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.

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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.

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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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The Sense of an Ending the Movie

When I first knew that The Sense of an Ending was being adapted into a movie, I thought whoever that took up the project had a tall order. That it’s a Booker Prize winner automatically adds pressure and expectations, but the more important consideration is the nature of the book, introspection saturated with internal dialogues.

The novel is powerful and intense in that, in merely 150 pages, Barnes has dismantled the scaffold of self-knowledge in his protagonist by challenging the accuracy of his memories. The eerie effect is, that can happen to us too. How accurate are our memories of ourselves, of others, of events in our life? It’s crucial because what we remember about them build up the person who we think we are today.

So, who had taken up this difficult task to helm the movie? It’s Ritesh Batra, the Mumbai born, Indian director who brought us the interesting film The Lunchbox (2013). Batra has an excellent cast to work with, that should have made his job a bit easier. But one can see he follow the script pretty closely and that’s what made me wish there could be more stylistic touch. Similarly, the screenplay by Nick Payne could have been spiced up a bit. However, its being overall loyal to Barnes’s novel, except a few addons, may have cleared up some ambiguity for the reader.

The Sense of an Ending

In his old age, Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) received a registered letter notifying him of a small inheritance from someone he had known way back in his university days. The money isn’t the important thing, it’s the diary that is supposed to go with it that opens up a door to his past. And so begins the story. Tony has to rethink everything about himself (younger played by Billy Howle), his first love Veronica Ford (younger played by Freya Mavor), Veronica’s family, in particular his mother Sarah (Emily Mortimer), and his school friends Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn, who plays Billy Lyn in Ang Lee’s 2016 movie).

There are hits and misses in this adaptation. Broadbent delivers a solid performance as the clueless Tony Webster, a man who has lived all his life lacking the lucidity of seeing himself and others in the proper light, or is it selective memory? The little bit of addon is good, letting Tony set up an old camera shop to get him out of bed everyday. It’s also a good link because when he first met Veronica, she was toying with one, and he had received one from her as a gift as well. Herein lies the linkage of the object with the distant past.

Tony has his ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walters) to thank, for she humours him by meeting him time and again just to listen. She may be doubting what Tony is telling her, but she is patient and wait for him to slowly rediscover himself. That’s what a good listener does, isn’t it, she helps you question yourself.

Adding the plotline of Tony’s daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) giving birth to a baby is effective. Those who miss Downton Abbey would be glad to see Mary Crawley again, in a new role. But the real effect here is that her giving birth to a newborn son leads me to appreciate the title of the book, something that I did not quite get when I was reading. I wondered about the relevance of the book title when I was reading it. The movie’s last scene clears this up for me. After all these years of misinformed self-knowledge, Tony finally comes to the end of a chapter in his old age, still not too late. With the renewed relationship with his ex Margaret, and a new grandchild, Tony is ready to call an end to a clueless life and start anew. Once more, with feeling.

The weakest link I feel is with the elderly Veronica character played by Charlotte Rampling. It’s a missed opportunity for the director to draw out more from this veteran actor. Unlike in the book, which depicts an absolutely frustated Veronica, possibly traumatized by what had happened to her in life, finding Tony not understanding a bit about the past. “You just don’t get it, do you?” Exasperated, she has said this several times in the book, if my memory serves me correctly.

So here in the movie, the most crucial scenes ought to be Tony’s meeting with the older Veronica for the first time after all those decades and Veronica seeing Tony still oblivious to what had happened. But no, we see an utterly aloof Veronica, too calm for those tense cinematic moments. “You just don’t get it, do you?” has not been said even once, if my memory serves me correctly.

And the most crucial line in the pub when Tony finds out the truth, it ought to be the climax but the scene is so understated that any built up has been eroded. Now he gets it, and what reaction does he show at the moment and afterwards? I feel it’s the director’s job to augment the moment, and let it ripple into the next sequences. I’m sure the cast can easily oblige. Just for the sake of eliciting more emotional engagement from the viewers. I remember how sensational it felt when I came to that part in the book.

Overall, it’s a pleasure watching these veteran actors in the same production. Together with the above-mentioned cast members, there are also Matthew Goode, the history teacher, but not in a scene with Michelle Docerty, and Merchant Ivory star James Wilby playing the small role of Veronica’s father.

That it is shot on location in London, especially watching Tony meet Veronica again on “the wobbly bridge” leading to Tate Modern is particularly poignant in light of recent events. Overall, a watchable adaptation to go with the book.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

The Sense of an Ending Book Review

The Lunchbox Movie Review

New Announcements of Books to Screen

Some exciting announcements of upcoming adaptations:

howards-end-by-e-m-forsterHowards End by E. M. Forster

E. M. Forster’s 1910 novel Howards End is to be adapted into a four-part TV miniseries produced by BBC and Starz, to be helmed by the Oscar nominated Manchester by the Sea director Kenneth Lonergan. Hayley Atwell plays Margaret Schlegel, Matthew Macfayden takes the role of Henry Wilcox, and Tracey Ullman is Aunt Juley Mund. I just can’t help but compare this new cast to that of the, shall I say, definitive 1992 Merchant Ivory production with Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Anthony Hopkins and Vanessa Redgrave. Inimitable. Yet, I’m glad to hear of a rebirth of this brilliant E. M. Forster novel.

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guernsey-literary-and-potato-peel-pie-societyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Anne Barrows and Maryanne Shaffer

At long last, the best-selling novel (2009) is finally adapted for the big screen, renamed Guernsey. Phew! While its popularity has subsided by now, I hope the movie will revive it, for it’s a delightful read and the characters are resilient residents on German occupied Guernsey Island during WWII. Written as a series of letters between a London writer Juliet Ashton and her friend and publisher Sydney Stark and later, with the charming Guernsey folks, the book exalts the power of reading, not potato peeling. How do you turn epistles into a movie? We’ll have to see. Downton Abbey‘s Lily James will play Juliet, after first Kate Winslet then Rosamund Pike dropped out. Hope this will go to completion. The director is Mike Newell, known for Great Expectations (2012), Mona Lisa Smile (2003), and perhaps the most memorable, Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994).

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the-child-in-timeThe Child in Time by Ian McEwan

At last something to look forward to after Downton. Ian McEwan’s Whitbread winning novel (1987) about the perpetual trauma of a lost child will be adapted into a 90 min. TV drama co-produced by BBC and Masterpiece. Benedict Cumberbatch to star. With the Sherlock series going down an erratic rather than rational path, I hope this one is a more grounded outlet for Benedict’s superb acting skills, like his Parade’s End (2013). This is his second time in a McEwan novel. Back in 2007, he played a supporting role in the Oscar nominated Atonement, relatively unknown, stressing on the ‘relatively’. And hats off to actors who can navigate freely between the big and small screen platforms.

 

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The Sea Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Glad to learn that Kristin Scott Thomas (I’ve Loved You So Long, The English Patient) is stepping out from her long acting career into the director’s chair, and acting too in this adaptation of English author Elizabeth Jane Howard’s novel. While I haven’t read any of Howard’s works, I’d seen the screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s, and that’s her screenplay for the Oscar winning Polish film Ida (2013). I highly anticipate Lenkiewicz’s new work. Glad she’s collaborating with Scott Thomas in her directorial debut. Mark Strong is said to be in talks to join the project. Of course, my dream cast would be Colin Firth with Kristin Scott Thomas.

 

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crazy-rich-asians

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

According to director Jon Chu (Now You See Me 2), this will be “the first all-Asian cast feature from a Hollywood studio in a long, long time.” Umm… since Joy Luck Club (1993) that is. A risk or a good opportunity? Constance Wu (TV’s “Fresh Off the Boat”) is on board to play a major role. If you’ve not read the book, rest assure that with a title like this, it has got to be a satire, and not a get-rich-quick manual. Not that I’m crazy, nor rich, but reading Kwan’s imaginary yet true-to-life characters is an extravagantly wild ride. His astute and bold satire of modern day’s opulent Singaporean families (his own cultural background) is what Jane Austen would have loved to poke fun of if she found herself in a 21st century rich Asian home. But of course, just like the writing of our dear Jane of yesteryears, the heroine (Rachel in Kwan’s book) is your everyday middle class, highly educated yet modest gal growing up in (immigrant) America, finding (surprise!) that her boyfriend actually is Mr. Darcy incognito when she travels back with him to his family home in Singapore for the wedding of his best friend. I highly anticipate this one, but with great trepidations. They better make this work, or it could easily be a disaster of ethnic proportions.

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Related Post on Ripple Effects:

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Book Review

Silence the Movie Arrives in the Most Unwelcome Time

 

Why is La La Land being embraced so readily and Silence shunned? Evidence from box office sales and nominations during this Awards Season clearly show the difference between the two. Just now, the Oscar Nominations are in. La La Land: 14  Silence: 1

Allow me to speculate.

One in glamorous primary colours, the other shrouded in misty shades of gloom. One a fantasy, romance in song and dance, the other realism of suffering, persecution, death. One is layback, relaxing entertainment, the other is 2.5 hours of intense engagement. One charms, the other disturbs. When offered at the end of a tumultuous year, and as we step into a new one when hopes and fears are renewed, the choice is easy. La La Land is an amiable feature (although I won’t get into the overrated debate here), but Silence sure doesn’t deserve the disregard it’s getting.

It’s just that Silence arrives in the most unwelcome time. But then again, there’s no suitable time for a feature like it. Isn’t it revelatory and even prophetic that this film, probably director Martin Scorsese’s most important in his oeuvre, seems to be a total outcast, a lost cause? Exactly, that’s just as it would have ended up.

It would be ironic, wouldn’t it, for a film about spirituality, other-worldly and intangible values, and challenges of faith in the face of persecution to be celebrated by this power and fame-obsessed, material world? For it to receive praise and honor would be the ultimate irony indeed.

In a society which aims at being great, where ratings, numbers, wealth and social media status define success, where loudness rules and silence shunned, it is only expected that a film entitled “Silence” will not be cheered on. It runs against the grains of popularism, for it’s a film about failure.

I have posted a book review of Silence back in December, 2016. In it is a historical note. To summarize, Christianity was introduced to Japan by Francis Xavier in 1549. It was well received then, and by 1600, there were 300,000 Christians in Japan. But the Edo Period beginning in 1603 changed everything. Ruler Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered expulsion of foreign influences and Christianity had to survive underground. Torture was used to drive Christians to disavow their faith. Stepping on the fumie, a brass plague engraved with a Christ figure, is the convenient way to show one’s apostasy, leading to instant release. During this time, the Catholic Church received the news that the stalwart leader of the Jesuits mission in Japan, Father Christovao Ferreira had disavowed his faith and became an apostate. He had since lost contact with the Church.

The film doesn’t need many words to explain these historical events, for its visuals are self-explanatory. It starts off with father Ferreira’s apostasy, apparently under duress as he sees his flock being tortured to death. Liam Neeson’s gaunt and horrified expressions speak all. That’s the power of cinema.

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Back in Portugal, two young priests, Father Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver) appeal to their superior Father Valignano (Ciarán Hinds) to allow them to go to Japan to look for Ferreira and to seek the truth of the situation. Thus begins the story.

I’ve long learned not to judge a movie adaptation according to how loyal it is to the book, for the two are different art forms and a direct transposition may not be possible. But here is one exception. I’m glad that Scorsese’s Silence, co-written with screenwriter Jay Cock (Gangs of New York, 2002), is surprisingly faithful to Shusaku Endo’s historical novel, and that ‘faithfulness’ is both desirable and most admirable here.

By following Endo’s storyline to the dot, extracting pertinent text from the book as dialogues and voiceover, and spending time to cover the all important Epilogue, the director shows his desire to honour the author’s work, a wish that had long hidden in his heart. Indeed, it has been twenty-five years since Scorsese first read Endo’s masterpiece and was so deeply moved that he knew he needed to film it one day.

Another way we see Scorsese’s regard for Endo is his restraint when portraying the tortures of Japanese Christians. What we have, surely, is visual, graphic scenes which, while reading the book are left to the author’s descriptions and our imagination, but on screen are left to the director’s discretion. Kudos to Scorsese, those scenes are done with much restraints. This was a welcome surprise to me. I went into the theatre braced for his treatment like the ending scene of Taxi Driver (1976), or the bloody mayhem in Gangs of New York (2002). I need not have worried. But what I was hit with I had not expected.

Scorsese can definitely unleash more gore in Silence. But he chose not to. The scenes in the film are done with the utmost respect and dignity for the persecuted. Here’s a confession, I’m not one who easily succumbs to emotions, never need a Kleenex while watching a movie in the theatre. Here in Silence, as I watched the three Japanese Christians hanging on the makeshift crosses at the seashore swallowed up by the rising waves, tears slowly streamed down my face. What more, the guy sitting behind me was sniffing away, uncontrollably.

 

The main actors are powerful in taking hold of our emotions. Liam Neeson’s painful expressions both at the beginning and the end are very moving. Adam Driver lost 50 pounds for his role. His skeletal form is almost painful to watch. The Japanese actor Yôsuke Kubozuka is effective as Kichijiro, the ‘Judas character’.

The emotion of the whole film, however, is driven by two actors: Andrew Garfield as young father Rodrigues and the calculated, ruthless inquisitor Inoue played by Issei Ogata. The two form a stark foil: the hot-blooded idealist slaughtered slowly by the cold, harsh ruler. A tidbit for those who had watched Taiwanese director Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (2000), Ogata is Mr. Ota in there.

Garfield is effective in leading us to feel for Father Rodrigues’ sad and tragic journey. Martyrdom is the path to glory, and an easy way out. But no, Rodrigues isn’t given that luxury. Rather, he is faced with a most precarious test, tearing his soul and conscience, that is to apostatize or see his flock die by torture. It is unfortunate that the film has not been well received. Garfield deserves a nomination for Silence.

While it may be about the hidden church that runs underground to avoid annihilation, Silence is more about one man’s struggle with faith and doubt, and ultimately, making his choice and living with it for the rest of his life.

Here’s the rub. In this ‘either or’ society we live in, Rodrigues’s predicament is particularly distressing for us. It is often convenient and tempting to oversimplify issues and splitting them into clean-cut opposing sides, either B or W, L or R, D or R. In Silence, we’re confronted with yet another dichotomy: Devout or Apostate. What Scorsese reveals to us with his last scene is that, the line separating the two is blurry and permeable.

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In his compendium book to the movie, Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering, Japanese-American artist Makoto Fujimura, who is special adviser to the film, discusses the necessary existence of a ‘hidden’ identity to those practising Christianity in that historical era in Japan. For 250 years during the anti-foreign, ironclad Shogunate rule of the Edo Period (1603-1868), the only way to survive as Christians was to become hidden, Kakure Kirishitans as they were called in Japan. Stepping on the fumie, as the officials say, could well be only a formality, for it likely did not represent the heart. It is unfortunate that the persecuted Kakure Kirishitans had to succumb to this double life. As outsiders looking in, should we be so easy to judge them? Silence challenged us with that question. Unlike the bold declaration of Western Christianity, the Kakure Kirishitans held on to an inner faith that on the outside was wrapped with weakness and failure, total submission to the ruling authority. A painful, paradoxical existence.

The crucial, final scene in the film, which is the Epilogue of Endo’s book, holds the key to the question. I appreciate Scorsese’s closure. That is also how Fujimura explains Endo’s viewpoint. No spoiler here. Cinematically, the production is an artistic and powerful work worthy of Endo’s masterpiece. Scorsese’s quarter-century quest had not been in vain. Being recognized or not in the Awards Ceremonies just may not be as important an issue.

Of course, there’s always the bottom line. After investing so much resources, time and talents in the production, it is only natural to wish for a positive return. Could the voice that speaks to Rodrigues at that most crucial fumie moment speaks also to Scorsese as well regarding his film Silence?

“Trample! Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world…”

 

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

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CLICK HERE to read my review of the book Silence by Shusaku Endo

Lion: From Personal Memoir to the Big Screen

The memoir A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, first published in 2014, has officially changed its name to Lion. This may well be a metaphor for its author. Only a change in the name, but everything inside remains intact. From a child lost on the streets in Calcutta, India, to a man grown up in Hobart, Tasmania, Saroo remains who he is. He writes in his memoir: “I now have two families, not two identities. I am Saroo Brierley.”

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Lion (previously titled A Long Way Home) the memoir by Saroo Brierley

5 year-old Saroo was lost in a Calcutta (now Kolkata) train station, almost a thousand miles away from his home in a small village, Ganesh Talai. With no language (a different dialect), not clear of the name of the place he calls home (mispronounced by him as “Ginestlay”) or even his own last name, Saroo is utterly alone and helpless. Living dangerously on the streets of Calcutta for some weeks, he was picked up and sent to a youth detention centre, which was only a tiny bit safer from the streets. Subsequently Saroo was sent to an orphanage, Nava Jeevan (“new life”), run by the benevolent Mrs. Sood. There she arranged for his adoption by a loving Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley.

That could have been the happy ending of a tumultuous experience for Saroo, as he grew up in calm and beautiful Hobart, Tasmania, well adjusted and dearly loved by his adoptive parents. But for twenty-five years, Saroo has not forgotten his first home. As he grew, he was all the more tormented by the memory of his birth mother, and the brothers and sisters who had shared the first five years of his life. An important message he has always wanted to convey to them is that he’s ok, and that they need not worry about him. For years he has been haunted by the thoughts that his mother and older brother Guddu must have been devastated with losing him without a trace, as it was Guddu who had left him alone on a bench at the train station near his home, telling him to stay put as Saroo was too sleepy to tag along on that fateful night.

With the help of Google Earth twenty years later, and vague memories of the physical features of his home surrounding, Saroo finally located his village and flew back to India to search for his mother. They reunited a few doors down from his old home, as his mother had persisted all these years to not move away but stay there to wait for him, hoping against hope that her son would come back to her. The photo inserts in the book add even more poignancy as we see the Brierleys meet Saroo’s birth mother Kamla in India.

Utterly moving, authentic, genuine and real. While Slumdog Millionaire may be entertaining and eye-opening for those of us who are not familiar with Indian’s millions of children living on the streets, Lion is a true portrayal of one lost child, determined to find his way back home twenty-five years later across the oceans.

**

Lion the Movie

Is the movie any good? For those who think it’s always the book that’s better, here’s my answer: Yes, very good. Premiered at TIFF16 last September, Lion has since garnered awards and nominations, including young Sunny Pawar, his debut performance as an actor. Kudos to all those involved in transporting this story from a personal memoir onto the big screen for international viewers. If not for the movie, even though it has been reported in India and Australia, I for one in North America would not have known about this real life miracle.

So, hats off to Australian director Garth Davis, screenwriter, the acclaimed Australian  poet/writer Luke Davies, and the cast, Sunny Pawar as young Saroo, Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, 2008) as the adult, Nicole Kidman and David Wenham the adoptive parents, Rooney Mara the girlfriend, and the cast of Saroo’s Indian family. They have delivered an authentic and moving real-life story.

Basically structured into three parts, the first focuses on five year-old Saroo, living in poverty but is loved by his mother and siblings. One night he pleads with his older brother Guddu to go with him to his night work, salvaging garbage left on trains. After reaching the closest station from his home village, Saroo is too tired, so he stays behind sleeping on a bench to wait for Guddu. He wakes up in the middle of the night to find himself all alone. He gets on one of the parked train to look for Guddu but falls asleep again in there. He wakes to his horror as he finds he is being transported in the speeding train further and further away from his home.

Cinematographer Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, 2012; Bright Star, 2009) uses his camera effectively showing some haunting images, a horrified 5 year-old, alone on a train speeding to the unknown. Throughout the film as well, he tells the story poignantly with his camera. Scores composed by Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran add power in eliciting emotions, taking us closely with Saroo on his incredulous life journey.

Second part we see Saroo grown up in Australia, having a good relationship with his adopting parents but troubled nonetheless by his past. The frustration of having only vague memories of the physical features of the train station near his home makes it an impossible task to search for an unknown town in the vast land of India. Thanks to Google Earth and his unyielding perseverance, the adult Saroo was rewarded with a dream come true.

While the physical locales might be distant and vague, memories of his childhood experiences are lucid and close. In the second part, the director and screenwriter have deftly inserted Saroo’s memories of his childhood days in India, enriching the screen story of his intimate relationships with his family. These inclusions add to the texture and are placed aptly to enhance the continuity of the child and the man. Very effective.

I welcome the quiet and slower pace in Part Two, and appreciate Patel’s portrayal of inner turmoils. Kidman has done an amiable job as the adoptive mother trying to hold the family together, with two Indian boys, now grown men, both deeply troubled by their past in different ways. If Part One is about the outward dangers of a lost child, Part Two illustrates the internal turmoils one still wages into adulthood.

Part three is that triumphant and exhilarating reunion. How we want to see a happy ending by then. Although we know that is forthcoming, it is still exciting and gratifying to embrace the uplifting end. Lion is a story well told cinematically, and worth every minute of a viewer’s attention. Do wait till the very end before you leave the theatre, the photos at the closing credits make a beautiful wrap. And why the title Lion? That’s for you to find out.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples 

for both Book and Movie

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Related Reviews on Ripple Effects:

Slumdog Millionaire

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Lunchbox

Books before Films 2017

The first movie I watched in 2017 is Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. This time around, I noticed that it was based on a book (1954 French crime novel by Boileau & Narcejac). Just reinforced a fact that’s so interesting, and mind-bloggling for me, that a major portion of movies are adapted from books and printed sources. Not that I mind at all.

Here are some more for 2017 and beyond, on big and small screens. Some have set dates of release, some still in development. No harm reading ahead (as if you need more to stack higher that TBR pile), or rereading.

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a-man-called-oveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Grumpy old man, Swedish style. Through Ove, writer Backman shows us not so much about getting old but becoming human. Never too late to change. A thoughtful and poignant story as we follow grumpy Ove, the strict enforcer of by-laws for his condo association. Backman is clever in leading us to discover slowly why Ove behaves as he does. For me as a reader, it’s a lesson on empathy and understanding. The film adaptation is Sweden’s official entry to the coming Oscars, now one of nine remaining in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Nominations announcement on Jan. 24, 2017. (Update: A Man Called Ove is now an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.)

 

b-bBeauty and the Beast

Yes, from a book. La Belle et la Bête is the fairy tale written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, published in 1740. Classics, by definition, appeal despite the passage of time, in this case, a few centuries. This newest adaptation, which I highly anticipate, has a cast that I’m eager to see in a musical: Dan Stevens (Beast), Emma Watson (Belle), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Kevin Klein (Maurice)… Can they sing?To be released in March, 2017.

 

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The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Richard Eyre (Notes on a Scandal, 2006) to direct Emma Thompson playing the role of Judge Fiona Maye who has to rule on a case in which a 17 year-old leukaemia patient refuses potentially life-saving blood transfusion as it’s against his religious belief. And as life would have it, Maye has her own marital issues to deal with at this trying point of her life. McEwan’s 2014 novel is on my TBR pile, and I look forward to Thompson’s major role in years. Film now in development.

 

 

handmaids-taleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Atwood’s renowned story of a dystopia ruled by theocratic dictatorship will be adapted into a 10 episodes TV series. Interesting concept from book to longer TV programming, which would definitely be quite different from its previous adaptation in 1990, a 109 min. movie with screenplay by Harold Pinter and cast of Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Elizabeth McGovern, Robert Duvall. This time, a new generation of actors and a very different socio-political milieu. Will it be even more relevant?

 

lion-1Lion by Saroo Brierley  (Memoir originally titled A Long Way Home)

Now showing in theatres. Never mind Slumdog Millionaire, this is for real and utterly moving, with the same Dev Patel. At age 5, Saroo was lost in a Calcutter train station almost a thousand miles from his home village. Alone and drifting on the streets, he was picked up and sent to an orphanage where an Australian couple later adopted him. Twenty-five years in Tasmania had not diminished his desire to see his mother’s face again. Thanks to Google Earth, he finally found his way home. I’ve just seen the film and is now reading the book. A must-see.

 

nightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Goodreads Choice Awards Best Historical Fiction 2015, Hannah’s WWII novel lends itself to ready cinematic rendition. Game of Thrones director Michelle MacLaren to helm the project. MacLaren has been noted to be able to tell stories that are ‘epic and intimate’. So this may just fit her really well. Two sisters’ coming of age experience during the Nazi occupation in France, with Ann Peacock (Narnia, 2005, Nights in Rodanthe, 2008) writing the screenplay. The book has sold more than 2 million copies in the U.S. and been published in 39 languages. The cast still to be determined. Your choice?

 

 

zookeepers-wifeThe Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

This is a worthy, true story to be made into film. Jan and Antonina Zabinski were keepers of the reputable Warsaw Zoo. During the Holocaust, their premises is the hiding place for hundreds of Jews. Antonina did the day-to-day chores of protecting them in the cages, feeding them and keeping their spirits up. The parallel and irony of human and beasts are obvious. Acclaimed nature writer Diane Ackerman drew from Antonina’s diary to write her account of a heroic rescue mission. Acclaimed New Zealand director Niki Caro (McFarland, 2015, North Country, 2005) helms. Screenplay by Angela Workerman, a scribe to note. Jessica Chastain and Daniel Brühl play the Zabinski couple. Trailer is out and looks good. To be released in March, 2017.

 

***

 

 

Arrival: From Novella to Film

The following discussion is relatively spoiler free. To talk about the novella and the film without giving out the most crucial piece of information is like writing with both hands tied at my back, and trying to hold a pen with my mouth to scribble down words. A difficult task. But it’s all worth it, as that’s the main thrust of the story: to communicate takes effort and hard work.

After watching the movie, spellbound for two hours, I left the theatre knowing  I must get hold of the story to read. I found it here. But, I most likely will seek out Ted Chiang’s other sci-fi fiction to explore more, despite not being a regular reader of the genre. His writing just grabs me with its insight and sensitivity.

Novella: “Story of Your Life”

The source material of the movie Arrival is Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life”, winner of the Nebula Award in 2000.  A host of aliens had touched down in numerous spots in different countries on Planet Earth; in the U.S. alone there are nine. Their intention does not appear to be conquest. With multiple tentacles that look somewhat like an octopus, they are hence called heptapods by their cautious human observers. In order to understand their purpose, the U.S. Government sends teams of physicists and  linguists to establish communication with the foreign arrivals. They do this via the aliens’ transparent, face-to-face meeting devices, again, nicknamed by humans “the looking glass”. The large, two way glass separates the two living species, but joining them is the desire to communicate peacefully using each other’s language.

An ideal case Chiang has depicted. One, that the aliens come in peace; two, that humans respond with peaceful means all for the purpose of understanding and communication. A much needed case study for us Earthlings today. While they have set up military base surrounding the alien spacecraft in the open field to stand guard, the commander Colonel Weber leaves the task of communicating with the foreign arrivals to linguist Dr. Louise Banks and physicist Dr. Gary Donnelly.

Running parallel to this major plot line we see a more intimate story of human interactions, Louise and her daughter. Chiang’s writing is emotionally subtle and sensitive as he juxtaposes different episodes to depict the bond between Louise and her daughter through the stages of her life, as infant, child, teenager and later adult. Every stage we read some realistic situations. The human mother-child relationship is not without conflicts, but all interwoven with the bond of love. That’s the whole package of motherhood, the joys, the risks, the pains.

The language the aliens use to communicate with humans looks like a system of semagrams, each semantic symbol referring to a concept. It doesn’t appear to have a phonetic association, i.e., can’t be read out audibly, but is visually transmitted. Here’s Chiang’s eloquent description through Louise’s words:

“If I wasn’t trying to decipher it, the writing looked like fanciful praying mantids drawn in a cursive style, all clinging to each other to form an Escheresque lattice, each slightly different in its stance.”

I just love this idea: “An Escheresque lattice”. Fascinating.

MOVIE: ARRIVAL

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A movie will be the best means to depict such kind of a language system. But then again, the movie Arrival is much more than illustrations of the story. In this case, Arrival is one of the most apt transference of art forms, from literary to cinematic that I’ve seen.

Arrival the film has magically lifted the story out of the page. It has transferred the imaginary onto a visual plane in an aesthetic and inspiring way. We see the alien spacecraft suspended just slightly above ground in the open field like a vertical Hindenburg, or a stylistic installation of an objet d’art balancing in midair.

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, 2015; Incendies, 2010) and cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma, 2014) had transported Chiang’s eloquence from page to screen affectively, emotionally enhanced. The juxtapositions of time is seamless and effective, spurring my curiosity to think. Villeneuve leads us through a passage of cerebral perplexity, prodding me to decipher, to try to understand, like linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) does through her experience.

Amy Adams’ nuanced performance is effective in emotional capture. That’s the key factor for the film to work. Kudos also to Jeremy Renner as physicist Dr. Ian Connelly. The leading man Renner, who usually plays the cool hero in other movies here steps aside to let Louise run the show, offering his support and tender loving care wherever needed, most moving in the climatic scene.

Of course there are alterations and elaborations for dramatic effects. In situations like this where different countries on Planet Earth need to operate in a united front to share information and knowledge, there’s bound to be conflicts and dissensions. So some countries decide on military action to assault and take down the arrivals soon after attempts at understanding fail.

Computer technology might have helped Louise to decipher each symbol and finally the whole train of alien thoughts, it is her inner passion that drives her to persist and continue with the peaceful means to communicate, against the order of Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to withdraw the operation and leave the military to handle the situation.

Computer technology is crucial no doubt, but it is the human heart that has motivated Louise Banks to reach out, to achieve a Non-Zero-Sum Game: a win-win situation for both sides. The aliens’ gains does not necessarily mean human’s loss. Both sides can benefit from their exchanges.

In the grand scheme of things, however small the individual human may seem, the significant acts could be the everyday choices one makes. For Louise Banks, choosing to take up the role as a frontline translator to liaise with unknown aliens is a courageous act, but then again, so is choosing to embark on love and to take up the whole package of motherhood, with all that her choice will entail.

***

Short Story and Film:

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

Books to TV Adaptations

It’s a consolation that no matter how crazy the world spins, one can always retreat into books for respite. And film adaptations, when done well, can double the enjoyment. And now, there are TV mini series.

As if you need more suggestions to read this fall, here are some titles that are in various stages of development, but this time, not on the big screen but for TV. TV looks to be the next great realm to conquer, for even A-list movie stars and directors have started to cross over. It’s not surprising then that more books are being turned into TV miniseries.*

Here are a few upcoming titles:

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

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The 2013 Man Booker Prize winning novel is to be made into a six-part BBC drama series. Author Catton will be writing the adaptation herself. Six parts to put the 832 page book into perspective. Set in the New Zealand gold rush era, the Victorian mystery tale is a first for Catton in TV writing. Other than the longest book to win the Booker Prize, Catton is also the youngest winner at 28.
A thriller, suspense, with lots of characters and stories during the 19th C. New Zealand gold rush; sounds like a wealth of materials to turn into a TV miniseries.

 

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist.jpg
BBC loves suspense thrillers. Here’s another one. The Miniaturist is British actress Jessie Burton’s debut novel that had sold over 1 m copies in 37 countries. Set in 17th C. Amsterdam, the story looks like a version of the movie Crimson Peak. A young bride married to a merchant trader is left in his huge mansion alone with his sister most of the time. Her wedding gift is a cabinet-sized replica of their home. A miniaturist comes in to create the items of the mansion in smaller, parallel version. Secrets begin to unveil as the miniature house takes shape. Sounds eerie.

 

 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

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On this side of the Atlantic, we too have the Book into TV kind of phenom. HBO is turning Karen Joy Fowler’s Booker shortlisted, PEN/Faulkner Award winning novel into a miniseries. Now this one I’ve read, and I admit it’s quite incredulous a story. Natalie Portman is to produce and star and is ready to create a sisterly bond with a chimpanzee as they grow up together in the same home. That’s the storyline, but do they now have to train a chimp to star with her?

 

 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

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Gaiman fans rejoice. A new TV series to come in 2017 based on his multiple award-winning fantasy American Gods, with the author writing the episodes. Gaiman is prolific in various realms and no stranger to TV productions. Many will likely remember his Coraline, turned into the Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature Film in 2010. For TV, there are Dr. Who, Lucifer, Eternals and his short stories into miniseries. Now American Gods, old mythological super beings challenged by modern day gods in America; they exist as people believe in them. Their names: Media, Technology, Internet, …

 

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

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Canada will not be left behind. Our own wonder woman Sarah Polley, actress and director, is adapting the work of another prominent Canadian, Margaret Atwood. Alias Grace will be a six-hour miniseries to air on CBC-TV and Netflix. Polley’s previous adaptation of a short story by Alice Munro, retitled Away From Her, brought her an Oscar nom for Best Adapted Screenplay (2008). Alias Grace is in good hands then. Historic fiction inspired by a 19th c. double murder, the story is about a maid named Grace Marks who was convicted, had spent 30 years in prison, and finally exonerated.

 

 

 

Are you aware of other book to TV adaptations? Do fill me in and expand this list.

* See ‘Comments’ for clarification.

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Reviews of Adaptations on Ripple Effects (for a complete list, click here):

Stillman’s Love & Friendship: More than Book Illustration

Brooklyn: From Book to Film

Life of Pi

Never Let Me Go

Away From Her

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

Stillman’s Love & Friendship: More than Book Illustration

Back in 2007, the Welsh-born film director Peter Greenaway made the following stark comment:

“Cinema is predicated on the 19th-century novel. We’re still illustrating Jane Austen novels — there are 41 films of Jane Austen novels in the world — what a waste of time.”

I’m afraid since then, must be to Greenaway’s disdain, more Jane Austen movie adaptations had come out. As recent as early this year, Greenaway had reiterated his stance with an even starker comment: “all film writers should be shot.

Not that he’s anti-Austen, or holds a grudge against Tolkien or Rowling… I don’t think, but that he is pushing for a non-text-based, purely visual medium for movies.

Well, I’m glad his view remains just that, a personal opinion, and that writer/director Whit Stillman had not become a casualty of such an incendiary thought.

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For thanks to Stillman, we have an intelligent, delightful and worthy adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, a first for the author’s lesser known Juvenilia, apart from her famous six novels. The film is definitely not an illustrated book, but a worthy stand-alone cinematic production that Jane would approve.

As for dear Jane, I think she’d be pleased to know that her works are being cherished enough to be adapted into this modern invention called a movie two centuries later, and that in this post-modern era, we have a director by the name of Whit Stillman who’s enthused enough to turn her novella, written when she was still in her teenage years, into a movie production.

The epistolary novella “Lady Susan” was deemed unfinished and published posthumously. So this is a plus as Stillman could finished it for Jane, with an ending that’s aligned with the plot’s trajectory, and in a style that’s so well melded one would marvel at the perfect alchemy of Austenesque characters and language. Smartly borrowing the name of another of her novella “Love and Friendship”, Stillman toys with dear Jane’s uncontested approval.

While written in letters format, “Lady Susan” is highly entertaining. Austen’s talent is apparent on every page. How well she presents her characters merely through their written correspondences. Acerbic commentaries from an 18 year old? Hard to believe. But indeed, here are some lines describing Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry), Lady Susan’s only friend Alicia’s (Chloë Sevigny) husband:

“My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.” (Letter 29, Lady Susan Vernon to Mrs. Johnson)

Interestingly, Stillman has toned down Lady Susan’s language and made her a more amicable heroine. The above lines were shortened and delivered by Kate Beckinsale in a casual manner. Yes, turning the letters into movie scenes are tricky, crafting mere letter writers into flesh and blood can be challenging, something I hope Greenaway can appreciate.

Stillman has taken Love & Friendship to 21st C. audience with fast paced, short scenes. The settings are elegant, the period costumes appealing, overall, a fine cinematic production. It is an apt visual presentation of Austen’s ingenuity. Writing “Lady Susan” while merely 18 or 19, she had seen through the marriage system of her country, understood human nature and foibles, depicting her characters and the main heroine, no, anti-heroine, with piercing sarcasm and generosity.

Having read the novella first could be an advantage as the viewer knows exactly who the characters are and the backstory as the film begins. With the literary source in mind, the viewer can also have a heightened appreciation of the cinematic rendering and alterations needed to make it work as a movie. The fusion of Austen / Stillman humour is most delightful, punctuated with some whimsical rendering on screen that I won’t mention here but leave for viewers to enjoy.

Kate Beckinsale portrays Lady Susan with deadpan astuteness. Deadpan or dead-on, no matter, for Beckinsale is a fine Lady Susan, newly widowed, not too young to be gullible and definitely not too old to flirt for her own gains. Don’t blame her, for she has a sixteen year-old daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) to mind, and so, two eligible candidates who need to wed.

If one were to find fault, blame it on the social system allowing the female population only one track to go for sustainability, i.e. to find a husband. The ultimate goal of the marriage contract is more for finance than romance. (Maybe that’s why we love Pride and Prejudice so much, for its triumph of true love.) Here in this story, it’s a social milieu where love is remote and friendship useful. Lady Susan Vernon ultimately finds her conquest, never one to boast, just a project accomplished, all bottom lines met.

Stillman has a wonderful cast to work with, and they look like they had a lot of fun making the film, the most lively being Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). It must be a joy to be silly without restraint, yes, let it all out.

Alicia, Lady Susan’s only friend, is aptly played by Chloë Sevigny, who reunites with Kate Beckinsale from “The Last Days of Disco” (1998) where the two are the yuppie heroines under Stillman’s direction. Great to see the two friends in “Disco” have now emerged as allies yet again, this time in a comedy of manners with real Austen roots.

Stillman is a master of dialogues, and so’s Austen. In both the novella and the film, conversations make the characters. But mind you, Janeites know this, and it shows in Stillman’s film, Austen’s humour is not your roll on the floor laughing type of funny

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but a clever kind of jokes that elicits a knowing chuckle or a smile, ones that exude insight into human nature, ones that you’d want to jot down:

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And for those who have read the epistolary novella penned by a young female writer of the 18th century, one cannot help but marvel at her prodigious astuteness and now director Stillman’s revealing of her brilliant mind. A long time Austen ‘apologist’, Stillman’s previous work “Metropolitan” (1990) is unabashedly a “Mansfield Park” of the time. My favorite line in that movie is uttered by the Fanny Price parallel character Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina), when she is talking to Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) about one of her favorite Austen works, Mansfield Park. Tom has not read any Austen but feels qualified to criticize nonetheless:

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

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

(But of course, it was Tom who hasn’t read any Austen that has misread Trilling.)

That was Stillman’s debut film. Since “Metropolitan”, he had proven his mastery in the comedy of manners in our times… preppies, yuppies, and maybe someday I hope,  millennials. To say his oeuvre is a conglomeration of Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach, and Wes Anderson would be unfair, neglecting his own style of humour and social observations, although his works do leave traces of all the above.

When awards season comes, I anticipate the film to receive some nominations, specifically Adapted Screenplay, Set Design, Costumes and Hair, and perhaps directing.

Here’s my recommendation: read Jane’s novella Lady Susan first before watching the movie would probably reap the most enjoyment. Afterwards, there’s the bonus. Yes, Whit Stillman has wrapped it all up with the novel Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Was Entirely Vindicated published by Little, Brown and Co. in May, 2016. Icing on the cake.

Jane Austen doesn’t need a defender, but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind getting acknowledgement for her lesser known Juvenilia, some works started when she was only twelve. “Love & Friendship” is a first attempt and a worthy homage to her ingenuity. I’m glad there are many prospects. Whit Stillman and Jane Austen make one fine match indeed.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

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Related posts on Ripple Effects:

Love & Friendship and Other Prospects

Too Much Jane?

Why We Read Jane Austen

Mansfield Park: Jane Austen the Contrarian