The fall movie season invariably brings its share of high-profile literary adaptations—this year including The Lovely Bones, The Road, Where the Wild Things Are and New Moon. But what other reading should you catch up on before you visit the theater?
Source Material: The Informant, by Kurt Eichenwald
Book Overview: Eichenwald lays out the true story of the mid-’90s FBI investigation into price-fixing at agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland—and the bizarre turns in the case, thanks to the behavior of cooperating witness Mark Whitacre. It’s fascinating stuff, anchored by a central character almost too complex to be believed, but the book begins to feel as though it’s going to take nearly as long to reach its conclusion as the investigation did.
Book Grade: B
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: Casting of Matt Damon—a master of enigmatic “heroes” like Jason Bourne and Tom Ripley—as Whitacre; director Steven Soderbergh can keep multiple narrative balls in the air.
Reason for Adaptation Concern: Real-life craziness may seem too crazy for an audience to buy.
Film Scheduled Release Date: Sept. 18
The Movie Pitch: “The Talented Mr. Ripley meets Traffic.”
Book Overview: A few years before Stephenie Meyer, Shan began a youth-fiction series about an angst-ridden young vampire who tries to avoid drinking human blood. This adaptation combines the first two volumes, in which schoolboy Darren Shan—yes, the author made himself the hero—tries to adjust to his new life as a “half-vampire” hiding out in a traveling freak show. The kid’s-eye-view narration may just be a device, but the writing style becomes a weird mix of immature diction and graphic gore.
Book Grade: C
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: John C. Reilly, as the young vampire’s mentor, could be inspired casting.
Reason for Adaptation Concern: Who’s the audience for this thing?; Darren re-cast as a teenager for the film.
Film Scheduled Release Date: Oct. 23
The Movie Pitch: “Twilight meets Freaks.”
Book Overview: The bizarre title fits an equally bizarre nonfiction narrative, as journalist Ronson investigates the legacy of the First Earth Battalion and the American military’s explorations into paranormal phenomena and New-Age practices as tools of warfare. Ronson plays some of the more absurd situations for laughs, while also finding a more serious absurdity to how initially idealistic intentions were twisted into “enhanced interrogation” techniques. A tragically funny study of your tax dollars at work.
Book Grade: B
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: Terrific cast including George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, J. K. Simmons.
Reason for Adaptation Concern: Hard to figure how the book’s episodic character studies will be distilled into a narrative.
Film Scheduled Release Date: Nov. 6
The Movie Pitch: “Rendition meets X-Files.”
Book Overview: A lesser-known book by the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this children’s tale follows the efforts of a trio of nasty farmers to slay the fox who has been feeding himself at their expense, with many other animals facing starvation as collateral damage. Like most of Dahl’s works, it offers a combination of grotesque dark edges and whimsy, only without the true imaginative spark of his classics.
Book Grade: B-
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: Wes Anderson (Rushmore) definitely understands whimsy, and the old-school stop-motion in the trailer looks charming.
Reason for Adaptation Concern: “Grotesque dark edges” don’t feel like an ideal fit for Anderson.
Film Scheduled Release Date: Nov. 13
The Movie Pitch: “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou meets James and the Giant Peach.”
Book Overiew: Talented sports writer Lewis (Moneyball) tells the true story of how a wealthy white family came to adopt Michael Oher, a black Memphis teen who also happens to be a massive pro-prospect offensive lineman. Lewis creates a fascinating backdrop by exploring how left tackles came to be such a valuable NFL commodity, while also getting at Oher’s mind-boggling history, the nuances of college recruiting, and the tragedy of so many lives not rescued like Oher’s. A must-read for sports nuts, and even for those who aren’t.
Book Grade: A-
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: Filmmaker John Lee Hancock did well with a real-life underdog-makes-good sports drama in The Rookie.
Reason for Adaptation Concern: The fascinating historical context will surely be jettisoned to focus on the interpersonal dynamics.
Film Scheduled Release Date: Nov. 20
The Movie Pitch: “The Rookie meets Diff’rent Strokes.”
Benicio Del Toro
||The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou