Now a Major Motion Picture

Salt Lake City Weekly | September 7, 2005
You know you’ve heard it before: “The book was so much better.” But how often have you had enough of a head start 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 movie industry turns its attention in the fall to “prestige” films based on literary works, here are a few titles you could grab from your local library—and show off for your own friends. (Film release dates are subject to change.)

Source Material: Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Publication Date: 2002

Book Overview: This dense, funny novel slides between two time frames: the misadventures of an American Jew as he travels to the Ukraine to find 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 a broken English reminiscent of the swinging Czechoslovakian brothers from vintage Saturday Night Live--seems like an eye-rolling notion, but it actually 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

Publication Date: 2003

Book Overview: Marine sniper Swofford’s memoir of his experience in the first Gulf War is more than just a combat story. It’s an exploration of the entire Marines mindset, painting (in not entirely complementary terms) a portrait of what men turn into when they are 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 naturally dramatic 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

Publication Date: 2000

Book Overview: A family is turned upside-down when a previously unexceptional 9-year-old girl shows herself to be a spelling bee prodigy. Her father, a cantor and 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 the complex family psychology of 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

Publication Date: 2000

Book Overview: On Christmas Eve 1979 in Wichita, Kansas, a mob lawyer plans to ditch town with a bunch of stolen cash, but encounters obstacles. There’s an Elmore Leonard vibe in his 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

Publication Date: 1999

Book Overview: During a summer overseeing a grazing sheep herd in Wyoming, two cowboys’ camaraderie turns into a sexual affair, and eventually into 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; Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as the hunkalicious lovers.

Film Scheduled Release Date: Dec. 16

The Movie Pitch: “Far from Heaven meets Red River”

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