A primer on great screenwriting: using characters as they existed in the book but doing what you have to do to compress the story and get it to come out right on scene. In other words, there is no scene like this in the book.

My Top 10

  1. L.A. Confidential
  2. The Sweet Hereafter
  3. The Ice Storm
  4. Jackie Brown
  5. Oscar and Lucinda
  6. The Wings of the Dove
  7. Wag the Dog
  8. Donnie Brasco
  9. Absolute Power
  10. The Winter Guest

note:  A great Top 5 and very good Top 10.  My list continues down at the bottom.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. L.A. Confidential  (664 pts)
  2. Wag the Dog  (152 pts)
  3. The Wings of the Dove  (120 pts)
  4. Donnie Brasco  (80 pts)
  5. The Ice Storm  (80 pts)

note:  L.A. Confidential sets new highs in wins (8), nominations (10), points (664) and percentage (58.45%) all of which will stand until 2004 except percentage which still stands today and is pretty much impossible to beat because of the addition of the BFCA nominees and expansion of the BAFTA to five nominees.

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

  • L.A. Confidential
  • Donnie Brasco
  • The Sweet Hereafter
  • Wag the Dog
  • The Wings of the Dove

WGA:

  • L.A. Confidential
  • Donnie Brasco
  • The Ice Storm
  • Wag the Dog
  • The Wings of the Dove

Golden Globes:

  • L.A. Confidential
  • Wag the Dog

Nominees that are Original:  Good Will Hunting, As Good as It Gets, Titanic

BAFTA:

  • L.A. Confidential
  • The Ice Storm
  • The Wings of the Dove
  • Wag the Dog  (1998)

note:  The BAFTA winner was Romeo + Juliet which was from 1996.

BFCA:

  • L.A. Confidential

NYFC:

  • L.A. Confidential

LAFC:

  • L.A. Confidential

NSFC:

  • L.A. Confidential

note:  The first adapted film to win the NSFC since 1991.

BSFC:

  • L.A. Confidential

CFC:

  • L.A. Confidential

note:  The first adapted film to win the CFC since 1993 and the last until 2002.

My Top 10

L.A. Confidential

The Film:

I surprise myself sometimes by coming back to this film and being reminded not only how good it is but how enjoyable it is.  Why on earth would I want to spend three hours on the damn boat when I could watch the characters in this film interacting with each other?  This is, thankfully, the only film in which I have to deal with what has happened over the past few years; how Kevin Spacey, who is a brilliant and dynamic and complicated actor on-screen clearly has serious disturbing issues off the screen.  His other two brilliant performances are both in original screenplays so I’m just left with this.  But the truth of the matter is that his performance is pitch-perfect.  But of course I am writing this review (having already reviewed it once here) because of its screenplay and it is one of the best ever written for a film, a master class, not only in film writing, but in adaptation.

The Source:

L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy  (1990)

It says a lot about Ellroy’s style that the Prologue begins with a long run-on sentence (see here where I ranked the book among the Top 200 novels of all-time) and then begins the book proper with an incomplete sentence: “Bud White in an unmarked, watching the ‘1951’ on the City Hall Christmas tree blink.”  Ellroy’s style is all staccato sentences, all quick in and out, a successor to the pulp style of Hammett and Chandler but with dense, intricate plots and fascinating, well-designed (if often reprehensible) characters.  This book is self-contained but is also part of a larger, more complete work (the L.A. Quartet, by far the best thing Ellroy has done because his pre-Quartet books were before he really found his proper voice and his post-Quartet books are too much staccato and you start screaming for some adverbs or even verbs).  Most of the characters in this book aren’t in the other books and yet if you have read the first two books you bring in something more than just reading the book in isolation (though it’s easy enough to do that and for years that was all I had done) and actions in this book follow into White Jazz, the final book of the quartet.  In fact, because this book is part of a larger whole it has some significant differences from the film, not just because of what you can do in the time frame of a film as opposed to a book but because of this book’s place in the story but I’ll get to that in the next part.

Suffice it to say that this is a great book and it is filled with great characters but you begin to wonder if there is an actual hero among them.  My mother would strive to find the good guy she always feels a story must have.  But between Ed Exley’s opportunism, Bud White’s brutality and Jack Vincennes’ self-destruction you begin to long for something more pure to shine through the moral gray.  But, of course, that’s part of what makes the book so good and when you finally get to the end with these three characters working together, you don’t want to put the book down but just keep plowing through to see how it will all turn out (which, of course, having seen the film makes no difference about).

The Adaptation:

There are several brilliant things this script does in adapting what was widely seen as an un-adaptable book.  It’s not a coincidence that Brian Helgeland after the success of this work would be the only person Dennis Lehane would approve to write a script for Mystic River (that’s not conjecture or rumor – when I met Lehane the first time, he was explaining all the roadblocks he put in Clint Eastwood’s way to making a film version of Mystic River because Lehane was concerned it wouldn’t transfer well and having Helgeland write the script was one of the demands and when Lehane said that I asked “because of what he had done on L.A. Confidential?” and Lehane said “Exactly!” though of course Helgeland was also just the second person to win an Oscar and a Razzie (for the script for The Postman) in the same year).  First, the film dropped an entire major subplot about Exley’s father and land development and a previous case, instead merging his father with his brother (it’s the brother who was shot by a purse-snatcher in the book) and making Dudley a father figure to Exley while in the book they always had a contentious relationship which makes the eventual betrayal that much more tragic.  Second, in regards to Dudley, you know from the beginning of the book that he’s the one behind the heroin (he kills Buzz Meeks himself in the prologue) and because he’s necessary for the fourth book he’s actually not only alive at the end of the book but still a major force in the LAPD.  Then there is the whole death of Jack which is done so differently in the film that you would never have seen it coming even if you had read the book and it’s just as sudden and shocking in the book as it is in the film though very different (he had finally gotten his life completely on track and was about to retire with his rich wife who doesn’t exist in the film).  This film is just a master class about how you take anything peripheral and drop it, how you combine characters in a way that makes the film flow faster (in the book Buzz Meeks is killed before the action starts not at the Nite Owl and Susan Lefferts isn’t one of Patchett’s whores but is connected to a pornography subplot that isn’t in the film).  It’s just amazing what a job Helgeland and Hanson do in taking the characters as they exist in the book (though they are all considerably less likable in the book – yes even Dudley (he’s a racist in the book which is mostly muted in the film) and the softening, especially when it comes to Exley, makes it much easier to have someone to root for).  So much of the film does come from the book in one way or another (including a lot of dialogue, even those lines from the final scene that I think should have been cut) but it’s also very different.

The Credits:

Directed by Curtis Hanson.  Based on the novel by James Ellroy.  Screenplay by Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson.

The Sweet Hereafter

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best films of the year.  But would this film have gotten the attention it deserves as one of the best of a very good year had the Oscars not gotten this one right?  They may not have given it a Picture nomination or realized that Ian Holm had given the best performance of the year but they nominated it for Director and Adapted Screenplay, major awards for a film that had been mostly overlooked up until that point (in spite of having done well at Cannes).  Atom Egoyan has made a lot of good films but nothing else he’s made has come even close to this film.

The Source:

The Sweet Hereafter: A Novel by Russell Banks  (1991)

Not only is this novel, like the one on the film listed just above, on my Top 200 list but because I presented that list chronologically, this novel actually even follows that one on the list.  Banks is a good novel and some of his novels are much longer and more intricate but this one is just about perfect even at only barely over 250 pages.  It’s the story of a bus crash in a small town in upstate New York and what happens when a lawyer comes to town.  It’s given to us from four points of view (with the first one doubling up at the end for a fifth part) and that allows us to really understand the town, the accident and what is going on.  For a novel written, in some ways, at lower levels (only one of the points of view is from someone with a significant education and all of the points really allow us to sink into each character – they’re individual characters, not just four different people listed) it really is extraordinarily moving and powerful.

The Adaptation:

Egoyan made some interesting and smart changes when he adapted the film.  First, he took the lawyer, who gets to speak third in the book, and makes him the lead character in the film rather than giving us more of an ensemble.  Second, he pushes back the big secret of the film much later in the book which allows for more power when we understand Nichole’s decision regarding her testimony.  Third, it overlays the story of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, a story which works really well as a metaphor for what’s happened.  But perhaps most importantly, it gives the film the slight framing device (the lawyer on the plane talking to a childhood friend of his daughter) that allows him to narrate the parts of his story that are unrelated to what is going on in the small town (moved from New York to Canada because Egoyan is Canadian) because without that, we wouldn’t really understand the character nearly as well.  All of that put together make it a fantastic adaptation that would have been an easy Nighthawk winner in most other years.

The Credits:

directed by Atom Egoyan.  Screenplay by Atom Egoyan.  Based on the novel by Russell Banks.

The Ice Storm

The Film:

I have already written quite a thorough review of this film as one of the five best films of the year.  In spite of being one of the best films of the year it failed to earn even a single Oscar nomination.  I’m appalled that Sigourney Weaver wasn’t nominated for Supporting Actress but I simply can’t fathom how this film wasn’t nominated for Adapted Screenplay.

The Source:

The Ice Storm by Rick Moody  (1994)

I find this book to be almost to the point of being completely unreadable.  Moody somehow created characters that would be useful in the film but I just can’t tolerate reading the book.  It’s described as “Cheeveresque” on the back of the book but that’s because of the content not the style (the darkness in suburbia that lies just under the surface of the well to do) and it’s Moody’s style that pushes me away.

The Adaptation:

Somehow James Schamus would find a way straight through Moody’s meandering narrative to the actual dialogue and scenes.  He gives some truly great narration to Tobey Maguire’s character (narration that actually isn’t from the book – those opening lines sound like they might come from the book but they don’t).  The film also has a quiet poetry that the novel lacks.  When Elijah Wood’s Mike, for instance, dies, it’s a moving scene in the film, a quick accident and then he falls.  But in the book, he’s an idiot (he sits on the guardrail after the wire is already touching it) and the description is really horrifying and goes on for a long paragraph of all the things that happen to his body.  While a considerable portion of the dialogue up to that point has come from the book and the narrative itself, most of the rest of the book (some 60 pages) after Mike’s death are done away with to have a more poetic, quiet ending than what we get in the book.

The Credits:

directed by Ang Lee.  based upon the novel by Rick Moody.  screenplay by James Schamus.

Jackie Brown

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film, over a decade ago now when I chose it as my representative film for my Quentin Tarantino Great Director post.  At the time I made the post, Tarantino seemed to be slipping with Grindhouse his only film in five years but since then, there was been Bastards, Django, Hateful and Hollywood and he has leapt even higher on my all-time list.  This is, in some ways, the least representative and most representative film for Tarantino.  It is his least flashy film and shows his great love of dialogue (and great use of dialogue, as noted below).  It has magnificent performances and was vastly under-rated at the time by both awards groups and audiences.  Watching the film again this time, I realize that I have been under-rating the song “Across 110th Street”, especially when you see how brilliantly it opens and closes the film.

The Source:

Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard  (1992)

As I already mentioned in the 1995 post, Elmore Leonard’s books are quite enjoyable.  They don’t rise to the level of great literature but they follow in the footsteps of the best pulp material.  They are often crime books (or at least deal with criminals) and are often set in the Miami area and this one is no different, detailing the story of Jackie Burke, a flight attendant for a crap airline who also runs money for a gun dealer, Ordel Robbie.  Jackie gets caught and ends up in the middle of Ordell and the Feds that are after him and wants to somehow get out of the situation while staying alive and staying out of jail as well and the way she does it, with some good plotting and some typically wonderful Leonard dialogue is first-rate entertainment and a very quick read (depending on how fast you read it’s actually possible to read the book in less time than it takes to watch the film).

The Adaptation:

This adaptation is a perfect mix of Tarantino and Leonard.  The basic premise of the plot is pure Leonard and comes straight from the book even if Quentin alters some of it (in the book, Louis works for Max, Max is married and there are a few additional characters who are simply eliminated from the film) and turns it into pure Quentin (the Miami locales in the book are all changed to LA locales).  Some of the dialogue is straight from the book (the two times that Ordell comes to Max’s office are almost verbatim from the book) while several of the most memorable lines (“AK-47. When you absolutely positively have to kill every motherfucker in the room. Accept no substitutes.” “I didn’t know you liked the Del-fonics.” “An employee of mine I had to let go.”) are Quentin’s.  The soundtrack, of course, is pure Quentin and part of that comes from Quentin’s decision to change Jackie Burke to Jackie Brown and cast Pam Grier (to hearken back to her key role as Foxy Brown), thus making Jackie black.  While Get Shorty had been almost pure Leonard, this really sets the stage for the kind of marriage between writer and filmmaker that we would see several months later in Out of Sight.

The Credits:

written & directed for the screen by Quentin Tarantino.  Based on the book “Rum Punch” by Elmore Leonard.
note:  The directing and writing credits are only in the end credits.

Oscar and Lucinda

The Film:

Two young people meet on a ship headed from England to Australia.  In some ways, they are very different.  She is from Australia, having come to England in regards to having purchased a glass factory.  She has been on her own since her parents died when she was just short of legal age and the family land was sold out from under her before she could stop it from happening.  He is a student of Anglican faith, having left behind his stern father and his cold religious ways on his way to a scholarship, though he is paralyzed with fear of water.  What they have in common is that they are young, handsome (with bright red hair) and rather alone.  It will also turn out, as they meet and get to know each other on their voyage, what they have in common is gambling.

As mentioned in the Nighthawk Awards, I went to a special preview screening of this film before its general release only knowing that Ralph Fiennes was going to be in it which was more than enough for me.  As I put it in my bit about seeing it in the theater: “What I didn’t know about at the time was Cate Blanchett.  Oh my god, Cate Blanchett.”  I had just discovered the actress I would fall completely for, who would be my favorite actress of all-time.  I wouldn’t fall in love with her because she had red hair (though it didn’t hurt, especially since she had it again in the next film I saw her – Elizabeth – and it would be a while before I would realize that she was a blonde) but because of her performance.

We have seen, up until their meeting, a woman who has pushed away the world, who has trying to figure out who she is and a man who is afraid, in some ways, of the world and most certainly afraid of water.  But when they sit together and they pull out their cards, they come alive.  It sparks a beautiful friendship, one that will overcome his failure to maintain his scholarship (due to the gambling) and their own reckless bet over whether he can transport a glass church (made by her own works) to a town that is 400 miles away.

This is, for all intents and purposes, a love story.  That the couple involved never admit that to each other, that they never so much as kiss, is not the point of the story.  They find love in each other and that love, along with the gambling, is what keeps them alive, through the hardships.

Then come a tragic turn.  The book handles it in a different way, but we get the dramatic climax that is heartbreaking to watch, to know what a man’s deepest fear is and to watch him succumb to it through what, in this film, can only be considered an act of god.   But even from that, there is life, always life.

This is a beautifully written film with two fantastic performances at its core, one of my favorite actors teamed with my favorite actress.  Yet, its very late release flew it under the radar and its only Oscar nomination were for its exquisite costumes.  But with the direction from Gillian Armstrong (her best film, even topping My Brilliant Career and Little Women), with a wonderful script and those two performances at its core it was worthy of so much more.

The Source:

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey  (1988)

Peter Carey reminds me somewhat of Kazuo Ishiguro in that I realize his abilities as a writer but something in his books eludes me.  I have read several his books, including his two Booker winners (this one and The True History of the Kelly Gang) and yet, except for Kelly Gang, I have never kept any of his books and sometimes (like with his Booker shortlisted Parrot and Olivier in America) can’t even finish it.  I have read this book twice now and both times there is something about it, something cold and distant that manages to push me away.  It’s strange since so much of the film comes from the book but I love the film and I just can’t take to the book.  One thing that I can put my finger on that bothers me about it is the ending.  The climax of the story, poor Oscars’s ironic, fateful death, takes place at the climax of the film and so we can deal with it as Lucinda deals with it and we see the story being carried down through the generations.  But Carey, oddly, hints at the death and hints at the future but only actually gives us the death itself as the final line of the book itself (“And when the long-awaited white fingers of water tapped and lapped on Oscar’s lips, he welcomed them in as he always had, with a scream, like a small boy caught in the sheet-folds of a nightmare.”) and there’s no way to cope with that because then the book is done.  Personally, I think it’s a mistake to actually end the book with that line but then, I don’t decide the Booker Prize.

The Adaptation:

Almost everything that is in the film comes straight from the book including a lot of the dialogue.  The film does a good job, though, of cutting through the extraneous narrative and making it clear what is going on, which was not the case with the book (Carey’s writing style getting in the way of actually telling a comprehensible narrative).  As mentioned above, Carey holds back the actual description of Oscar’s death until the final lines of the book rather than its proper place in the narrative.

The Credits:

Directed by Gillian Armstrong.  From the original novel by Peter Carey.  Screenplay by Laura Jones.

The Wings of the Dove

The Film:

What matters most to you?  What are you willing to do to achieve that goal?  That’s the question at the heart of The Wings of the Dove, the novel by Henry James that is a perfect example of the problem explained in the introduction to the Everyman’s Library edition by Grey Gowrie: “Readers confronted with James’s later style are often unable to cross the threshold of the novel because they have been led to believe that it is too rarified and impenetrable.” (xi).  Of course, I am one of those, having dealt, on multiple occasions with all of James’ fiction and I understand why Gowrie defends the novel (what else would you expect from the introduction) and I disagree.  But whatever your view of the novel and its readability (or utter lack of it), film versions of the novels, especially one as intelligent as this one (and with such a powerhouse lead performance as the one given by Helena Bonham-Carter) can cut through that impenetrability and find the story at the heart of it.  More importantly, it can finds the characters at the heart of it and let them lead us to the story.

There are peripheral characters in the film, with good performances from Michael Gambon (the drunken father of Kate), Charlotte Rampling (the well-to-do aunt of Kate who will support her father provided Kate marries well) and Alex Jennings (the actor who was so good as Charles in The Queen is the rich man that Rampling wants Kate to marry) but the film really comes down to its three main characters.  The first is the aforementioned Kate.  She is Kate Croy, whose mother died in poverty after her father drank all their money away and whose aunt is determined that Kate not throw her life away.  The man Kate could throw her life away on is Merton Densher (not James’ best name or character), a crusading journalist (because of the period the film is set in, 1910, I am compelled to also call him a muck-raker).  Densher and Kate are very much in love with each other but circumstances keep them apart (or, more precisely, Rampling).  But everything changes when young, beautiful, and, as Han Solo would note, most importantly, rich, Milly Theale comes onto the scene.  Milly is an American and not wise in the ways of the world.  But, more importantly, when it comes to the actions of the film, Milly is dying.

Now we get to the heart of the characters.  Kate has no money of her own, but wants to marry Merton (and not completely abandon her father).  Merton has no money and doesn’t care about it but is willing to do what he needs to do so that he and Kate can be together because he loves Kate.  Milly will eventually learn that she is being used by both of them and will make decisions based on what will bring her happiness while she is still around to appreciate it and what she finally does beyond that is because of gratitude for what happiness she did find.

So, do we condemn these three people for their actions (which I will not make completely clear because I think the film is well worth seeing)?  Buoyed by strong writing, strong direction, the best performance of Bonham-Carter’s career (this was really a turning point in her career as she rarely had any awards nominations before this film), great costumes and sets that show both the privileged and poorer sides of the Edwardian era (a change from the novel which was set in the late Victorian era and was published in 1902) and a great score, it is the triangle of characters and the way they interact with each other that makes this such a strong film.  Who could have guessed that there was so much interesting character development and story to be found in a James novel?

The Source:

The Wings of the Dove by Henry James  (1902)

I am not a fan of Henry James.  I think I have made that quite clear for years.  I fully agree with T.S. Eliot’s dismissal of him (“A mind so fine no idea could violate it.”).  I think his own brother William, the famous psychologist, kind of summed up this book the best in a letter he sent to Henry after reading it: “You’ve reversed every traditional canon of story-telling, (especially the fundamental one of telling the story, which you carefully avoid).”  James has a way with language but he seems to use it to obfuscate rather than clarify.  Look at this example from page 352: “Densher’s more private and particular shabby realities turned, without comfort, he was conscious, at this touch, in the artificial repose he had in his anxiety about them but half-managed to induce.”

Do I need to mention the story?  The film somehow manages to find the story in spite of the book.  Look for it there.

The Adaptation:

As I just said, the film manages to cut through the language and actually figure out what is going on.  This was, due to circumstances, the third time I have read this novel.  I intend, hopefully, for there not to be a fourth because I would hate to be so annoyed as to damage a library book by smacking it down in irritation.

Kate is more sympathetic in the film.  The book jacket refers to her as “the magnificent, predatory Kate Croy” and I don’t think that really applies to the film version who seems to have more of a friendship with Millie and is willing to do what she needs to rather than just finding the perfect dupe.  I tried to decide if Millie is far too pretty in the film but after several pages of trying to penetrate James’ prose I had to give up without an answer.

The Credits:

Directed by Iain Softley.  Based on the novel by Henry James.  Screenplay: Hossein Amini.

Wag the Dog

The Film:

My friend Mark was upset after this film.  “Poor Dustin Hoffman,” he said, “he just wanted some credit.”  For some things in life, that’s all people really want – the proper credit.  But sometimes credit is what you can’t take.  Sometimes you can’t let people know you’re involved.  And when you’re involved in something like that, it’s usually better if it never happened in the first place.

This was an interesting film in that it didn’t seem like it was pulled straight from the headlines (in spite of the book pretty much having been that) but, in the way it was put together (and the changes it made from the book), actually preceded the headlines that it seemed pulled from.  Make sense?  Well, I’ll clarify.

The President has been accused of making advances on a “Firefly girl”.  In order to do damage control, a fixer (played brilliantly by Robert De Niro, though he gets overshadowed by the much more showy role for Dustin Hoffman) and an aide (Anne Heche in maybe the best film role she ever got) come up with the idea that the President can deflect the investigation by going to war.  Except there won’t be an actual war, just a pretend war.  The two of them enlist a major Hollywood producer (Hoffman, doing a rather brilliant parody of Robert Evans) to concoct a phony war with Albania that doesn’t actually exist.  Attention will go elsewhere and the President will be okay.

Of course things don’t go quite as smoothly as they would wish.  The CIA gets involved and so they kick in with a phony war hero who’s been left behind and the fakery extends to the point where they create a fake grass-roots movement to rescue the hero and even create a fake song supposedly from Depression era times that they then sneak into the Library of Congress to make it seem authentic.  What was already a star-studded cast adds Kirsten Dunst (as a fake Albanian girl), William H. Macy (as the CIA officer who’s wise to the scheme), Willie Nelson (he sings the song) and even Woody Harrelson (he’s the supposed war hero though he turns out to be a mentally disturbed rapist and that causes other problems).

What changed all of this was that within weeks of the film’s release the scandal over Monica Lewinsky broke and then, in a move either inspired, stupid or just insane, Bill Clinton started dropping bombs on Iraq for reasons I have completely forgotten because no one really believed them in the first place.  Art had sort of imitated life (see the source) but now life had definitely imitated art.  And I will just briefly mention the utterly unbearable irony that this review is being posted just a couple of days after the U.S. has assassinated a general from Iran in an even more desperate ploy to draw attention away from an impeachment process.

And none of this could take away from the power of the film, from the brilliance of the satire, from Hoffman’s fantastic performance, from De Niro’s under-rated performance and from Heche’s 1-2 punch for the year (to go along with Donnie Brasco).  The unfortunate bit was that this looked it might be Barry Levinson’s return but sadly this was not to be.  Levinson had won the Oscar in 1988 and been nominated again in 1991 but his films since then hadn’t even been in the same league as Rain Man and Bugsy.  But this was just one last gasp rather than a comeback; Levinson has directed 10 films in the over 20 years since this one hit theaters and he has struggled to even achieve mediocrity in them instead of the brilliant satire he helped craft here.

The Source:

American Hero by Larry Beinhart  (1993)

This is a book with an interesting idea at its core but it’s honestly quite terrible.  Beinhart just doesn’t really have any idea of where to go with it.  His idea is that Lee Atwater (Bush 41’s main strategist whose deplorable ideas helped sink Dukakis in 1988) while dying of brain cancer comes up with one last brilliant idea – to fake a war just to help save Bush if the polls start going against him.  The idea is that the Gulf War comes out of that.  Of course, what undermines that, if the idea is supposed to be so brilliant, is that in spite of the success of the actual war and Bush’s record approval levels during it, it didn’t help him win re-election.  The basic plot of going to Hollywood to help create the war also comes from the book and ironically, one of the directors mentioned in the book as a potential to be involved is Barry Levinson.  It’s got an idea but it’s a pretty bad novel.  As happens a lot, the book title was changed in post-1997 printings to match the title of the film.

The Adaptation:

The film only takes the core idea from the book (though the book made it specifically Atwater’s idea instead of a fixer coming up with it and Bush is aware of the idea from early on).  Almost no dialogue in the film and even most of the individual scenes don’t come from the book at all.  Levinson tried to deny Hilary Henking screen credit, claiming that Mamet discarded her ideas, so it’s hard to know how much of what ended up on film actually came from her original script or Mamet’s later script but only the basic core of the idea comes from the original book.

The Credits:

Directed by Barry Levinson.  Based on the Book “American Hero” by Larry Beinhart.  Screenplay by Hilary Henking and David Mamet.

Donnie Brasco

The Film:

Lefty can trust Donnie.  Donnie’s a good guy.  He’s shown that he’ll put a good scare into a jewelry dealer who’s not on the level.  He can get things, like a car or goods or even guns.  Donnie’s stand up, won’t back down and will always have your back and he’s good in a pinch.  Lefty can absolutely trust Donnie.

Except, of course, that Lefty can’t trust Donnie at all.  Donnie isn’t really Donnie, he’s Joe and Joe is an FBI agent working undercover in the mob so deep that he runs into the law and they have no idea who he is.  He’s managing to hide the fact that he’s got a wife and two daughters at home and he’s trying to make certain that the life he’s pretending to lead isn’t the life he’s really leading.  But, as Kurt Vonnegut said, in the post for the previous year, we are who we pretend to be so we have to be careful who we pretend to be.

By 1997, Johnny Depp had been acting in films for well over a decade, having even been in a Best Picture winner (Platoon).  But, while he had started breaking through at the Golden Globes, he still hadn’t found mainstream success or Oscar appreciation, in spite of Ed Wood (which flopped at the box office and earned him nothing from the Oscars).  So he continued to do offbeat films like Don Juan DeMarco and Dead Man before really coming back to the attention of critics as poor Donnie, an FBI man just trying to do the best job he can, becoming friends and really starting to like the guy he’s been hanging around, even though that guy works for the mob, would kill him in an instant if he knew who Donnie really was and hanging around with this guy is ruining his marriage and his life.  But Depp doesn’t go for any of his quirks, just plays the role, straight and intense.  It helps that he’s also playing off Al Pacino and while Pacino had been lost in the wilderness of ham for a while before this role, Mike Newell, who was proving he could be a solid director in a variety of genres, really reins him in perfectly.

This is really a very good film, a high ***.5 with really strong performances, not only from Depp and Pacino but also Anne Heche as Donnie’s long-suffering wife, worried that her husband is turning into the very thing he’s trying to destroy (it also helped that she had another very good supporting role in Wag the Dog at the same time).  But in 1997, which really was a very good year, it just wasn’t able to break through in most of the categories, just managing to somehow slip in and snag a nomination for Adapted Screenplay which really belonged to The Ice Storm.

But as a Gangster film, it’s fascinating to watch because it is so different from any other gangster film and it has all these really solid performances to fill it out.

The Source:

Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia by F.B.I. Agent Joseph D. Pistone with Richard Woodley  (1987)

True Crime books aren’t really my thing.  This would have been more interesting, perhaps, had I not already seen the movie.  But I’m not interested in the details of what Pistone went through in his life and it’s much more interesting to see it acted on-screen by Depp and Pacino than it is to read about it.  It’s not badly written and if you are interested, it’s probably worth taking a look at.

The Adaptation:

The film changes quite a bit, more a matter of combining events rather than changing them wholesale.  Most notably, as can be read in multiple places, the character of Lefty as played by Al Pacino is really a combination of two different people in real life, even though the other person (Sonny Black) is also in the film.  The key thing about that is that Lefty actually went to jail for just about the rest of his life (he was given compassion release before he died) while it was Sonny Black who was killed by the Mafia for making the mistake of bringing Pistone into the life.  But the thing that I noticed right away reading the book that stood out from how they decided to make the film was this bit in the first chapter: “I am proud of the fact that I was the same Joe Pistone when I came out as I was before I went undercover.  Six years inside the Mafia hadn’t changed me.  My personality hadn’t changed.  My values hadn’t changed.  I wasn’t messed up mentaly or physically.  I still didn’t drink.  I still kept my body in shape.  I had the same wife, the same good marriage, the same good kids.”  So, while some of the tensions in the household are in the book (he felt like he was losing touch with his kids), most of the moments you see between him and his wife are just dramatic tension written for the film and not from real life.

The Credits:

Directed by Mike Newell.  Based on the Book by Joseph D. Pistone with Richard Woodley.  Screenplay by Paul Attanasio.

Absolute Power

The Film:

A balding man who is entering middle age comes to a museum to find a man who is long past middle age.  The men have things in common; neither is very good conversing with other people (as will be made clear later when both men have a considerable amount of trouble in conversation with the same attractive young woman though for very different reasons), both men are honed in on their work and it makes it hard for them to make time for other people, they are in related lines of work and they both, in spite of circumstances, come away liking the other one.

The problem is that the younger one is a police detective, charged with discovering who shot the trophy wife of a very rich businessman who happens to be good friends with the president.  The old one is a thief who will end up being framed for that crime because he happened to be in the room when the woman was shot.  Except he didn’t shoot the woman; instead, he was a thief hiding in a vault when he watched the woman shot dead by two Secret Service agents who were protecting the President who was there having an affair.

The film opens nice and slowly, as we get to know our thief, Luther Whitney, get to watch him doing his trade and then things take a very wrong turn when the woman comes home, starts to have sex, doesn’t like that it gets rough, fights back and then gets shot.  It’s an explosive opening (what if the president killed someone?) and you have to figure out where things will go from there.

As is often the case with thrillers like this, if you think about this very hard there are so many ridiculous things going on that it shouldn’t hold up.  In fact, almost anything in the plot wouldn’t hold up any scrutiny, let alone serious scrutiny.  But that brings us back to the conversation.

When Seth Frank (played very well by Ed Harris) comes up to Luther (Eastwood) in the museum, Luther slyly says “Do you want my signed confession now or after coffee?”  Then they do get that coffee and that’s where things get amusing (when told the thief escaped down a rope out a window, Luther replies, “If I could do something like that, I’d be the star of my A.A.R.P. meetings.”) and interesting.

This is a film that seems like it should be all about the plot.  Indeed, the real core of the plot comes, not just from the president being involved with the death of the woman, but when Luther, ready to flee, sees him commiserating with the bereaved husband (the president’s close friend) and decides that he will stick it out (“You gutless whore,” he says, watching the president, played quite well by Gene Hackman, on television, “I’m not gonna run from you.”).  But the action parts of the plot, designed to ratchet up the suspense (numerous attempts to kill people involved with all of this) pale in comparison to the character interaction.

Aside from Harris and Hackman, Eastwood also lines up Laura Linney as his estranged daughter (he has trouble talking to her because she understandably resents him while Harris has trouble talking to her because he’s attracted to her and just doesn’t know how to talk to a woman like that), Judy Davis as Hackman’s chief of staff who is charge of sorting out the mess and takes charge without hesitation and Scott Glenn as one of the agents who killed the woman.

This film is all about those character moments – like the nice moment where Hackman lets Davis know, while dancing, that she is wearing a necklace from the murdered woman that Whitney must have given to her without her realizing what it was or the way Linney has to react to suddenly realizing her father has been in her apartment because her refrigerator is suddenly filled with food but can’t say anything because Harris is right next to her.

This is a sly, witty film.  It didn’t do all that well with critics (except Ebert, who, like me, gave the film ***.5) perhaps because they were focused too much on the thriller parts and failed to enjoy how well the script allows us to understand the characters.

The Source:

Absolute Power by David Baldacci  (1996)

This is a perfect example of why I don’t read thrillers for the most part.  This book was a big seller and set up Baldacci as a writer but it’s just a complete mess.  It’s so over-plotted (the film has too much plot and that’s nothing compared to what’s in the book), it uses, as its hero, a completely uninteresting character who then has to be told everything that happened after the climax in a badly bungled epilogue that is appalling in how stupid and clumsy it is.  I’m sure it sold well because it has big massive shocks (president involved in a murder, the supposed main character dies halfway through) but it’s almost completely nonsensical, the characters aren’t interesting and a lot of the stuff is just batshit (female chief of staff seduces Secret Service agent).

The Adaptation:

I don’t need to cover this at all.  William Goldman devoted an entire chapter (some 32 pages) to the agonizing time he had trying to adapt the novel.  Goldman was too focused on what happened in the book and it took a conversation with future director-writer Tony Gilroy to get him over the hump he needed.  A lot of the book changes considerably and indeed, the character who is arguably the hero of the book doesn’t even actually appear in the film.  But Goldman does an interesting job with talking about and making you realize why the book became this specific film.  So read Which Lie Did I Tell and he’ll cover this section.

The Credits:

Directed and Produced by Clint Eastwood.  Screenplay by William Goldman.  Based on the novel by David Baldacci.
note:  Only the title is in the opening credits.

The Winter Guest

The Film:

In lots of small towns, it seems that everybody knows everybody else.  Indeed, when I lived in Forest Grove, with its population of 13,000, there were long stretches where I couldn’t go to the grocery store without running into someone I knew.  This film deals with four pairs of people on a very cold winter’s day in Scotland and the point isn’t about how they all know each other.  In fact, while sometimes the pairs run into each other, much of the film is about the way individual people interact on such a day.

Let’s meet the pairs, shall we?  There are Chloe and Lily, two elderly women who like to go to funerals.  For us that might be morbid, yet for them, it’s a way of interacting with other people, watching how they deal with life and with death.  Death is on the mind of Alex, whose father has recently died but so is life because he meets Nita, who has had a crush on him since the day she moved to town and finally acts on it.  They are teased a bit at first by Sam and Tom, two young boys who are ditching school for the day, which might seem insane on such a cold day, but you never know what bits of life you find when you’re not stuck in school.  One of the most poignant moments in the film comes when the two boys interact with Frances and Elspeth, who are really the stars of the film.

First of all, they are the stars of the film because they are the biggest names.  While the other six actors in the film are all Scottish and lesser known (the two older women are both longtime character actresses while the other four were all young unknowns who have gone on to varying degrees of success), Frances is played by Emma Thompson and Elspeth, her mother, is played by Emma’s real-life mother Phyllida Law.  Frances is Alex’s mother and her husband has recently died and she is withdrawing from the world.  Elspeth shows up to try and pull her back into it.  They are also the stars because their story is the most dominant and their performances, as could be expected, are the most impressive.  Law and Thompson have been in many films together but it’s rare for something like this, where they can play on their real relationship, reacting to each other in the ways that a mother and daughter really would.  Elspeth refuses to let her daughter hide away from the world and when they step out into the day, they find things they weren’t expecting to find.

The guest of the title is a bit of a mystery.  Is it death?  Certainly it holds sway over three of the four pairs and even the fourth pair has some brushes with it, when they rescue some lost kittens and when one of them walks out onto the ice at the end of the film, almost daring death to pick him off.  Is Elspeth herself the guest, pulling her daughter out of her mourning?  Certainly she is an unwelcome one at first as the sound of her voice sends Frances fleeing into the bathroom, locking the door and even plunging her head into the bathwater to prevent any sound from reaching her ears.

This was the first film directed by Alan Rickman and for a long time his only directorial effort.  It says something that he brought in Thompson, whom he had worked with on Sense and Sensibility, as his star and their working relationship would continue for the rest of his life.  It’s a bit of a slow film, filled with white light (the snow, the bright Scottish sun, the town itself, which seems to have no color), but the performances from Thompson and Law are not to be overlooked and it’s clear that Rickman had a natural rapport with his actors and shouldn’t be a surprise that he would help one of them, the young actor who plays Tom, to get a job on a film series a film years later called Harry Potter (the actor would go on to play Oliver Wood).

The Source:

The Winter Guest by Sharman Macdonald  (1994)

Unfortunately, I have not been able to get a copy of the original play.  Strangely enough, I was able to get hold of the screenplay to the film, which was co-written by Macdonald herself and Alan Rickman but not the original play.  One thing of note is that Rickman actually directed the play on stage which is almost certainly what made him decide to direct the film as well.

The Adaptation:

Sadly, of course, I can’t really say what was different between the stage and the screen although given how much the film edits together the four pairs, consistently moving back and forth between them, it’s easy to say that it was probably not like that on stage unless they were parceled off to various parts of the stage.

The Credits:

Directed by Alan Rickman.  Screenplay: Sharman Macdonald, Alan Rickman.  Adapted from the play by Sharman Macdonald.
note:  Credits are from the end titles.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10

(in descending order of how I rank the script)

note:  As with every year from 1989 to 2005, you can find more about every film I saw in the theater in the Nighthawk Awards.

  • Underground  –  The Serbian Oscar submission for 1995.  It’s hard to tell that it’s adapted (oscars.org listed it as such) but perhaps because it’s the edited down version of a five hour mini-series.  Low ***.5.
  • Night Falls on Manhattan  –  Under-rated Sidney Lumet courtroom Drama based on the novel Tainted Evidence by Robert Daley.  Low ***.5.
  • The Van  –  High *** for this, the concluding film in the Barrytown Trilogy based on Roddy Doyle’s books.
  • Men in Black  –  Low ***.5 for the big hit that was the start of a film franchise.  Based on the comic book series.
  • Love! Valour! Compassion!  –  High ***.  Terrence McNally adapts his own play about gay men surviving in the AIDS era.

Other Adaptations

(in descending order of how good the film is)

  • Prisoner of the Mountains  –  A 1996 Foreign Film nominee at the Oscars.  The Russian submission based on a Tolstoy story.
  • Mrs. Brown  –  Another confusing one where oscars.org indicated adapted but nothing in the credits confirms that.  Either way, it’s a solid *** with a great performance from Judi Dench.
  • Jerusalem  –  The Swedish 1996 Oscar submission.  Bille August adaptation of the novel by Selma Lagerlöf (the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize).
  • Welcome to Sarajevo  –  Early Michael Winterbottom film based on the novel Natasha’s Story by Michael Nicholson.
  • The Rainmaker  –  It’s based on a John Grisham novel (which I assume was crap) but this Coppola film helped to pave the way for Good Will Hunting making Damon a star.
  • Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love  –  Erotic Drama from Mira Nair based on the classic text.
  • Washington Square  –  Solid Drama of the Henry James novella.  I assume they went back to the original title at least in part so as not to invite so many comparisons to The Heiress which is far superior.
  • Anastasia  –  Is it adapted?  Oscars.org said no and the credits don’t suggest it but it is somewhat at least based on the 1956 film and the play that film was based on.  It’s solid, with some good songs, but even without a film that qualifies for my Best Animated Film I resist the urge to bump it up to ***.5 in order to fill that void.
  • Cosi  –  Down to mid *** with this Australian Comedy based on the play by Louis Nowra about putting on the Mozart opera.  I remember V and I watched this back in early 2004 when we were watching everything all the Aussie and Kiwi supporting stars in LOTR were in (this has David Wenham).
  • Kolya  –  The Czech film that won the Oscar in 1996 is based on a story by Pavel Taussig.
  • Tomorrow Never Dies  –  It’s a Bond film (the second with Brosnan) and thus fully reviewed here.  Not based on any existing Bond material.  Ironic to think about how Jonathan Pryce is a dud villain here because as I am writing this I am literally watching him on my television screen giving a really good performance in The Two Popes.
  • Capitaine Conan  –  Solid French Drama based on the novel by Roger Vercel.
  • Scream 2  –  Sequel to the witty, very good Horror film.  Has some good wit when it comes to sequels but it gets a bit tiring when you’re never sure who is actually dead.  Still, a solid sequel.
  • A Self-Made Hero  –  Early role for Mathieu Kassovitz as a Frenchman who wants to be a hero in World War II.  Based on the novel by Jean-Francois Deniau.
  • Kiss the Girls  –  Solid Thriller even if the novel is utter shit (I actually read it stuck at work one day that year with nothing to read – do you really need 103 chapters for 400 pages?) as is generally the case for James Patterson.  Actually, this film is better than any other made from one of his crap books.
  • Female Perversions  –  Described as “drawn on insights” from the book by Louise Kaplan.
  • Beaumarchais, the Scoundrel  –  Biopic of the playwright based on the play by Sacha Guitry.
  • Knocks at My Door  –  The 1994 Oscar submission from Venezuela.  Based on a novel by Juan Carlos Gene.
  • Mimic  –  Guillermo del Toro comes to Hollywood and his sheer talent keeps what should be a crappy Horror film based on the short story by Donald A. Wollheim from being crap and actually makes it fairly good.
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil  –  A fascinating and fantastic book by John Berendt (with one of my all-time favorite titles and covers) that made me want to both visit Savannah and never visit Savannah.  The film is uneven with Kevin Spacey and the direction being good but the script itself isn’t good.
  • Madame Butterfly  –  A 1995 French version of the opera.
  • George of the Jungle  –  Based on the cartoon, Brendan Fraser’s goofy performance makes the film work (including the funny ending) though it’s so ridiculous it still isn’t all that good.  Surprisingly, the biggest Disney hit of the year.
  • The Wind in the Willows  –  The reasons why this film never makes it past mid *** are detailed here where I reviewed it and the book which I called the greatest book for children ever written.
  • Zero Kelvin  –  Now we’re down to low ***.  A 1995 Norwegian film based on the novel Larsen.
  • End of Evangelion  –  An Anime film that serves as a conclusion to the television series Neon Genesis Evangelion.
  • Kissed  –  Canadian erotic Suspense film based on the short story “We So Seldom Look On Love” by Barbara Gowdy.
  • Saint Clara  –  The 1996 Oscar submission from Israel.  Based on the novel The Ideas of Saint Clara by Pavel Kohout.
  • Daughter 2  –  No points for guessing it’s the sequel to Daughter.  You do get points if you know it’s the Thai Oscar submission for this year.
  • Lilies  –  Canadian Drama, an adaptation of the play by Michel Marc Bouchard.
  • Sunday  –  Small little independent film based on the short story “Ate, Memos or the Miracle” by James Lasdun.
  • The Postman  –  The last Razzie winner that I saw in the theater (unless Cats takes that honor next month) and a film I think is much better than its reputation.  Yes, it’s got a dumb concept, but Costner executes it well.  We’re at the **.5 films now.  Based on the novel by David Brin.  Written by Brian Helgeland, making him just the second person to win the Razzie and Oscar the same year (Alan Menken did it before him and Sandra Bullock would do it over a decade later).
  • Bent  –  Well-meaning but flawed film about the persecution of gays by the Nazis.  Based on the play by Martin Sherman.
  • Paradise Road  –  Cate Blanchett’s film debut is also well-meaning, this one about the Japanese imprisonment of women on Sumatra.  Based on diaries kept by one of the women.
  • Hamsun  –  Directed by former Oscar nominee Jan Troell (The Emigrants), this was the Danish Oscar submission for 1996.  Based on the autobiography of the Nobel winning author.
  • Alien Resurrection  –  Another film, that even at high **.5 I probably have rated higher than most people do.  The fourth film in the series.
  • Lapitch, the Little Shoemaker  –  Based on a Croatian children’s novel, this mediocre Animated film was the first Oscar submission from Croatia.
  • Police Story 4: First Strike  –  Jackie Chan’s action franchise is running dry by this point.  Down to mid **.5.
  • That Darn Cat!  –  Did we need a remake of this?  We did not.  But at least it’s just mediocre and doesn’t suck.
  • The Swan Princess: Escape from Castle Mountain  –  We didn’t really need a sequel to The Swan Princess either.
  • Flubber  –  Like That Darn Cat, an unnecessary remake (although it was a solid hit for Disney) but not terrible.
  • Deep Crimson  –  The 1996 Mexican Oscar submission, a True Crime film that disturbs me since one of the criminals has the same name as my mother.  I have it as adapted because of the old oscars.org but I see nothing (other than it being about true events) that suggests its adapted.
  • Breaking Up  –  Michael Cristofer adapts his own play in this small little Romantic Comedy starring Salma Hayek and Russell Crowe.
  • Contact  –  We’re down to low **.5.  When this came out the reviewer for the Oregonian tried to claim that films like this and Forrest Gump meant that Zemeckis was the intellectual to Spielberg’s populism.  He was an idiot.  And the movie, based on Carl Sagan’s book, is not very good.  Jodie Foster is good but the film is unbearably boring.  South Park had a hilarious reaction to it which I won’t link to partially because the link I found missed the early part of the scene that makes it more hilarious and because it’s rather disgusting.
  • The Education of Little Tree  –  An odd decision to make the film since the book had long been revealed to be bullshit (supposedly a memoir but really written by Forrest Carter, the same Confederate apologist who wrote The Outlaw Josey Wales).  Not bad but the problems around the book left a bad taste in my mouth while watching it.
  • Aaron’s Magic Village  –  Israeli Animated film based on an Isaac Bashevis Singer story.
  • Critical Care  –  Week satirical effort from Sidney Lumet about the medical industry.  Based on the novel by Richard Dooling.
  • Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion  –  Occasionally funny but not enough to sustain the whole film.  Based on the play Ladies Room which had also starred Lisa Kudrow.
  • Macross Plus  –  I absolutely love the original television show but this film version attempt to continue the story just doesn’t work very well.
  • The Peacemaker  –  The very first film released by DreamWorks didn’t match the hype.  Based on the book One Point Safe.
  • The Relic  –  The book by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child was a big hit.  The film wasn’t a disaster either commercially or critically but wasn’t good in either sense either.
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park  –  Spielberg’s worst film since 1941.  The rare film sequel (other than Bond films) based on an actual sequel novel.
  • SubUrbia  –  I am not a fan of Eric Bogosian (who wrote the original play and the film) or Richard Linklater (who directed the film).  My dentist’s office (which will be mentioned in the A Civil Action review in 1998) was halfway between where the water problems were and where the 7-11 that this film is based around was.  We went in there once because I realized that Thomas had never had a Slurpee (and to be honest, I’m glad I did because now that he’s diabetic there’s no way he could ever have a Slurpee).
  • Notes from Underground  –  A 1995 adaptation of Dostoevsky’s classic that finally made it to LA.
  • The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo  –  This would have made me somewhat eat my words from three films up but this film is actually based on The Jungle Book and not The Second Jungle Book.
  • Inventing the Abbotts  –  Casting Liv Tyler and Jennifer Connelly as sisters is actually pretty good casting and I can understand fighting over them but the film does a poor job of it.  Based on a short story by Sue Miller.
  • Love is All There Is  –  A modern day Bronx version of Romeo and Juliet with none of the language and no credit so in a sense it doesn’t belong.  It’s also not good.
  • Smilla’s Sense of Snow  –  Based on the fairly good book by Peter Hoeg, this was Julia Ormond’s chance to show she could act and she didn’t succeed.
  • Kull the Conqueror  –  Apparently when this fell through as the third Conan film (making mostly use of The Hour of the Dragon, the only novel-length Conan story by Robert E. Howard) the producers basically kept the story and made use of another Howard character, Kull of Atlantis instead.
  • Anna Karenina  –  Director Bernard Rose massively botched this as I explain in a full review here (since it’s one of the greatest novels ever written).  This brings us to mid **.
  • Crash  –  I’ve actually raised this over the years from my first reaction because it’s well made in some respects.  It’s also agonizingly stupid.  David Cronenberg tackles J.G. Ballard’s novel which remains (and will remain) unread by me.
  • Seven Years in Tibet  –  Based on Heinrich Herrer’s book, the film makes him look better than the real man and is hampered by a truly awful performance from Brad Pitt.
  • Private Parts  –  I have zero interest in Howard Stern and only originally saw this because of its Satellite nomination (back when I counted them).  He’s crass and tasteless and doesn’t balance it out with any humor because he’s not funny.
  • A Thousand Acres  –  My high school English teacher recommended the book by Jane Smiley because it was based on King Lear and we has just read it but I hadn’t liked King Lear (I had to grow into the play) so I wouldn’t read it for years.  The book is actually not bad but the film is just a mess in spite of the great cast.
  • Air Bud  –  The start of a franchise, it’s unclear exactly how adapted it is.  The dog was real and it seems that its owner might have written about it and that became the film.  But honestly, who cares?
  • Latin Boys Go to Hell  –  A homoerotic Comedy based on the novel by Andre Salas.
  • The House of Yes  –  Based on the play by Wendy MacLeod, this seems like indie whimsicalness but aside from Parker Posey as a Jackie O obsessed woman it’s mostly a dud.  One of several films in this year that helped anoint Posey as Queen of the Indies.
  • Twisted  –  Crappy version of OIiver Twist set in modern day New York City.
  • Pippi Longstocking  –  An animated version of the story.  Am I the only person who finds the character to be endlessly annoying?
  • Shiloh  –  I never read the Newbery winning book but this film about a boy who helps an abused dog is hampered like so many films of its kind by a terrible performance from the lead kid.  Low **.
  • Tetsuo II: Body Hammer  –  A 1992 Japanese cyberpunk film that’s a sequel to the 1989 film.
  • I Know What You Did Last Summer  –  After making fun of movies like this with Scream the year before, Kevin Williamson adapts Lois Duncan’s novel into a slasher film.  When the best of your young actors is Ryan Phillippe you know you’re in trouble.
  • Other Voices, Other Rooms  –  Truman Capote’s first novel gets an adaptation that’s so ignored it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.
  • Bean  –  I mostly love British Comedy but the success of this character really eludes me.
  • Touch  –  Paul Schrader adapts an Elmore Leonard novel but then puts Skeet Ulrich in the lead role.
  • Leave It to Beaver  –  As I have made clear in the past, I’m not into old television.  I’m especially not into crappy films based on old television.
  • A Chinese Ghost Story  –  A crappy Animated version of the 1987 film.  Skip it and watch the 1987 film.
  • The Last Time I Committed Suicide  –  Based on a letter written from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac so the film already lost me there.  It also stars Thomas Jane (as Cassady) and Keanu Reeves so then it lost me more.  Adrien Brody is just lurking in the background wondering how, with actual acting ability, he’s not the lead in the film.
  • Free Willy 3: The Rescue  –  The third film in the series and thankfully the last to receive a theatrical release.
  • The Devil’s Advocate  –  More Keanu, this time in a *.5 Horror film in which he’s a lawyer tempted by Al Pacino’s Satan.  Based on the novel by Andrew Neiderman.
  • Starship Troopers  –  Terrible adaptation of Heinlein’s terrible proto-fascist novel.  People like to claim it’s good because it’s satire but I counter that first, it’s not good enough to actually be satirical and second, it’s so overwhelmingly awful in its writing and its acting that even if you want to claim it’s good the evidence is clear that it’s not.
  • Jungle 2 Jungle  –  After botching the release of Little Indian, Big City with horrible dubbing, Disney then remade it into an even worse film with Tim Allen and Martin Short.  Down to mid *.5.
  • Death and the Compass  –  And now we drop down to low *.5.  Alex Cox originally made this adaptation of the Borges story back in 1992 at 55 minutes but it was eventually almost doubled in length and released in the States.  They shouldn’t have bothered.
  • Home Alone 3  –  I would have to do serious research to see if any film series has dropped off this badly in box office by the third film.  Clearly no one cared by this point.
  • U-Turn  –  One of Oliver Stone’s worst films.  Based on John Ridley’s unpublished novel Stray Dogs.
  • Good Burger  –  Is there anyone who thinks a good movie could have come out of a Nickelodeon comedy sketch?
  • Spawn  –  We hit * with this crappy Comic Book Action film.  Creator Todd McFarlane is a great artist but he’s a shitty writer and honestly, based on his interviews, an abomination of a person as well.
  • Batman and Robin  –  It kills me on one level that I rank Spawn higher because I love Batman.  But on other levels it kills me that Schumacher made such an awful film.  Fully reviewed here.
  • The Man Who Knew Too Little  –  Based on Robert Farrar’s novel Man to Watch, the only think to recommend this film in my opinion is Joanne Whalley in a maid’s outfit.
  • Fathers’ Day  –  A remake of a 1983 French film, this Billy Crystal-Robin Williams Comedy is just awful.
  • Head Above Water  –  Another remake, this time of a Norwegian film.  Down to mid *.
  • The Saint  –  The Saint has always been more popular as a character in the UK than in the States and this awful dreck of a film starring Val Kilmer as the title character didn’t change that.
  • An American Werewolf in Paris  –  Did we need a sequel to An American Werewolf in London?  No, we did not.
  • Julian Po  –  Boring film with Christian Slater as a man who comes to a small town to kill himself.  Based on the book by Branimir Scepanovic.
  • Keys to Tulsa  –  Not that there’s much difference in quality but we’re down to low * with this Crime film based on the novel by Brian Fair Berkey.
  • Vegas Vacation  –  National Lampoon didn’t put its name on it and John Hughes wasn’t involved and it shows.  The series bottoms out.
  • Speed 2: Cruise Control  –  One of the most widely panned sequels of all-time and it deserved it.
  • The Jackal  –  Skip this awful remake.  Go watch Day of the Jackal instead.
  • Buddy  –  Based on the book by Gertrude Lintz about her real gorillas.
  • Mr. Magoo  –  Don’t care about the original cartoons but they can’t be as desperately unfunny as this film.  We’ve dropped well into .5 films now.
  • Steel  –  Shaq tries to act again, this time as the minor DC comic character.  Between Spawn, Batman and Robin and this shit, it’s clear why the success of X-Men was so important three years later.
  • McHale’s Navy  –  Another show I’ve never seen (though I did just see the 1964 feature film from the show which isn’t good but is still 40 points higher than this).
  • Mortal Kombat: Annihilation  –  An unnecessary sequel to an unnecessary film.
  • The Pest  –  High on the list of actors that I find unbearably annoying is John Leguizamo.  This is his version of “The Most Dangerous Game”.
  • Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie  –  A film version of the kids show and it’s fully reviewed here as the worst film of the year.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • none

The highest grossing Adapted film I haven’t seen from 1997 is Rough Magic (#239, $247,202), though there are several original films above it I haven’t seen (though only one in the Top 200 and none that made $1 million).  As far as I can tell the only sequel I haven’t seen is Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (#249, $141,626).