” ‘Mama!” She heard Eva’s thin but soaring cry at the instant that she thrust the child away from her and rose from the concrete with a clumsy stumbling motion. ‘Take the baby!’ she called out. ‘Take my little girl!'” (p 590)

My Top 10

  1. Sophie’s Choice
  2. The Verdict
  3. Missing
  4. Das Boot
  5. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  6. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  7. Victor/Victoria
  8. Three Brothers
  9. Blade Runner
  10. The World According to Garp

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Missing  (272 pts)
  2. Victor/Victoria  (120 pts)
  3. The Verdict  (112 pts)
  4. Sophie’s Choice  (80 pts)
  5. Das Boot  (40 pts)
  6. Fast Times at Ridgemont High  (40 pts)
  7. The World According to Garp  (40 pts)

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium):

  • Missing
  • Das Boot
  • Sophie’s Choice
  • The Verdict
  • Victor/Victoria

WGA Awards:

Adapted Drama:

  • Missing
  • Sophie’s Choice
  • The Verdict
  • The World According to Garp

Adapted Comedy:

  • Victor/Victoria
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Golden Globe:

  • Missing
  • The Verdict

Nominees that are Original:  Gandhi, E.T., Tootsie

BAFTA:

  • Missing

Nominees that are Original:  E.T., Gandhi, Tootsie (1983)
note:  This is the last year of a single Screenplay category at the BAFTAs.

My Top 10

 

Sophie’s Choice

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once, when I wrote about the book (see below).  It is not only a great film but also the best film of 1982, a year with a lot of solid **** films but none that reach high ****.  I think people forgot how good the film is as a whole (and how fantastic Kevin Kline is, in, what must be remembered, his film debut) because they get so focused on Meryl Streep’s performance.  Streep’s performance is brilliant throughout, balancing the sexiness of her time in Brooklyn and the way she entrances both Stingo and Nathan but also the depths of her suffering in the camp and I ranked it as the greatest lead female performance in the history of film here and I think there are many who would agree.  Of course, it all comes down to that horrible, fateful moment when she is forced to make the most awful choice you could possibly make and then, not only has to act out the scene, but also the scene where she is telling all of this to Stingo.  One of the most sorrowful films ever made, yet filled with a kind of life throughout the film until the end because of those performances.

The Source:

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron (1979)

A brilliant book which I ranked at #40 all-time and was ranked by the Modern Library on their 20th Century List at #96.  There are many who have criticized Stryon for making this book about Sophie, a Polish Catholic, rather than a Jew and perhaps altering the view of Auschwitz and the Holocaust as a horrible crime against the Jews and simply a complete act of evil.  But it comes down that fatal question that Styron asks in the book “At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?”  And the answer is “Where was man?”  And that is the question and the answer and what we still wonder about everyday, watching acts of evil.  I re-watched the film the day before watching the 2018 film Operation Finale about the operation to capture Adolf Eichmann and bring him to Israel for trial and I am reminded that Argentina would not have let him go and in fact protested that he had been unlawfully kidnapped because Argentina cared so little about human life that they were fine with protecting the architect of the Final Solution.  Evil did not begin with the Holocaust and of course it did not end there as well and the book is a reminder that we go on, even after horrible acts and we get to that point like Stingo does at the end and we realize (as he does in both the book and the film, making use of the fantastic last line as a voiceover) “This was not judgment day – only morning.  Morning: excellent and fair.”

The Adaptation:

How do you take a 600+ page book and cut it down to a feature length film?  Well, easily enough as it turns out because so much of the writing deals with the Holocaust and the nature and existence of evil and so much also dials with Stingo and how he grows and is eventually able to put these thoughts into words and write this book.  Almost all of what we see in the film comes straight from the book but there is a lot of the book (including some minor characters, but mostly narration) that is cut.

The Credits:

Directed by Alan J. Pakula.  Based on the Novel “Sophie’s Choice” by William Styron.  Screenplay by Alan J. Pakula.

The Verdict

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film.  I reviewed it because it was nominated for Best Picture and the Academy definitely got it right in this case.  In a very good year, this is actually the best of the nominees, a first-rate courtroom drama with Paul Newman giving the best performance of the year (and one of the best of a very distinguished career) as a washed up alcoholic lawyer reaching for some redemption.  A lot of Courtroom Dramas rely on the big impact of the verdict but this film actually does something more.  Keep watching until that final moment and you will see how thoughtful this film is about the character that it has created and what the possibilities that now lay before him are.  It’s that moment at the end, that not only shows how good Newman’s performance is, but also how good the direction and especially the screenplay are.

The Source:

The Verdict by Barry Reed (1980)

“It’s interesting because the book is total trash.  If I’d ever read the book first before I read the script I never would have done it.  It’s fascinating to me that David drew that story from it.” (Sidney Lumet quoted in Sidney Lumet: Interviews, ed. Joanna E. Rapf, p 178)

I wouldn’t go as far as Lumet and call the book trash but it’s certainly far from a great book.  It’s a moderately interesting courtroom drama about a washed up lawyer that decides to not settle for a good amount in a lawsuit against a Catholic hospital (and, ostensibly, against the archdiocese, a big deal in Boston).

The Adaptation:

This film went through a lot of screenplays before it settled onto a writer, a director and a star.  William Goldman has a very interesting description about how it ended up with Lumet and Newman and how David Mamet wrote a script that was then set aside and then eventually was used with just some revisions in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting on pages 62 to 67.  Given that the novel was released only two years before the film, it must have been sold and the process must have started as soon as the book came out for it to have taken so long.

Given how similar much of the plot is, it’s remarkable how much is actually different in the film.  The entire first half hour of the film isn’t in the book (the background for Frank is somewhat different and the book actually begins with him refusing the settlement).  The doctor that Frank wants to rely on who then bails on him isn’t in the book.  In the book, the character of Mel is very different (and has a stroke towards the end of the book and the book ends with Frank sitting by his side in the hospital which also shows how the ending of the film really comes from the filmmakers).  The way that Frank finds out that he has been betrayed happens much earlier on and it’s Frank who discovers it, not Mel and his relationship with her is then very different through the rest of the film than it was in the book.  Even the ending is different, since the book makes a big deal out of how much the damages are that are awarded and what the archdiocese is going to do in response (though that response, I think, does inform the very question that the archbishop so thoughtfully asks in the film).  There is very little drama in the courtroom’s verdict in the book because the nurse’s testimony isn’t tossed out like in the film.  I don’t think the book is as bad as Lumet thought, but I do agree with him on what an amazing job Mamet did in crafting the film from the book given how much Mamet changed and how much the film comes from Mamet and Lumet rather than the original novel.

The Credits:

directed by Sidney Lumet.  based upon the novel by Barry Reed.  screenplay by David Mamet.

Missing

The Film:

In this project I have long dreaded having to return to Leaving Las Vegas (which I have actually already done, though it will be quite a while before 1995 is posted).  But it turned out I had much more reason to dread returning to Missing.  They are fairly even films in terms of quality and they are both insanely depressing but in the end, this is actually much more so.  Leaving Las Vegas, though somewhat autobiographical, is still fiction.  This isn’t.  This is the story of a real man who really was murdered by a foreign government while the U.S. government stood by and didn’t care if not actively encouraged it.  It is a reminder of the price of political views and the dangers anyone can face in the more dangerous places in the world.  It is a great film, with magnificent performances from Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek but it is horribly depressing to watch.  A more full review can be found here because it is one of the Best Picture nominees.

The Source:

The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice by Thomas Hauser (1978)

This is a good book that I ended up having to start scanning rather than reading thoroughly because it was so horribly depressing to watch the inevitable conclusion that the Nixon White House and State Department, at the very least, condoned the execution of Charles Horman by Chilean officials during the coup of September 1973 if not actively encouraged it.  Of course, one view of this is that one American life compared to what happened to the people of Chile is looking at the wrong thing, especially when you realize the U.S. actively encouraged the coup that arranged for the execution of a rightfully elected president and ended up with a brutal repressive regime that ruled for 17 years with terror and torture.  Hauser’s book, written with the full cooperation of Horman’s family (and he had actually met Horman years earlier) is a brutal indictment of the American government and what it will and will not do in order to protect what it thinks are its priorities.

The Adaptation:

The movie takes a slightly different approach to the material, in that it tells most of what happens to Charles as flashbacks through the film, including his time north of Santiago during the start of the coup, while the book gives all of the information at the start.  The film also, while not hiding the actual names of the cities, never mentions the country by name.  As I mentioned in my full review, that actually gives the film a measure of universality as we can see this kind of thing applied to other countries at other times, again with U.S. approval.

One of the interesting things about this story is how much information continues to filter through as time passes.  Most of the actions in the book take place in September and October of 1973 with some bits later covering the years afterwards as Ed Horman worked to get his son’s body back to the States for burial and his actions against the government.  The film was made in 1982 and by then, Horman had sued the government for their actions (his suit was dismissed) and similar actions had happened in other countries (like Nicaragua) which is what makes the film so powerful.  When I originally reviewed the film back in early 2011, a lot more information had been officially revealed over the U.S. involvement in the coup and reveals how many lies were told in earlier years about the level of involvement.  But even since that review, much has come out about the execution of Horman, including the indictment of Chilean intelligence officials for their roles in his death and continuous revelations about what the U.S. knew and when it was known.

The film is a reminder of the danger and horror of the U.S. deciding to arbitrarily choose who should be ruling a nation and a stark condemnation of the fact that this country is not always on the right side of history.  Many of the people involved in the U.S. involvement, it is clear both from the book and from future knowledge after the publication of the book, went to their graves believing that they had done the right thing in Chile because they were so fervent in their beliefs that Communism was an evil that had to be eradicated.  Almost everything about the film is just a brutal look at some of the worst things this country has ever done.

The Credits:

directed by Costa-Gavras.  screenplay by Costa-Gavras & Donald Stewart. based on the book “Missing” by Thomas Hauser.
note: There is no mention in the opening credits of the source.  That comes from the end creditrs.  Also, the book was re-titled for the film’s release which is why it uses the title “Missing” in the credits.

Das Boot

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the best films of the year.  I specifically remarked on both the direction and the script (the former remarkable because Petersen would never again come close to this but it is the best direction of the year and the latter remarkable not only because Petersen didn’t generally write his films and because he does a fantastic job of making us feel sympathy for Nazis and while, yes, we aren’t seeing the horrors of the Holocaust, these are still the same men who were sinking American and British boats).  The film is easily one of the best German films ever made and certainly the best film made in West Germany that wasn’t made by Werner Herzog.

The Source:

Das Boot by Lothar-Günther Buchheim (1973)

This is a decent book, if considerably too long (close to 600 pages) and, while this could just be a problem of having seen the film multiple times before ever reading the book, I didn’t really feel like it made me understand what it was like to be down there under all that water.  The book apparently made Buchheim rich but he was also an obnoxious prick who refused to have anything to do with anybody, but then again, he was writing a book about his own experience on a U-boat during the war.  I’m not much for biographical criticism but it’s not an example of that to say that this is a reflection of Buchheim’s own experiences when he flat out says “this book is a novel but not a work of fiction.  The author witnessed all the events reported in it; they are the sum of his experiences aboard U-boats.  Nevertheless, the description of the characters who take part are not portraits of real persons living or dead.”

The Adaptation:

The film does a fantastic job of simply cutting extraneous details and still keeping as much of the book as possible.  From the opening scene (driving along with the Old Man) to the final scene, of the Old Man dying (the final lines are “The Old Man opens his mouth as though to let loose a great shout.  But all that gushes from his lips is blood.”) almost everything we get on film is from the book and the vast majority of the book is in the film (even more if you go with the longer edits of the film).

The Credits:

Written and Directed by Wolfgang Petersen.  Based on the Novel by Lothar-Günther Buchheim.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

The Film:

In some ways, this the film I have written about on this blog more than any other.  I won’t list all the mentions that I have made of it but you can find a mostly full list of them here when I wrote a full review of it for my For Love of Film: Star Trek series (my second full review as you’ll see there) and even since then, there are all its mentions in the 1982 Nighthawk Awards and its Top 20 finish among my 100 Favorite Films.  I think there is a very good chance that outside of the original Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back, this is the film I have seen more than any other (I think it’s easily into triple digits by now).  But I do want to emphasize the writing in this film. This is the best Star Trek film (by a long way) at least in part because the writing is so good with a great emphasis on both drama and comedy, a fantastic plot and a great use of the characters.

The Source:

Star Trek, created by Gene Rodenberry (1966)

That’s the source as listed in the credits although that gives short shrift to Carey Wilber (who came up with the story for “Space Seed”, one of the best 1st Season episodes from the show and the basis for this film) and Gene L. Coon (who rewrote Wilbur’s script, shaping it from his original idea into the classic episode that is so well known) but then again, if you are familiar with the off-stage dealings on Star Trek, you’ll know that Gene Rodenberry often gave short-shrift to his writers (he even tried to get on-screen credit for the original episode but the WGA was having nothing to do with that – if you really want an idea of how much Rodenberry would screw with people get the published script of one of the best episodes ever made, City on the Edge of Forever and read Harlan Ellison’s very long introduction).

I don’t really need to write a review here.  There is a full list of my reaction to the entire original series which you can find here (where I gave “Space Seed” an A- which landed it just outside my Top 10 list for the series) while Veronica gave it s a B+ (Khan annoyed her but she had also seen the film multiple times before ever seeing the episode)).

The Adaptation:

The screenplay makes great use of the characters and except for the error of having Chekhov be the one who recognizes Khan and is recognized by him (it was a first season episode and he wasn’t added until the second season) everything in this film develops naturally from the characters as they had been developed through the series (and in the first film, though there wasn’t much development there – one of the ways the writing is so much better in this film is that it focuses on the characters first and foremost, especially the interplay between Kirk, Spock and Bones).

The Credits:

Directed by Nicholas Meyer.  Based on Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry.  Screenplay by Jack B. Sowards.  Story by Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

The Film:

As I was watching this film for who knows how many times (a little surprising since I didn’t see it until well into adulthood), I began to wonder if I should ask my 20 year old niece Charis to watch it and get her opinion.  Does this film stand up as well to younger audiences?  Or is it that I so enjoy it, not because it is good and well written and funny and so very true, but because it is so very true to an age that I was a part of.

I was born in 1974, so I wasn’t in high school in 1979 when Cameron Crowe went to Clairemont High School, which is just a few miles away from where I live now to experience high school in a way he never really did when he was actually in high school (he went to a private Catholic school and he spent a lot of that time on the road with bands), in 1981 when the book was published or in 1982 when the film was released.  I never actually shopped at Licorice Pizza and my own days at the mall wouldn’t come until the end of the decade.  But everything in this film seemed real to me, from the characters, to the high school interactions, to the mall, even to the settings (both the number painted on the curb in front of Brad and Stacy’s house and the design of the walls around their property are just like the ones I grew up with) is so very familiar to me.  That’s because I tend to trend older – I have three older siblings and my oldest brother, John, was in high school during all of those years listed above and he not only shopped at Licorice Pizza, but still has the crate he bought there specifically designed for holding 45’s.

This film starts with a magnificent bang, scenes of Ridgemont High kids cruising around the malls, the same way I did with my friends, set to “We Got the Beat”.  There are not a lot of films that open with such a brilliant montage and such a great use of a song and yet, it’s not even the best use of a song in the film, as we get the moment later, where Stacy’s mother comes in and says good night and then, just as she closes the door, Stacy peels off the covers to show she’s fully dressed and the opening notes of “Somebody’s Baby”, the brilliant Jackson Browne song written for the film kicks in.

Is there a film that is evoked when you are watching this one?  There should be and it’s American Graffiti.  This isn’t quite at the same level but they are companion films in some ways, both of them driven by two of the best soundtracks ever recorded (American Graffiti went entirely off early 60’s / late 50’s songs while this one uses contemporary songs including several written for the film itself).  That film was about the last night of summer after school is done for the seniors while this film revolves around several students during the course of the school year, the way they interact, the way they respond, the way they cope.  It’s about music and sex and first, crappy, jobs and being young and what it means to enjoy that.

Some parts of the film have long passed into legend, of course.  Veronica had never seen the film before she watched it with me for this viewing but she well knew that Phoebe Cates would rise out of the pool and undo her top for one of the most famous topless scenes in film history.  She didn’t know, of course, that it would be a fantasy of another character or that she would walk in on that character masturbating to that fantasy.  But those kind of things happen in real life.

There’s one other thing besides Crowe’s smart script (which is so very real because it was based on real people and stayed close to what he wrote – see below) and the magnificent soundtrack that makes this film as good as it is and that’s the acting.  Many of the main actors have gone on to decent if not great film careers but it’s worth pointing out that four different Best Actor Oscars have been won by people who acted in this film, that it was the film that first showcased Forrest Whitaker, that it showed how hilarious Sean Penn could be (and true to life – every time I watch this film I am reminded of what my cousin Craig was like at that age and I wonder if Spicoli could go on to head marketing for a skate company when he is older) and is the actual film debut of one “Nicolas Coppola”.

The Source:

Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story by Cameron Crowe (1981)

In 1979, Cameron Crowe, who, if you have seen Almost Famous, you know ditched out on a lot of high school and went on the road with a series of bands, decided, after seven years of writing for Rolling Stone to go back to high school and see what the “kids” were up to.  He decided on Clairemont High School in San Diego, near his mother’s house (had he not gone to a Catholic school, he would have gone there) and with the permission of the principal, went back to school for a year, undercover.  He changed the names of the people he met and the name of the school and published this book about it.

It clearly wasn’t a great success of a book, as it had one hardcover printing and then a later paperback printing when the film was released and it’s very hard to find today (it shows up on a lot of lists for most desired out-of-print book).  But it’s a good, very readable book about a group of high school kids in a very particular point in time. I suspect that one reason more people don’t read it is that the film version is so very faithful to the original book that a lot of people wouldn’t feel the need to go back and read the original source.

One personal note: the morning after I got the news that I was now cancer-free, V and I stopped for breakfast at Del Taco.  I said it should have been the Carl’s Jr at the top of the hill.  When she asked me why, I pointed across the street at Clairemont High School and explained how in the book, it’s the Carl’s Jr at the top of the hill that’s the premiere fast-food place to work.  But I doubt the Del Taco was there in 1979 when Crowe was back to school at Clairemont.  Still, for a filmmaker I have so fervently enjoyed, there was nice symmetry sitting there across the street from where he went back to school.

The Adaptation:

This is an extremely faithful adaptation of the original book.  There are a few minor details that are changed in the film version (it was Rat, not Spicoli who ordered the pizza to class, Ron was a vet, not a stereo salesman, Rat really did use Led Zeppelin IV but the filmmakers couldn’t get permission to use it in the film so they used “Kashmir” and it’s brilliant because it makes Rat look like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, which, of course, he doesn’t).  There are a few scenes that are dropped (there’s a big bit about the school going to Disneyland for Grad Nite, something the park still does) but the biggest change is that Brad isn’t involved in taking Stacy or waiting for her after the abortion, but since it is a beautiful and poignant moment and it feels very true, it was absolutely the right move to do.

The Credits:

Directed by Amy Heckerling.  Screenplay by Cameron Crowe.  Based on His Book.

Victor/Victoria

The Film:

A man and a woman run together in the rain back to his apartment.  He has just managed to get himself fired after starting a riot at the nightclub where he worked.  She hadn’t been hired at the same club and was desperate to eat.  They ended up together at a restaurant where the woman had a cockroach ready for the end of the meal so she wouldn’t have to pay for it, but it escaped and caused a near-riot there as well.  Her clothes have shrunk because of the rain and she is forced to spend the night in his apartment (we don’t have to worry about anything going on because he is quite flamboyantly gay).  In the morning, one of his former lovers shows up and she hides in the closet.  But when the former lover gets belligerent, she comes out (dressed in his clothes) and beats some sense into him.  After the former lover flees, the man has a brilliant idea.  She can pass as a man!  She can pretend to be a female impersonator.  A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman!

This had been a film in Germany before the Nazis settled in and destroyed all remnants of culture, at a time when German culture was among the most interesting in the world.  But it needed a long time before it could be remade in this country, waiting for a time when people were ready for such characters – for so many gay characters, for such an outlandish plot.  It’s sad that our culture, for so long, just couldn’t cope with this kind of thing.  But the advantage of that was that the remake of the 1933 German film had to wait until 1982 and thus, in the two key roles in the film, we managed to get Julie Andrews and Robert Preston.  Andrews gives her best performance at least since The Sound of Music and really probably since Mary Poppins.  She can pull off the entertainment part of the show as easily as the romance (a gangster, played by James Garner, falls in love with her much to his confusion, since he thinks she’s a man).  The drama and the comedy come as easily to her as every other part of the performance and it was her bad luck to come up against Meryl Streep’s performance for the ages that probably kept her from winning a second Oscar.  But, perhaps even more importantly, there is Preston’s performance.  Preston’s career-defining performance, back in The Music Man, had somehow failed to earn him an Oscar nomination, but this time the Academy got it right, nominating him for a performance that sees him playing up the flamboyance with remarkable style.  He enjoys the mayhem, he lives for the confusion, and he can’t stop himself from having fun.

The film is far from perfect – it drags quite a bit by spending too much time on the performance pieces and the direction from Blake Edwards is far from great, and those keep it from even quite reaching ***.5 and getting into my Best Picture discussion, but I give it a 75, which is the very highest ***.  It’s a very good time, with some fantastic art direction and costumes that really bring out the stylistic glory of the era and two performances that always make it compelling.

The Source:

Viktor und Viktoria (1933), written and directed by Reinhold Schünzel

The first wave of great German films were the Expressionist films.  They were dark and disturbing and endlessly fascinating and they still rank among the greatest films ever made.  The next wave of quality German films are the late Weimar films.  In films like The Congress Dances, I By Day You By Night and Viktor und Viktoria there is a sheer joy and madness on the screen.

This film might sound familiar to anyone who has seen Victor/Victoria, of course, because it’s the source.  It’s the story of a talented female singer, down on her luck, pretending to be a man that is on-stage as a female impersonator.  Does it sound preposterous?  Of course it is, and that’s why it works, both as a film and as a story on film.  Because no one would ever believe it.

The Adaptation:

The concept of the film comes straight from the original film, but the original film only confined itself to the story itself of the woman dressed as a man dressed as a woman.  The whole subplot involving gangsters (the Garner character) as well as the other characters in the gangster’s life (the very good supporting performance from Lesley Ann Warren as his moll and the amusing performance from football great Alex Karras as his gay bodyguard) weren’t in the original film.  Because both films contain much of the gender bending performance scenes, it is this whole subplot, added in without cutting any from the original, that really makes the film much longer than the original.

The Credits:

Directed by Blake Edwards.  Screenplay by Blake Edwards.  Based on The 1933 UFA-Film “Viktor und Viktora”, Conceived by Hans Hoemburg, Written and Directed by Reinhold Schünzel.
note:  The source credits aren’t included in the opening credits.  They are from the end credits.

Tre Fratelli

The Film:

An elderly man out in the orchard sees his wife turn and wave at him, looking happy and alive but it’s just an illusion.  She has died and he is now alone.  Alone in his orchard but not alone in the world.  He wanders into town and sends three identical telegrams: “Your mother has died.  Come.  Father.”

The three sons are adrift in their own lives.  While their father lives outside a small rural town, the sons are living in three of the most prominent cities in Italy.  The oldest, living in Rome, is a judge in charge of a terrorism case in which he has been threatened with assassination.  The second, living in Naples, helps oversee troubled boys and the first we see of him he is trying to talk the police out of suspecting some of the boys in some local trouble.  The third lives the furthest away, all the way up in Turin and he’s dealing both with labor troubles at his factory job, his marriage which is basically done and his young daughter who basically does not know her grandfather.  But, as is often the case when such things arise, all three dutifully return home to their father to do what must be done.

If you know that this film won Best Foreign Film at the Boston Film Critics Awards and was nominated for the Oscar (also for Best Foreign Film) you might think there is some deep revelation that will be awaiting the sons when they return home, some battle amongst themselves that must be fought, or even some argument with their father or mother.  But, no, there is nothing like that.  This is simply the story of three brothers who have drifted apart from each other and, in some sense, from themselves, who return home at a moment of grief.  They look back on their lives and they understand how they ended up where they are and why they are not at home.  It is also a chance for a young girl to learn to know her elderly grandfather while he still has time left to him.

It’s a nice, quiet, subtle film, the kind of film that too often gets overlooked.  But, directed by a prominent director (Francesco Rossi), it at least got some notice and should continue to be enjoyed for what it is.

The Source:

“третий сын” by Andrei Platonov (1936)

A short (six pages) story about six brothers who return home in response to the death of their mother and the way that the third son’s daughter starts to bring the mourning grandfather back to life.  The story was admired by Hemingway and it’s easy to see why because it is very much in the same vein of Hemingway’s writings, short and succinct without needing to try and belabor a point.  This was the first Platonov story to be translated into English but was translated again in 1969 and that translation (by Joseph Barnes) is the easiest to find.

The Adaptation:

The original story had six brothers and took place in the Soviet Union.  The film moves the action to Italy and eliminates three of the brothers, which makes it much more manageable for a film.  While the brothers have their own troubles in the original stories, the film also changes the details of those.  But the most important details of the film (far-reaching brothers return home for their mother’s funeral and the third one brings his daughter who starts to bond with the grandfather that she hasn’t really known up until that point) stay true to the original story.  The title change (the original story translates as “The Third Son”) also suggests how in the film we get more of all three brothers whereas the original story focuses more on the third son (the one with the daughter).

The Credits:

Diretto da Francesco Rosi.  Soggetto e sceneggiatura: Tonino Guerra, Francesco Rosi.
note: There is no mention of the source in the opening credits.

Blade Runner

The Film:

When you go completely against the grain of critical opinion, it’s actually kind of easy.  You can say, no that film is brilliant in spite of critical opinion, or that film sucked and you people are nuts.  It’s actually a lot harder to be just off the grain.  The case in point for this, of course, is Blade RunnerBlade Runner is very highly regarded – the highest ranked film of the year at TSPDT, an AFI Top 100 film and an Ebert Great Film.  That it only earned two Oscar nominations actually increases that because it’s easy for people to say it was visionary and people at the time didn’t realize what they were seeing.  So, the problem isn’t that I think Blade Runner is a bad film.  In fact, I think it’s a very good film, a high ***.5.  It’s that I don’t think it’s a great film and certainly don’t think it’s an all-time great film where it gets hard for people to listen.  What’s more, it pains me to have to review this film and proclaim its weaknesses because in my mind the biggest weakness of the film is one of my favorite actors of all-time, Harrison Ford.

Blade Runner is a visionary film, of course.  Though it only lands at #11 in my Best Picture race, it is at #8 for Director, wins Art Direction, earns nominations for Visual Effects, Sound Editing and Makeup and just barely misses nominations for Cinematography and Score.  It earned eight BAFTA nominations and all of them were in Tech categories.  It takes vague descriptions from the original novel and brilliantly brings them to life, fusing together Science-Fiction with Film Noir to create a whole new visual look for film.  Where it stumbles is in the acting (Rutger Hauer not withstanding since he is the one person in the film who really gives a strong performance) and in the writing.  No wonder there are so many versions of the film – because the script really isn’t that strong and it’s a continual trial of tinkering to get it right.  Is the voiceover a problem because it isn’t well-written or because Harrison Ford’s delivery is lackluster?  We know Sean Young is an android even if she doesn’t but are fan theories so attached to the notion that Ford’s Deckard is also an android because that possibility is raised in the book or because it’s more interesting or because Ford’s performance is a bit wooden and a far cry from his Han Solo and Indiana Jones (granted, he’s supposed to be burned out, but still) and it works better if he actually is an android?

What does it mean to be human?  That’s the question that the film is actually trying to ask and what does it say that the sequel, freed of needing to even rely in small part on the original novel actually does a better job of dealing with that concept (and what does it say that Ford’s performance in the sequel is not only better but more interesting – what it might say is that Villeneuve is better with actors than Scott is).

It’s always tricky to write this kind of review, to say, well, this film has a really visionary look and feel to it and is clearly the work of a talented director but it’s just not great like everyone always wants to say it is.  Well, now I can do it all over again in the next bit.

The Source:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1968)

Like Ridley Scott, who would direct the film, Philip K. Dick was clearly a visionary.  The things he brought to life in his books were bizarre and fascinating visions of what the could end up being.  Unfortunately, I don’t know that Dick was really that good of a writer, at least in the novel format.  His short stories are fantastic and I actually have two different collections of them (The Philip K. Dick Reader and The Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick).  But, though I have owned various novels of his over the years (all in matching bindings, of course – matching the one on the right), this is the only one I still own (the most painful to me is The Man in the High Castle which is such a brilliant concept and the execution is so bleh).  Dick has great concepts but he doesn’t seem to really know where to go with them and I wonder at points if the drugs would kick in (I especially wondered that during say, Valis, A Scanner Darkly or The Transmigration of Timothy Archer).  This is the story of a bounty hunter who works for the police hunting down androids who are allowed on Mars but not down on Earth.  He ends up managing to get all of the bounties (six androids have come down together) but it brings up questions about his reality and about the worth of the life he’s living (the title comes from the electronic sheep that he owns because animals, even electronic versions of them, are greatly desired in this post-apocalyptic reality).  It’s a fascinating book but a strange one and it’s not all that well-written and I wonder if someday it will also go by the wayside and I will just simply enjoy his shorter works.

The Adaptation:

Did Dick know what they were doing to his novel, how they were taking the basic premise (burned out bounty hunter hunts down six androids who came down together from Mars, also meets female android who’s a new version that doesn’t know she’s an android) and the character names and throwing out almost everything else about the book?  He apparently was okay with the final version of the script and with the effects that he had seen but he did die of a stroke a few months before the film actually opened (which means he definitely didn’t know how the film would end).  That’s not to say that Dick might not have been pleased with the film as a whole though authors rarely are.  It’s just that the film is a far cry from the book as it was written.

The Credits:

Directed by Ridley Scott.  Screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples.  Based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick.
note: There is no listing for the source in the opening credits.  That is from the end credits.

The World According to Garp

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once when I wrote about the novel on my all-time list (see below).  Watching it this time, I was struck by how “cute” it is.  Between the baby bouncing in the opening and end credits, between the way that the film takes part of Garp’s fiction and makes it his life, the film reduces the amount of lunacy and sorrow that are prevalent in the novel and makes it more the story of a writer with an eccentric life, focusing more on his life than on him being a writer.  I still think it is a good film and I bumped up my estimation of Glenn Close’s performance this time but it just lacks the depth of the original novel.

The Source:

The World According to Garp by John Irving (1978)

Not only a great novel (I ranked it at #33 all-time which makes it third highest ranked American novel in my lifetime behind only Beloved and The Ghost Writer) but one of my favorite books as well, one I have read countless times since I was first assigned it for a really wonderful class in college (it was called Portraits of the Artist and everything we read – Portrait of the Artist, Garp, The Awakening, Exposure, poems about rock and roll – were about artists of some kind or another).  This time was a bit different because death is such a strong part of the book and I read it in a two day blitz while lying on the couch after surgery for cancer, not having results yet back to know if it had spread and if I was going to be okay.  But it made me laugh in all the same ways, made me regret that I never pushed harder to get my own fiction published and made me cry when I finally got to that last chapter and read all the final fates.  If you ever look at the fiction I have published on the blog and wonder why so many characters die, well, I first started writing my “college” novel when I was heavily under the influence of this book and other John Irving books, so look no further.

The Adaptation:

As I mentioned in the original review, the film really functions as kind of a greatest hits of the book.  To do that, it completely cuts everything from the start of the book (it begins with Garp’s birth instead of all the things that happen to Jenny in Boston) and ends with his death (a bit too sappy) and cuts all the epilogues that lets us know what happen.  It cuts most of the details of Garp’s life, focusing mainly on his couple of big events in high school, his time with his mother (changed from Vienna to New York, sadly) and the events around Helen’s affair and the aftermath.  In fact, other than Jenny being killed, the funeral and Garp’s death, almost all of the events after the car crash are cut out.  Almost everything in the film comes from the book with the exception of the plane crashing into the house (though the incident with the plumber is from a piece of Garp’s fiction and not his life) but there is an awful lot of the book left out of the film.

The Credits:

Directed by George Roy Hill.  Based on the novel by John Irving.  Screenplay by Steve Tesich.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10

(in descending order of how I rank the script)

  • Coup de Torchon –  The first really good adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel (the novel, pop. 1280, will be remade as Yorgos Lanthimos’ next film).  Low ***.5 and #11 on my Adapted Screenplay list.
  • First Blood –  People often forget that the original film was really good (high ***), has perhaps Stallone’s best performance and is actually well-written.  Based on the novel by David Morrell.
  • Five Days One Summer –  Like Buddy Buddy from the year before, the final film of a great director (in this case Fred Zinnemann) and perhaps over-rated by me.  I have it as a mid *** but with a solid script.  Based on a short story by Kay Boyle.

Other Adaptations

(in descending order of how good the film is)

  • Pink Floyd: The Wall –  A really good film but not because of the writing, unless you want to count the original song lyrics, but those don’t really make the film script work.  It’s all about mood and atmosphere.  Mid ***.5 but no points for the script.  Based on the album, of course.
  • Mephisto –  Low ***.5 but again no points for the script itself.  It’s more about the direction and the performance from Klaus Marie Brandeur (which is fantastic).  Based on the novel by Klaus Mann which I haven’t read but I’ve read his father (Thomas) and he’s one of the most boring writers to ever be massively acclaimed.
  • The Boat is Full –  The Swiss submission for Best Foreign Film in 1981 and Oscar nominated (and deservedly so as it is also Nighthawk nominated).  Solid low ***.5 Drama based on the book by Alfred A. Haesler.
  • Man of Iron –  Another 1981 Oscar nominee (but #6 at the Nighthawks), this Polish submission from acclaimed director Andrzej Wajda is a sequel to his earlier Man of Marble.
  • The Secret of NIMH –  Fully reviewed here as an early RCM.  I love the book (Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH), having read it in 4th grade (and I had Thomas read it in 4th grade as well for a school project).  In the review I discuss how it was one of the first films that showed me the difference between a film and a novel.  The last of the ***.5 which is kind of long in this year.
  • Quest for Fire –  I discussed the singularity of this film here (towards the bottom).  Quite good, high *** with brilliant Makeup.  Based on the novel by J.-H. Rosny.
  • Lola –  The third of Fassbinder’s BRD Trilogy which have thematic connections not narrative ones.  Yet, the old oscars.org listed it as adapted.  Who knows.  Quite good.
  • Gauche the Cellist –  Isao Takahata adapts the well-known Japanese short story into a solid *** animated film.
  • Passione d’Amore –  This 1981 adaptation of Fosca is directed by Ettore Scola.
  • Deathtrap –  Sidney Lumet adapts the well known Ira Levin play with Michael Caine (inviting comparisons to Sleuth, which it resembled anyway) and Christopher Reeve.
  • Quartet –  Merchant-Ivory adapts the Jean Rhys novel.
  • Stalker –  Surely someone will lament that I rate this film at mid *** but to me, it’s not great Tarkovsky.  It’s solid.  Based on the novel Roadside Picnic.
  • Conan the Barbarian –  I love the original Howard stories as can be seen here.  This is the best example of them on film even if Arnold mostly just grimaces.  Good bloody fun.  Though it’s patently not true, I love the urban legend that Masters of the Universe was supposed to be a Conan line but the film was too gory and they repurposed the figures.
  • Bad Blood –  Mike Newell starts on the path to being a solid director with this film based on a real manhunt in New Zealand.  Based on a non-fiction account of the incident.
  • The Last Unicorn –  I considered doing this as an RCM but I couldn’t remember enough my reaction as a kid to write about it.  A fascinating animated fantasy film based on the novel by Peter S. Beagle.  The only thing I remember from seeing it as a kid is that the creepy voice of the Skull was the same guy who was playing Clayton Endicott III on Benson which kind of melted my brain.
  • The Grim Reaper –  Based on a short story by Pasolini this is the work of a 21 year old director who would grow to be one of the greats: Bernardo Bertolucci.  His debut feature, it was originally released in Italy in 1962.  We’re down to mid ***.
  • Bugs Bunny’s 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales –  Yet another clip movie of old Looney Tunes shorts.  Always worth watching for the shorts.
  • The Man from Snowy River –  Australian Western with Kirk Douglas based on the poem by Banjo Paterson.
  • La Traviata –  Zeffirelli films the famous opera.  My eyes glaze over as soon as they start singing (this will be relevant down below).
  • Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean –  Robert Altman begins the remaking of Cher as an actual actress with the adaptation of the play.
  • Xica –  The Brazilian submission at the Oscars in 1976 based on the novel by João Felício dos Santos.
  • The Desert of the Tartars –  A 1976 Italian Drama based on the novel The Tartar Steppe.
  • Arcadia of My Youth –  An Anime film continuing the adventures of the character Captain Harlock who had already been in manga and a television series.
  • Unfinished Piece for Player Piano –  A 1977 Soviet film from Nikita Mikhalkov based on Platonov, one of Chekhov’s earliest plays.
  • The Road Warrior –  Also known as Mad Max 2 although The Road Warrior is a much better title.  This is the best of the Mad Max films though it’s still just a mid ***.
  • For 200 Grand, You Get Nothing New –  A French Comedy from former Oscar nominee Edouard Molinaro.  Based on the play by Didier Kaminka,
  • Grendel Grendel Grendel –  An Australian animated version of John Gardner’s novel which was a retelling of Beowulf.  We’re down to low ***.
  • Fabian –  The West German submission for Best Foreign Film in 1980.  Decent Drama based on the novel by Erich Kästner (better known for Emil and the Detectives).
  • Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, A Sailor from York –  The Czechs give the famous Defoe novel the stop motion animation treatment.
  • The Chosen –  The novel by Chaim Potok was a massive seller but the film has mostly been overlooked.
  • Diva –  French Suspense film based on the novel by Daniel Odier.
  • Evil Under the Sun –  The all-star Christie adaptations were getting progressively weaker.  Ustinov is back as Poirot and the British stars are enjoyable but it’s only okay.
  • Brimstone and Treacle –  Could Sting act?  Not really, at least outside of the band’s videos.  He attempts it in this adaptation of the Dennis Potter BBC production and he’s not terrible (that would come later in the decade) but not all that good either.
  • Humanity and Paper Balloons –  A 1937 Japanese Drama based on the play that finally made it to the States.
  • Francisca –  The Portuguese Foreign Film submission from 1981 based on the novel Fanny Owen.
  • Heidi’s Song –  Hanna-Barbera do an animated film version of Heidi.
  • Edo Porn –  Provocative but sadly not all that great Japanese film based on the actual Hokusai Manga.
  • Don’s Party –  As mentioned here, Australian politics are kind of mind-boggling to those who aren’t from there.  So to have a film based on a play about an Australian election makes for rough viewing.  I saw it because it’s directed by Bruce Beresford, one of his early films before becoming an Oscar nominee.
  • Blood Wedding –  Carlos Saura films a version of the Lorca play.
  • Honkytonk Man –  Clint Eastwood directs and stars as a Depression era singer in the adaptation of the novel by Clancy Carlile.
  • Firefox –  Wasn’t a great year for Eastwood’s directorial efforts.  This one is an Action film based on the novel by Craig Thomas.
  • Tex –  The first of three S.E. Hinton novels that became films within a year.  One of Disney’s first attempts to be more mature without a lot of effect.
  • Cannery Row –  The novel (and Sweet Thursday, the sequel that the film is also based on) is quite good and the film has Debra Winger at the period where I was head over heels in love with her but the film just isn’t that good.  I’m gonna blame director David S. Ward since this is actually his best film.
  • Six Weeks –  Bland Drama that earned a Score nomination at the Globes but also a Razzie nomination for Mary Tyler Moore.  Based on the novel by Fred Mustard Stewart.
  • Space Firebird 2772 –  A 1980 Japanese Anime film based on the manga series.
  • La Colmena –  Spanish film starring a young Victoria Abril but I have no idea why I’ve seen it.  Based on the novel The Hive.
  • Rocky III –  Now we’ve hit **.5 films.  I considered covering this film as an RCM because I saw it on HBO a lot as a kid (before I had seen either of the first two Rocky films) but it actually will be covered in a couple of months as the Bonus Review for my ACOF: United Artists post.  In fact, I saw this so much as a kid and knew so little about wrestling that I knew Hulk Hogan only as Thunderlips for a long time.  Some really good moments and a great ending with a great original song (“Eye of the Tiger”) but the film itself just isn’t all that good.
  • Christiane F. –  West German film based on the non-fiction book by the real Christiane F.  Soundtrack from David Bowie who is also in the film as himself.
  • The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas –  Financially successful adaptation of the Broadway Musical even if Burt Reynolds can’t sing and it’s not all that good.  The best moments are Dolly Parton bringing her hit “I Will Always Love You” (which wasn’t in the stage version) and Charles Durning doing a great fun number “The Sidestep”.
  • Swamp Thing –  We’ve dropped to mid **.5 with this adaptation of the DC comic directed by Wes Craven.  Ironically, it was when the comic was revived after the film came out than Alan Moore started writing it and it became a massive critical hit.
  • Death Watch –  A French director (Bertrand Tavernier) but the film is mostly in English and mostly dull.  Based on the novel The Unsleeping Eye.
  • Creepshow –  Stephen King comes to film with this anthology film with two parts based on his short stories (not particularly good ones) and three original pieces by him.
  • Cat People –  It’s erotic and it’s got a Bowie soundtrack but it’s really just not that good in spite of that.  A remake of the 1942 film.
  • Time Masters –  We’re down to low **.5 with this French animated film.  Based on the Sci-Fi novel The Oprhan of Perdide.
  • Tempest –  Paul Mazursky makes a dud modern day version of Shakespeare’s brilliant play.
  • Wrong is Right –  This is the penultimate film from Richard Brooks and it’s attempt at a comic thriller but it just doesn’t work.  Based on the novel The Better Angels.
  • Annie –  I never liked the comic strip and I hate the Broadway Musical, not being able to stand “Tomorrow” or “Hard Knock Life”.  Why would John Huston do this?  We’ve now reached **.
  • The Wizard of Oz –  An Anime version of the classic novel.  Don’t bother.
  • Kiss Me Goodbye –  We’ve quickly dropped to mid **.  A remake of Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands.  Sally Field earned a Globe nom but don’t be fooled.  It’s pretty bad.
  • The Trail of the Pink Panther –  With Peter Sellers dead, nothing could stop Blake Edwards, so he used deleted scenes from previous films and threw together this crap.
  • Mighty Mouse in the Great Space Chase –  A film version of a storyline from the early 80’s animated show The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle.  Mighty Mouse had been around since 1942 and deserved better than this.
  • The Thing –  Now we’re down to low **.  I don’t get the acclaim for this film.  Dump this John Carpenter version and watch the original The Thing from Another World which is fantastic.  This is just dismal and dark.  Soon to be listed as one of the most overrated Horror films of all-time in my Century of Film piece.
  • The House Where Evil Dwells –  Crappy Haunted House Horror film based on the novel by James Hardiman.
  • I Ought to Be in Pictures –  Well, at least it doesn’t waste Marsha Mason.  Bad version of a not particularly good Neil Simon play.
  • Yes, Giorgio –  So, since this film is clearly terrible, why did I used to have it as ***?  My only answer is that whenever opera singing starts, unless it’s in conjunction with either U2 or John Denver, my eyes glaze over.  I like opera music and I hate the singing.  So my brain must have chalked this up at some point to being an opera even though it’s not (Pavarotti in a Romantic Comedy is what it actually is).  It’s stupid and awful.  Low ** is probably too generous.  Based on the novel by Anne Piper.
  • The Toy –  So this what Richard Donner got after being fired from Superman II?  Directing this stupid Richard Pryor remake of a French film?
  • Airplane II: The Sequel –  A quick recycle of all the jokes from the first Airplane film.  It does have some decent moments (Shatner’s performance mainly) but it’s mostly pretty dumb.  The original filmmakers had nothing to do with this, instead going on to the uneven Top Secret.
  • I, the Jury –  We drop straight to mid *5.  Crappy adaptation of a Mickey Spillane novel that had been adapted back in 1953.
  • Halloween III: Season of the Witch –  Should it even count as adapted?  The filmmakers actually ditch Michael Myers and it’s not even really a Slasher film.  Either way, a dismal sequel and it would be six years before the franchise returned (with Michael Myers).
  • The Beastmaster –  Pale imitation of Conan but without the gore or nudity and with Marc Singer instead of Arnold.  Based on the Andre Norton novel.  We’re now at *.
  • The Pirate Movie –  Nominated for nine Razzies including Picture.  Let’s do Pirates of Penzance but without the music.  Who wouldn’t want that?  Well nobody wanted it because it’s just awful.
  • Friday the 13th Part III –  Notable because Jason starts wearing the hockey mask but otherwise, more of a shitty franchise.
  • Butterfly –  Pia Zadora wins Worst Actress at the Razzies and Best New Star at the Globes because the Globes are starfuckers and they found her more desirable (bizarrely) than Elizabeth McGovern or Kathleen Turner (this film was in 1981 at the Globes for some reason).  Shitty film that wastes Orson Welles and earned 10 Razzie noms based on a lesser known novel from James M. Cain.
  • Amityville II: The Possession –  Now we’ve hit the .5 films.  This shitty film is actually a prequel to The Amityville Horror.
  • Jekyll and Hyde… Together Again –  Attempt at a comedic version of Stevenson’s brilliant novel is just a disaster.
  • Grease 2 –  I’m betting Michelle Pfeiffer doesn’t want people remembering this was her first starring role.  Only connected to the original in using the same high school and the character Frenchy.  Astoundingly bad.
  • The Beast Within –  Terrible Horror film based on the novel by Edward Levy.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • none  –