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Despite what the folks in Hollywood think, some books should just remain books. But certain adaptations of children’s stories help to renew our enthusiasm for forgotten or overlooked titles. Most recently, Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox was brought to the big screen by Wes Anderson. Using exceedingly vivid stop-motion animation, Anderson rewrote the classic for adults with Noah Baumbauch.
The film works so well because it focuses on childlike themes of the story, such as sibling rivalry, while incorporating very adult elements such as poverty and emotional failings laced with self-effacing humor. Below is a list of five children’s books that would also make a successful jump to film with a newfound adult perspective. Read more »
By Alex Lam on Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - Comments Off
Have zombies taught us nothing? Resurrection is just… never a good idea (unless of course you’re that guy whose resurrection resulted in the celebration of Easter).
Case in point: the musical television drama. If you didn’t know such a genre existed, it’s for good reason – these shows have incredibly short life spans and it really takes a very special person to stomach a single episode. In fact, I had pushed everything I’ve viewed of this genre into the same dark little closet in my brain that I keep bad break-ups and embarrassing moments. It wasn’t until a recent conversation I had with Julia that I remembered such a genre existed. Julia has quite a taste for the cop show genre. She (like many others these days) is also really into Glee, Fox network’s musical comedy. As a business school alumna, Julia understands the value of her time and doing things efficiently, thus pitched the idea of a musical cop drama so she and others with similar taste could save time by watching these two genres in one place. To her shock/horror/dismay/amusement, I told her that like most things in TV – it’s been done before.
Cop Rock. Yes, Cop Rock. If you’ve never heard of it before – it’s exactly what the title suggests. Hailed as one of the worst television shows of all time, Cop Rock’s greenlight continues to baffle us nearly two decades later (unless of course, you’re Peter Bowker and erroneously thought resurrecting the genre with Hugh Jackman may mean a better shot at success).
When Julia and I parted ways that night, we left the conversation with a lot of unanswered questions. Below is our iChat transcript of our attempt to wrap our minds around the existence of Cop Rock (with embedded videos for your viewing pleasure) and if or how this genre could succeed today: Read more »
By Alex Lam on Thursday, October 29, 2009 - Comments Off
I wore his shirt – crisp and fresh from the laundry basket as I hung my own rain-soaked clothes to dry. The conversation was sparse but the air was gravid with an intangible emotion. By the end of the day, we had not touched once and he saw me off at the door, wearing my own clothes again.
He was merely an acquaintance but years after that moment he still represents the most romantic day of my life. Those who know me know that I have trouble accepting traditional notions of romance and the labeling of anything as “romantic” is kind of a big deal for me. Guys I’ve dated can tell you that I have wrinkled my nose at their many attempts to be romantic. Guys I’ve dated can also tell you that my response to the first “I love you” is usually shoving something in my mouth that takes a really long time to chew. It’s something that I’ve always felt really bad about – especially as a writer. Falling in love is such a common theme in storytelling that the Anti-Romantic can really feel left out.
Over coffee with a friend earlier this week, we discussed the impracticality and inconvenience of falling in love. Science has found falling in love akin to mental illness so… yikes – what do I need that for? My friend and I conceded to the fact that like any common virus, lovesickness will find its way to us one day regardless of how ready we are for it. He added that the only thing we really have to fear regarding falling in love is if it were unrequited. Read more »
How do you turn a ten sentence book into a 94 minute movie?
So, at this point I’m sure that many of you have checked out Spike Jonzes’ Where The Wild Things Are. While this film has certainly polarized audiences, I hope that at least one thing we can all agree on is that adapting a ten-sentence book into a feature length film would be incredibly hard. And while I think that the team of David Eggers and Spike Jones ultimately did a good job in preserving the feel of the original Where the Wild Things Are, their movie got me thinking about the challenges implicit in turning unconventional books into successful films. Here are, in my mind, some successful adaptations of incredibly challenging source material:
I should've known what I was in for with this poster...
I’ve just returned from an incredibly enjoyable breakfast at The Smith with a good friend that I haven’t seen in some time. We caught up a bit and discussed our lives in the city a couple years post-film school. In our catching up, I told her about a screening I went to yesterday for the much anticipated film New York, I Love You. I felt that after a solid 15 hours after my viewing of this film, I’d be calm enough to discuss it rationally and gently encourage her to wait until it comes out on DVD before seeing it. Instead, a certain rage and fury came flying out of my mouth along with flecks of my ham, Gruyère and egg brioche (okay, that last part was a lie – I just really wanted to relive my breakfast in any way possible). Riding on the success of Paris, Je T’aime, this collection of somewhat cohesive short films was expected to be vignettes of people’s lives accented by the essence and nuances of the city. In some cases, it turned out to be a complete mockery of what Hollywood thinks this city is and in others, it may as well have been Random City in Middle America, I Love You.
May I also point out that there was no storyline featuring a black character? Or a gay character? Asian characters were only the most overused stereotypes – cab driver, hooker, laundromat owner. The movie was shameless in its portrayal of New York. Did a tourist make this film? At one point someone actually says, “This is why I love New York – moments like these.” Unlike most feature length situations, this project has multiple directors and multiple writers to blame. Brett Ratner (who was at the screening for a Q&A afterwards) was one of them. His short was probably one of the most enjoyable – based on his real life high school prom night. Though Ratner is an alumnus of NYU, he did his growing up in Miami so the original story is Floridian… other than the story taking place in New York and a rather unnecessary voiceover discussing how many drug stores there are in New York, there was nothing very New York about it.
Well, then what was I looking for, you might ask? If I’m going to complain so much, how would I have fixed it? Read more »
Oh, horror movies. How I adore/hate you. With your sharp-fanged monsters, and your copious amounts of fake blood, and your unnecessary nudity, and your sequels and your sequels to sequels being released so quick that I just can’t keep track which version of Final Destination or Scream we’re up to anymore.
I spent the other evening re-watching a horror film I had first watched in high school, and hated. But I was on one of those Wikipedia sprees where I was reading one entry that linked to another entry that linked to another, and I ended up on the Wiki page for the film. And because I’m a little bit of a masochist, I rented it and watched it. And I still hated it. The acting was terrible, the writing just sucked, and as the credits rolled I was left wondering why I had just wasted two hours of my life that I would never get back. But, being the optimist I am and needing to find the good in everything, I realized: your standard horror movie fare can provide a really good lesson in constructing a compelling story. Even if you don’t write horror.
The whole point of writing a story (besides your own personal satisfaction) is to in some way affect the reader. To get a reaction out of him. So what better genre to learn from than horror, which is decidedly the most baldfaced in its attempts to get a reaction out of the reader. I mean, really, most taglines for horror films are usually some variant of “So scary you’ll wish you were DEAD!” or “You’ll wet your pants!” And for the most part, the films deliver. People get scared. Reaction = caused. Mission = accomplished. So what can the average schmoe learn about fiction from crappy horror movies? Read more »
Uh oh... hope you have a second floor to effectively trap yourself in...
Let’s count together.
I’m a twenty-something wayward unemployed film school graduate just looking for some purpose in life (1). Last week, I got a call from my temp agency to cover at Lincoln Center. The mere mention of Lincoln Center sends me reeling into intense longing for my high school life as a theatre geek – a time where I knew what I wanted and had everything I needed (2). On my way to my first day at work, I find myself in a daydream like state wondering what it’d be like to once again be surrounded by theatre (3). Suddenly remembering how impractical daydreaming is during a Manhattan morning commute, I leave my subconscious to find that my Metrocard won’t swipe (when I was last employed, we didn’t have to worry about Metrocards with just 20 cents leftover on them chilling in our purses) and a mob of angry New Yorkers has collected behind me (4). I rush through the turnstiles, embarrassed and with the sudden realization that, oh gosh, I’m going to be late! I run to the platform to find that the first five cars are packed but see an empty space just about my size in the sixth car and I slip in just as the doors close (5). I sigh audibly, demonstrating clearly to those around me how relieved I am (6). But then, what’s this (7)? A familiar face. I look away, wondering… could it be? Is that who I think it is? Is it the face of the hellish side of high school I had forgotten until just now right here in front of me in the only available spot on the train after five years of living lives away from each other? Yep, it’s her. She stares a hole into my face as I become a bumbling idiot in my attempt to push through the packed car to avoid the possibility of conversation (8). I arrive at the office, flustered but intact, only to find myself surrounded by bomb-sniffing dogs and snipers – what the hell (9)? A passerby informs me that the President of the United States (oh, hey Obama) just happens to be in the same building this morning (10).
Okay… so what’s the count? 10 movie clichés – 8 of which I experienced before 9am. I guarantee you I will have at least 10 more before the end of the day. Read more »
With 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and even Star Trek, the notion of transformative work has been a particularly hot topic these past few months. Transformative work not only plays havoc with intellectual property law, but also with the audience as storytellers take our familiar, beloved characters and then subvert them entirely. Holden Caulfield is 76 years old and on the run from a nursing home, Elizabeth Bennett defends her family from hoards of zombies, and James Tiberius Kirk finds himself without a father and a long way to go before he can become captain of the USS Enterprise. The result is all the more shocking and enlightening given the juxtaposition of the transformed work with our knowledge of the original work.
It’s a compelling artistic endeavor. And transformative work is nothing new. Fans of Homer’s The Odyssey and The Iliad wrote their own books based on his works. Cervantes’ Don Quixote saw more than a few unauthorized published sequels. John Gardner’s Grendel, a re-telling of Beowulf from the monster’s point of view, was published to great acclaim (which, being one of my favorite books, I definitely recommend you giving it a read). Gregory Maguire’s best-selling Wicked, an alternate take on The Wizard of Oz, is now one of Broadway’s biggest hits. You get the idea.
But what about fan-made transformative works? While there are countless pieces of fan fiction and fan art out there, in which fans take their favorite characters and merely continue their stories, genuine transformative works are far less common. But as few and far-between as they may be, their stories really resonate.
After the jump, a short list of lesser-known, but by no means lesser-quality, fan-made transformative storytelling that challenge the old adage “there are no new stories.”
In the documentary Before the Music Dies, a bevy of accomplished artists including Ray Charles, Erykah Badu, Elvis Costello, Dave Matthews, and more weigh in on the steadily commercialization of the music industry. I’ve had my eye on the film for a while now, mostly because of this clip:
Just be butt-naked somewhere. Butt-naked somewhere with glitter and a beeper.
Yes it’s ridiculous, and yes it makes Badu seem batty, but what she says rings true. And the rest of the film is just as eye-opening and engrossing. I’m not a music industry-type at all, or even much of a music-y person, but this doc really moved me. Maybe that’s because the core issue isn’t exclusive to the music industry. In a commercial world, how can you a) create art and b) succeed? At what point does the creative work end and the corporation begin?
British filmmaker Peter Johnston is sick of “bladder-straining, buttock-aching movies which often last up to two, sometimes two and a half hours.” So he has developed an antidote: The 15 Second Film Festival. And it’s not an exaggeration. Each film that Johnston commissions or makes himself for the online festival is indeed 15 seconds long, with about 10 seconds for opening and closing credits.