DID YOU READ

List: Ten Novels and Short Stories That Would Make Good Movies

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07302008_bridesheadrevisited.jpgBy Maud Newton

Adapting fiction for the screen has always been a tricky endeavor. For every “Apocalypse Now,” “The Big Sleep” or “Rebecca,” there are scores of butchered classics and box office duds, and in recent years, Hollywood has only continued to perfect its reverse-alchemy process, transforming narrative gold into the dullest, heaviest lead, topped off with a giant packet of saccharine.

For details, see Roland Joffe’s “The Scarlet Letter,” featuring a pearl-bedecked, shiny-bodiced, utterly vacuous Hester Prynne, or the soul-sucking “Love in the Time of Cholera,” which drove the Guardian’s John Patterson to call for a ban on the making of all movies based on books. It’s easy to sympathize. We’re talking, after all, about the machine that reduced Zoë Heller’s brilliantly satirical “Notes on a Scandal” — a teacher’s obsessive chronicle of her female colleague’s affair with her young male student — to a cautionary tale with all the subtlety of “Fatal Attraction.”

Still, the best fiction can offer what most industry vehicles don’t: a compelling narrative, vivid characters, surprising but realistic plot twists — and sometimes all three. It’s hard not to imagine how “The Secret History” and “A Confederacy of Dunces” would play out as films, had they not gotten sucked into the black hole of pre-production. Some books — like Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men,” so stripped-down novelistically, it tended to read like stage directions — actually work better on screen.

Julian Jarrold recently took his own cinematic run at Evelyn Waugh’s magnum opus “Brideshead Revisited,” contending with not only the daunting original text but the beloved 1981 miniseries. Amid all the reviews and speculation, I’ve been thinking about novels and short stories I’d like to see adapted. Ten of my top picks are below. Add your own wish list in the comments.

07302008_dividedkingdom.jpgRupert Thomson’s “Divided Kingdom”

Overnight the entire population of Great Britain is administered a personality test and reassigned to one of four quadrants based on an ancient system of psychology that divides people into groups: choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic and sanguine. Thomson’s very young, sanguine narrator is ripped from his melancholic parents, sent to a reprogramming camp, and assigned to a new family where the father mourns the absence of his wife, and the hot older sister consumes the boy’s fantasies. As our narrator grows older, he plays by the rules, even becoming a trusted civil servant, until, by virtue of his job, he crosses into the phlegmatic quarter and is contaminated — and captivated — by the depressive mysticism of the place. Slipping off to a mysterious nightclub, he’s snapped out of his chronic, low-level malaise by visions and concrete memories of his parents. When a bomb goes off shortly before he’s due to return home, he takes advantage of the chaos and goes underground.

Colson Whitehead’s “The Intuitionist”

Set in a city much like New York, but before the Civil Rights Era, “The Intuitionist” centers on the unexpectedly fascinating intrigues of the Elevator Inspectors Guild, whose members pledge allegiance either to the Empiricist, or, yes, Intuitionist mode of inspection. The Empiricists search for defects, while Intuitionists just sense them. With a hardboiled momentum that recalls Dashiell Hammett and a satiric vision that builds on Ishmael Reed’s, Whitehead’s first novel opens as young “colored” Intuitionist Lila Mae Watson learns that a high-profile elevator she inspected just days before has crashed. The accident casts doubt on the Intuitionist school, and leads Watson to suspect foul play.

07302008_theendofmry.jpgScarlett Thomas’ “The End of Mr. Y”

Ariel Manto, an aimless and dodgy-looking but very smart grad student with a penchant for callous men and willingness to submit to light bondage, is finally settling on a thesis topic when her adviser disappears. She discovers among his belongings the only remaining copy of a Victorian novelist’s last book, “The End of Mr. Y,” from which she learns to make a mysterious concoction involving charcoal and holy water. Drinking it transports her into another dimension where mice talk, CIA agents hunt her and the whole world depends on what she does next. Recovering English majors: think Derrida, the video game.

Pagan Kennedy’s “Confessions of a Memory Eater”

Win Duncan, a historian whose career took off and then fizzled, has settled into a bland professorial career and even blander marriage when an old friend offers him the chance to test Mem, an experimental drug that allows the user to relive any moment in his or her past. Soon Win is addicted, avoiding real life to live in his memories. When he loses his job and his wife, he’s left only with a limited supply of drugs and mounting questions as to the veracity of the experiences to which he keeps returning.

07302008_jeremythrane.jpgKate Christensen’s “Jeremy Thrane”

Jeremy Thrane, the unemployed and slightly paunchy kept man of a hunky, closeted and very married movie star, worries that his relationship and lifestyle are in jeopardy as the actor grows critical and detached and seems increasingly focused on his wife. When a gossip columnist overhears Jeremy complaining at a party, and questions the actor’s orientation in print, our narrator finds himself kicked out of his cozy brownstone and adrift in New York City.

James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room”

After his fiancée goes on vacation, a young and closeted American living in post-World War II Paris begins an affair with poor Italian bartender Giovanni. Torn between passion for his lover and the conventionality his father has always expected of him, the narrator finds solace for a time in Giovanni’s room, but abandons him in favor of the straight life, with its bourgeois comforts. Later he regrets his decision, but he’s too late to change Giovanni’s tragic fate.

07302008_theseathesea.jpgIris Murdoch’s “The Sea, The Sea”

This highly allegorical 1978 Booker Prize winner is the journal of an idealistic lothario director who retires to live the simple life, alone or perhaps with a comely companion, in a very strange seaside house. For the first few days he’s content to exult over afternoon swims and meals of crusty bread, good cheese and table wine, but soon he spies his first love in a nearby town, and though she’s shockingly gray and wrinkled for a woman of her age, resolves to break up her marriage and unite with her once and for all. Soon he’s sending unhinged letters, orchestrating strained encounters, and peering into windows.

Victor LaValle’s “The Ecstatic”

An enormous, intelligent and highly delusional Cornell undergraduate is rescued from his squalid Ithaca apartment by his mother, sister and grandmother, who return with him to the family home in Jamaica, Queens. There they functionally imprison him, but are clearly also a little bit afraid. They cower in bathrooms as our hero makes atrocious breakfasts covered in ketchup. “I expected more sympathy,” he says. “I wasn’t the first one in my bloodline to go zipper-lidded.” And indeed, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that any return to sanity will come in spite, rather than because, of his family.

07302008_drinkingcoffeeelsewhere.jpgZZ Packer, “The Ant of the Self” (from “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”)

A college-bound debate champ borrows his mother’s car to pick his hustler father (and his mother’s very unwelcome ex-husband) up from jail. He intends to drop the man off and return home, but soon finds himself on a cross-country trek with a load of screeching exotic birds that his dad hopes to unload in Atlanta at the Million Man March.

Chris Adrian, “Promise Breaker” (from his new collection, A Better Angel)

In this harrowing story, a man’s son, Carl, is either possessed by a furious horde of demons, or exacting revenge on his father for the events of September 11, 2001, and his mother’s disappearance. The boy issues punishing indictments in a strange, multilayered voice, and returns to his angelic, boyish self only when the man slams his fingers in drawers. “What do you want?” the father asks. “You know it,” the voices say from Carl’s mouth. “Every day we tell you. Justice. Satisfaction. Vengeance.” The penance required by the demons — or by Carl — only escalates.

[Photo: “Brideshead Revisited,” Miramax Films, 2008]

Maud Newton blogs at MaudNewton.com.

This list marks day 31 of IFC’s List Month — check out our entire list of lists here.

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weird al goldbergs

Keep It Weird

10 Hilarious “Weird Al” Cameos

Weird Al comes to Comedy Bang! Bang! starting June 3rd at 11P.

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Photo Credit: ABC

“Weird Al” has had one of the most unique careers in entertainment history. Sure, he made his name with parody songs, but he’s long since transcended simply poking fun at pop, becoming an American comedy staple in the process. With his new gig behind the keyboard on IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, we thought we’d take a look back at just a few of his classic pop culture cameos, in which he showed he was more than just the man with the accordion and rhyming dictionary.

10. The Goldbergs

“Weird Al” came full circle with this recent cameo on this ’80s-set sitcom, once again donning the frizzy hair, mustache and Hawaiian shirt to return to his glorious retro roots.


9. Galavant

Galavant, the historical musical comedy series, was recently canceled by ABC, but not before we got to see Al as a doo-wop crooning monk who’d taken a “vow of singing.”


8. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

Wet Hot Weird Al
Netflix

With Wet Hot American Summer making a triumphant return last summer, we all should have known they would work in a bit in which “Weird Al” played a summer camp hypnotist who turned into assassin Jon Hamm.


7. Batman: The Brave and the Bold

Wet Hot Batman
Cartoon Network

“Weird Al” creates music for all ages, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he occasionally pops up on Saturday Morning cartoons, like this turn on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, in which he got to battle the Joker and the Penguin alongside Batman, Robin and Scooby-Doo.


6. Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!

Al has popped up on Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s bizarre ode to anti-comedy series a few times, but this wedding fever dream, straight out of the mind of a serial killer, really sort of sums it all up, whatever “all” is.


5. 30 Rock

Al is a man of many talents, but at the end of the day, he knows how to rip out a parody song with some bite. Here he puts his gifts to good use, writing lyrics to the 30 Rock theme song, and highlighting their lack of ratings in the process.


4. Halloween II

“Weird Al” shows up in just about the last place you would expect here, in Rob Zombie’s hard R horror remake. Playing a guest on what looks like an early version of Talking Dead, Al does some typical talk show shtick alongside Michael Meyers’ ethically compromised doctor, Samuel Loomis.


3. Transformers: Animated

Al has quite a history with the Transformers. His song “Dare to be Stupid” was used in 1986’s The Transformers: The Movie, and he also popped up as Wreck-Gar, a simple-minded robot brought to life by the All Spark, on Transformers: Animated.


2. The Naked Gun

Al’s stardom was ascendant in 1988, if this classic gag from Naked Gun was any indication. (He also did the theme song for the 1996 Leslie Nielsen comedy Spy Hard.)


1. Amazing Stories, “Miss Stardust”

Weird Al
NBC

Al’s first TV cameo might just be his, ahem, weirdest. As an alien affectionately known as “Cabbage Man,” “Weird Al” made quite the impression without even needing his trusty accordion.

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Sally Kellerman- Maron – Season 4, Episode 5

Hello Sally

5 Roles That Prove Sally Kellerman Is a Comedic Genius

Sally Kellerman returns to Maron this Wednesday at 9P on IFC.

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With her statuesque beauty and sarcastic verve, Sally Kellerman has put her stamp on several iconic TV and film roles. She always gave as good as she got, keeping her leading men on their toes. With Toni Maron returning to help Marc through a tough time on Wednesday’s brand new Maron, we thought it was time to revisit a few of Sally’s classic roles that prove she’s more woman than most of us can handle.

5. Judge Henderson, Moving Violations

Playing a saucy judge with a taste for bondage, Kellerman got to go full-on villain in this absurd comedy starring lesser Murray brother Joel. Who needs Bill when you’ve got Sally in a full leather getup?


4. Louise, Brewster McCloud

It takes some real talent to make a conversation about remaining celibate this sexy. Kellerman turns up the heat here, mixing sensuality with a mythic quality (she may be a fallen angel of some sort in this movie), that makes us want to forget Brewster’s dream of flying, and just spend a little more time with her on the ground.


3. Maron

Whether she’s dropping passive aggressive comments or searching for his love handles, Toni is the perfect representation of all of Marc Maron’s neuroses.


2. Back to School

Holey moley, when literature professor Dr. Diane Turner starts reading some sexy prose to her class, Rodney Dangerfield isn’t the only one whose eyes nearly pop out of his head. Kellerman proves yet again that she can mix class and crass with the best of them, playing the type of woman you can discuss erotic literature with — or just live it out with.


1. M*A*S*H

In perhaps her most iconic part, the one that scored her an Oscar nom, Kellerman plays the apple of a whole army base’s eye. It’s far from easy getting that kind of attention in the middle of a war zone, which Kellerman shows with one truly epic meltdown. Major “Hot Lips” Houlihan would make anyone’s grandpa’s war stories a littler bit easier to listen to.

Watch how Toni comes back into Marc’s life on this week’s Maron. 

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Fred Armisen Carrie Brownstein

Southern Fried SNL

Watch Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein in SNL’s Southern Rock Supergroup

Fred and Carrie kept it mellow on the SNL season finale.

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Photo Credit: Saturday Night Live / NBC Universal

It was a veritable “band from comedy heaven” this weekend as a myriad of comedians assembled for a feel-good musical sketch in the Saturday Night Live season finale. Guest host Fred Armisen was joined by Portlandia cohort Carrie Brownstein as well as Maya Rudolph, Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Larry David, and members of the SNL cast to form faux-southern-rock supergroup The Harkin Brothers — a band whose members managed to outnumber its audience.

If The Harkin Brothers’ smooth vocal stylings remind you of The Blue Jean Committee from Documentary Now!, that’s probably not a coincidence. The BJC first appeared in a different, more regionally-specific form in a SNL sketch with Sudeikis on drums.

Watch an all-star SNL cast perform a mellow tribute to Arkansas called “Summertime in Fayetteville” in the video below.

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