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Posts Tagged ‘literary adaptation’

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

06/23/2011 2 comments

Stephen King is well-known for spinning tales of terror ranging from the supernatural to the mundane, using his considerable storytelling skills to inject fear into such things as a vintage car, a hotel room, and high school awkwardness. What many people don’t know is that happens when he steps outside the realm of horror and offers up an inspirational tale of maintaining hope in a situation that seems utterly hopeless, and in keeping a strong spirit in a setting that seems determined to tear you down. The result is this.

The Shawshank Redemption is a drama film written and directed by Frank Darabont, based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. It stars Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, and Clancy Brown.

It is 1947. A mild-mannered banker named Andy Dufresne has just been convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover, despite his protestations of innocence, and sentenced to two life terms in the infamous Shawshank Prison. While there, he meets and befriends one Ellis Redding (known to his friends as Red), who is well-known in the prison for being able to get things for the inmates, and makes two simple requests: a rock hammer, in order to start and maintain a rock collection while in prison, and a poster of Rita Hayworth, one of the sex symbols of the day. Red takes an interest in Andy over the years as inmates come and go (including a lifer who couldn’t handle the outside world after serving 50 years in prison), watching as every part of Shawshank tries to break his will to go on, from the corrupt warden to the predatory band of rapists known as the Sisters. However, Red is about to learn an important lesson from the quiet banker: Prison is more than the walls that contain you. Prison is a state of mind – and if you don’t let prison get into your mind, you are capable of some amazing things.

I was honestly surprised when I found out this was Stephen King’s work. I’d seen and read a lot of his usual fare (my first taste of him was Carrie), and while there are some terrifying moments like Andy becoming the target of the Sisters, most of the tale is character-driven. Having Red as the point-of-view character allows the audience to observe Andy from a point one step removed from the man, even as we cheer on his efforts to overcome the institution’s restrictions. The main circle of convicts that the narrative follows over 20 years are mostly sympathetic despite their crimes, and as they start to look to Andy as a beacon of hope, we look to him as well: his unbreakable spirit offers us guidance for the times when circumstances seem hopeless. In other words, The Shawshank Redemption is spiritually the complete opposite of The Butterfly Effect. Both movies offer a protagonist who is repeatedly beaten down, but only one ultimately overcomes.

Of course, because it’s stupid to hate an institution, even one as intrinsically oppressive as a prison, the movie offers two groups of antagonists on whom we can focus our hate: The corrupt warden, whose every effort seems angled towards breaking the collective spirit of the inmates (and Andy in particular), and the Sisters, a gang of prison rapists who naturally target the fresh-faced Andy when he first arrives. Of course, this isn’t to say that the two antagonist groups are necessarily working to parallel purposes, as once Andy starts to become useful to the Warden, the Sisters’ reign of terror is brought to a swift – and brutal – end. Both the Warden and the Sisters feel like an intrinsic part of Shawshank, like natural predators in the prison environment, and they are the worst kind of douchebag that can be found in any environment. Specifically, they do what they do because they know they can get away with it, making their respective comeuppances that much more satisfying.

This movie will be an unexpected surprise for those familiar with Stephen King horror: a deep, inspiring story about one man’s unbreakable spirit in a setting designed to trap both body and soul within inescapable walls. Absolutely watch this movie.

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A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

05/20/2011 1 comment

What do you get when you cross a Steven Spielberg movie with a Stanley Kubrick movie? What do you get when you update Pinocchio to a futuristic setting? What do you get when you combine all of these together into a single movie? You get this.

A. I. Artificial Intelligence is a sci fi drama film directed, produced, and co-written by Steven Spielberg, based on the short story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss. It stars Haley Joel Osment, Frances O’Connor, Jude Law, Sam Robards, and William Hurt, with a brief camero by Robin Williams.

It is the near future. With the melting of the polar ice caps, coastal cities have been flooded, forcing people inland. With the reduction in available resources, a new class of robots is invented, capable of emulating human emotions – but their creator has something more in mind for artificial humans. Professor Hobby has created a prototype child robot that is capable of feeling true love, like that felt by a child for its parent, rather than merely emulating the appropriate behaviors. His company, Cybertronics, tests the child robot, named David, on a pair of their employees, the Swintons, whose biological son Martin is sick with an unidentified disease and currently in cryogenic suspension. Monica Swinton is initially afraid of this robot child, but she soon warms to him after activating the imprinting protocol, causing him to irreversibly feel love for his “mother”. Things get awkward later on, though, when a cure is found for Martin’s illness and he is able to come home. A sibling rivalry erupts as the two vie for Monica’s love, with David not understanding what is upsetting their parents so much. Things come to a head at Martin’s birthday party by the pool, nearly resulting in Martin’s drowning, and the decision is made to send David back to Cybertronics to be destroyed. Monica has grown to love David, though, and can’t bear the thought of him being destroyed like a common robot, so she abandons him in the woods, instructing him to do whatever he can to escape. From here, David teams up with Gigolo Joe, a lover-mecha on the run after being accused of murder, and embarks on a journey to find his place in this world, to explore the meaning of love, and to find a way to finally earn his mother’s love by becoming a real boy.

Spielberg is one of the great geniuses of filmmaking, as was Kubrick before his death. It makes sense that Kubrick would have asked Spielberg to helm this movie, and for the most part the two style combined well. This vision of the future is melancholy, by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking as we see the lengths to which mankind will go to maintain their humanity – on the one hand, they fill out their dwindling population with robots created in their own image to act as everything from executive assistants to prostitutes, but at the same time the humans seem to fear their uncannily-perfect creations, exemplified by the Flesh Fair, a sort of demolition derby involving outdated or castoff mechas, attended by those who fear being replaced by their mechanical counterparts. A common recurring theme throughout the movie is the nature of love, explored from the respective points of view of David, the child mecha, and Gigolo Joe, a prostitute mecha. In Joe’s mind, humans are imperfect, but he is programmed to make them feel beautiful. In David’s mind, he himself is imperfect, programmed to love unconditionally but apparently rejected for being artificial. The robot effects are excellent, nudging you into the uncanny valley from the human side as the mechas look too perfect to be real when intact, and entirely too human when malfunctioning or in pieces. In fact, Kubrick had sat on this project for about twenty years because he felt that CG effects would be needed to bring his childlike hero to life.

Now for the shortcomings. First off, while a child robot that will love you forever seems like a great idea, in fact it’s a terrible idea, because you’re stuck with this little entity that will be ten years old and dependent on you forever. Whether or not David’s mass production (and that off his distaff counterpart Darla) ultimately led to the downfall of civilization is left unclear, which brings me to my next complaint: the ending. The last half hour felt tacked on for the sake of giving David at least half a happy ending, and just dragged on and on and on like an ex that just won’t let things go, and just made the movie too damn long. Many have proposed suitable moments where the movie could have ended, albeit tragically, and given that this was originally a Kubrick film this could have fit just fine. Seriously – the epilogue takes place 2000 years later. And it keeps going. And going. And going… Making the end product feel just too damn long.

If you’re looking for a futuristic Pinocchio tale with all the trappings and you’re feeling patient enough to sit through your happy ending, give A. I. Artificial Intelligence a shot. Spielberg and Kubrick’s diverse styles largely combine well to offer an ultimately tragic glance at a dwindling future, even if it could have used a bit more trimming at the end.

Minority Report (2002)

04/18/2011 1 comment

Wouldn’t it be great if we could prevent crimes before they were committed? I mean, that’s the goal of any law enforcement agency, because investigation and prosecution of any crime takes resources, and with something like murder there’s no guarantee that things will be made right ever again. Figuring out how to flag people before a crime can be committed sounds awesome… until they flag you for something you haven’t done yet. Then things get a little… complicated.

Minority Report is a sci fi thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the short story “The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick. It stars Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, and Max von Sydow.

It is the year 2054. John Anderton is the head of Washington, D.C.’s PreCrime police force, who tracks and pre-emptively stops future murders with the aid of three pre-cogs, mutated humans who can see the future. Anderton has been a bit of a mess since the unsolved disappearance of his son, and while his obsession led him to join PreCrime, it has also resulted in his wife leaving him and his addiction to an illegal psychoactive drug. Pre-Crime’s success in preventing murders means it is poised to go nation-wide, but on the eve of this event, the system is audited by one Danny Witwer from the Department of Justice, during which the pre-cogs predict a murder – to be committed by John Anderton. Now on the run from his own co-workers, Anderton tries to solve a murder he hasn’t committed yet, of a man he’s never heard of, but it isn’t long before he finds himself immersed in another cold case connected to PreCrime. What he finds out about both cases threatens to shake the supposedly infallible PreCrime system to its core…

I am not a huge fan of Tom Cruise. He’s done some good movies, of course, but many of them seem to play off the fact that he’s pretty rather than a good actor. Fortunately, Minority Report is one of his successes. As is generally the case in films adapted from Philip K. Dick, the plot is tight and intricate, and the inclusion of precognition in a law-enforcement setting only enhances the story rather than cripples it. Spielberg took great pains to nudge the future technology over to the “hard” end of the sci fi scale, and many technologies portrayed in the movie (such as the data tiles and the 3-d screens) have since been developed in real life. The near-future portrayed in Minority Report feels real and organic, allowing the plot to gleefully deconstruct the idea of PreCrime in a logical fashion.

Of course, throughout the film is an exploration of free-will vs. determinism, similar to that seen in Paycheck: if an agent that can see into the future predicts an outcome, is it set in stone? Are the players in the prediction fated to hurtle blindly towards an inevitable outcome, or can they choose their future? Here, the impetus is more of an emotional one than a logical one: Anderton fully intends to kill the man who took his son, no matter who he is or why he did it. This conflicts with his cop instincts to bring the culprit to justice, but seriously – what parent would not want vengeance on the behalf of their child? What parent would hesitate to kill anyone who hurt their kid? Anderton’s motives are sound and sympathetic, and his moment of truth at the climax will have any parent nodding in recognition.

If you want a thrilling whodunnit film with a new twist, and you don’t absolutely hate Tom Cruise, I suggest picking up Minority Report. It will have you on the edge of your seat from the moment that red ball drops.

Jumanji (1995)


In this modern world of realistic video games and interactive everything, wouldn’t it be great to have a board game that plays you back?

No. No it wouldn’t. And here’s why.

Jumanji is a fantasy-comedy film directed by Joe Johnston, adapted from the picture book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. It stars Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, David Alan Grier, Bonnie Hunt, and Jonathan Hyde, with jungle hazards provided by Industrial Light and Magic.

It is the year 1969. Twelve-year-old Alan Parrish is having a bad day. His father barely acknowledges him except to chastise him for what he’s doing wrong, and plans to send him to boarding school. His friend Carl Bentley just accepted the blame for Alan damaging a machine at his father’s shoe factory and lost his job. He just got his butt kicked by a group of bullies. Fortunately, he just found this neat board game called Jumanji, and decides to spend an evening at home playing it with another friend, Sarah, little suspecting that his bad day is about to last 26 years. Fast forward to 1995. Judy and Peter Shepherd move into the Parrishes’ old house and find the game, still in progress. With nothing better to do, they also begin playing, never suspecting that this supernatural game is going to turn their lives upside down, summoning things like lions, man-eating plants, giant mosquitoes, and a stampede into their small town. Now they must fight to survive and finish the game, hoping that when it is done everything will be back to normal…

Jumanji was an enjoyable fantasy romp, with a solid concept (vaguely malevolent magic board game) and a likeable cast of characters led by Robin Williams, here effectively straddling the line between comedy and drama as he deals with the dangers summoned up by the board game. The dual casting of Jonathan Hyde as both Sam Parrish and the murderous hunter Van Pelt conjures up a Peter Pan-like vibe, as many theatrical adaptations of that story cast the same actor as both John Darling and Captain Hook. Here, Van Pelt respresents Alan Parrish’s fears of facing his father (both in real life and in facing how he has internalized many of his father’s harsh mannerisms), and only in facing Van Pelt can the door be opened for Alan to face his childhood fears. The book, of course, is quite different from the movie – and only 26 pages long – but it has been well-adapted to feature-length here, keeping you on the edge of your seat as you wait to see what new danger could come out of this innocent-looking game.

An occasional complaint I’ve heard is that the animals and such the games summons up are obvious CGI and look “fake”. To this I reply, well, of course they don’t look “real”. They’re not “real”. If anything, they’re summoned from a pocket dimension where lions and elephants (and pelicans!) cavort freely in the jungle alongside mosquitoes the size of hawks, spiders the size of dogs, and giant man-eating plants that will also snack on a car if it’s handy. The critters look like they “should look” through the eyes of a child more than how they actually look through the eyes of a biologist. It’s a movie about a magic board game – this is no time to be griping about realism in animals and plants summoned by fell magic. Just sit back and relax.

While some parts might be frightening to younger children, I would recommend this for family viewing. The story is engaging, the cast is solid, and the antics caused by elements of a fantasy jungle being unleashed on a small town are thrilling and entertaining. A must-see.

Man of La Mancha (1972)


To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To be with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love, pure and chaste, from afar
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star!

Man of La Mancha is a film adaptation of Daniel Wasserman’s Broadway musical of the same name, with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion. It was inspired by Wasserman’s non-musical teleplay I, Don Quixote, which in turn was inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel Don Quixote de la Mancha. Directed by Arthur Hiller, this movie stars Peter O’Toole, Sophia Loren, and James Coco.

It is the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Miguel de Cervantes and his manservant are imprisoned after putting on a play making fun of said inquisition. Their fellow prisoners rifle through the trunk containing Cervantes belongings, which include stage props, costumes, and a manuscript of which Cervantes is very protective, as it represents his life’s work. The prisoners seize the manuscript and hold a mock trial to see whether Cervantes should get the manuscript back, and the playwright presents an impromptu play as his defense, telling the story of Alonso Quijana, a daft old man who has decided to live out his days as a knight-errant named Don Quixote de la Mancha, seeking out advantures with his “squire”, Sancho Panza, who privately agrees that Quijana is crazy but sticks around because it’s a likeable sort of crazy. And, either despite or because he is out of his gourd, Quijana/Quixote leaves a lasting impression on a number of people in the small town that hosts him, particularly a jaded whore named Aldonza whom he takes for the fair maiden Dulcinea, treating her like a queen when everyone else treats her like trash.

I don’t watch many musicals. I don’t know why. However, I enjoyed the hell out of Man of La Mancha. It was made during a time when Hollywood actors first had to claw their way up from the stage, and thus many of them were expected to sing and dance as well as act. Peter O’Toole is an obvious alumnus of this school of acting, but surprisingly so is the beautiful Sophia Loren (whose looks still hold up twenty-mumble years later). O’Toole is charming as both Cervantes and his creation Don Quixote, with both preferring to see the world as it should be rather than as it is. Loren’s portrayal as Aldonza initially rails against Quixote’s sweet romanticisms, having lived her adult life as a plaything for travelers, but even he brings her hope in the end, a spark of promise that perhaps she can be more than the lowly Aldonza, that perhaps Dulcinea lives within her after all. Running interference between madness and sanity is Sancho, who doesn’t believe in his master’s delusions but does consider him a loyal friend and is willing to defend him if need be (though he is not stupid – he hangs back and watches Quixote’s disastrous and iconic charge against the four-armed giants unsuspecting windmills).

While the source novel was intended as a satire of chivalrous fiction popular in the day, here Quixote’s madness is an allegory for idealism, for following your dreams, and for reaching for the stars even as life pushes you down into the mud. The fact that this clearly delusional knight is able to affect the “sane” people around him to the point that he does demonstrates the need for dreams, and it is heartbreaking to watch Quijana’s well-meaning family turn his own delusions against him, confronting him with a shattering dose of reality that nearly breaks his spirit entirely.

If you’ve ever wondered how important dreams and fantasies were an age of cold facts and harsh reality, watch Man of La Mancha. It’s an older classic that still holds up well today, and the tale of Don Quixote’s quest for humble greatness (if only in his own mind) is likely to inspire even modern audiences to reach for the stars.

Paycheck (2003)


What are your memories worth? Are they worth a nine-figure salary? Are they worth three years of your life? Are they worth the potential destruction of the world? What if you had to reverse-engineer your own future based on knowledge you no longer had?

Paycheck is a sci fi action film, based on the short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick, and directed by John Woo. It stars Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman, Paul Giamatti, and Aaron Eckhart.

Mike Jennings has an awesome job. Companies hire him to reverse-engineer new technology created by rival companies to figure out how it works, and maybe improve on it. In exchange, he agrees to have his memories of the time he spent hammering away at the project, to prevent any security leaks. He’s not concerned by the gaps in his memory, believing that his memories are immaterial, and besides, he’s getting paid too much to argue. This latest job is for Allcom, and whereas his previous jobs were only for a month or two at a time, this job will take three years, necessitating the use of a special memory-wiping technology engineered for long-term use. In exchange, his salary will come in the form of company stock – a handsome reward indeed for three years of his life. No problem. He takes residence in the highly secure Allcom facility, where he meets and falls in love with biologist Dr. Rachel Porter. Three years later, the project is done, and his memory is wiped. No problem. Except now he can’t remember why he forfeited his huge paycheck for an envelope full of odds and ends, and he can’t figure out why lots of people now want to kill him. It might have something to do with the project he was working on, and it would be great if he could remember that, too, but his only clues to his continued survival are the random items in the envelope. Now he has to reverse engineer his own future before it’s too late…

Philip K. Dick has written some good stories that have been turned into movies. Blade Runner kicked ass and almost single-handedly jumpstarted the cyberpunk movement, but some of his lesser-known films were well-done too. Paycheck is one of his better films, with its engaging puzzle-plot that stretches the protagonist’s analytic skills to the utter limit as he tries to MacGyver a solution to his current problem on the fly with just a bunch of innocuous items. It’s like a two-day-long pop quiz for reverse engineers, except if he gets a question wrong he could lose his life. As the plot unfolds and he teases out the mystery of what exactly he did over the last three years to make so many people desperate to kill him, the viewer is hurtled along by the twists and turns, eager to see what new problem his magic envelope will help him solve next.

The casting was a bit esoteric in this film. Of the central characters, Ben Affleck was the biggest name (at the time; Aaron Eckhart has since risen to fame as well), but Uma Thurman seemed to have the most talent. The construction of the overarching plot was clever and thrilling, but some of the dialogue was a bit… odd. While the explanations and exposition given was just enough to a taste of the mystery to keep me interested, the delivery could have been better, and if you’re going to delete a scene, don’t include a later scene with dialogue that directly refers back to it, or else it just sounds goofy and shoehorned. I don’t blame the actors for this, though, just the writers and editors.

If you enjoy engaging, cerebral thrillers, and don’t absolutely hate Ben Affleck, you will probably enjoy Paycheck. It’s a decent little sci fi action flick with enough twist and turns to keep you guessing.

Jaws (1975)

04/05/2011 1 comment

Sharks are pretty badass. On their own, many species of shark are the closest thing nature has come to a living chainsaw/garbage disposal combination. They are perfectly suited to hunting in the water, and they’re shaped a lot like torpedoes with teeth. Of course, of all the species of shark that stalk the seas, the one with the most bloodthirsty reputation has got to be the great white, thanks to a little book by Peter Benchley and a little-known director named Steven Spielberg, who combined forces like the Wonder Twins (only less lame) to produce a horror movie that made audiences of 1975 mortally afraid of cellos at the beach.

Oh, yeah, and they were afraid of being eaten by sharks, too.

Jaws is a horror film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, and a frequently-malfunctioning animatronic shark named Bruce.

When a swimmer off the shore of Amity Island is killed, torn apart by an unseen force, the new police chief, Martin Brody, finds himself confronted by the possibility that there is a shark hunting the waters off the beach. However, the mayor is reluctant to close the beaches, as rumors of a shark attack will ruin the summer tourist season. The medical examiner reverses his initial ruling of death by shark attack and records it as a boating accident, and Brody reluctantly goes along with it, hoping it was just a freak incident. However, when a boy is attacked by a shark on the beach not long after, the evidence can no longer be ignored; the beaches are closed and a bounty is placed on the killer shark’s head. Brody ultimately finds himself teaming up with an oceanographer and a mercenary shark hunter to try to hunt down a killer great white that’s determined to snack on the denizens of a small island…

As with many horror movie series that started off good and then spiralled off into stupidity, the original Jaws is excellent. The accepted progenitor of the summer blockmuster, Jaws broke box office records of the day and put the fear of Bruce into moviegoers, with the result that beach attendance dropped sharply in 1975. Not bad at all, consider that you don’t even see the shark for the first half of the film. This decision (which legend holds is due to the animatronic shark repeatedly acting up on set) wound of the tension beautifully, to the point that you just about shit yourself when you see the thing for the first time. While nowadays the animatronic shark might seem a bit goofy and fake, nothing quite compares to that initial “OH GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THAT!?” moment.

The core cast was also excellent. Roy Scheider as reasonable authority figure Chief Brody was well-casted, and we share his frustration as he is forced to weigh OMG SHARK against the tourist season (which just proves that mayoral types in 95% of these types of movies just need a kick in the head). Richard Dreyfuss as oceanographer Matt Hooper makes his role as Captain Exposition fit in well, explaining the ways of sharks to non-Islander Brody as well as the audience. He’s the expert – that’s what he was called in to do. Hooper’s foil is Robert Shaw’s Quint, who also knows what sharks can do (his story about the sinking of the Indianapolis is based on actual history) and thus absolutely hates them. This film is surprisingly character-driven for a monster movie, making the plot every bit as much about the human cast as it is about the killer shark. The logical result is that the shark menace is more convincing – you are actually concerned about the people of Amity Island rather than waiting for a bunch of obnoxious sterotypes to get eaten.

If you’re sick of cookie-cutter monster flicks and just want a tense, engaging thriller, step into the Wayback Machine and check out Jaws. It’s by far the best and the scariest of the series, and the progenitor of the summer blockbuster and the modern monster movie.