|A Long Way Down should be first on your reading list!|
Some of this year’s most talked about films, for better or for worse, have been page-to-screen adventures. The Great Gatsby might have seen the biggest kerfuffle from the English department, since Baz Luhrmann’s bombastic adaptation often had moviegoers and reviewers knocking the classroom staple off its pedestal, saying that the Fitzgerald classic wasn’t very good to begin with. (I disagree, but I think Gatsby is one of the most interesting adaptations I’ve seen since it’s wholly faithful to the book, but also completely out to lunch.) Other goodies, such as last year’s TIFF holdover What Maisie Knew is a good example of a film that outdoes a classic novel, while Beautiful Creatures, silly as it is, proves that teen-lit can actually produce some fun flicks.
This year doesn’t seem to be as major a year for adaptation as last year was. 2012 had a wave of films that realized ‘unfilmable novels’ with varying degrees success. Midnight’s Children, Life of Pi, Anna Karenina, and On the Road showed that everything books can do, film can do better. (Well, maybe not On the Road.) There are plenty of good reads, however, to get you in the mood for a good fall harvest of movies. Grab a beach towel and one of these books and get a leg up on all your post-screening conversations to come!
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
First on anyone’s reading list should be Nick Hornby’s delightful A Long Way Down. Not to get all Ferris Bueller-y, but this really is a book that can change your life. Provided one buys the highly convoluted premise of four strangers converging in their disparate plans to commit suicide on New Year’s Eve and then forming the unlikeliest of support groups, A Long Way Down is a humorous, uplifting tale. It’s not so much about death as it is about wanting to live. (Anyone who saw this year’s Hot Docs film 15 Reasons to Live will probably love it.) Told from the perspective of each of the four potential lemmings—Maureen, Martin, J.J. and Jess—A Long Way Down sees each of the friends evaluate their own reasons to live against the struggles faced by their peers. A Long Way Down might be one to watch on during the end of the year races, provided it finds distribution, since the roles have been well cast with Toni Collette, Pierce Brosnan, Aaron Paul, and Imogen Poots playing the quartet of survivors. Maureen is an especially strong part, so keep an eye out for Toni Collette. Hope to see A Long Way Down at the festival this year!
Labor Day by Joyce Maynard
Like A Long Way Down, the premise of Labor Day requires some work from the audience to cast aside their preconceptions about plausibility when Adele and her son, Henry, become hosts to an escaped convict who uses their home as a hideaway during his run from the law. The events of the Labor Day weekend, told from Henry's perspective, create one of the most hilarious, moving, and surprising page-turners I've read in a while. Labor Day’s strange, dark take on the dearth of suburbia just cries Todd Field, but Reitman might be a good match to balance the humour and tone of the tale to bring it close to home. Judge for yourself! Labor Day is a quick read—you could easily read it in a day—and it’s a delight if one reads it with Winslet in mind for Adele.
|Kate Winslet in Labor Day|
Serena by Ron Rash
Silver Linings Playbook co-stars Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, could provide a visually striking and resonant take on American empire and capitalism. Serena is a slow, almost observational reading of American progress during The Great Depression. It’s an anti-western in the vein of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, while its tone and political subtext calls to mind There Will Be Blood. (This could make it a victim of mis-marketing à la Killing Them Softly.) It’s certainly a project to watch, though, after the chemistry Lawrence and Cooper shared in Silver Linings Playbook. Serena could give both stars an even greater chance to show off their range.
Serena Pemberton is a strong character and she poses a great opportunity for Lawrence, but Rash’s book defines Serena almost entirely through men. Serena is smart, cool, and headstrong when speaks and acts on her own; however, a surprising amount of the narration and the dialogue between the male characters puts Serena on some divine pedestal. It’s awkward to read the elevation of a character in bromantic dialogue such as, “‘There’s a manifestation of true beauty,’ Wilkie said admiringly. ‘ Such an image gave the Greeks and the Romans their deities. Gaze upon her, Reverend. She’ll never be crucified by the rabble.’” Ick.
|Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Serena|
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Word from the film’s premiere at Cannes certainly noted appreciation for Franco’s ambitious attempt to offer a faithful, yet cinematic reading of the novel. Franco reportedly uses devices such as split-screen and point-of-view to capture the disjointedness of the narration, although multiple perspectives could confuse audiences just as easily as they try to follow the travelling circus of the Bundren family. Like last year’s Anna Karenina, might As I Lay Dying be one of the films that are easier to read if one has read the book?
The Believers by Zoë Heller
The Believers has been in adaptation limbo for years. Patrick Marber, the screenwriter of Notes, was reportedly hired to adapt the novel, but the project has seen nary a blip in the trades for quite some time. In fact, The Believers was included on a list of page-to-screen projects collecting dust on Rudin’s bookshelf back in 2010. I’ll surely have to reread The Believers
the film makes it to theatres. (Yay.) Perhaps if we all read the book, and rack
up a few more sales for Miss Heller, then The
Believers will finally make its way to a theatre near us?
Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
Twelve Years a Slave is McQueen’s first adaptation and his first film working as director only. (The screenplay was written by John Ridley, who boasts the varied credits of Red Tails, Undercover Brother, and U-Turn.) McQueen’s breakthrough was the visceral historical film Hunger, so Slave offers a fine work with which the visually ingenuity of the director can solidify his status as a major talent. (McQueen’s fine work on 2011’s Shame also lets hopeful viewers assume that he won’t sugarcoat historical accuracy for an easy sell.) Expect Twelve Years a Slave to be a major player in the winter awards races, especially for Chiwetel Eljiofor’s turn as Solomon Northup. With a high-calibre cast that includes Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Quvenzhané Wallis, Alfre Woodard, and Paul Giamatti, it had better be!
|Twelve Years a Slave|
August: Osage County by Tracy Letts
Letts’s previous stage-to-screen credit saw the playwright adapt his own Killer Joe for director William Friedkin, and he’ll write the screenplay once again, except this time for director John Wells. Wells is only on his second feature after 2011’s The Company Men, so it’s a bit surprising that he got a cast of this calibre on his sophomore effort. The Company Men was a fine ensemble film nevertheless, so devotees of The Church of Meryl have little reason to worry. Streep’s in good company, with Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Margot Martindale, and Sam Shepard among the supporting cast. The play August: Osage County won the double whammy of the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Play (as did Streep’s last adapted drama Doubt), so there’s plenty of reason that such a prestigious work is garnering high expectations with such a strong cast adding to the pedigree. Add the heavy bonus of Argo producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov and Oscar mover and shaker Harvey Weinstein, and August: Osage County might as well book at hotel room in Los Angeles for February! Fourth Oscar next year?
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games before the first installment in the franchise hit theatres, so I went in with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. Impressed that this dystopian take from teen lit was far more than Battle Royale light, I read The Hunger Games during the summer and was again surprised that it was such a good, enjoyable read. (I’m a bit surprised that it’s found its way to the syllabi of high school English classes though.) I actually prefer the film The Hunger Games to the book. Perhaps it was the presence of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss or the intuitive addition of the game-makers and commentators, but the film by Gary Ross has a chilling sense of urgency the novel lacks. Ross isn’t returning to Catching Fire, though, so the next installment of The Hunger Games will be done by Francis Lawrence, who completely botched Water for Elephants. (In fairness, Elephants wasn’t that great a novel to begin with.) I’ll give Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) the benefit of the doubt, since the teaser for Catching Fire looks pretty darn good. And with the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone, Amanda Plummer, and Jeffrey Wright joining the cast for Games’ second round, I’ll certainly be lining up on opening night!
Hold Fast by Kevin Major
Old Stock, Picture Day, and Molly Maxwell all introduced new voices on the film scene while telling appropriate stories about characters coming into their own. Now, another story of growing up is set to make a splash with Can Con this fall: Justin Simms’ take on Kevin Major’s Hold Fast. The book is frequently compared to Catcher in the Rye and Anne of Green Gables. Hold Fast sees two young boys go on a journey of self-discovery in the Newfoundland wilderness, as they escape the city and find freedom in nature. Comparisons to the recent release The Kings of Summer seem to be inevitable, but Major’s novel has been a staple for young readers and it looks to be one of the most noteworthy upcoming adaptations of Can Lit. Early word from a market screening at Berlin was promising, so Hold Fast might gain an advantage over the Sundance favourite.
Few Canadian films make use of the Newfoundland landscape, too, so Hold Fast offers a fine alternative to the Toronto/Quebec-centric films that receive the most attention in this country. Aside from the 2001 boon of The Shipping News (an American film to boot) and Rare Birds (a hoot!), Newfoundlanders only get to see their seaside views in TV’s Republic of Doyle. Much of Canada might get to see the eastern province thanks to the presence of Molly Parker (Trigger) in the role of Aunt Ellen in the film. Parker’s name brought some initial buzz to the project last fall and she’s bound to bring more since she’s reteaming with Hold Fast screenwriter Rosemary House to make her directorial debut with the adaptation of the Newfoundland-set The Ballad of Maura McKenzie. Parker also starred in Rare Birds and 2002’s Marion Bridge, so the East Coast has done well by her.
|Molly Parker in Hold Fast|
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Stories We Tell with an appropriate quote from Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace that sets up the elusiveness and playfulness of storytelling that unfurls throughout the film. Polley, as she said in a recent interview, didn’t have the rights to the Atwood novel when she included the quote in Stories, but she’s been wanting to do the project for years. Alias Grace, Atwood’s best novel, poses an epic undertaking for Polley. The book features many a thread that’s woven its way into a Polley film before—the messiness of love, the problem of memory, and the novelty of storytelling— so, Alias Grace is just a different dressing, really, for topics the filmmaker handles well. What will be exciting, though, will be to see how Polley realizes the pivotal séance sequence that serves as the novel’s climax. Grace is a story on a larger scale than Polley has ever worked on before, but the epic scope and the period setting of the tale aren’t the least bit out of her league
The historical fiction of Alias Grace sees convicted murderess Grace Marks tell her notorious tale of homicide to Dr. Simon Jordan (a fictional doc). The book weaves between the present thread of Grace’s time with Dr. Jordan and the past thread of Grace’s account of the events leading up to the murders of her then-employer and fellow housekeeper. Grace, thanks to its dual play on past and present, actually seems like a relative to Kathryn Bigelow’s The Weight of Water, which featured Polley in a supporting role as a woman who survived a murderous attack being investigated in the present by the sailing cavalcade of Sean Penn, Catherine McCormack, and Liz Hurley.
The memory of Polley’s role in The Weight of Water at first makes her seem like an obvious choice to play Grace. Polley has yet to direct herself in a film, so there’s an opportunity for an even greater challenge with Alias Grace, but in the aforementioned interview, she hints that she’ll mostly be staying behind the camera for the next little while. Casting hasn’t been announced for the film yet, since it’s still being written. However, a few people have tossed about the idea of Benedict Cumberbatch playing Dr. Jordan. I would have never thought of him, but he seems like a perfect fit now that it’s been mentioned. It’s fun to play guess-the-actor when you’ve read a novel that is still being adapted. I think it would be a hilarious bit of stunt casting to see Polley’s Take This Waltz star Sarah Silverman as the ill-fated bawdy housemaid Nancy, while someone like Bruce Greenwood might work well for her employer, Thomas Kinnear. If we’re reaching for Can Con points, Canadian actors like Charlotte Sullivan or Kristin Adams could work for Grace. Or maybe Sarah Gadon? Who else? Maybe Jennifer Lawrence, if Alias Grace could benefit from having an attractive Hollywood star? Whom would you cast in Alias Grace?