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!
Stardust 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 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.”)
I 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?
And 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!