You know you’ve heard it before: “The book was so much better.” But how often have you been able to decide for yourself whether the person who said it was just showing off the fact that he or she had actually read a book? As the fall movie season lines up “prestige” films based on literary works, here are a few titles to grab from your local library'and show off for your own friends. (Film release dates subject to change.)
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Book Overview: This dense, funny novel slides between an American Jew in the Ukraine searching for the woman he believed saved his grandfather from the Holocaust, and events from multiple generations of his Ukrainian ancestors. A device that finds a Ukrainian translator narrating events in broken English reminiscent of the Czechoslovakian swingers from vintage Saturday Night Live seems like an eye-rolling notion, but it provides a brilliant low-comedy balance to Foer’s magical tale of redemption and family ties.
Book Grade: A-
Reason for Adaptation Concern: Actor-turned-screenwriter/director Liev Schreiber reportedly axed the historical sections entirely to focus on the present-day quest.
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: The trailer offers hope that Schreiber captured the funky humor of the character interaction.
Film Scheduled Release Date: Oct. 14
The Movie Pitch: “Perfect Strangers meets Sophie’s Choice
Source Material: Jarhead by Anthony Swofford
Book Overview: Marine sniper Swofford’s memoir is more than just a combat story of the 1991 Gulf War. It’s an exploration of the entire Marines mindset, painting a complex portrait of what men turn into when they’re being prepared to kill and survive. Though he reaches occasionally for a florid turn of phrase when a simpler description would suffice, Swofford effectively captures not just the nature of the battlefield, but the nature of men of war before and after the battle.
Book Grade: B
Reason for Adaptation Concern: Will it focus so much on the warfare sequences that it bypasses compelling pre- and post-war psychology?
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) has a pretty impressive track record.
Film Scheduled Release Date: Nov. 4
The Movie Pitch: “Full Metal Jacket meets Three Kings
Source Material: Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
Book Overview: A family is turned upside-down when a previously unexceptional 9-year-old girl makes the National Spelling Bee finals. Her father, a scholar of Jewish mysticism, begins focusing attention on her, to the exclusion of her teenage brother, who subsequently experiments with other religions. Mom, meanwhile, is an emotionally distant kleptomaniac. Goldberg’s simple, direct prose breathes life into these characters, turning a dysfunctional domestic drama into a fascinating study of how the search for transcendence can tear human connections apart.
Book Grade: A
Reason for Adaptation Concern: Richard Gere (?!) is playing the cantor/father.
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: Co-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel did nice work with complex family psychology in 2001’s The Deep End.
Film Scheduled Release Date: Nov. 18
The Movie Pitch: “The Jazz Singer meets Spellbound
Source Material: The Ice Harvest
by Scott Phillips
Book Overview: On Christmas Eve 1979 in Wichita, Kan., a mob lawyer plans to ditch town with a bunch of stolen cash, but encounters obstacles. There’s an Elmore Leonard vibe in this crime comedy, but the narrative that finds the lawyer killing a lot of time before the big events makes it feel like Phillips himself is just killing time. Diverting in an airplane reading sort of way but utterly disposable.
Book Grade: C
Reason for Adaptation Concern: Director Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day) isn’t the first name that comes to mind for pitch-black comic noir.
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: A great cast, including John Cusack as the lawyer and Billy Bob Thornton as his partner in crime.
Film Scheduled Release Date: Nov. 23
The Movie Pitch: “A Simple Plan meets Fargo
Source Material: “Brokeback Mountain,” from the short story collection Close Range by Annie Proulx
Book Overview: During a summer overseeing a sheep herd in Wyoming, two cowboys begin a sexual affair, which becomes a complicated 20-year relationship. Proulx’s matter-of-fact handling of characters’ confusion over their situation makes for compelling storytelling, though it sometimes feels like there’s a novel in here waiting to escape.
Book Grade: B+
Reason for Adaptation Concern: A truly emotional gay romance may be too touchy even for a lower-budget studio indie release.
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: Before Hulk and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon director Ang Lee effectively handled gay romance in The Wedding Banquet.
Film Scheduled Release Date: Dec. 16
The Movie Pitch: “Far From Heaven meets Red River”