The Good Liar Movie Review

From an online dating site, two people meet. They are two seniors, con artist Roy (Ian McKellen) and his seemingly easy prey Betty (Helen Mirren), a wealthy widow. That’s all I knew about the movie before I went into the theatre. When I came out, I was surprised by its intensity and scope. Not something I’d expected. Definitely not a romantic dramedy but a suspense thriller that drops hints along the way and slowly peels off its layers of disguise. 

The Good Liar

That’s all I’m going to say about the plot because any more details I give out would diminish your enjoyment. However, I’m sure there are those who, like me, had never expected the personal history behind these two characters. Some might have been caught so off guard that they’d find the story preposterous. To them I say, it’s no more preposterous than Gone Girl, or The Debt, or Inglorious Basterds, which Roy and Betty watch in the movie. The interplay between Mirren and McKellen more than compensates for the lack of plausibility in the revealing of truth in the latter part. Further, it’s these elements of surprise that make the movie entertaining. Take it as pure escapism.

The Good Liar is based on the debut novel by British author Nicholas Searle, a pseudonym. The author worked as a UK intelligence officer before becoming a full-time writer. After watching the movie now I’m piqued to read the book, not to explore deep subject but just for its structure, to see how Searle tells his story interweaving the present and the past. This is one good case for not reading the book before watching the movie.

Mirren and McKellen, two British acting icons for the stage and screen, deliver a captivating performance playing off each other and enjoying themselves too, by the look. Director Bill Condon deftly leads us on to some revealing that makes one think twice about the meaning of the title. Condon directed Dreamgirls (2006) to two Oscar wins and received a Best Writing Oscar for adapting Gods and Monsters (1998) and a nom for his screenplay for Chicago (2002).

Other cast members include Jim Carter and Russell Tovey, both lending good support. I admit I have to try hard to cast away images of Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey when I watch Carter in The Good Liar, no matter how modern his hairdo.

Cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler (A Wrinkle in Time 2018; Beauty and the Beast, 2017) offers some interesting vantage points, in particular the aerial shots in several scenes. The beginning of the movie grabs our attention right away with the credits being typed out on screen and a high angle shot of the two main characters connecting online on a dating site, then pulling in closer. The extreme close-ups of their eyes prepare us for intrigues. The story moves right in wasting no time. Overall, just watching the duo play off each other is entertaining enough.


~ ~ ~ Ripples


Movies based on books in November and December 2019

Here are several films coming out this fall/winter that are based on books. Usually features given a release date during this time come with some buzz as the awards season has kicked off. Surely there are also those that are from original screenplays, a few are highly anticipated titles as well. Another post for them.

Here’s a list of upcoming book to screen features. Some are in theatres already.


The Good Liar

The Good Liar.jpg

This is an interesting premise: From an online dating site, two people meet, each having an agenda of his/her own. They are octogenarian con artist Roy and his seemingly easy, slightly younger prey Betty, a wealthy widow. Played by two veterans of the stage and screen, Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren, just to watch their performance would be pleasure enough, not to mention how the plot thickens. Bill Condon directs. Based on the debut novel by Nicholas Searle; the name BTW, is a pseudonym. The author is a former UK intelligence officer before turning full-time writer. Now that’s intriguing.


The Irishman 

The Irishman.jpg

A highly anticipated Scorsese movie and it’s based on a book; many of the director’s works are.  This one is adapted from Charles Brandt’s true crime novel about the ‘Irishman’ Frank Sheeran, the hitman who murdered Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. Screenplay is by Steven Zaillian, the Oscar winning writer who adapted Schindler’s List for the big screen. A Scorsese cast with Robert De Niro as Sheeran, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Anna Paquin. Limited release in theatres, then on Netflix, which makes it another potential clash with studio gatekeeper Spielberg.


Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit Movie Still


Winner of the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at TIFF 2019. The award has always been cited as an indicator of Oscar Best Picture, like last year’s The Green Book. But just like last year, the feature is embraced by viewers but received mixed reviews by critics. Billed as an ‘Anti-Hate Satire’, the farcical rendition is helmed by New Zealand director Taika Waititi who also stars as Adolf Hitler, a caricature and imaginary friend of 10 yr. old Jojo going through tough times towards the end of WWII. Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell co-star. The movie is loosely based on the book Caging Skies by New Zealand-Belgian novelist Christine Leunens. How much has Waititi taken out from the book and how much is his own imagination? A good case study of the boundary and definition of movie adaptations.


Motherless Brooklyn

Motherless Brooklyn.jpg

Edward Norton has wanted to make the movie ever since he read Jonathan Lethem’s detective novel, a 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award winner. So, it’s taken him 20 years to do it, himself being the screenwriter, director, actor, and producer. Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a detective with Tourette’s syndrome, a disorder which afflicts him with involuntary tics. While keeping the location in NYC, Norton has changed the time to the 50’s from 1999, thereby introducing some nostalgic designs and costumes, and noir for taste. Cast includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Willem Defoe, Bruce Willis, and Alec Baldwin.


Little Women


It has been 25 years since the last full feature adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women. This updated remake is in the hands of Greta Gerwig, whose Lady Bird (2017) brought her two Oscar noms, for Best Director and Original Screenplay. But what left an indelible memory for me is her role as Frances in Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha (2012). Now thinking back to her character Frances, a young dancer striving on her own in NYC, it shares the spirit of Jo March in Little Women: independent, fresh, and authentic. Great cast with Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep. A film I most look forward to this holidays season.




For all ye ailurophiles and musical lovers. Based on T. S. Eliot’s collection of poems Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 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: Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellen, James Corden, Taylor Swift.



Upcoming Book-to-Movie Adaptations: Good Summer Reading

Previously on Ripple, I’d posted lists of books-to-movies coming out soon here and here. If you’ve gone to the theatre lately, you’ve probably seen trailers for some of them: The GoldfinchWhere’d you go Bernadette? or Cats (like a horror movie for someone who has ailurophobia.)

Here are some updates. The following is a list of movie adaptations in development for the big screen or TV series. They are in various stages of production, just announced or in pre-production, release dates unknown or tentative. If you’re the well-prepped movie goer, here’s your list of summer reading:

Where the Crawdads sing.jpegWhere the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Now 46 weeks on the NYT Bestsellers List and has sold more than 1.5 million copies, Owens’s debut novel about a young girl who has raised herself and survived alone in a coastal North Carolina marsh is a mix of nature writing, murder mystery, and coming-of-age story. Reese Witherspoon will be producing it with Fox 2000. Owens is a wildlife scientist and nature writer who had spent years in Africa.


Little Fires Everywhere (1)

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Another project by Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine production company. Ng’s novel about families in a Cleveland suburb dealing with diversity, teenager angsts, and generational conflicts had been named Best Book of the Year (2017) by NPR, Amazon, Goodreads, The Guardian… just to name a few. It will be adapted into a TV series with the Hulu platform. 



Ask Again, YesAsk Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

The producers of American Beauty (1999) which won 5 Oscars in 2000 have bought the movie and TV rights of the book. Another novel about suburban families is being described in Goodreads as “profoundly moving.” Author Keane was a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow in Fiction; her previous works had been a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award and garnered Best Book of the year acclaims.


The Silent PatientThe Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Screenwriter Michaelides’s debut novel is described by Entertainment Weekly as “a mix of Hitchcockian suspense, Agatha Christie plotting, and Greek tragedy.” A psychotherapist has to unlock the mystery of his patient who’d killed her husband six years earlier and then remained silent since. (Read an excerpt using the link) Meanwhile, Michaelides will write the screenplay, naturally. Brad Pitt’s Plan B and Annapurna Pictures producing.


Tattoist of Auschwitz.jpgThe Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Hailed as the true story of Slovakian Jew, Lali Sokolov, who fell in love with a girl he was tattooing at the Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII, a powerful story of love and survival. British producer Synchronicity Films had secured the rights and a drama series is in development. Here’s the rub: the Auschwitz Memorial Research Centre had disputed the authenticity of the book according to The Guardian. A case of negative publicity is still good publicity?
The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner (2017) is adapted by director Barry Jenkins. Jenkins’s name had catapulted to stardom since his Oscar win for Moonlight (2016) and the subsequent If Beale Street Could Talk (2018). The story of the harrowing escape of two Southern slaves Cora and Caesar using the Underground Railroad is adapted into 11 episodes for Amazon Studio.


Washington Black (2)

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

The book is Edugyan’s second consecutive win of Canada’s Scotiabank Giller’s Prize, also shortlisted for the 2018 Booker Prize. The journey of 11-year-old slave boy “Wash” born on a Barbados plantation is a fantastical story of adventure when he became the personal servant of Englishman Christopher Wilde, inventor, naturalist, explorer, and abolitionist. 20th Century Fox TV, after “an intense bidding war” , had secured the rights to the small screen.




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.


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.



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.





Brooklyn: From Book to Film

Director John Crowley’s movie adaptation of Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín has aptly answered my query (last post): what elements in the book make movie materials? Potentially, a lot. The trick is not to turn them into cliché moments on screen, for this isn’t an unusual story: a young woman leaving home and finding independence and love in a new land. While the film has its flaws, Crowley has crafted a beautiful and stylish transposition.

Author Nick Hornby has done it again following his Oscar nominated screenplay for An Education (2009) adapted from Lynn Barber’s memoir, a film that launched Carey Mulligan’s breakout role and Oscar nod, also a coming-of-age story.

Here in Brooklyn, Hornby tells his story by linking up succinct scenes that just about cover all key episodes in the book. They are short, to the point, and well-paced. The editing too is seamless, driving the film on without delay. After all, they only have about 120 minutes, and they’ve done a smooth job doing that.

Brooklyn Movie Poster

Tóibín’s seemingly simple narration of young Eilis Lacey’s journey of emigration from Ireland to America in the 1950’s is transposed onto film with sensitivity and nuance. The ‘mundaneness’ of daily living – working in a department store, dinner back at the boarding house, night class several days in the week – is transformed into vivid scenes by a lively cast of actors. To their credits, the already animated dinner table banters at Mrs. Kehoe’s (Julie Walters) rooming house as described by Tóibín have now come to life. Indeed, Julie Walters embodies Mrs. Kehoe, and Jim Broadbent as Father Flood is well cast.

Crowley, or is it Hornby, had softened Tóibín’s shrewd descriptions of some of his characters, presenting them in a sympathetic light, making them more likeable. The mood is less serious than the book but evoking empathy just the same. Although two weak spots I find. First is the glamorous and confident older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) is not depicted as such, lessening the effect that is to come later. Secondly, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) is absent at the beginning but appears only in the last part of the film, hence there is not much for character contrast or development.

While most of the supporting characters are well played, the film belongs to Saoirse Ronan, the young Irish actor who first drew notice from Joe Wright’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2007). Her performance as 13 year-old Briony sent chills up my spine. With that role Ronan became one of the youngest Academy Awards nominees. In the most recent Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) she sends out very different vibes. As of now for Brooklyn, Ronan has a Golden Globe Best Actress nom. I anticipate she will go all the way to the Oscars.

Cinematographer Yves Bélanger is apt to let the camera linger on Ronan close-up many times, for she acts without speaking. Her facial expressions representing the spectrum of Eilis’s emotions and thoughts are spot on. It is a delight to watch her.

Another animated scene is dinner at Tony’s (Emory Cohen) Italian family home. Here, we see the characters jump out of the book, especially the kid brother, 8 year-old Frankie (James DiGiacomo), whose infamous line is “We don’t like Irish people.” But of course, the whole family welcomes Eilis and supports Tony, who has interpreted his literary version well: respectful, authentic and transparent, as Tóibín writes,”he was as he appeared to her; there was no other side to him.”

Domhnall Gleeson as Jim Farrell has a hard role to play for its very short appearance in the last part. He has not much material to work from but just hangs around with Nancy (Eileen O’Higgins) and George (Peter Campion) who try to set him up with Eilis. Not much to launch a lightning courtship.

Colours play a major role in the film, albeit I feel a pinch of contrivance; watching the colourful 1950’s costumes is like looking into the window of a candy shop with all kinds of macaroons. However, the colours may well set the mood and setting for the film: The overall greenish tone of the first part in Ireland, to the stark green coat Eilis wears as she leaves home on board the ocean liner to the cheery bright yellow cardigan after she has met Tony. Towards the last part, it’s back to the greenish hue of Enniscorthy, only the newly returned Irish/American gal wearing her bright colours. Too explicit a visual translation? Maybe, but I like macaroons, and I won’t hold a Ripple against the colour treatment.

Another visual imagery is at the beginning, right after Eilis has landed in America and gone past the immigration line, she opens the door to head out. We see her step out into an overwhelming brightness of white. Too heavenly? Or maybe just the right sign to boost the confidence of our seasick and insecure heroine?

How do you translate Tóibín’s quiet descriptions on screen? His signature depictions of a calm surface that hides tumultuous billows of emotions? Crowley gives us silence. Indeed, there are cinematic moments that are devoid of sound; the most memorable one is close to the ending when Eilis reveals her secret to her mother (Jane Brennan), sending shock waves and despondence on her face. Yet she restrained her emotions. Mother and daughter embrace in utter silence with tears flowing, saying possibly a last goodbye to each other in their lives and releasing a determined letting go for both.

Brooklyn is a beautiful adaptation worthy of its literary source, among one of the best films I’ve seen in 2015.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples 


Update Jan. 14, 2016:
3 Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay


Related Review Posts:

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín Book Review

Atonement: Book Into Film

The Budapest Hotel: A Grand Escape

Ex Machina (2015) 

Books to Films at TIFF15

September kicks off Film Festival Season, a prequel to all the movie nominations coming up at the end of the year. First there’s Venice, Telluride, and Sept. 10 begins the 10-day celebration of films from over 70 countries at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The following are several of the premieres at TIFF15 that are adaptations from literary sources. Just to throw some more reading ideas out in case you’re not already overwhelmed with book suggestions.


The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

The Dressmaker Movie-tie-in CoverAustralian author Rosalie Ham’s debut novel (2000) is divided into four sections named after four different kinds of fabric: gingham, shantung, felt and brocade. The historical, gothic novel has received several nominations and shortlisted for the Book of the Year Award (2001) by the Australian Booksellers Association. The film adaptation stars Kate Winslet as the dressmaker Tilly Dunnage who returns to her hometown seeking revenge on her being expelled years before, with a sewing machine as her accomplice. Sounds interesting? What more, she is a Titanic survivor (of course she is) and the plot thickens with a hearing on the doomed maiden voyage. Australian director Jocelyn Moorhouse wrote the screenplay and shot the film in Victoria. Liam Hemsworth and Judy Davis also star.

High-Rise by J. G. Ballard

HighRise(1stEd)J. G. Ballard’s most well-known novel probably is Empire of the Sun (1984) thanks to Steven Spielberg’s movie adaptation. That is a semi-autobiographical account of Ballard’s childhood years in a Shanghai internment camp during the Japanese invasion of China. The production is one of the better WWII, Pacific War movies, splashed with some surreal styling. Now High-Rise (1975) looks like a totally imaginative work. An ultra-modern high-rise apartment (hopefully with some updated renos from its inception in 1975) with all its conveniences and amenities only lead to the isolation of its tenants, dividing them into different classes and eventually, to rivalry and extreme violence. The high-rise is a self-contained microcosm of our civilized society, perhaps Lord of the Flies of the concrete jungle. An acerbic satire of our human condition, the film is directed by Ben Wheatley and stars Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons.

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

Into the ForestThis is Hegland’s debut novel (1996), and had been translated into eleven languages. Set in Northern California in the near future when a massive continental power outage causes the total shutdown of technology, subsequently, the total collapse of human society. The apocalyptic scenario unfolds as two teenaged sisters – at first living in an idyllic, remote forest – now have to fend for themselves, find food at the brink of starvation, secure safety in the wild, and in the process, grow in their relationship with each other and learn more about their world. A coming-of-age story as well as an allegory of our technologically dependent society. The film is shot in British Columbia where, yes, there are beautiful forests. Canadian director Patricia Rozema writes the screenplay and helms the production. Rozema is the one who brought us Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park the movie in 1999. Popular Canadian actress Ellen Page joins hands with Evan Rachel Wood to play the roles of the sisters.

The Lady In the Van by Alan Bennett

The Lady in the VanThanks to the film adaptation, or I wouldn’t have known about this amazing story. Acclaimed English playwright Alan Bennett’s play is not fiction but a memoir. Bennett saw a transient woman living in a van on the street. Trying to help her out, he let her park on his own driveway for three weeks so she could sort things out and move on. Well, Miss Shepherd stayed for 15 years. Not surprisingly, she and the playwright form an unlikely bond of friendship. This ‘mostly true’, incredulous story needs to be told for its unique human scenario. From play to film is probably the best route to reach many more viewers. Who else other than Maggie Smith best fit the role as Miss Shepherd? And so she did, with Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett. Supporting cast includes Jim Broadbent, Dominic Cooper, and James Cordon. The is the third film wherein director Nicholas Hytner and playwright Alan Bennett team up. Their previous collaborations are The History Boys (2006) and The Madness of King George (1994).

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian movie tie in editionHere’s a Cinderella story that all bloggers can cheer for. In 2009, Andy Weir started posting on his personal blog as a post-by-post serial his well-researched sic-fi story about an astronaut stranded on Mars. Chapter by chapter he attracted numerous readers who, after the story was finished, suggested he publish it as an eBook so people could read it online as a whole. Weir did that and his eBook soon hit the top of Amazon’s best selling sic-fi list. Not long after, Random House stepped in and took it from there, from e to reality. Four days later, “Hollywood called for the movie rights,” Weir recalled. As I type, on this second week of September, Weir’s book is number one on the New York Times Best Sellers Trade Paperback Fiction list. And the movie? The legendary Ridley Scott takes the helm, with NASA consulting, Matt Damon stars, and an A-list supporting cast includes Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Jeff Daniels. World premiere at TIFF before a general release later in October. And it all started with a blog post.

Room by Emma Donoghue

roomThe 2010 Booker-prize shortlisted novel by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue reads like you’d want to see it visualized. Indeed, hearing constantly the voice of a 5 year-old could have that effect on you. So here we are. A movie adaptation. Locked in a room and made captive by a psychotic abuser, a young mother gives birth and for the next five years raises her child Jack in a shed. At 5, Jack has known no other worlds, but now begins to ask questions. Ma cannot contain the make-believe anymore so she tells Jack there’s a world out there, and starts to prepare him for a possible escape. The multiple-award winning novel is written from the child’s perspective. It depicts the power of love and the indomitable spirit of resilience and hope, but maybe not for the claustrophobic. The movie trailer is impressive; the 1.5 minute clip is powerful, consuming, and very moving. The film premiered at Telluride International Film Festival in early September and stunned the audience, drawing multiple standing ovations. Donoghue wrote the screenplay herself, that could well be a definite asset. Lenny Abrahamsson directs, with Brie Larson as Ma, Jacob Tremblay as Jack, Joan Allen and William H. Macy supporting.

UPDATE Sept. 20, 2015: ROOM has just won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at TIFF15 tonight. FYI, a few of TIFF’s previous winners had gone on to win the Oscar Best Picture including 12 Years A Slave (2013), The King’s Speech (2010), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), American Beauty (1999).


Old Tales, New Takes

From the comments in my post What Maisie Knew (2012): From Book to Film, I see literature lovers, especially those who have read Henry James’s novel, are curious to watch the movie, wondering what a modern day film version could offer. Here is a good example of an adaptation exerting artistic and creative freedom to transpose while bringing out the spirit of the source material, ideas transferred as types onto the screen.

I can imagine too for literature purists, this is horror story. To them, movie adaptations are by definition a lower form of creation. They may be more acceptable if they follow exactly the same story lines and characterization. Any diversion spells disloyalty. How faithful and literal they are in the transposition is the sacred measure of their quality.

Having seen some retelling of literature effectively turned into cinematic form, I had long discarded the ‘loyalty’ criterion in my personal viewing. A ‘faithful adaptation’ doesn’t guarantee success, an example is the newest Romeo and Juliet (2013) which, using a modern day term, is pretty ‘lame’.

On the other hand, you might have enjoyed some movies without being aware of the literary source on which they are based, however loosely:

Apocalypse Now – Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

The Claim – Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge

Clueless – Jane Austen’s Emma

Cruel Intentions – Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Easy A – Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

The Hours – Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

Jude – Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure

The Lion King – Shakespeare’s Hamlet

My Fair Lady – Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion

From Prada to Nada – A Latina version of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

O Brother, Where Art Thou? – Homer’s Odyssey

Ran (Kurosawa’s, another evidence that literature is universal) – Shakespeare’s King Lear

West Side Story – Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Of course there are those that still use the same title without having to hide an alter ego, but have given the source material a contemporary spin. Because of their new angle to an old story, viewers can glean fresh insights and gain a deeper appreciation. Here are a few productions in recent years that are worth watching:


Coriolanus (2011)


coriolanus_03Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut. Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is placed in present day, fictional Rome. Modern politics, urban warfare, but same old human hunger for power, the treachery of pride and the ever complex entanglements of family ties. Ralph Fiennes is superb as Coriolanus rivalling and later aligning with his archenemy Aufidius (Gerald Butler). Vanessa Redgrave and Jessica Chastain play the two significant others in the life of Coriolanus the vengeful career warrior, his mother and wife. Alas, what’s a woman to do?




Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

Much Ado About Nothing (2012)If a movie adaptation had already been made by Kenneth Branagh with Emma Thompson and all the Brits in full period costumes and a colourful set, what is one supposed to do for a remake? Joss Whedon was ingenious enough to shoot it in a couple of weeks, like on a whim, right in his own Santa Monica, California home, in black and white. Every room, furniture, wine glass, and the swimming pool is Whedon’s, but every line is Shakespeare’s. Old story, modern humour. A most creative take.




Trishna (2011)

TrishnaThis is British director Michael Winterbottom’s third adaptation of a Thomas Hardy novel, after Jude (1996, Jude the Obscure) and The Claim (2000, The Mayor of Casterbridge set in 1860’s California). This time he transports us to India. From the mass of humanity, we zoom in to one innocent girl in a poor rural area, 19 year-old Trishna. The trajectory of her fate and encounters parallel Tess of the d’Urbervilles in Thomas Hardy’s novel, equally poignant and tragic. The transposition is convincing. Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire fame is perfectly cast as Trishna. Winterbottom’s naturalistic style matches the mood of the novel. Not easy to watch at times as we follow a powerless female in a class-centred, male dominated world. A beautifully shot film.


Blue Jasmine (2013)

Blue Jasmine Movie PosterI’ve written a full post on this. I see Blue Jasmine as Woody Allen’s homage to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. A different time and place, altered names and backstories, but same kind of struggles, parallel character types. Vivien Leigh won an Oscar for her role as Blanche in the 1951 movie version as a displaced, worldly older sister coming to take shelter with her younger, less well-to-do sister. Cate Blanchett won hers playing Jasmine who faces similar predicaments. In typical Woody Allen style, a pathos and humour mashup. Blue Jasmine is an excellent new take on a piece of classic literature. Of course, in this case, we only see the overarching parallels, but it does speak to the subliminal power of old tales.






Can A Movie Adaptation Ever Be As Good As the Book?

Tess of the d’Urbervilles (2008 TV): The Lite Version Part 1, Part 2

Blue Jasmine: Homage and Re-imagining 

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

A Summer in Genoa (2008, Michael Winterbottom, Colin Firth)

Read Some Possible Oscar Contenders

Emphasis on the ‘possible’. At this point of the race, some films have not been released other than screened in Film Festivals. The frontrunner so far is 12 Years A Slave. And then there are the rest, some long shots, some longer. But I’d like to include them on this list because I want to draw your attention to the books which inspire these film adaptations.

How come Gravity isn’t here? You ask. It’s a frontrunner too. Yes. But, ah… find me the book first. No book? Maybe because it’s much easier to pass you the 3D glasses.

Here’s a list of fall/winter reading to gear up for the upcoming Awards Season.

12 Years A Slave by Solomon Northup

12 Years a Slave copyThe movie adaptation directed by Steve McQueen is TIFF13 People’s Choice Award winner. From past years, this accolade is a good predictor of Oscar wins. Based on the real life story of Solomon Northup, a free black man in Upstate New York who was kidnapped into slavery in Louisiana. For twelve years he suffered in the hands of several masters. First published in 1853, the book is Northup’s first-person accounts of slavery in 19th C. America, noteworthy for its historical value and poignancy. The actor Chiwetel Ejiofor a likely Oscar Best Actor nom for his role as Solomon Northup. You can download the whole book in its original form here.

August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

August Osage CountyThe play won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Members of a dysfunctional family inevitably come together after tragedy strikes. The stage production was described by the NYT as ‘a fraught, densely plotted saga of an Oklahoma clan in a state of near-apocalyptic meltdown’. Before you see how the A-list cast interpret their roles on screen, maybe reading the play is rewarding since you get to experience the story first hand before being influenced by Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor…

The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel

The Monuments MenI’ve mentioned this title in a previous post. Now I’ve got the book in my hands. The true but untold story of how a group of rescuers called the Monuments Men in war-torn Europe saved  art and artifacts from the Nazi’s. In the introduction of the book, the author writes: “Hitler and the Nazis pulled off the ‘greatest theft in history’, seizing and transporting more than five million cultural objects to the Third Reich.” George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Hugh Bonneville (so Lord Grantham finally gets the chance to go into the battlefield).

A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Philips

A Captain's Duty..Another likely contender that has been getting a lot of buzz is this thriller starring Tom Hanks, based on Captain Richard Phillips’ real life ordeal in the hands of Somali pirates. A lawsuit will begin in a few weeks filed by the crew of the ship Maersk Alabama against the shipping company for sending them to pirate-infested waters unprepared. They also claim the Captain was at fault in the case. Their attorneys had set up a Webpage to clarify the truths from the fiction. A turbulent epilogue to the real life adventure on high seas.

The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith

The Lost Child of Philomena Lee copyJudi Dench could get a possible Best Actress Oscar nomination with her role as Philomena Lee. In her youth as an unwed mother, Philomena was sent to the convent of Roscrea, Limerick, her baby taken away and ‘sold’ to America for adoption. As she became an adult, Philomena was determined to search for her lost child. I missed this at TIFF13. Maybe an Oscar nomination for Dench could raise the prospect of it being screened in our theatres.


‘Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage’ by Alice Munro

Hateship-Friendship-Courtship-Loveship-Marriage-book-cover copyWith Alice Munro garnering the newest top honor as Nobel Laureate, hopefully the film adaption of this short story with a shorter title Hateship, Loveship will receive a wider release. It has been a long while since Away From Her (2006). The film receives positive feedbacks at TIFF13. A good cast with Kristen Wiig (Best Actress and Best Original Screenwriting Oscar noms for Bridesmaids), Guy Pearce (The King’s Speech), Hailee Seinfeld (True Grit), Nick Nolte (too many to name).

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber (Click on link to read the story online.)

The Secret Life of Walter MittyInteresting to see another film adaptation of a short story. This one I have a feeling that it’s very loosely based on Thurber’s character Walter Mitty, considering it’s a Ben Stiller movie. I’m sure many have read this story in school, time to reread just to get the Walter Mitty psyche, then go and check out the Ben Stiller ride. Other than Stiller, there are Kristen Wiig (again, in two short story film adaptations the same year), Sean Penn (can you imagine?), Shirley MacLaine.

The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort

The Wolf of Wall Street copyCoincidence that Leonardo DiCaprio jumps from being Jay Gatsby to Jordan Belfort, the real life fraud on Wall Street, notorious for his highflying lifestyle and his operating a boiler room brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont. A multimillionaire at 26, he was later indicted in 1998 for securities fraud and money laundering but only served 22 months in federal prison. The Wolf of Wall Street is his unabashedly candid memoir. Martin Scorsese directs with DiCaprio touted as a likely contender in the Best Actor Oscar category.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief copyNo Oscar buzz around this one, but a look at the movie trailer, I know I want to see it. Yes, mainly because of Geoffrey Rush I admit. And also, Brian Percival… ring a bell? Director of Downton Abbey. The film will be released in November, a time slot where contenders are placed. So, you can say it’s a long, long shot for, who knows, maybe Geoffrey Rush, or Emily Watson? I admit I still haven’t read this very popular YA title. I’d like to do that before watching the film. Is this one on your movie viewing radar?