Ranking Nick Hornby’s Film Adaptations

This summer, the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s 2009 novel Juliet, Naked is expected to get (limited) American distribution.I’m looking forward to finally having the opportunity to see it, though, in truth, not every adaptation of Hornby’s novels has been a great, but the film was produced by Apatow Productions, and Chris O’Dowd (from The IT Crowd) plays Duncan—which is perfect. So, I’m cautiously optimistic that it will be a solid entry in the growing list of Nick Hornby novels adapted to film. As of now, only two novel haven’t been adapted yet, How to Be Good, and Funny Girl… and to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if neither do end up on the big screen.

So, in anticipation of the forthcoming American release of Juliet, Naked, I decided to rank the current film adaptations of Hornby’s books.

5. (Tie) Fever Pitch (1997 and the 2005 remake)

I hesitate to even include these adaptations since they are basically fictionalized versions of Nick Hornby’s nonfiction book of the same name.  The 1997 version featuring Colin Firth marginally beats the 2005 American version with Jimmy Fallon since the former actually involves Arsenal, the football/soccer team at the center of Nick Hornby’s 1992 autobiography. The 2005 American remake had nothing to do with Hornby’s book, and despite technically being a film adaptation of it, isn’t even listed on his (seldom-updated)  official website as one of his films, and with good reason. Rather than taking place in England, the film takes place in Boston. Instead of football/soccer, the protagonist is obsessed with the Red Sox. It seems they merely licensed the use of the title, and that hardly seemed worth it to me. The 1997 film is not my cup of tea either. So, these two basically get honorary positions at the bottom of the list.

4. Slam (2016)

This was a tough one to rank because this adaptation was produced in Italy and therefore, is in Italian. In fact, I hadn’t even bothered to watch this adaptation, figuring it be too difficult to enjoy by reading subtitles. But, for the purpose of this list, I decided I had to watch it and as luck would have it, it is currently on Netflix. One thing I will say about it, is that, it stays quite true to the source material, which is why it comes ahead of the Fever Pitch movies. It’s been a while since I read Slam, but I still recognized that much of the dialogue was straight out of the book, and what was changed was mostly minor. I don’t know whether it was the fact that I was reading the subtitles or not, but I felt the acting was only fair and some of the characters were miscast. Generally speaking I like it when movies stay true to the source material, there are always reasons to cut things from the movie, and this movie could have been improved by taking out some characters. In the book Sam has a dumb skater friend called Rabbit who is in this movie, but didn’t translate to film very well. Also, the arc involving Sam’s mother getting pregnant happens in the film, but would not have been in the film either.

3. A Long Way Down (2014)

This was a somewhat disappointing movie even though it mostly stays true to the source material. I was mostly bother by what I felt were some unfortunate miscasts and a few unforgivable plot changes—most notably the romantic relationship that is revealed at the end between the JJ & Jess characters.This novel is not as loved as other Hornby novels, but I’ve read it a few times and was excited about another Hornby novel-to-film adaptation. Perhaps it just wasn’t going to meet my expectations because they were too high. In fact, I’ve only bothered to see this movie one time because I didn’t want it to poison the novel. Perhaps I was too harsh and should watch it again, but the casting of the film always bothered me. Aaron Paul was just not right for J.J. and Toni Collette (who previously starred in the adaptation of Hornby’s About A Boy) just didn’t match what I envisioned her character to be. The best casting of the four main characters was Imogen Poots as Jess. I suspect this was difficult to adapt properly because the novel tells the story via each of the four characters rotating POVs. The story progresses with us returning to each character’s perspective many times very effectively, while the movie tries to accomplish a similar effect, though only once per character—it was pointless to attempt in the film.

2. About A Boy (2002)

I love this film. It’s a huge leap ahead compared to A Long Way Down. Personally, I enjoyed the novel of A Long Way Down more than the novel of About A Boy, but I’ll prefer the film version of About A Boy over A Long Way Down. No question. This film definitely takes some liberties with the source material, seeing as the novel takes place is 1993 and the movie came out in 2002. The music of Nirvana and the death of Kurt Cobain plays a significant role in the later events of the novel which would not have worked so well, and so the climax of the film is completely different. Marcus’s father’s role in the movie is greatly reduced from the novel. But, it is still a solid film, perfectly cast, and it was even nominated for an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. I’ve watched this movie several times over the years because it is a great flick in its own right.

1. High Fidelity (2000)

Not only is High Fidelity a phenomenal film adaptation, I would consider it the gold standard of film adaptations. I’ve read the book and seen the film multiple times each and love them both. The film stays surprisingly true to the source material (with really only a few changes), and the moving of the story from London to Chicago was flawless. The novel is rich with monologues from the main character Rob, which is translated to the film with voice overs and the character breaking the fourth wall by talking directly to the viewer. The casting is spot on. Bruce Springsteen has a cameo. Jack Black was perfect as Barry. The only negative that can really be said about it is that Harold Ramis had a small role as Rob’s (John Cusack’s) father that was cut from the final edit of the film. It is a shame there hasn’t been a director’s cut released on DVD/Blu-Ray because it be great to see Ramis’s role and other scenes restored.

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7 Comedy Actors Who Should Start Taking More Serious Roles

Actors hate to be typecast by playing the same role (or the same type of role) for too long or too often. Yet, there are some actors who have (or run the risk of) typecasting themselves into a genre that severely limits their talents as actors. We all know plenty of actors who are extremely talented and have a good run of high quality flicks in their filmography… only to eventually have miss after miss after miss.

Goofy comedies may be proven box office gold with the right leading actor, but it seems like there are a lot of actors appearing in movies that make you think “I can’t believe he accepted this role.” Enough of these movies will force you to lose respect for once highly praised actors.

One remedy for this could that these actors who typically appear in comedies to take more dark or dramatic roles. All of the actors listed here have done darker, more dramatic roles, and have shined doing so. There’s nothing wrong with comedy, but these are actors who have demonstrated their talent that should be accepting better roles in more serious films.

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Five Dystopian Movies Worthy of Remakes

Classic dystopian novels and films are great candidates for fresh film adaptations. Movie remakes and reboots are more commonplace now simply because we have the the potential to do things better. Of course, sometimes that potential is wasted. Neither Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake, or the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes come even close to the original with Charlton Heston, even though the special effects in the original aren’t nearly as good. The biggest thing that kills remakes is overuse of CGI. So, I have to say that this list is done under the assumption that each remake would have to be done right… without unneccessary reliance on special effects, and remain true to the story and characters.

Logan’s Run
In a single weekend I read the novel Logan’s Run, and the 1976 film based on it. I can’t say I was thrilled with either, but the concept of the story is so good, it is begging to be redone and reimagined. A hedonistic society of the future where everyone is slated to die at 21 (or 30 in the original film) and one man, Logan, whose job it is to hunt down runners trying to evade their fate, is now running himself. There’s great potential in this story that, in my opinion is executed horribly in both the novel and the original film.

1984
This one is almost too obvious. There has been a lot of concern recently about government overreach and spying that sales of 1984 have surged. It seems like it is time for Hollywood to take another look at the quintessential dystopian novel as source material for the big screen again.

Soylent Green
As much as government overreach is a concern for many, so is global climate change and the havoc it could wreak on the population, particularly with how it will impact the food supply. Soylent Green. The concept definitely has relevance today, and the original is, in my opinion, a bit slow.

Fahrenheit 451
It’s been nearly fifty years since the original movie by French director François Truffaut, which isn’t horrible, but I wouldn’t call it memorable. The execution of the original is a tad clunky. The poor overdubs and obvious reversed sequences are too obvious. Who could create a fantastic vision of a future without books? I don’t know, but I’d love to see someone try.

Blade Runner
I’m really going out on a limb here, because I know this movie is a classic that is held in high regard by science fiction fans, and given the recent attempt to remake Total Recall (also based on a Philip K. Dick story) it may be better left untouched. Still, I contend that modern remakes have the ability to be done right and to eclipse the originals (like The Dark Knight Trilogy) so I think I can add this to my list without feeling too bad.

Five Films I Wish Were Based On Novels

Many of the best films are based on novels, in my opinion. As an aspiring novelist, I have firsthand experience with the struggles of character development. Since I’ve been writing my first novel, character development (or lack thereof) is one of the things I take note of in any film I see. Of course, there are likely many factors why character development takes the backseat to other things in a film—special effects being the most common.

While technology greatly increases the production quality of films, it also tends to leave more important aspects of the storytelling weaker.

That said, there are some films, that, in my opinion, successfully tell a good story, and have well-developed (and believable) characters—but not based on novels. Here are a few which I wish were.

Almost Famous (2000) written by Cameron Crowe
Perhaps the main reason this movie is successful in terms of character development is that it is semi-autobiographical. There are so many things that, while successfully addressed in the movie, would make great back story in a novel: William Miller’s early childhood with his overprotective mother. The conflict between his mother and sister. Perhaps the story behind his absent father. William’s developing love for rock music, and later on, the full story of Penny Lane. There is so much great stuff to get more insight into. And of course, more depth and description into the world of touring with an up-and-coming rock band.

Almost Famous, had it been a novel, would likely have been a quintessential rock novel, joining the likes of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson
After I first saw this movie, I wanted to read the novel. Of course, there isn’t one. Despite the fact the movie is introduced as a reading of a novel, and several scenes are enhanced by an off-screen narrator supposedly reading from the novel the movie is based on. No such luck.

Juno (2007) written by Diablo Cody
There’s a lot of great dialogue in this movie, but one of the things I thought was lacking was insight into the relationship between the title character and Bleeker, the father of the child that drives the entire story. The relationship between Juno and her father and step-mother is also something that would be fantastic to get more insight to.

Swingers (1996) written by Jon Favreau
A high quality lad-lit novel is hard to find. Outside of Nick Hornby and Jonathan Tropper, I haven’t found any established authors of the genre that I love enough to have read their entire bibliography. I have discovered some highly enjoyable lad-lit aside from them—don’t get me wrong—but I haven’t found many that really speak to me. I think Swingers, as a novel, would. The movie is great, and there’s a lot of different relationships that have so much more to be revealed: Mike’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend Michelle, and the events surrounding their break-up, or Mike’s relationship with Trent and the other guys, which has its good moment and rocky moments would make for great reading. There’s a lot of insight to be revealed, especially if written in the first person from Mike’s perspective.

Good Will Hunting (1997) written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck
Let’s face it, when you have a conflicted character like Will Hunting, you can’t help being curious to know just a genius like him ends up in and out of jail throughout his life, and taking jobs well beneath his mental abilities. Obviously, to those who have seen the movie, they know Will Hunting was an abused child and was extremely devoted to his friends, and while that is well portrayed in the movie, wouldn’t you love to know more?

Agree, or disagree with my choices? Have any of your own? Leave a comment and let me know!

Five Reasons I am Looking Forward to the Carrie Remake

When it comes to remaking classic movies, I am definitely in the camp that believes it’s best not to try to fix something that isn’t broken. All too often, remakes/reboots leave us pining for the quality and purity of the original source material. And this isn’t just a reference to Tim Burton, who can’t seem to touch a remake without destroying it (see Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Planet of the Apes). In fact, the Coen Brothers’ True Grit and Christopher Nolan’s reboot of Batman are undeniable exceptions to the rule, thus proving that sometimes we are ready for a new version of something old – as long as they are done right.

When I first learned that there would be a remake of Carrie, I was admittedly skeptical, but I believe that despite the original’s status a classic of the horror genre, that we are ready for this remake.

5. The Trailer Is Very Promising

It’s not always a good thing to judge a movie based on a trailer. Trailers are, by design, meant to get you interested in a film by highlighting the best aspects of the film. That said, the trailer for the new Carrie movie proves to me that the remake is well done, and the performances of the actors spot on. Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore fit their roles perfectly. Unlike trailers of other recent remakes/reboots, this one makes me want to see the movie even more.

4. The Story Needs Redemption

The legacy of the original Carrie was sullied by its “sequel” The Rage: Carrie 2. A horrible movie given legitimacy by Amy Irving’s reprising her role as Sue Snell, the lone survivor of the Carrie’s wrath at the prom. The sequel lacked the depth and quality of the original, with a lame build up to a virtually identical climax that wasn’t nearly as successful as the De Palma film’s.

3. Better Special Effects

Carrie’s telekinetic powers, and the extent of them, just don’t get enough airtime in the original until the movie’s climax… and they’re not great. Up until that point, there is no indication that Carrie has even mastered her ability to that extent. The current state of special effects give the remake an opportunity to examine her growing understanding of her abilities and her control of them… all while looking believable by today’s standards.

2. It’s Still Not a Special Effects Movie

Despite the fact that the special effects will be better, the story shouldn’t require them to be overused just because technologically provides the opportunity. Most of the story is a psychological thriller, building up tension to a breaking point. Aside from the more convincing displays of Carrie’s telekinetic powers, there’s really no need for CGI special effects, that are often overused to compensate for a lacking story. The story of Carrie is by no means lacking in depth and emotional conflict.

1. It’s Relevant

Carrie is an outsider. A bullied girl who wants acceptance, but is subject to bullying and ridicule by her peers. Bullying has become a fairly big issue in recent years, so the story actually has a unique relevance to the present. You will notice in the locker room scene (which you can see a clip of in the movie trailer) that Carrie’s fellow students use cell phones to capture her bloody moment of panic—a modern/current twist on the bullying.