Prepare for Upcoming Adaptations with the 2015 Summer Movie Reading List

Carol, The Revenant, Brooklyn, and The Danish Girl are upcoming adaptations for any reading list.
This post is a little late this year since I’ve been reading so many books! I’m currently trucking away on The Light Between Oceans in anticipation of the film from Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. (So far so good.) It’s impossible to keep fully on top of upcoming adaptations even though Hollywood seems to be making fewer and fewer page-to-screen projects based on novels. (It’s all comic books these days!) Before anyone has the bright idea of picking up a copy of The Goldfinch, which is more functional as a boat anchor or blunt instrument than as a source of art or entertainment, consider turning the page of one of these ten sources for upcoming films:

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

While Patricia Highsmith was waiting for her first novel Strangers on a Train to be released, she took a job at a department store to pay the bills. Highsmith disliked the job and admitted that she was terrible at it, but her reflections on The Price of Salt recall one fleeting moment in which a gorgeous blond woman swept into the room and all but knocked the wind out of her with her presence. Highsmith served the woman, who then smiled and tapped her gloves a little before walking out of Highsmith’s life. Nothing happened, but Highsmith took the ephemeral fleeting sensation within her and speculated about what might have been.

Cut to her second book The Price of Salt, which was first published under the pen name Claire Morgan. (It was “too different” from Strangers on a Train and Highsmith was encouraged to avoid mixing labels.) Salt also happens to be a literary landmark for mainstream American fiction that depicts a lesbian relationship like a pure, beautiful love story, so labelling Highsmith a “lesbian writer” wasn’t in her publisher’s interest, either. Label it a great, enthralling work instead, and look to it as the perfect work for director Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven, Mildred Pierce) to revisit 1950s Technicolor and the artificial shades that go with it.

Salt tells the story of Therese (played by Rooney Mara, in a performance that won Best Actress at Cannes), a spacy nineteen-year-old who takes a job at a department store and finds herself swept up in the charm of the older enchantress Carol (played by Cate Blanchett). Therese, whom Carol endearingly describes not once but twice as “flung out of space,” is a dreamer who believes that any love is possible. Her naïveté proves to be the catalyst that Carol needs while escaping her own unhappy marriage and hoping to find love again. Like any Highsmith book, The Price of Salt is masterfully suspenseful as it unfolds like a thriller as Therese and Carol hit the road and evade forces that hope to keep their love quiet. The understated appeal of the novel comes with the realization that it contains no crime at all.

Release: The film premiered at Cannes to rave reviews and won Best Actress and the Queer Palm, and seems like an inevitable title for fall festivals. eOne recently set a limited release date of Dec. 18 for Carol, which makes it a hot ticket amidst the award season traffic jam.

The Dinner by Herbert Koch

Cate Blanchett fans get a two-course meal in the 2015 Summer Movie Reading List. After Carol/The Price of Salt comes The Dinner. Blanchett is slated to make her directorial debut in this adaptation of the riveting literary thriller by Dutch author Herbert Koch. The Dinner has already spawned two adaptations since its 2009 publication: one Dutch adaptation by Menno Meyes that debuted at TIFF just around the time the book took off in North America and one Italian take that won a quartet of prizes at the Venice Film Fest in 2014. An English one is inevitable now that The Dinner’s a hit outside Europe. The book features a quartet of characters—two married couples, and the husbands are brothers (one of which is a respected politician)—who meet for dinner Carnage-style and hash out plans for how best to deal with something nasty their spoiled kids did. Empty dinner plates and hole-filled stories are the menu for the evening, and The Dinner lets readers fill in the gaps with the preconceptions they bring to the table.

The Dinner is Gone Girl for people who adore Oxford commas and foie gras. It’s a exhilarating and entertaining read—I couldn’t put it down—that is full of highfalutin’ ramblings and speculation from the book’s central narrator, Paul, who finds himself in a crisis ranting about everything from his brother’s image to villainous Boursin cheese. Koch structures the novel around five courses of dinner that include an obnoxious waiter and pre-dinner cocktails, and each serving ups the dramatic ante and reveals the artificial layers of class and privilege on which the party feasts.

The Dinner marks a smart choice for an actor’s directorial debut, since this page-turner is an actor’s all-you-can-eat buffet. A novel like this inevitably calls for an adaptation that relies primarily on the strength of its actors. Blanchett’s a natural fit for either Paul’s wife Claire or as supporting player Babette, but no news has broken yet as to whether Blanchett plans to play both actor and director. Either way, put The Dinner on your menu!

Release: No release date yet, since news of the film hasn’t been updated since Blanchett’s directorial plans were first announced. The Messenger/Rampart scribe Oren Moverman is doing the screenplay.

Bridge of Spies by Gilles Whittell

Is Steven Spielberg making a comeback? Please let it be so. The first trailer for Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies hints at a return to form for one of Hollywood’s kings and a shift back to the pre-War Horse greatness of grand Spielbergian entertainment. This blog sometimes uses the ‘berg as a punching bag (and continues to do so) in protest of the lame Horse and the Lincoln log, but this Cold War thriller looks like one of the best major studio offerings of the fall. The film adapts the non-fiction work of the same name by Gilles Whittell and tells of a true story that went down at Checkpoint Charlie in which two governments fought hostile tensions and swapped spies.

Spielberg regular Tom Hanks reteams with the director (and hopefully sees a return to form as well) as a lawyer who defends a British born KGB agent (played by Wolf Hall’s Mark Rylance) and flies to Berlin to see the exchange through peacefully and bring home an American fighter pilot (Austin Stowell, Whiplash). The film also stars Oscar nominees Amy Ryan and Alan Alda and brings slick Spielberg stylishness with the help of the director’s regular collaborators Janusz Kaminski and Michael Kahn. However, Bridge of Spies doesn’t have the overtures of John Williams dragging it into schmaltz territory, since Spielberg’s usual composer is giving duties over to Thomas Newman (maybe he’ll finally win an Oscar this year?) as he Jar Jar Binkses it up on Star Wars: Episode 7. Add screenwriting credits for Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, and there’s even more reason to be excited for this old school spy game.

Release: Bridge of Spies hits theatres October 16th from Fox and Dreamworks. The films seems too big to hit much of the fall festival circuit, so don’t expect it at TIFF, but Spielberg’s Lincoln had a sneak peek and the ever-burgeoning New York Film Festival, which ends shortly before the film’s release, so it could a contender for one of the bigger screenings later on in that festival.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Did you like The Wolfpack? The Sundance-winning doc is bound to get a few name drops when folks first see the film version of Emma Donoghue’s spectacular novel Room, just as some reviews use Room as a point of comparison to the documentary about kids growing up sheltered from society. The premise of either work has few other points of comparison, though, as Room is a devastating story told through the mind of a young boy named Jack (played in the film by Jacob Tremblay, The Magic Ferret) who knows the world only so far as the walls of the room in which he and his mother (played by Brie Larsen in the film) remain captive. Irish-Canadian writer Emma Donoghue fills Room with heartbreakingly humorous prose as Jack recounts life in the room with a mix of ignorance, play, and young wisdom. Finding a visual counterpoint to the words of Room will be difficult, although the cast, which includes Joan Allen and William H. Macy, could be all the film really needs as Donoghue brings her own work to the screen in a script to be directed by Lenny Abramson (Frank). The film is a majority co-pro between Canada and Ireland, so read it back-to-back with the next book on the list!

Release: Room is currently is post-production.

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Brooklyn brings one of the bigger Canadian co-productions of the year as Canadian co-producers Pierre Evan and Marie-Claude Poulin (Rebelle, Café de flore) team up with the producers of An Education and Quartet and UK director John Crowley (Is Anybody There?) for this adaptation of Irish author Colm Tóibín’s novel Brooklyn. The film also bears a Canuck connection with cinematography by Jean-Marc Vallée film regular Yves Bélanger who does back to back lensing of Nick Hornby adaptations as Brooklyn marks Hornby’s follow up screenplay for Wild. Sundance reviews praise Hornby’s adaptation of the novel, with The Hollywood Reporter calling it “a stellar adaptation in every respect.” Brooklyn’s a great match for the heart and humour of Hornby’s own prose.

Tóibín’s beautiful, subtle, and poetic Brooklyn is a delicate love story of an Irish immigrant named Eilis (played by Saoirse Ronan in the film) who moves to America when her sister gives everything she has so that Eilis can escape their small Irish town. In America, Eilis struggles with loneliness and homesickness until a charming Italian-American named Tony (played by Emory Cohen in the film) becomes her guide in this strange new world. Tony seems like the perfect match until the Emerald Isle calls again with a seemingly swell suitor (Domhnall Gleeson) tempts her to think there’s no place like home.

The tender, understated Brooklyn finds a great heroine in Eilis, and reviews from Brooklyn’s Sundance premiere indicate that Ronan truly grows up in this performance as the young woman comes into her own. Those reviews say a lot, since Ronan proved herself an actress beyond her years in Atonement and The Lovely Bones. After reading Brooklyn, however, there’s no doubt that it’s one of those sweet, touching part with which great careers are made.

Release: Brooklyn seems like an obvious choice for fall fests including TIFF and Telluride before it hits theatres in limited release November 6. The film has Fox Searchlight distributing in the US, which makes it an inevitable awards player, which should hopefully encourage a relatively wide Canadian release from Mongrel Media. (Seems like a good ByTowne flick for local audiences.)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Call Americanah the Brooklyn of Non-American Blacks. This clever and very contemporary bestseller by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun) reads like Brooklyn meets Dear White People. (That’s a compliment.) Americanah is a funny and angsty observation of culture clashes from the point of view of Nigerian blogger Ifemelu. Ifemelu comes to America and can’t believe her eyes when she sees the strangeness of whites and the differences between African Americans and, as she dubs them, Non-American Blacks like herself who have inflections of Africa and the Caribbean, as well as secret codes and handshakes that set them apart from the sheep. Adichie’s writing is sharp and observant, humorous for its acidic truths and admissions, although Ifemelu’s bloggery witticisms carry a smugness and self-assurance that inevitably catches up with her.

It will be hard not to love Ifemelu, though, when 12 Years a Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o takes the lead. Nyong’o landed the rights to the book in a major deal following her Oscar win, and she’ll be producing the adaptation along with Slave teammate Brad Pitt and his Plan B. Nyong’o doesn’t quite fit the part of the pudgy Ifem, but she has such immediate star power and screen presence that it shouldn’t be an issue. Selma’s David Oyelowo co-stars as the love of Ifemelu’s life, Obinze, who tells a different chapter of an immigrant’s experience when he moves from Nigeria to London, England, and faces a different set of struggles and prejudices that Ifemelu encounters on the blog. If this film isn’t some degree of a hit, well, Ifemelu will undoubtedly clack out a big bit of truth-telling about Hollywood.

Release: The film is currently in pre-production. (It’s a while away.)

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

and The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

Call this entry in the Summer Movie Reading List the kooky Patricia Rozema double bill. The director of I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing and Mansfield Park fame has two page-to-screen endeavours coming up: she’s playing writer/director for the adaptation of the popular sci-fi novel Into the Forest and she’s penning the adaptation of Robert Munsch’s beloved children’s book The Paper Bag Princess. Munsch books are like vegetables for kids, so it’s surprising that Paper Bag Princess marks the first of the author’s books to get a feature film! Any of his books, like I Have to Go, Mortimer, Thomas’s Snowsuit or Fifty Below are all tailor-made for big screen entertainment (shorts, at least) since they’re bright and fun; realistic, yet somewhat fantastical with their flights of the imagination. The Paper Bag Princess is probably best suited for the screen since this tale of a princess offers a counter-narrative to fairy tales as the princess dons an old grocery bag and forgoes glamour when she has a mishap with the fiery breath of a dragon. The PBP is especially timely now when movies are finally offering better and stronger female characters (ish). A new movie of the tale will inspire future readers to call Prince Charming a bum.

Skewing slightly older is Into the Forest, which stars Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood as two sisters cancelling the apocalypse in a take on Jean Hegland’s 1996 book. It’s one of the books on this list that I still need to tackle (but I crossed off Paper Bag years ago!) and any further attempts to research this book or the adaptation were abandoned by the droll disclaimer on Wikipedia that the Canadian film is not to be confused with Into the Woods. What’s the difference between “woods” and “forest,” anyways?

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

Another adaptation that looms with award season expectations is Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl in which he reteams with Les Misérables star and recent Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne in this fictionalization of the story of Lili Elbe, who was one of the first recorded cases of gender re-assignment surgery. The Danish Girl comes right at the moment in which representations of the trans community are gaining significant attention in the media with Caitlyn Jenner and Tangerine, which could work against the film just as easily as for it. The Danish Girl is an acclaimed and popular novel, but the film adaptation itself faces an inevitable test for casting straight Brit Redmayne in the role of a transperson shortly after Tangerine is making headway as a feat of self-representation for the trans community by casting trans actors in the lead roles. It’s a great role, though, so it could just as easily earn Redmayne back-to-back awards attention if he pulls it off with the same sensitivity that author David Ebershoff uses in his prose. The film has undergone an exhausting range of casting changes—even Nicole Kidman was attached to play the role in 2009—but the first photo of Redmayne (see above) is convincing enough to keep attention brewing.

What really makes The Danish Girl a fine read, however, is the unconventional love story that develops when Lili, née Einar Wegener, begins to transition with the help of her wife Greta. Greta (played in the film by Alicia Vikander) undergoes an engrossing twist when she remains affectionately in love with Lili while becoming equally nostalgic for the husband she loses in the process. The only thing to really quip about in The Danish Girl, besides Ebershoff’s somewhat stiff prose, is that Greta’s story is ultimately more fascinating and compelling than Lili’s is as the central question of the book becomes a meditation on how loves survives when the person one loves changes. It’s nevertheless a moving and delicately layered love triangle.

Release: Focus Features has a limited engagement set to bring The Danish Girl to New York and LA for an award season run on November 27. No Canadian distributor is attached/announced yet, but let’s hope that the allure of The King’s Speech and The Theory of Everything’s success at TIFF brings it to the fest. Focus took actors to the Oscars back to back after opening Saturday night at the Princess of Wales in Toronto, so why not try to make it three in a row?

The Revenant by Michael Punke

Devour The Revenant. Michael Punke’s lean, mean western is arguably the best book on this list (although they’re all pretty great) and it’s probably the one best suited to the big screen. This tough and gritty frontier drama whisks the reader to the fur trapping days of 1820s America. Punke shows that less is more for good prose as his sparse words create a gripping and haunting tale in which star trapper Hugh Glass (played in the film by Leonardo DiCaprio) survives a run-in with a bear only to be betrayed by two of his fellow trappers (Tom Hardy and Will Poulter). The villains rob him and leave him for dead instead of following orders to make Glass comfortable and giving him a proper burial if he succumbs to his wounds. The book rapidly whips up a bloody good revenge saga as Glass traverses the harsh wilderness with no objective other than to satisfy his blood lust against the men who wronged him. As Glass regains his strength both physically, mentally, and spiritually and sets his marksman’s sights to kill, this rugged journeyman offers a fine literary counterpoint to someone like, say, The Bride in Kill Bill and could be just as strong a silent warrior on screen.

The Revenant is a must-read for anyone who loves books filled with vivid imagery and metaphors conveyed with rugged economy. Not a word is wasted and barely a life is spared as Punke creates a white-knuckle story of revenge and honour. Fans of books like Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and, especially, Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers will love the old-school blood-soaked western for all its true grit. The film, similarly, wowed audiences when select footage screenedearlier this year at CinemaCon, for the first images of Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film showcase a drama shot entirely with natural light using the few hours of appropriate daylight or twilight during the film’s long shoot in Calgary. Iñárritu’s Birdman cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is a true artist when it comes to shooting the landscape with a distinct character. Will he or DiCaprio come out as The Revenant’s star shooter?

Release: The Revenant is in post-production with a release from Fox beginning December 25.

Update: A teaser trailer for The Revenant is now out! Looks pretty darn spectacular!

What’s on you Summer Movie Reading List?