Movie Reads for Summer!

One task I always like to set for myself during the summer is to assemble a reading list of books on which upcoming films are based. It’s fun to spend some time on the beach and imagine how these stories will look onscreen and then see how much stronger the director’s vision is compared to your own. More importantly, film adaptations often make for the more prestigious/highly touted studio films during the festival/awards seasons (ex: Precious, Never Let Me Go, No Country For Old Men, etc.), so reading them in advance might provide an edge in making your predictions. Take this list of upcoming movie-reads with a heavy grain of salt, though, as this time last summer I was reading Eat, Pray, Love in anticipation of the much hyped Julia Roberts vehicle… d’oh! Anyways, here are some titles to add to your reading list to prepare for the upcoming movie season:

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Help should be first on everyone’s reading list this summer. Not only is the film the first to hit the multiplex (August 10), but Stockett’s novel is an immensely powerful, humorous, and enlightening debut. More impressive is how Stockett’s succinct prose and excellent characterizations make The Help a widely accessible – and deceptively simple – read. The movie for The Help stars Emma Stone as Skeeter Phelan, a social misfit in her Bible Belt hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, who undertakes a secret project when her ultra-conservative friend (Bryce Dallas Howard) starts an initiative encouraging Jackson families to create separate washrooms for their African-American help. Skeeter’s project is to write a story from the perspective of the help, and she begins by enlisting her friend’s maid Aibileen (played by Viola Davis) and Hilly’s sass-mouthed nemesis Milly (Octavia Spencer, who receives special mention from Stockett in her acknowledgments in the novel). Stockett’s inspiring tale of civil progress deserves comparison to Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and hopefully The Help will be just as strong (but not as controversial) as Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Walker’s novel.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
While reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road this summer, one word immediately came to mind: unfilmable. A rambling odyssey that sees Sal Paradise, Kerouac’s iconic drifter, traverse the American landscape in a series of subjective episodes, On the Road features enough vignettes, characters, and vivid passages to fill a six-hour miniseries. More difficult than condensing the sprawling narrative, though, will be capturing the style and syntax of On the Road: arguably the novel that defined the Beat Generation, Kerouac tells On the Road in a voice that is not easily suited to cinema. Director Walter Salles certainly has had much success with road movies (The Motorcycle Diaries, Central Station, Foreign Land), so if any filmmaker can offer a take on Kerouac’s story that satisfies the legions of readers influenced by On the Road, it’s him. Some fans will inevitably be reluctant to accept any infidelity to their well-worn copies of the book, so expect this to be one of the most praised or derided adaptations of the year. (Some of it was shot in Gatineau, Quebec, so I’ll be rooting for it!) The film stars Sam Riley as Sal, Garrett Hedlund as Dean, and Kristen Stewart as Marylou, and features an impressive supporting cast of Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Elisabeth Moss, and Steve Buscemi. (On the Road does not yet have a release date.)
Riley, Stewart, and Hedlund in On the Road

One Day by David Nicholls
Unfairly dubbed a “beach read” by many reviewers for its hip, feel-good, rom-com-ness, One Day is a refreshing story of true love. This story of Dexter and Emma (played by Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway in the film), begins on the first day of their relationship – a one night affair that changed their friendship forever. Each chapter revisits that same day each subsequent year for the next two decades as the lives of Dex and Em take unexpected turns and their relationship undergoes surprising pushes and pulls. Despite the formal gimmick of One Day, David Nicholls tells his love story with uncontrived feeling and invigorating Nick Hornby-ish warmth. It’s a story well suited to the style of Lone Scherfig, who did an excellent job in realizing Hornby’s own adaptation of Lynn Barber’s memoir An Education. Will lightning strike twice? Read the book and see One Day when it opens August 19th.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 
by John le Carré
A few years ago, I picked up Smiley’s People, the fourth novel featuring le Carré’s spy George Smiley. I liked it, but I felt like I missed something. I presumably did, since it was the fifth entry in the Smiley series, excluding the other le Carré novels in which Smiley appears as a minor character. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy isn’t the first novel featuring Smiley either (that’s Call for the Dead), but it is the first entry in le Carré’s “Karla Trilogy,” in which Smiley figures prominently. le Carré supposedly revised Smiley’s backstory for Tinker anyways, so anyone who hasn’t read the earlier works will probably fare adequately.

Starring as George Smiley in the film adaptation is Gary Oldman (in what looks to be a strong performance). Joining Oldman is a very impressive cast of Brits including Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, and Stephen Ray. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is adapted by Peter Straughan (The Men who Stare at Goats) and the late Bridget O’Connor; moreover, there’s an extra bit of intrigue to this spy thriller: it’s the first film by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson since his breakout hit Let the Right One In. (Opens Nov. 18)

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
This one is pretty high up on my reading list, as it’s one of Shakespeare's plays that I haven’t read. It’s also one of the Bard's plays that is performed and discussed less frequently than his others are, so the film sounds like a welcome entry in cinemascape polluted with sub-par interpretations of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. (IMDB lists three upcoming adaptations of both of these plays …including one with Eddie Murphy!) Like Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. This play centres on a Roman war hero makes a successful bid for the Senate, only to be faced with a coup and exiled.

Coriolanus sounds like a grand showcase for good drama. It seems like that’s what we’ll get too, as the film stars Ralph Fiennes in the title role. Fiennes also makes his directorial debut with Coriolanus, and word from this year’s Berlin Film Festival says that it’s a good one, with many critics citing Fiennes’s present-day setting of the film to be quite effective. The hottest buzz on the film, however, is that Vanessa Redgrave offers an award-calibre performance as Coriolanus’s mother, Volumnia. Hopefully her strong supporting turn in The Whistleblower will give her an extra push. Rounding out the Shakespearian troupe are Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain (who also appears in The Help) and Lubna Azabal (Incendies). Opens December 2nd
Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave in Coriolanus
This Dark World by Carolyn Briggs
Speaking of actors turned directors, one of my favourite actresses, Vera Farmiga, makes her directorial debut with Higher Ground. Adapted from the memoir This Dark World by Carolyn Briggs, Higher Ground is a journey of self-discovery for Corinne (Farmiga) a born-again Christian. As Corinne’s love for her family and her god are put to the test, the book and the film examine the co-dependency of faith and doubt. Reading Briggs’s account beforehand would be worthwhile, for not only will it provide some chicken soup for the soul during the summer months, but it will also add some extra insight into Farmiga’s directorial vision. The talented actress has worked with some of the best directors in the business – Martin Scorsese (The Departed), Jonathan Demme (The Manchurian Candidate) – as well as fresh talents like Debra Granik (Down to the Bone) and Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) so perhaps she’s been a keen observer of behind-the-camera action whilst soliciting solid work in front of it. Early word from Sundance is that Farmiga’s debut is strong, with some saying the actress has found a higher calling. Higher Ground opens in limited release August 26th

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
It’s been seven years since Alexander Payne made Sideways, so his latest film, The Descendants, is an surely one of the biggest indie-movie events of the year. Payne is no stranger to film adaptations, as his most recent films – Sideways, About Schmidt, and Election – are all based on literary works. His latest dramedy centres on a wealthy man who takes his two daughters to Hawaii as a brief respite while their mother remains on life support. The unexpected surprise on the trip, however, is the discovery of his wife’s infidelity. The Descendants stars George Clooney and it opens Decemeber 16th, just in time for Oscar season. 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 
by Stieg Larsson.
If you have not already read the most popular book of 2010, you might be the only person who hasn’t. Chances are that if you strolled down the beach or sat down on a Starbucks patio last summer, you would have seen at least one person absorbed in one of Larsson’s behemoth books. True, Larsson’s novels aren’t high literature (one could easily excise 200 pages from the book with little consequence), but they are incredibly entertaining and are certainly a step above John Grisham. Even though 2010 saw the full Millennium trilogy onscreen as well, the upcoming version by David Fincher could be a revisionist take on a story that has ample room for improvement. Word is they’ve changed the ending on this one, so expect some grumbling from the audience. The biggest question that remains is whether Rooney Mara can match Noomi Rapace’s incarnation of Lisbeth from the Swedish films. After seeing Mara’s deer-in-the-headlights performance in The Social Network, I remain a skeptic until The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opens in theatres December 21st. Based on the teaser trailer, though, this film looks well cast and quite promising. (And it’s best if watched loud.)

We Need to Talk About Kevin 
by Lionel Schriver. 
I read We Need to Talk About Kevin last summer, and I can honestly say that it just about knocked the wind out of me. Schiver’s book is a harrowing story of a mother, Eva, struggling to reconcile her culpability after her son commits a school shooting. Kevin is a dark and complex epistolary novel told from Eva’s perspective as she writes to her husband Franklin and examines how their relationship might have influenced their son’s behaviour. Schriver’s reflection on motherhood is truly devastating and buzz from this year’s Cannes film festival says that Tilda Swinton is equally shattering in her performance as Eva. I’ll say little more about the film other than that the early clips hint that director/co-writer Lynne Ramsay looks to have nailed it. This might be my most anticipated film of the year: if there’s one book to add to a reading list this summer, this is it!