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Watching

Video Digest: March 7, 2008

Crowing like so many Roosters, our favorite book bloggers send in their favorite films made from novels and stories.

Since today marks the first round of the 2008 Tournament of Books, we figured we’d have a literary discussion about movies. All us hardcore readers know the book is always better. It’s an unquestionable fact. Except, of course, when the movie reinterprets the book so well that a familiar story seems new again, or—pardon my sacrilege—when the film turns out better than the book.

We asked some of our favorite book bloggers to give us a hand. What, we asked them, is your favorite movie adapted from a book? Turns out they had all kinds of suggestions.


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There Will Be Blood, directed by P.T. Anderson, based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair
This year’s competition for best movie adaptation was as fierce and multifarious as the Rooster itself. While I enjoyed the Coens’ faithfulness to McCarthy, and marveled at the freedom Julian Schnabel found in a memoir of immobility (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), my favorite was the Upton Sinclair adaptation: There Will Be Blood. P.T. Anderson shoots like a novelist should write: no cumbersome back stories, no pieties, no artificial “arc”: just the relentless evocation (invocation?) of life. —Garth Risk Hallberg, The Millions



Deliverance, directed by John Boorman, based on the novel by James Dickey
Deliverance was a powerful novel, yet even the starring presence of Burt Reynolds could not dim the brilliant film version, which sticks close to Dickey’s primal modern-man-vs.-hillbilly plot and adds two great things: beautiful river photography and the wonderful, wonderful “Dueling Banjos” scene, a pristine moment of perfect cinema. It’s also a notable fact that the author of this tough-guy story is best known as a poet (and he appears as the sheriff at the end). —Levi Asher, Literary Kicks



Mysterious Skin, directed by Gregg Araki, based on the novel by Scott Heim
Araki manages to capture beautifully the DayGlo, shoegazing haze of mid-’90 teenage life on the fringe in small-town America. The film manages to perfectly depict all of the delicate, complex, disturbing, heartwarming, and harrowing elements of Scott Heim’s haunting and quietly astonishing coming-of-age novel—set in a world that is as bleak as it is breathtaking. With a soundtrack that features music by Syd Barrett, Cocteau Twins, Ride, and Sigur Rós, we have a requiem that perfectly melds Araki’s vision with Heim’s voice. —Joe Chappell, Book Passage



The Last of the Mohicans, directed by Michael Mann, based on the novel by James Fenimore Cooper
Generally, the film versions of books provide only one pleasure: complaining about how bad they are when compared to the source material. That’s why I have a deep interest in those movies that turn bad books into art. The Godfather, The Thin Man, Fight Club. All excellent, but my favorite is The Last of the Mohicans. I don’t know what James Fenimore Cooper had in mind when he wrote it, but it was something far, far less entertaining than Michael Mann’s exhilarating adaptation. From the first, thrilling scene to the tragic finale, Mann’s film brings Cooper’s book to life in ways that will astound those who have endured the original. Note: This four-minute clip is of a violent ambush; gore is minimal at most. —Ben Dooley, The Millions



To Kill a Mockingbird, directed by Robert Mulligan, based on the novel by Harper Lee
Battlefield Earth—best movie ever! Kidding. I’m going to cheat by saying To Kill a Mockingbird. I saw it again recently. I’m amazed each time by the performances of Gregory Peck and Mary Badham. I read the book at a young age and saw the movie soon after that. It was the first time I made the connection between the written word and a movie. How powerful, I thought, and how cool. It was the book in my head coming to life. —Megan Sullivan, Bookdwarf



A Clockwork Orange, directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel by Anthony Burgess
I read it before I saw it. How, I wondered, could this film possibly capture the audacious new language invented by Anthony Burgess? What kind of actor could bring Alex to life? How could it go beyond literary adaptation, and be that rare thing that explodes on the screen and reaches into you, viscerally, as cinema? Well, Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece succeeds on all points. Thanks in part to Malcolm McDowell’s Alex, to Kubrick’s uncompromising visual sense, and, well, to Beethoven, A Clockwork Orange is not merely a faithful adaptation, it’s powerful cinema. —Andrew Saikali, The Globe and Mail, The Millions



Tony Takitani, directed by Jun Ichikawa, based on the story by Haruki Murakami
Jun Ichikawa’s adaptation of “Tony Takitani,” a story by Haruki Murakami: It doesn’t get more bleak and soul-crushing. Takitani, an illustrator, grows up in a life of contented solitude, without emotional attachments. He doesn’t yearn for connection until a beautiful woman enters his office, and he’s immediately attracted, realizing what he was lacking. She is his match, but her obsession with clothing—and his questioning that need—lead to tragedy. The music, the panning of the camera, the understated performances—all perfect. —Matthew Tiffany, Condalmo



Wonder Boys, directed by Curtis Hanson, based on the novel by Michael Chabon
I like this movie so much that I don’t really want to read Chabon’s novel. In the film, Michael Douglas memorably dons a pink bathrobe and ample stubble as Grady Tripp, a washed up prof seven years into a novel that seems only to get longer. But then his wife leaves him and he finds out his mistress/boss is pregnant, setting in motion a wild weekend that features pre-Spider-Man Tobey Maguire and pre-Tom Cruise Katie Holmes, not to mention Marilyn Monroe’s missing jacket, a dead, blind dog, and a woman named Oola. It’s dark, funny, and literary. —C. Max Magee, The Millions



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