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I’m not quite sure how Toby Young’s life story came to be a book or a movie, but luckily they got Simon Pegg to translate Young’s arrogance into comedy.

The Book:
Reading this book made me angry. Throughout Toby Young’s memoirs you want to reach through the pages and strangle him for being such an enormous idiot. And yet, he is presented with opportunity after opportunity that he continues to mess up in one way or another. Young’s memoirs follow him from the start of his career at The Modern Review in London to his years at Vanity Fair in New York and through his descent into oblivion after messing up every opportunity handed to him. The memoir reads like fiction, and would be a quick, funny read if Young didn’t go off on so many uninteresting tangents. It’s as though once the word restrictions of journalism are lifted he’s got so much to say, regardless of whether it’s relevant or not. His tendency to ramble and vast amount of name dropping cause him to come off as a bit of a pompous ass. Still, the story has a complete arc and taken with a grain of salt actually makes for an interesting narrative, and is really an inspired source for a film adaptation.

The Movie:
It’s impossible for Simon Pegg not to be funny, and he brings a sort of sympathy to Toby that the book lacks, yet it’s still very hard to relate to such a despicable character. The movie changes nearly everything- only Toby, now Sydney, and Graydon, now Clayton (Jeff Bridges), remain relatively the same, with a few anecdotes making it to film such as the incident in which Sydney asks a famous actor if he is Jewish and gay (in the book it’s Nathan Lane) and Sydney ordering a strip tease in the office on Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Other than that there are new characters, such as Alison (Kirsten Dunst) who plays Sydney’s unlikely love interest and Sophie Maes (Megan Fox) a hot young actress who Sydney relentlessly tries to land in bed. The film has its moments of being laugh out loud funny (most of which are lifted straight from the book), but when it comes down to it Sydney is not a character that we want to see rise to success and get the girl.

What’s Missing:
Almost all of the tangents from the memoir, plus a ton of characters including Alex di Silva, Toby’s good friend who meets great success in Hollywood as Toby falls from grace; Chris Lawrence, Toby’s office mate who he immediately bonds with and shares his love for all things British and James Bond; and Caroline, the little sister of a friend from London who comes to live with Toby and whom he falls helplessly in love with.

What’s New:
Alison is like a hybrid of Elizabeth, the smart successful fashion director of Vanity Fair, Aimee who co-heads the department that Toby works in, with a little bit of Caroline thrown in for the romance. The actress Sophie Maes mixes Sophie Dahl the supermodel who befriends Toby and becomes his roommate with the many actresses and supermodels who rejected Toby along the way, plus a little bit of Pippi, the assistant whose dog incident makes it to the film in the form of Cuba, Sophie’s ill fated Chihuahua. Eleanor (Sophie’s publicist), Lawrence Maddox (Sydney’s boss), and Vincent LePak (the young, “it” director) are all completely new to the story. Also, the character of Elizabeth Maddox doesn’t exist in the book, but the characteristics and scenes they applied to her are that of Anna Wintour in the book. I think it would have been a cute little throwback had they gotten someone who at least looked like Meryl Streep (if not Meryl herself) and named the character Miranda.

Overall Adaptation:
I was pretty lukewarm on the memoir, but it had the possibility of being a great source of adaptation. However, the film left me feeling pretty lukewarm as well, but I did find Simon Pegg a tad less pompous than the original Toby Young and more of the bumbling idiot that Pegg plays so well.

Appaloosa, a Western by Ed Harris

I’m a sucker for a good western. There’s something about the slow southern drawl, the sweeping desert beauty, the tough guys on horses, and the intensity of a good showdown that I find so engaging.

The Book:
Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are two gunman who come to the town of Appaloosa to lay down order and reign in the terrible Randall Bragg who murdered the sheriff and instills terror upon the town. The two embark on lawfully bringing Bragg down, but hit a few snags along the way including a mysterious woman named Allie French. Even though Parker’s novel was written in 2005, it may as well have been written in the early 20th century in the era of silent films and John Ford westerns. Its slow and steady pace is perfectly suited for the screen and offers a visual style and well developed characters with smart dialogue. This book is a great read and a perfect western film all in one.

The Movie:
Ed Harris, who produced, co-wrote, directed and starred in the film, brings this story to life with an amazing cast and a near direct adaptation of the book. Nearly every line of dialogue comes from the pages of Parker’s novel and every action is precise to the word. Often such a direct adaptation does not result in a good film, but as westerns tend to have a slow pace about them, it translates well. It goes without saying the Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, and Jeremy Irons turn in fantastic performances and even Renée Zellweger, who I find to be hit or miss, easily transforms into the needy, backstabbing Allie. The pacing is slow at times, and Harris does fall victim to an adaptation cliché with Everett’s unnecessary narration at the beginning and end of the film. Also, there is a stumble in the development of the relationship between Virgil and Allie when she is teasing him about his past and Virgil gets upset and beats up a belligerent drunk in the bar. This scene doesn’t play as well as it does in the book and instead makes Virgil out to be an angry man with random bursts of violence, which is not the case. However, the film preserves the source material and the actors bring a great, dry comedy to the film that is not as apparent in the novel and truly brings the characters to life.

What’s Missing:
Appaloosa by Ed HarrisNot a whole lot- the first time Virgil and Everett met, the crime that Bragg’s men commit upon arriving at Appaloosa (it’s mentioned by the sheriff Jack Bell in the first scene of the film), and some minor scenes between Virgil and Everett along the way. Most notably missing is the prostitute Katie’s wisdom and relationship with Everett. She gets but three decent scenes in the film, though it feels like there was once more that may have ended up on the cutting room floor. In the book, she helps Everett to understand Allie’s manipulative ways and develops a sweet relationship in which he is considered more than just a client to her, but in the movie she is nothing but a glorified companion. She’s not even mentioned by name, though Everett does have a touching scene with her just before the final showdown.

What’s New:
Harris’ adaptation is so precise that hardly a single detail has changed. The largest one is still rather insignificant where Whittfield is one of Bragg’s man who witnessed the murder and turns against him to testify, while in the book he is a deputy of Appaloosa who ran away once Jack Bell is shot and returns to testify against Bragg. Also, Russell, the Shelton’s cousin, does not show up until they arrive at Beauville, while in the book he’s with them throughout the encounter with the Indians.

Overall Adaptation:
It would have been easy for Harris to change the story to involve more action, more sex, and all in all make it a more acceptable Hollywood film, but he does not. This is a very respectable, direct adaptation that preserves its engaging story and transforms it into an instantly classic western.

Max Payne is a best selling video game being turned into a film.

From now to the end of the year there will be a wide variety of adaptations hitting theaters.  From books to video games and remakes, no properties have been left untouched by Hollywood. Read on for a full list of adaptations that will be hitting theaters in the fall/early winter.

September

9/5

  • Bangkok Dangerous (based on the 1999 film)

9/12

  • Towelhead (based on the novel by Alicia Erian)
  • The Women (based on the 1939 film)

9/17

  • Appaloosa (based on the novel by Robert B. Parker)

9/19

  • The Duchess (based on the biography Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Forman)
  • A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (based on the short story by Yiyun Li)

9/26

  • Choke (based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk)
  • Miracle at St. Anna (based on the novel by James McBride)
  • Nights in Rodanthe (based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks)

October

10/3

  • Blindness (based on the novel by José Saramago)
  • How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (based on the memoir by Toby Young)
  • Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (based on the novel by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn)
  • What Just Happened? (based on the novel What Just Happened? Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line by Art Linson)

10/10

  • Body of Lies (based on the novel by David Ignatius)
  • City of Ember (based on the novel by Jeanne Duprau)
  • Quarantine (based on the 2007 film REC)

10/17

  • Max Payne (based on the video game)
  • The Secret Life of Bees (based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd)
  • Flash of Genius (based on the New Yorker story by John Seabrook)

November

11/14

  • The Road (based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy)

11/21

  • Twilight (based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer)

December

12/5

  • Frost/Nixon (based on the play by Peter Morgan)
  • Punisher: War Zone (based on the comic book series created by Gerry Conway)

12/12

  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (based on the 1951 film)
  • Doubt (based on the play by John Patrick Shanley)

12/19

  • The Tale of Despereaux (based on the novel by Kate DiCamillo)
  • Yes Man (based on the autobiography by Danny Wallace)

12/25

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  • Marley and Me (based on the autobiography by Josh Grogan)
  • The Spirit (based on the comic book series created by Will Eisner)
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife (based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger)

12/26

  • Revolutionary Road (based on the novel by Richard Yates)

This blockbuster was actually based on a short 50’s sci fi novel by cult writer Richard Matheson, which has been adapted to film three times now, though upon comparison you may never have known.

The Book:
A great, quick little novel that puts a unique spin on the age old vampire story. In Richard Matheson’s world, vampires are the product of a virus that’s been around for centuries, spawning all the myths and fables. The virus experiences a surge in its spread, aided by the fall out from a nuclear war, and seizes the entire population, save for Robert Neville, a lowly office drone who becomes the “last man on earth.” Every day he searches for supplies and survivors, every night he sits in his house, listening to the vampires calling out to him, beckoning him to come out. Neville begins to study the virus, taking blood samples from test subjects during the day when the vampires are comatose, and seeks a cure. The inner dialogue is key in this novel and Matheson writes Neville with a great familiarity. His burning sexual desire is that of a man who hasn’t touched a woman in 3 years and his curious will to live, despite the deterioration of the world around him, is uplifting as the reader roots for him to make it home before sunset each night. The novel captures human nature in such an interesting setting, as Neville teaches himself how to be a scientist and learns everything he can about the virus infesting the Earth’s population, because he believes he is the only one out there who can. I found Neville so relatable and interesting, as he tests and debunks old vampire myths (the garlic works, the mirrors do not, and the crosses only work on those who were Christian when they were alive…a Jewish vampire cowers from the Torah!) and rids the surrounding area of vampires once he finds out he doesn’t need stakes to kill them and can simply drag their bodies into the daylight. Eventually he comes upon a dog without the virus which gives him hope that there may be others out there. His plight comes to an end in the form of a woman named Ruth, whom he finds walking in the sun during daylight hours. At the end of the book, he is a legend that will go down in history, though in a completely different way then how it is portrayed in the film.

The Movie:
It is ironic that this is the third incarnation of this book on film, yet the first one to use the book’s title, since the title is nearly the only thing the book and film have in common. There is the main character still, Robert Neville, who seeks a cure to the virus that has spawned what he calls “The Dark Seekers.” Neville spends his days driving around the deserted Big Apple with his German Shepard Sam, conversing with mannequins that he has set up all over town (presumably to keep his sanity somewhat intact, though he looks a bit crazy eyeing up the mannequin in the video store every day and never getting up the courage to speak to her), and experimenting on test subjects to no avail. He also waits by the Brooklyn Bridge every day at noon to see if anyone will answer his distress broadcast. By night, he sits in his bathtub with his gun and Sam, hoping that the “dark seekers” will never discover where he lives. When one day he falls into a trap, he spirals into an angry rampage against the dark seekers that leads him to meet Anna and Ethan, a mother and son who have been beckoned to New York by his broadcast. During the last half of the film, the quiet, solitary life we have seen Neville lead turns into an action-packed crusade to find a cure and avoid the “dark seekers.”

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What’s Missing:
One of my favorite parts of the book, the character Ben Cortman, a once dull neighbor who has turned into a rather clever vampire whom Neville often finds amusing, is completely gone from the film, replaced by a nameless “dark seeker” leader. Another great part of the book, where Neville figures out what vampire myths work and don’t work by trial and error is gone since the movie never refers to the infected as vampires. Finally, in the book there are two different kinds of infected people- those who were alive when they were infected and turned into vampires, and those who died, and then were reanimated by the virus. This difference becomes very significant in the book, but simply doesn’t exist in the film.

What’s New:
The movie takes place in New York, the book in Los Angeles. The virus was spread by nuclear aftermath in the book, and by a cure for cancer in the movie (explained by Emma Thompson, in a really random cameo). Neville is conveniently a scientist in the film, whereas in the book he has to teach himself science and biology in order to start seeking a cure. Sam the German Shephard was Neville’s dog before the virus hit in the film, and in the book he simply comes upon an unaffected dog one day. Neville’s past and family differ greatly from the book to the film. There is no mention of vampires in the film, and the “dark seekers” don’t go comatose during the day, they simply hide in dark places and are just as deadly. There are a thousand other differences, but most notably the second half, at the point where Neville meets the woman (in the film’s case it’s Anna and her son Ethan, in the book’s case it’s Ruth), things change drastically. The biggest difference, perhaps, is the reason why Neville “is legend,” as the title suggests. This change affects how each version ends; the book being a far more eerie and poetic ending, while the film opts to take the Hollywood route.

Overall Adaptation:
If I hadn’t read the book at all, then I may have enjoyed the film a little more. Will Smith has certainly proven himself as the type of actor who can hold his own for an hour of just him and a dog. And while the end turns a bit towards mindless, jump-out-at-you, action, the first hour or so of the film is pretty engaging. However, having read the book first, I was annoyed by how little justice the film did to it. Why bother taking the title if you’re going to take just one element of the plot, one surviving man against a virus who seeks a cure, and change everything else? I’d love to see a film that honored this book, as it is a truly wonderful story, but this is not that film.

Posted on March 15th, 2008 by Jess | Leave a Comment (3)
Filed Under Other

Maybe you should brace yourself, because most people will hate what I have to say…

The Book:
Hugely popular and considered one of the best books of 2006, this is the story of Amir, who witnesses something horrific happen to his best friend, Hassan, and does nothing, then tries to redeem himself by returning to Afghanistan many years later to help Hassan’s son. I know that I’m hugely in the minority here when I say that I really disliked this book. But hear me out for a second. It’s a riveting story and it’s great for those who are looking for a quick and easy read (easy like it flows well, but that won’t make it any easier to stomach the material). However, I got to a point about halfway through the book where I became annoyed with how many things were going wrong. I don’t want to spoil it for the few people out there who have yet to read this, but everything was just too coincidental, too horrifying for the sake of being horrifying. It’s written to pick you up with glorifying images, then knock you down with a traumatic incident, then pick you back up…and knock you down again, over, and over, and over. I realize that there are many hardships to those in Afghanistan and that traumatic events happen every day to children and adults alike over there, but everything in this book happening to one person is just too depressing to be real. For example (this is by no means a spoiler), Amir meets with someone in the embassy at one point to travel back to America and that person is rather short and rude to him. On his way out, he says “Your boss could use some manners” to the secretary, and she replies back with, “Yes, he hasn’t been the same since his daughter killed herself.” Really? Seriously? Why did that have to be so shocking!? Why can’t this character, who literally exists in all of 3 or 4 pages of the book, just be a crabby guy? Does he have to have such a tragic background? He can’t just be in a bad mood? Apparently not. And that’s why I hated this book, because about halfway through I got sick of everything being so damn sad and started laughing at the ridiculous circumstances that make it this way. This book has a great story in there, if you just subtract some of the bad coincidences and give it a reality check. However, it seems as though it was written to be a Hollywood film, complete with twists and tragic turns and in my opinion, that is no way to write the sad story of two Afghani boys.

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The Movie:
The movie captured a lot of the book, in both beautiful and haunting images, yet something felt as though it was missing. While the book is twisty and tragic, the film is all off on the deliverance. When it reveals the book’s biggest twist, it’s a fact that’s simply stated to Amir and takes just moments for him to accept. It relies too much on the audience to fill in the emotional blanks, and I just couldn’t do it. Even the few parts that choked me up in the book did nothing for me on film. I did enjoy the kite flying and racing competitions. As silly as it may sound, the sound effect that accompanied the cutting down of kites was really neat. I never realized that the point of flying kites was to cut down other ones (personally I would have been pissed if someone did that to my kite when I was a kid), but to see it executed on film was pretty cool. Other than that, I really had a hard time enjoying this film and it wasn’t because it was so sad to watch (though it is), it was because it was lacking any engaging performances or plot lines.

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What’s Missing:
The film manages to cram a lot of the book’s material into it, but of course there are some losses. We don’t get much of Ali, Hassan’s father and the missing mothers are cut out altogether (most noticeably Hassan’s gypsy mother who reappears in the book). When Amir arrives in Pakistan, there is less of him and Rahim Khan and no fake American family living in Pakistan taking in orphans. There’s a lot less of Farid, the driver who takes Amir from Pakistan to Afghanistan and we don’t meet his family at all. There’s no embassy issues, no hospital stays, and finally, the most notable absence is the last tragic event of the book that befalls Amir and Sohrab.

What’s New:
Not a lot. The film is almost a direct adaptation that cuts characters and plot lines out, but never adds to it. Even most of the dialogue is ripped directly from the pages of the book.

Overall Adaptation:
I didn’t like the book, and therefore liked the film even less. While I can see how the book would be very emotional to some, the film felt like it lacked that heart. They were just going through the motions of adapting this tragic story, rather than embracing it and making it their own. There are cases when a direct adaptation is not necessarily a good thing, and I believe this is one of them.

Okay, commence the insults because I know they’re coming. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t like the book, so I imagine all the ones who love it will be a bit upset by this review. But bear in mind, I’m in no way belittling the hardships that have fallen on those who still live in Afghanistan or have managed to escape. I know that it’s not easy, and these tragic things happen every day, but this book just does it too neatly for me to truly believe it. I’m generally against the norm in my opinion, and this is no different.

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Posted on March 4th, 2008 by Jess | Leave a Comment (2)
Filed Under Other

I’ve been meaning to write up this one for a while- if you haven’t yet seen the movie, I’d advise reading the book first. They go so well together and both are terrific!

The Book:
A 13 year old storyteller, Briony, sees her older sister Cecilia with Robbie, the housekeeper’s son, and makes assumptions that will change all of their lives forever. Weaving together the three central character’s narratives, we read what they saw, or in some cases what they think they saw. The story moves seamlessly through more than half a century, paralleling the war in France and the heightened anxiety as the soldiers retreat and the terror encroaches on England.

The Movie:
Beautifully shot with a thrilling score, this movie was truly a joy to watch. Fantastic performances from the whole cast, especially Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, but the real scene stealer is Soairse Ronan as young Briony. All three actresses that portray Briony are fantastic (and amazing how much they really look like the same person!), but Ronan stands out in a real breakthrough performance. I loved nearly everything about this movie when I first saw it, and the only real problem I had with it after reflecting was a small nitpick with the ending, however, I truly believe that this film deserves all the awards attention that it’s receiving. It was stunning, beautiful, and very well made.

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What’s Missing:
The war sequence is significantly shorter in the film than in the novel, but just as affective. We lose a few bombings and the scene with the gypsy is quite different (there’s no pig for one, and she appears to be more of a hallucination), however it still remains a devastating part of the film with an amazing five minute tracking shot through all the soldiers on the beach that would have been far more impressive if I hadn’t seen the incredibly moving ten minute tracking shot in last year’s Children of Men.

What’s New:
The ending is almost the same, but creates an interview setting for Briony to discuss her last novel of a new name. While I understand it would have been hard to do otherwise by replacing the setting they put Briony’s character in a situation where she is literally explaining the ending. This is a surefire way for me to lose interest in a film that had otherwise been fantastic- by talking down to the audience and detailing everything so that we fully understand. This is often a major flaw in film adaptations, however it’s usually done through a narrative, so in the very least they’ve come up with a more original way to do it. I didn’t mind it so much during the actual execution, but when my boyfriend pointed out how much it bothered him I thought back and realized that it wasn’t sitting well with me either. In their defense, if they had kept the original setting for the end, all of that likely would have been done in narration and it probably would have been cringe-worthy.

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Overall Adaptation:
The film is very true to the book and they’ve found great actors and wonderfully visual way to tell the story. I wish there had been a better way to tell the ending, I would have loved for them to go back to the house, however, they probably found the best possible way to do it without being too cheesy. All in all, I look forward to seeing this as an entry in the Best Adapted Screenplay category at the Oscars this year, amongst the many other nominations it is sure to get.

Here’s one where I saw the movie first, then was inspired to read the book. In cases like these I am often left having enjoyed the movie more, but there is that rare occasion when the book fulfills my expectations and then some (Harry Potter). This, however, was not one of those occasions.

The Book:
This novel, as we all know by now, is derived from the author’s experiences working for Vogue’s editor-in-chief. While the anecdotes of a crazy boss are often amusing, I also found that most of the time instead of sympathizing with Andy, I found myself annoyed with her. Sure, she had to take the job, sure it was a great opportunity that she just had to live through for a year, etc., but most of her problems, such as her failing relationships with her boyfriend and best friend are truly her own. Working in Hollywood, I am no stranger to high maintenance people, there is at least one on every show, and I’m also very familiar with long hours, being available by cell 24 hours a day, and working 7 days a week. And yet, I have somehow managed to maintain all my relationships, including best friends and a boyfriend whom I live with and rarely see. Andy often complains of her salary being next to nothing, yet at one point indicates that it may be around or more than $1,000 a week, nearly twice as much as I made when I was a “gopher” (and LA is just as expensive as NY, so there’s no arguing about cost of living). Also, I can’t imagine that those designer clothes and handbags were difficult to accept as perks. Out here we get t-shirts declaring the movie we worked on and a hat if we’re lucky. Maybe it’s because of all this that I found it hard to read this book with sympathy, and maybe those who work real 9-5 jobs with real salaries will be appalled at the hours and things that Andrea does for Miranda. However, I felt the book was too chatty and whiny for my tastes. It has lots of anecdotes, little drama, and no arcs or growth for any of the characters.

The Movie:
…and yet, I really enjoyed the movie. Due in large part to the wonderful performances in this film, everyone is so much more believable on screen than in print. Andy is less whiny, Emily is more catty, and Miranda is far more wicked. Sure, Andy lets it get a bit out of control, but she’s more sympathetic and I found myself thinking that she really needs more understanding friends. The changes regarding how Andy leaves Miranda make her seem far less b*tchy than in the book and make Miranda seem like an actual human, if only briefly, which is perfect for the character. Great costumes, music, and some well cut montages show that this story is better visually than in print. There is a lot of drama added, but it all comes together to give the film actual values and makes it’s characters grow in a way the book can’t seem to pull off.

What’s Missing:
Lily, Andy’s best friend and roommate, who sinks from fun, party going best friend, to a promiscuous and depressed alcoholic whose car accident causes Andy to leave Paris. (There’s a Lily in the film, but she’s just another friend of Andy’s who ends up disappointed in her.) B-DAD, the exciting, jovial Texan husband of Miranda who is incredibly sweet to Miranda’s assistants, though is often a lot for them to handle. (Think Bullet from The OC.) Andy’s family (except the brief visit from Dad): the parents that complain about her job and the sister who has a baby that Andy doesn’t even meet until she’s finally free from Runway.

What’s New:
First we trade “Alex the teacher” in for “Nate the chef.” Then we have job scandal. Divorce. Cheating other people out of their jobs or promotions to benefit oneself (whether one realizes it or not). Car accidents. Hospitals. Sex. The impossible task of getting the Harry Potter manuscript, conceivably before it’s even written. available domains . Plus, a much more pleasant ending where we trade curse words and comas for wordless exits and kind job references and a more promising future for our Andy and “Nate the chef.”

Overall Adaptation:
Here’s a great example of a direct adaptation that takes its gratuities with the source material. They took a lot of scenarios, even lines of dialogue, from the book, yet they developed the characters into actual humans and added a lot of drama to give it’s characters plot lines, obstacles to overcome, and goals to achieve.

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