many elements of the book are represented.

and this:

In a book, too, reader and writer collaborate to produce images, while a film director hands them down.

Really? Is a movie, and in this case, Scorsese’s adaptation of Japanese writer Shūsaku Endō’s novel Silence, a piece of “subtle absolutisms” as Mars-Jones’s title suggests? Do viewers in the theatre have no say but to receive from whatever mood or themes the director hands down to them, devoid of ‘collaboration’? Has the director presented to us – subversively as the title implies – his interpretations and we remain as the silent, passive, unthinking targets?

We’ve heard it before, haven’t we, that a movie leaves no room for the imagination. We can see it all, so explicitly displayed, in actions, colour, and mood, while readers reading a book interact with the book author to create a mental picture as they read, exercising their imagination.

Silence (1)

Any regular visitor to the Pond knows Arti disagrees with such criticisms. Even a two-dimensional painting can evoke in viewers a myriad of responses, let alone moving pictures. And how we interpret and interact with such sequential, moving images can be as diverse and subjective as our personalities and life experiences.

If as Mars-Jones says “those images [have] their predetermined progress in a darkened space imposes mood insistently” and if Scorsese embeds his ‘subtle absolutisms’ so ingeniously, the film should bring out very similar responses, predominantly one, as Mars-Jones has concluded: “desolation.”

But as one who dwells in a liminal, in-between space of two cultures, I’ve come across very different reactions to the film Silence. Such could well be said are the results of internal collaborations viewers have had while experiencing Scorsese’s visual storytelling. Indeed, the film has aroused different responses across cultures.

Among Western critics, it’s usually the aesthetics, acting, cinematography, and mood that are the key features noted, as with Mars-Jones’s review. Many point out they’d like to see the roles reversed with the two actors Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver. Many have noted that the film is being ‘faithful’ to the book, however, falling short of discussing the significance of such ‘faithfulness’.

This is an important point when reviewing the film. I usually do not seek how faithful a film is to its original literary work, for the two are totally different art forms, each expresses in its own terms and the appreciation of such should not be measured using the same criteria. When it comes to Scorsese being ‘faithful’ to Endo’s descriptions and narratives, unlike Mars-Jones’s critique of ‘exaggeration’, I find the director is unusually restrained here. He follows closely with Endo’s narratives, his treatment of the persecutions of Japanese Christians poignant and heart-stirring, inferring meaning rather than exposing gratuitous images. All such restraints point to Scorsese’s admiration and respect for the author and his work. At times, I feel Endo’s writing even more graphic.

On the other hand, among Asian viewers, especially among Chinese Christians (overseas and in Hong Kong), the film stirs up deep, theological resonance. Many have shared their heartfelt responses in the print and social media, heated debates ensue among believers, and even from the Sunday pulpit. The film’s characterization emerge as the prime subject for debates: Is Father Rodrigues a true Christian? Can apostasy be pardoned in the face of coercion? What does the last scene tell us about Rodrigues? Can one lead a two-faced, dichotomized life of faith like the hidden Japanese Christians? Or with some, the film has prodded the reflexive to see oneself in the Judas character Kichijiro. A call for empathy for those under authoritarian pressures to give up their faith appear to be an unexpected result, albeit the other side would push for perseverance no matter what.

Rather than the overhanging cloud of near desolation as Mars-Jones points out, the film had stirred up ripples of vibrant discussions around the issues of salvation, suffering, apostasy, betrayal, denial, and redemption. Many of the views I’ve read reflect a pleasurable gratitude as having indulged in a thought-provoking film well made, their faith energized as they ponder on soul-stirring applications to their life.

Perhaps there’s a Roland Barthes parallel here. The death of the author comes after a piece of work is written, for it has reached its destination. Now it’s the reader’s turn to interact and give it meaning. Maybe it is so with film as well. As the director completes his production, it is given a new state of being when it is screened. As viewers interact with it, interpreting and extracting personal meaning, appreciating those elements that strike a chord with their own life experiences, they’re giving life to it in the cinema of their minds.

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RELATED POSTS ON RIPPLE EFFECTS:

Reading the Season: Silence by Shusaku Endo

Silence the movie arrives in the most unwelcome time

Can a movie adaptation ever be as good as the book?