October 31, 2011

The Slap: A mixture of bestial aggression and sentimentality

Ivor Indyk, a highly regarded Australian publisher, has kindly allowed me to republish his review of the television series adaptation of Christos Tsiolka’s novel ‘The Slap’. The review was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 23 October 2011. I hope you enjoy it.

How book lovers feel watching The Slap
Ivor Indyk

I saw The Eye of the Storm recently and it confirmed my prejudice that a film could not present the psychological complexity of a novel. Immediately afterwards the television version of The Slap made me change my mind.

From the beginning, it seemed more compelling than the novel on which it was based. The first episode, leading up to the iconic moment when a middle-aged man hits a four-year-child, had a pace and intensity that Christos Tsiolkas's novel didn't have.

More to the point, Tsiolkas's determinedly ethnic perspective - just about everybody in the novel, apart from the Anglo ''victims'', carries an ethnic identification - was even more pronounced in the television version, which could mark it simply by dwelling on a character's face or their voice.

It's unfair to say one version is better because the novel opened up the space in which the series makes its claims.

Tsiolkas goes where other writers can't or won't but that's partly because he doesn't mind too much how he gets there.

Tsiolkas's style - if it is one - is best described as crash through or crash. Everything is upfront, there's little use of resonance or implication, no special regard for language or the turns of plot. Feelings, except for the most primitive expressions of will or desire, are described not enacted.

This is where the TV version comes into its own, since it is all enactment. The only descriptive element in it, the occasional voiceover of the narrator, is jarring. What the actors achieve through the expression of emotion, and the directors through the framing of detail, is remarkable when set against the wordiness of much local drama and the novel itself.

For my money, the most powerful episodes are those featuring Anouk, the producer in her early 40s who is contemplating an abortion, and Connie, the schoolgirl on the verge of sexual experience. Scripted by Emily Ballou and Alice Bell, and played with evocative power by Essie Davis and Sophie Lowe, these two episodes stand out for their exploration of conflict through the modulation of feeling.

It is interesting that a novel questioned for the treatment of its female characters should have produced, through this collaboration with television, such fine portrayals of sexual awareness from a female point of view.

One can imagine the scriptwriters and directors selecting, refining and recombining the raw (often very raw) materials provided by the novel. The one episode where I thought the collaboration went out of control was that devoted to Harry, the perpetrator of the slap, written by Brendan Cowell.

Tsiolkas isn't subtle when it comes to irony: his way of judging characters is to exaggerate their actions until they turn into grotesques. Cowell takes Tsiolkas at his word and raises him - the result is a mixture of bestial aggression and sentimentality that threatens to throw the whole series out of kilter. If you make Harry a monster, you lose the moral complexity that made The Slap a bestseller in the first place.

I think the crucial episode will be the second last, which focuses on Aisha. In the book she is the strongest character but Tsiolkas suddenly has her beguiled by sexual enchantment and then punished by sexual abasement. Her husband Hector goes down in flames - or rather tears - too. You read in anger, as Tsiolkas crashes and crashes again. It is good to see The Slap's TV team heightening the tension between Hector and Aisha in preparation for the moral confrontation that is to come.

October 30, 2011

Mixed Reviews: The Rum Diary

The Rum Diary, one of Hollywood’s most plagued and delayed film adaptations, has finally made it to the big screen. So, was it worth the wait? Here’s what the critics say.
Ben Kendrick from Screenrant says:

The Rum Diary is mostly an entertaining adaptation of Thompson’s story – though, much like the book, few of Kemp’s actual adventures work together to build a cohesive narrative. Instead, the film plays out like a series of “moments” – which, by the end, may not provide the kind of payoff that some moviegoers might be expecting…the movie falls short of either a profound adaptation of Thompson’s book (mind bending warts and all) or a dumbed down version with a clear narrative focus.”

Claudia Puig from USA TODAY says:

“While Depp captures Thompson's spirit and has some undeniable funny moments, there are others in which Pirates of the Caribbean's Captain Jack seeps through, without the accent, in his reactions and even underlying his slurring vocal cadence. The tale was no doubt meant to convey Kemp/Thompson's boozy aimlessness, but the film feels disjointed and meandering as a result.”

Ethan Alter from Television Without Pity says:

“Despite the cast's best efforts and the lovely Puerto Rican locations, the material never really sparks to life. Robinson's script is too diffuse and the various episodes aren't consistently dramatic or funny enough to build to a memorable payoff. Love it or hate it, Gilliam's adaptation of Fear and Loathing has a go-for-broke quality that reflects its subject's distinct voice. The Rum Diary is too timid by comparison, recounting Thompson's words, but never really providing us with any insight into his mind.”

Marshall Fine from Hollywood and Fine says:

The Rum Diary is like a lengthy drinking binge of a movie: It’s fun for a while, seems to offer more meaning than it actually does – and leaves you wishing it hadn’t ended so badly.”

Kimberly Gadette from A-Z Animals says:

“Though the characters can be amusing, even fascinating (witness Giovanni Ribisi’s ragtag Hitler idolater), and though Johnny Depp gives as good a Hunter S. Thompson characterization as he did in 1998s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, this film ultimately disappoints.”

October 28, 2011

Guest Review: Sense & Sensibility

2011 marks the 200-year anniversary of the publication of 'Sense and Sensibility'... In celebration, I am very happy to welcome to ‘The Book is Always Better’, Rissi from ‘Scribbles, scripts& such’. Rissi is passionate about writing, films and BBC costume dramas – who better to review one of Jane Austen's most adapted literary classics? 

Film adaptations have always made more of an impression on me than their written counterpart.

The works of iconic author Jane Austen were a part of my growing-up years, and no doubt fostered some of my girlhood daydreams. Although I had seen many adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels over the years, I had not read any of the books – with the exception of Sense & Sensibility.

In addition to reading the book, I have managed see three film versions of the story. In my opinion, the 2008 BBC/ITV miniseries is by far the most complimentary to Austen’s writing. The adaptation is not only a true masterpiece; it understands Austen’s vision. This production was one of those costume dramas that left its targeted audience in a tizzy of anticipation for its release. Or at least it did for me!

My first introduction to this story was the award-winning 1995 film version (starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet) and, as a result, it will always be special to me. But I have to say, with subsequent viewings, my overall favourite is the 2008 BBC miniseries. It’s a breathtaking, lavish production. Anytime Andrew Davies is involved we are assured a treat where the screenplay is concerned.

Much speculation, criticism and praise has been heaped on Davies’ miniseries in equal parts. Fortunately, I feel that I’ve been able to look objectively at the things that aren’t up to par while giving credit where it improved upon its predecessors – and most of all, it’s correlation to the novel.

From a cinematic perspective, this production is gorgeous. The scenery is rustic amidst its natural beauty, as is the seaside cottage the Dashwood’s inhabit, which contrasts nicely with the grandeur of the estates. Such a setting lends itself to romantic moods. Naturally, the score blends well with complimentary camera angles.

Likely, the greatest source of debate has been the cast. In my view, each of the cast members represent the written counterpart better than any of the other versions – primarily due to their ages. Edward and Elinor’s interactions have significantly improved compared to the 1995 feature film, and even the novel.

Edward is barely discussed in Austen’s writing, which is not unusual considering she never did write from her hero’s perspective due to her limited knowledge of the male sex. But here he gets a fair interpretation. One of the most memorable scenes is the cute “meeting” between Edward and Elinor. Similarly, the proposal scene between Edward and Elinor is emotional but lovely in the miniseries and actually gets screen-time, whereas Austen chooses to skip over that pivotal moment.

Mary and Margaret Dashwood are also better portrayed in this version and insignificant scenes from the book are explored in greater detail – such as the scene where Willoughby comes to beg Elinor’s forgiveness and to request an audience with Marianne, which offers a kind of final reckoning for their relationship.

From the very opening of the series, which begins with John Dashwood’s illness and death, this miniseries is in capable hands with Davies – his ideas are the most considerate to Miss Austen compared to anyone else who has scripted her works.

Any lover of Austen will find a jewel in this movie. No matter which you like better – the books or their film adaptations – the 2008 miniseries of Sense & Sensibility is far too memorable to be missed.

Much appreciation to Danielle for inviting me to write this guest post, thanks Danielle!

October 26, 2011

Look’n great, Gatsby!

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph published a series of paparazzi photos today, from the set of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.

The photos – which show Tobey Maguire and Joel Edgerton rehearsing in costume as well as Baz giving instructions – were taken at the site of an abandoned power station in Rozelle in Sydney.

Picture: Brad Hunter. Sourced from the Daily Telegraph
The site has been amazingly transformed into Long Island of the 1920’s, complete with newly constructed buildings, roads and hills, as well as period cars and railway carriages.

Clearly identifiable is the George B. Wilson Garage, which – as anyone who has read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book will know – will be an important location in the film. And it looks great!

It will also be interesting to see the paparazzo shots of Leo on set, that are bound to eventually surface. I still imagine Jay Gatsby looking like a young Robert Redford, so I'm keen to see his new incarnation of the character. I can't wait! Bring on December 2012.

October 24, 2011

Blistering Barnacles, here comes Tintin!

Image sourced from http://www.allmoviephoto.com

Growing up, my Grandmother used to give hard copy editions of The Adventures of Tintin comics as birthday and Christmas presents. I have never been a fan of comic books, but I loved the artistic quality, colour, heart and humour of the Tintin series.

From the friendly and fair journalist Tintin, who was always in the pursuit of justice and a good story, to his loyal side-kick Snowy and the sarcastic, wise-cracking Captain Haddock. My personal favourite was Professor Calculus, the bumbling hard-of-hearing physicist who continually causes havoc.

The beloved Belgian comic books have undergone a number of adaptations over the years. Most noteable perhaps is the popular television series The Adventures of Tintin, which ran for three seasons from 1991 to 1992. Until now.

Over the weekend, the feature film The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn premiered in Belgium, the birthplace of the series.

There are big names associated with the film, and with big names brings huge expectations. The stellar cast includes Daniel Craig, Jamie Bell and Simon Pegg. Peter Jackson is the Producer and the Director’s chair is none other than Steven Spielberg (who has held the rights of the series since 1983).

Unfortunately, I’m already offside on this one… first to hit the cutting room floor was Professor Calculus! Hopefully room is made for him in the two planned sequels

It’s in cinemas 21 December 2011. Guest reviews welcome!

P.S. Just as a side note, doesn’t my dog Lucy look a lot like Snowy? 

My West Highland Terrier Lucy

October 22, 2011

Of course it’s beautiful, it’s heaven: How ‘The Lovely Bones’ compares from book to film

Susie Salmon was fourteen years old when she was murdered.

The Lovely Bones is such a tragic story because at fourteen everything feels unrequited. Susie was old enough that, after her death, she was able to dwell on each element of life that her murderer had taken away.

Peter Jackson’s 2009 adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel is a wonderful film, littered with powerful performances and beautiful CGI scenery.

You will be able to watch The Lovely Bones again and again, but choose your times wisely. The film is best savored during a quiet night-in with no interruptions, when you can comfortably spend 130 minutes mid-way between a gasp and a cry.

In the pivotal murder scene, Susie walks through the cornfield just as her mother prepares the dinner that she will never eat – the scratch of the porcelain plates echo the crunch of her steps upon the drying husks.

As she descends into the deep hole, you will plead for her to stop, to see, to flee. As George Harvey laughs, your skin will crawl. And when Susie does see, and you know that it’s too late, your heart will thump along with hers.

The anticipation and foreboding continues after Susie is gone. You will have the same stirrings of fear whenever Mr Harvey lurks around his intricately crafted doll house; when he sits alone in his basement, enjoying his memories; and when Lindsay surveys Mr Harvey’s house and cannot see him peering back at her.

In an interview with Scott Bowles from USATODAY, Jackson said:

“I never found the book to be bleak. At times the story was shocking, and always it was told with unflinching honesty.”

Sebold’s novel is not bleak because she weaves the most shocking details seamlessly in with the mundane, the heart wrenching in with the humourous.

In the first chapter, when Susie first describes the small room beneath the earth where she was murdered, you are suddenly presented with a startling fact: that a neighbourhood dog discovered her elbow three days later.

A fourteen-year-old girl’s dismembered limb being dug out of the ground and gnawed-on by an animal is quite shocking, but Sebold makes it readable by presenting the facts in a direct, conversational and almost nonchalant way, as if directly from Susie’s stream of conscious.

Adapting this type of subtle, eloquent storytelling to the big screen was always going to be difficult. In order to recreate a tone that aimed to thrill rather than to terrify, it became necessary for Jackson to omit certain confronting elements of the book. (The elbow, for example.)

Rather than being dismembered and disposed of immediately, Susie’s body in the film was kept in a safe in Harvey’s basement. Also unlike the novel, Susie’s spirit in the film is allowed to flee the cornfield and is saved from the memory of her rape and the look on his face as Harvey unsheathed his knife.

There are also other obvious exclusions – such as the police interrogation and public scrutiny of Ray Singh; Jack’s heart attack, and Abigail’s fleeting affair with the Detective Fenerman. Neglecting these details does not detract from the film, it allows it to move forward – rather than becoming overwhelmed by the reverberations of Susie’s death, viewers can instead bask in her heaven.

The Lovely Bones is a tragic film, but it is the tragedy that also makes it beautiful. If Susie had not been deprived of so many experiences, there would have been nothing to hold her in the place between earth and heaven where she is haunted by her life as much as the people left behind are haunted by her death.

When I began researching this blog post, I was surprised to read so many negative reviews of The Lovely Bones.  When the film was first released, many critics found fault with it.

Claudia Puig from USATODAY, wrote:

“Some books are not meant to be adapted to the big screen. Alice Sebold's best-selling The Lovely Bones falls into that category.”

I could not disagree more.


The verdict: 

Book or Big Screen? Book

The film is:  
-->3. A decent, credible, faithful adaptation

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

October 18, 2011

The Rum Diary: resurrected from development hell

After years of more hope than expectation, fans have finally been given a release date for the film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary.

The film has been stuck in development hell since the project was first optioned back in 2000. At the time, Nick Nolte had signed on to star alongside Johnny Depp who would also executive produce.

Fans feared that The Rum Diary would be one of those never-to-see movies that would perennially be stuck in cinematic limbo with Duke Nukem Forever. After two year of no progress, Johnny Depp dropped out and was replaced by a duo of Benicio del Toro and Josh Harnett, but development on this film also stalled.

Perhaps in was just the fate of The Rum Diary, to have its fair share as the lady-in-waiting. After all, Thompson wrote the book in 1961 and it was not published until 1998.

Now the film has come full circle, with Johnny Depp once again at the helm – and fans have finally been rewarded for their patience with movie posters, a trailer, and a release date – 28 October 2011.

For a full run-down of the film, visit The Lesser of Two Equals blog. DangerousMinds also has a copy of a letter from Hunter S. Thompson, lamenting with a few expletives, how long the development process had been taking.

October 17, 2011

One year, so many film adaptations

Many many thanks to fellow blogger Misty from KindleObsessed, who has recently published a comprehensive list of the film adaptations to look out for over the next 12 months.

Here is an excerpt from her list. (I certainly have some work ahead.)

Photo credit: Andrew Cooper, 2010 Summit Entertainment
'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close'
Starring Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and John Goodman
Release Date/Year: 2012

'Breaking Dawn'
Starring Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart
Release Date/Year: Nov. 18, 2011

'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'
Starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara
Release Date/Year: Dec. 21, 2011

'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'
Starring Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth and Ciaran Hinds
Release Date/Year: 2011

'Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax'
Starring Zac Efron, Ed Helms, Danny DeVito and Betty White
Release Date/Year: March 2, 2012

'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'
Starring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper and Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Release Date/Year: June 22, 2012

'The Woman in Black'
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds and Shaun Dooley
Release Date/Year: February 10, 2012

'The Hobbit'
Starring Martin Freeman, Bret McKenzie and Ian McKellan
Release Date/Year: December 19, 2012

'The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn'
Starring Daniel Craig, Cary Elwes and Simon Pegg
Release Date/Year: Dec. 28, 2011

'Odd Thomas'
Photo credit: Courtesy of WETA. 2011 Paramount Pictures.
Starring Anton Yelchin, Willem Dafoe and Addison Timlin
Release Date/Year: 2012

'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'
Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Mae Whitman
Release Date/Year: 2012

Starring Robert Pattinson, Jay Baruchel, Paul Giamatti and Juliette Binoche
Release Date/Year: 2012

'On the Road'
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen
Release Date/Year: 2011

'The Bell Jar'
Starring Julia Stiles, Virginia Madsen and Rose McGowan
Release Date/Year: 2012

'Oz: The Great and Powerful'
Starring James Franco and Mila Kunis
Release Date/Year: 2012
'The Tiger'
Starring Brad Pitt (Angelina Jolie is a producer)
Release Date/Year: 2012
Photo credit: Murray Close
'World War Z'
Starring Brad Pitt
Release Date/Year: 2012

'The Hunger Games'
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth
Release Date/Year: March 2, 2012

'The Host'
Starring Saoirse Ronan
Release Date/Year: 2012

'The Life of Pi'
Starring Suraj Sharma, Tobey Maguire and Gerard Depardieu
Release Date/Year: December 14, 2012

October 16, 2011

Serial Adapters: Lucy Fisher and Doug Wick

Best-selling novels are a safe investment for Hollywood producers, because they already have a loyal fan base that will flock to the cinemas as well as buy the blu-ray.

No one understands this more than Lucy Fisher and Doug Wick, the power couple behind Red Wagon Entertainment, and the adaptation of Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha.
It seems that Fisher and Wick have found a winning formula and they are sticking to it. Movie Insider has linked them to a long list of film adaptations in the coming years. Do you know of any others?

There are big hopes for this beloved American classic by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Baz Luhrmann is putting his flamboyant stamp on the project that stars Leonardo Dicaprio, Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher and Tobey Maguire and is currently being filmed in Sydney. Expected to hit cinemas in 2012.

Leonardo Dicaprio knows a good lit-flick when he sees one – he is rumoured to also star as Peter Chancellor in the film adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s 1977 novel. Not expected to be released until 2014.

The Language of Flowers 
American publishers engaged in a million-dollar bidding war over this eloquent debut novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, which has been translated into 31 languages. With such a worldwide following, it’s sure to be a box-office success. Too early to even hint at whom might star in this one.
Tobey Maguire (another regular) has apparently signed on to the movie version of the 2000 novel by Isaac Adamson. Anne Hathaway is reported to be his love interest. All rumours at this stage though – the movie isn’t even listed on IMDB. 

The Wettest Country in the World
Nick Cave adapted Matt Bondurant’s book for the big screen, attracting some high-end Hollywood interest.  Scarlett Johansson, Ryan Gosling and Amy Adams were initially linked to the film, but Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman and Mia Wasikowska followed through with the filming. In cinemas December 2011.

The Historian
Only scant details are publicly available on this film adaptation, but Elizabeth Kostova is excited about the film adaption of her 2005 debut novel. She sais the team at Red Wagon is “very committed to working with the writers, and has suggested that an unknown actor should play Dracula, to keep his ‘strangeness’. 

The young adult novel by Veronica Roth is the first of a planned trilogy. The film adaptation is still in its very early stages, but there are already huge hopes that the series will become the new Twilight – but you will have to wait until 2015. In her own words, Roth is doing a “happy dance”. 

The Seven Year Switch 
News began circulating in 2004 that the Claire Cook novel was being adapted by Mike Nichols, with Julia Roberts tipped to star. However, since then, the rumour mill has gone quiet and IMDB is still listing the film as ‘in development’ even though it was expected in cinemas in 2014. Roberts also starred in Eat, Pray, Love in 2010 – the premise of which has a similar ‘female mid-life crisis’ theme – so it looks like this one may never come to be.

The Faithful Spy 
The film rights to Alex Berenson’s book were sold before the book was published, and soon afterward the author was quoted as saying that Keanu Reeves was his “new favourite actor”. Unfortunately, Berenson also told Geek Week that the development process of the film “got screwed up” before a first draft of a script was written. Progress unknown.