10 Books to Read Before They Become Movies

Exciting news for book and film lovers: there are some great adaptations coming in 2018.

If, like me, you can’t read the book once you’ve seen the movie, get onto these now!

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Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.

An exception, I’m seeing the film on Tuesday but would still happily go back and read the book, as Christie is my escapist happy place.  The new film stars Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz and Judi Dench and looks wonderful.  All aboard!

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Crazy Rich Asians.  Pic: Entertainment Weekly

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.

The Adelaide Book Club read this for our trip to Hong Kong this year – a fun read that has been described as Dynasty on steroids.  One of those books that I did not love but think it will be better as a film.  Good news –  the film, starring Constance Wu, will be out in August 2018.

 

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Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

The movie, directed by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash) is out in the UK and already generating Oscar buzz.  This is a coming-of-age story as Elio (17) falls for his family’s house-guest Oliver.  The book has the feel of a Guadagnino film, full of atmosphere – languid Italian summer days – and all the intricacies and faltering steps of first love, with the added complication of being gay.  It dragged in parts, but it evokes being young and self-absorbed, and the feel of a long summer, pierced with moments of intensity.

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Reese Witherspoon is adapting this for television and I think it’s another one that I’ll enjoy more on screen than I did on the page.  There is a lot of heart and soul in the book and a good portrayal of privileged and troubled teens, whitebread parents, and the town of Shaker Heights (suburbia on steroids). Mystery surrounds Mia and an adoption dispute troubles them all. It felt contrived at times, Mia too saintly, Mrs Richardson too brittle and the ending corny, but definitely one to watch.

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In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Another Reese Witherspoon adaptation.  I could not put this down – a smart thriller for our time with diverse characters. The clever structure worked well. I thought the hens night a little twee at first, but so did Nora and Nina.  Interesting point about how the past can define us.  A good easy read, I’m looking forward to The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Lying Game next (both also being adapted for the screen).

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Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

One of my top books for 2017.  I loved this.  Wonderfully assured with a great premise – terrorists in Latin American country try to kidnap the President at a party, but he’s stayed home to watch his soap opera. The guests are held hostage. Beautiful, strong writing with music & a sense of humour running through. It strikes the perfect tone. I loved the sensibilities of the characters (Japanese, French, Russian), very funny but still sympathetic.  I can’t wait for the movie with Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Chaffer and Annie Barrows

I enjoyed this book as a cosy read, with an interesting history of the occupation during World War II and island setting.  We spent some time in Guernsey last year so I’ll be fascinated to see the movie set there.

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

I did not love this book but might have to revisit.  Maria Semple is very funny and her observations are spot-on (see for example the first sentence of her recent book Today Will Be Different).  The upcoming movie of Where’d You Go Bernadette stars Cate Blanchett and Kristen Wiig so that’s enough for me!

For Younger Readers

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A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

This is a children’s classic, which I was lucky enough to be given when I was young and very much enjoyed, although I don’t usually like fantasy or science fiction.  The film starring Oprah Winfrey (looking incredible) and Reese Witherspoon comes out in March 2018.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I read this in one sitting. Spirited 16-year-old Starr has to face an adult world of racial violence and unrest, trying to find their identity amidst gang warfare and the ignorance of her ‘white people school’ peers. An important and enjoyable read. Angie Thomas is a former rapper with a poetic voice & wonderful ear for dialogue, & accepts flaws in her characters while letting the truth shine through.  Filming has begun on the movie starring Amandla Stenberg.

What book would you like to see made into a movie?  I read Sea of Poppies this year and thought it would make a great, colourful film, although it’s perhaps too unwieldy.  Another one I’d love to see on screen would be Mothering Sunday (the rights have been optioned by Film 4, so fingers crossed).  Closer to home, I think The Dry would be gripping on screen and cinematic with its rural Australian setting.

It looks like there will be a few fun cinema outings next year!

 

 

 

 

 

‘Song to Song’ review

Last year Jason and I saw Knight of Cups, the second in Terrence Malick’s trilogy (after To the Wonder).  I disliked it so much that that I wished the main character (played by Christian Bale whom I normally like) dead, then wished myself dead; and argued for hours afterwards.  Jason thought it a wonderful view of life in all its cinematic glory.  I was frustrated at the lack of dialogue, voice-overs saying trite things about love, male fantasy cliches of women cavorting around naked, then being used and discarded, and the absence of any plot.  Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman and Teresa Palmer stood out as luminous, interesting characters but it was pointless with the protagonist walking around being self-absorbed and with no respect for them.  Oh, it was infuriating.

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Christian Bale in Knight of Cups.  Image: Slate.com

 

So there we were at the cinema last night to see Song to Song, the third in the trilogy.  Once again, Jason loved it; I hated it.

Song to Song revolves around Faye, played by Rooney Mara, who hangs around music festivals and supposedly wants to be a singer.  We never see her write or sing a note.  As a consequence she is not credible as an artist, so everything that is supposed to flow from that doesn’t hold up.  She wants sleazy producer Cook (played by Michael Fassbender) to help her but falls for musician BV (Ryan Gosling, charming and plays the piano so is almost credible).

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Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling in Song to Song.  Image: Indiewire

Cook is a bad news bear but Faye keeps going back for more and says at one point “I thought any experience was better than no experience.”  This is just one of the bland things the characters say in voice-overs (“Open your eyes.”  “What if I don’t become an artist?”).

The party scenes look like Playboy mansion footage dressed up as art: Cook is debauched, and treats women like possessions to play with and discard.

Rooney Mara wears a blank expression for much of the film (we see glimpses of her happy with BV but they’re inane scenes of her dancing around). She is a passive, ambivalent character and as a result – without even the music to make her interesting – she’s unlikeable. If she is supposed to be a struggling artist, there is no evidence of it: Malick shows her flitting from one lover to another; and if the love affair is supposed to be the focus, I simply lost patience with her poor choices.

The only time I felt for Faye was when Patti Smith appeared, and gave her some advice. Patti Smith is fabulous and, for me, is the heart of this film.

Natalie Portman as Rhonda is strong and compelling but again is given hardly any lines and becomes a powerless figure.  There is a telling scene where a prostitute tells Rhonda that she aspires to be a teacher: she seems to have more control over her life than Rhonda, who was once a teacher but is now with Cook, and seems to envy the prostitute her independence.  Rhonda has given away more than her body.

As for Cate Blanchett, Peter Travers sums it up in his review for Rolling Stone: Malick reduces “this soaring comet of an actress to meandering around barefoot while musing about her tragic past.”

I could go on and on about the characters’ wanderings, random self-conscious dancing and trailing fingers … and the film did.  It felt so long I worried about getting deep vein thrombosis.

One thing I looked forward to though was the setting at South by South West music festival in Austin – an event that I’ve heard is super fun, and have never been to.  But we don’t see the performers (except briefly) and there is none of the joy of being in the audience at a live music event.  Anyone who has been to a concert knows that there is something special in the atmosphere of a good live show, but there is none of that euphoria in Song to Song.

Jason liked it as a dreamy contemplation of life. But to my mind, we’re capable of dreamily contemplating life ourselves; the director’s job is to forge all those incoherent bits into a film.  It is satisfying to watch a story unfold from beginning to end – however inventively told – but this series of floating scenes fails on that score.  Not only does it fail to make sense of these elements of life or turn them into something more universal; it renders the characters’ lives even more mundane.  In fact, it’s like someone telling you about their dream.

Does a film have to tell a story?  Yes, I think so.  Terrence Malick is less interested in straightforward plot than pursuing a singular vision; he is more an artist than a film director.  But that does not mean that it’s good art.

On the plus side: Patti Smith, Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett and lush, visual cinematography. And it’s always a treat to go to the cinema.

What terrible films have you seen recently?