Bookish Films Roundup

I was in bed sick last week, and I watched a lot of movies while I was down. As it happens, almost every film I watched was based on a book. I thought I’d give you a few of my thoughts on them, and see what you think as well!

stardustStardust is the only film I watched that I’ve actually read the book as well — Neil Gaiman is a favorite author of mine, so chances were good that I’d have read this one. Stardust isn’t in the top three (or indeed five) of my favorites of his books, though, so I hadn’t leapt at the chance when the film came out. It’s all a little too Manic Pixie Dream Star for me: how do we make Tristram into A Man, using the girl/ star? It’s not as bad as they come, and it’s an utterly charming story in many ways, but as I said, it’s not my favorite of Gaiman’s. Still: I was pleased to see it was a nice adaptation! Lots of backstory cut out, of course, for reasons of brevity, but all the essentials there. The best thing about this movie was, of course (say it with me) the amazing, A+ cast. This would have been a B movie, I think, but Claire Danes! Robert de Niro! Ricky Gervais! Michelle Pfeiffer! All these terrific little cameos! I don’t know about you, but it really elevated the film for me, and I enjoyed the whole thing.

jackie brownJackie Brown is based on Elmore Leonard’s book Rum Punch. I’ve actually never read anything by Elmore Leonard. My dad’s a fan of his, but for some reason his books don’t seem like they’d be up my alley. Should I change my mind about that? Anyway, I like (some) Quentin Tarantino, and I like heist films, and I like films about power dynamics that have to do with gender and race, and this was a great entry in all those genres. Pam Grier and Samuel L. Jackson were terrific, and the usual Tarantino banter was… well, it’s what I like about Tarantino, so there’s that (Tarantino’s motto: “You can’t bleed to death until you say something pithy.”)

much adoI had mixed feelings about Joss Whedon’s version of Much Ado About Nothing. I kept casting my mind back to being in France in 1993, when I watched Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson (and good Lord save us, Robert Sean Leonard and Keanu Reeves, what were they thinking) saying those same lines. I saw that movie four or five times at that French arthouse theater, because it was the only English anyone was saying around me, and it felt glad and familiar. This version was good, but it just wasn’t as good as that one. It made me think about how maybe not everyone is good enough to do Shakespeare, or else Whedon didn’t direct his little repertory company well enough, or something; some of the scenes were great — funny or heartfelt or perfectly timed — but some were leaden (Nathan Fillion, I’m looking at you.) Fortunately, the main characters were the best: Leonato, Beatrice, Benedick. (Claudio and Hero, not so much. Don John could only be an improvement over Keanu Reeves, but wasn’t awesome.) I liked the modern setting, but couldn’t figure out why it was in black and white; it felt “stylish” for no reason. Anyone else adore this or hate it?

death comes to pemberleyAnd then I watched Death Comes to Pemberley. This was one I didn’t really expect to like, because I’m choosy about Jane Austen stuff, but I figured I could keep my eyes mostly shut and look at the decor. Instead, I found myself enjoying it more and more. Assuming that it was a good adaptation of the book (I haven’t read it — see choosiness), P.D. James took the nature of Austen’s characters seriously as she put them in a new situation. The murder itself wasn’t outlandish or foreign to something that might actually occur a few years on, either. With one exception, I found the entire thing plausible, perceptive, engaging, and interesting, and I was really drawn in. (The exception was that I think James slandered Colonel Fitzwilliam, who is friendly and charming in Pride and Prejudice and is… not, in this novel.) I also thought it was really well cast. I am especially fond of Anna Maxwell Martin, and would take the opportunity to see her in almost anything, so that was a bonus. Should I read the book?

What did you think of these films, if you’ve seen them? Casting choices? Adaptations? Have you read the books they’re based on? Have you seen any other book-based films lately? Take it to the comments, folks!

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21 Responses to Bookish Films Roundup

  1. I saw Stardust before I read the book, and really enjoyed it. I agree that the actors put it a notch up — and De Niro’s character in particular didn’t have nearly too much to do in the book. I’m intrigued by your take on Death Comes to Pemberley, which I’ve avoided reading because of so many negative reviews (of the book). Sounds like this might be a case where the movie is better.

    • Jenny says:

      Well, as I said, I haven’t read the book. But I honestly did enjoy the miniseries, which made me wonder if I might enjoy the book. What did you think of Stardust, the novel?

      • I liked it, but I don’t have detailed memories of my response — having seen the movie first I was mainly interested in seeing how it had been adapted. It’s hard to have a fresh response to a book when you have all the film images in your head already.

  2. Sorry, I meant to say De Niro’s character didn’t have nearly SO much to do in the book!

  3. Rohan says:

    I am especially interested in your comments about Death Comes to Pemberley, and I’m waiting to see if anyone recommends the novel — I’ve had it since it came out but keep putting off reading it because much as I usually like P. D. James, I’m just really wary of Austen re-hashes. I really like Anna Maxwell Martin too. Did you watch The Bletchley Circle? I thought it was a bit manipulative by the end, but it’s a great premise and all the actresses are very good.

    • Jenny says:

      I did watch The Bletchley Circle, and thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the first series. I wish they’d stuck closer to the premise that analytical skills (pattern-matching, etc.) would be necessary to solve the crime, but I liked both series really well. And a great ensemble cast, as you say.

  4. Karen K. says:

    I saw the Stardust film before I read the book, and I like it much better. I agree, the casting was brilliant (love Nathaniel Parker as Tristan’s dad!). I never read Death Comes to Pemberley because I also dislike Austen re-hashes, but I did watch the miniseries, and I thought it really dragged.

    If you like literary adaptations I highly recommend Far From the Madding Crowd, which completely changed my opinion of Thomas Hardy. Also the 2005 BBC Bleak House adaptation, and the BBC Wives & Daughters which came before Cranford (also wonderful, but the Return to Cranford, just OK).

    • Karen K. says:

      Forgot to add that Anna Maxwell Martin is in the 2005 Bleak House! She’s excellent.

    • Jenny says:

      I didn’t think Death Comes to Pemberley dragged! I thought it was well-paced, especially with the number of twists in the plot. I agree with you that the 2005 Bleak House was excellent. I’m looking forward to seeing Far From the Madding Crowd — my summer book club is reading that in August!

  5. I thought Amy Acker was an excellent, spiky Beatrice, but to me Alexis Denisov was too dour to make a good Benedick. Nathan Fillion was so, so good though — I would recommend that movie to people just on the basis of Nathan Fillion’s performance. Linda Holmes of NPR said after seeing the film that she thought Nathan Fillion should consider dedicated his career full-time to playing Shakespearean law enforcement officials, and I totally agree.

    Stardust has never been my favorite Gaiman book, but I love the film. It’s a lot of fun, and yeah! all the actors are so good!

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, I didn’t like Nathan Fillion in this. I feel like I should have! I like him in lots of other things. But he felt too weighty to me here. So glad you liked Stardust, though!

  6. Laura J. Bloxham says:

    i liked Death Comes to Pemberley, the book, although it is not my favorite P.D. James. I do not like Austen knock offs at all, but I found this one to be a decent novel. In fact, I liked the novel as novel more than the novel as mystery.

  7. litlove says:

    I do hope you’re feeling much, much better now! I hardly ever watch movies, so had to comment when you mention two I’ve actually seen! I did enjoy Stardust, which I saw on the television here a while back. And the original Much Ado with Kenneth Branagh is one of my favourites. I saw it with Mr Litlove when we were just dating, and it stayed with both of us for years as a delightful feel-good film. I’ve never wanted to watch any other versions because I do like the memory of that original so much. I’m kind of glad you liked the Death Comes To Pemberley film, as I heard such bad things about the book, Good to know it was partly redeemed at least!

    • Jenny says:

      I don’t blame you for not wanting to ruin the perfectly wonderful Branagh Much Ado. I like Whedon so much that I thought I’d try it, but… mixed! And yes, thank you, much better (though this is very late…)

  8. russell1200 says:

    Elmore Leonard novels are always very fast. He is a master of the minimalist approach, but does an exceptional job of filling out his characters. Do his novels blow me away? No. But it is certainly worth reading one or two at random.

  9. Christy says:

    I’ve seen all of these! The first two were a while ago, so I don’t have much substance to add, except that I didn’t realize Jackie Brown was based on a book. I really loved Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing the first time I saw it. I’ll echo Jenny’s praise for Amy Acker. I still like it after rewatching it but not with the same passion. I liked the black and white but yeah, it was probably unnecessary. I’m also a fan of Anna Maxwell Martin (I’ve watched Bleak House many times.) I do remember thinking the cast was good in Death Comes to Pemberley but can’t recall many details about the plot now. I didn’t read the book.

  10. smithereens says:

    Sorry to hear you were poorly. I’m glad to find another Anna Maxwell Martin’s enthusiast! I’ve watched the series and read the book, so I’d say imo don’t bother with the book, read another (better) PD James. The series was a bit dragging at times, but it’s faithful to the novel in that respect too.

  11. Late in coming to this post but have to comment…

    I really liked Stardust the film – for me anything with Mark Strong in is a must. Ricky Gervais’s cameo was rubbish though. Loved everyone else, and I will read the book one day.

    Jackie Brown – Tarantino lifted most of the dialogue directly from the book. The film is great, and the book is wonderful and you should try Elmore Leonard – this would be a good one. Totally dialogue driven.

    Death Comes to Pemberley – I read the book and enjoyed it – but I was viewing it as a TV miniseries in my head while reading from the start. The miniseries was a faithful adaptation.

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