December 2003

Liz Miller

hollywood madam

The Hollywood Madam Holiday Movie Guide!

Ah, the months of November and December. 'Tis the season -- for book adaptations, that is! Nothing adds that extra Oscar sheen to a project like the words "Based on the best-selling novel." In fact, it seems like the only movie NOT based on a book this fall is The Last Samurai, and that one was a close call (there are two books with the same name -- an unrelated novel about a boy forced to watch The Seven Samurai over and over, and a text about one of the historical figures featured in the film, who does not get billing above Tom Cruise).

Because so few of these have been released yet, I've had to make my own judgments regarding how closely they've been adapted from the book. Usually, a plug in the trailer can provide some sort of hint -- but otherwise, I'm going by my instincts -- hence, the question of "ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", "INSPIRED BY", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? I'll probably guess wrong half the time. But Vegas won't offer you better odds.

With no further ado (because I'm very tired), here it is -- twelve films, ranging the gamut from obscure art-house to Ben Affleck action thriller, profiled for your viewing discretion.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
THE BOOK: Books, actually -- Patrick O'Brian wrote twenty novels about Aubrey, Maturin and their Napoleon-era seafaring escapades, two of which formed the basis for the adaptation. Apparently they're like Jane Austen on boats. If Jane Austen wrote about sodomy.

THE MOVIE: Less sodomy, more Russell Crowe, and more's the pity. A Boys' Own Adventure on the high seas, though Peter Weir has probably made it look quite cool indeed.

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE BOOK? The trailer doesn't mention Paul Bettany, let alone the books. Storm effects, hot native chicks, and an extra large helping of Russell Crowe is all they have room for.

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", "INSPIRED BY", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? Adapted from, far as I can tell. There have been Patrick O'Brian purists bitching about various inaccuracies, and you lose a lot of plot when you smash two books into two hours. Plus, you know, less sodomy.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? It could happen. But I get sea-sick easily.

Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat
THE BOOK: Evil children use a innocent, fun-loving cat as their mess-making patsy. "The cat made us do it!" doesn't hold up in court, though.

THE MOVIE: The same story, with a hot mom. And sex jokes. From the same folks who bastardized How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE BOOK? Yep. Making the injustice all the more sweet.

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", "INSPIRED BY", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? Loosely inspired by, would be my guess. What? You don't remember any Seussian erection jokes?

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? See it, no. Picket it, yes.

The Missing
THE BOOK: The Last Ride, written by Tom Eidson. I'll let the Amazon reader review speak for me:

This is an excellent book. I recommend it to anyone who likes books dealing with Indians or family. It is heart wrenching to think that a father could abandon his family, but if not this story would not have been as good. I do think Maggie could have had different personality. I mean what woman in her right mind lets her 11 year old daughter ride out into the dessert in search of renagade Apaches. Other wise I recommend this book to young and old alike.

S'all I need to know, really.

THE MOVIE: Tommy Lee Jones has a really bad hair day. Cate Blanchett's is almost as bad. Spooky! In all seriousness, it looks kinda cool -- if you can handle Ron Howard's vanilla direction. And Maggie having a different personality.

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE BOOK? I've seen a few that do. But I'd never heard of the book, though they are rereleasing it in paperback under the title The Missing.


IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? Westerns can be pretty interesting. But the book sounds better.

THE BOOK: "Movie Studios! Michael Crichton Sci-Fi Thriller #21 is now up for sale! Yet another best-selling novel guaranteed to make for a blockbuster film! Sure, he hasn't actually written it yet, but based on the drunken voicemail he left on our editor's machine, it's sure to be dynamite!" (Press release from 1998)

THE MOVIE: Paul Walker in The Past and the Furious!

There's no way the movie can be as lame as that pun.


"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", "INSPIRED BY", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? Adapted from -- possibly verbatim, but much shorter. Thus making it better than the book already.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? My secret weakness for bad sci-fi thrillers may prevail. But I'll need a lot of popcorn.

Big Fish
THE BOOK: A novel about a son striving to reconnect with his father, via his father's wildly imaginative tall tales.

THE MOVIE: The story as visualized by Tim Burton and enacted by a pretty goddamn good cast. Albert Finney, Helena Bonham Carter, Jessica Lange, etcetera...


"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", "INSPIRED BY", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? Based on, it says in the fine print. In truth, it looks like the filmmakers are aiming pretty close to the source material.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? Hell yes. I'm actually really looking forward to this one. Sure, I'm gonna cry. But I'm also gonna squeal like a little girl over Billy Crudup and Ewan McGregor. Because I'm shallow.

Girl with a Pearl Earring
THE BOOK: Sounds really good -- speculative historical fiction regarding the anonymous subject of Vermeer's famous painting. If my nightstand weren't full-to-breaking with books-to-be-read, I'd hit my library for it.

THE MOVIE: "The best-selling book -- now brought magically to life!", according to the poster. But that was what they said about Cat in the Hat, too. Colin Firth is fun, though.



IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? I like the idea a lot -- almost as much as I like Colin Firth. But I think I'd rather read the book first. It'll be out on DVD by then, most likely.

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
THE BOOK: The last hunk of manuscript in the epic saga of elves, hobbits, and guys who REALLY like swords. If you know what I'm saying. I think you do.

THE MOVIE: The epic saga of elves, hobbits, and really pretty guys who really like swords. Plus, there's an epic battle for the fate of Middle Earth or something. What's important is that the men are really, really pretty.

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE BOOK? Nope. But does it have to?

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", "INSPIRED BY", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? I've heard about Tolkein purists who have their issues with the series, but overall Peter Jackson's remained fanboy-faithful to the books. Adapted from.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? Yes. But that doesn't mean I have to see the bits with the giant spider. I mean, giant spiders. They're pretty damn scary.

Cheaper by the Dozen
THE BOOK: The nostalgic memorial to Frank Gilbreth, efficiency expert and father of twelve, whose unconventional parenting made for wacky hijinks at the dawn of the flapper era.

THE MOVIE: Sure, come for the food fights and wacky hijinks. But brace yourself for the stunning third act, in which Bonnie Hunt reveals the REAL reason none of their children resemble Steve Martin! "Remember Dr. O'Reilly, Steve? And the milkman? And Mr. Ames from next door? And Paolo the cabana boy?"

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE BOOK? Uh, no. I think it's for the best. Frank Gilbreth's great-grandchildren may actually want to see this crap.


IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? Cheaper by the Dozen was one of my favorite books growing up. I'll leave this version for the kids.

THE BOOK: A short story by Philip K. Dick. Which means paranoia, strange dystopic futures, and yet more paranoia. Ah, drugs. Without you, where would science fiction be?

THE MOVIE: "It's like Minority Report -- but directed by John Woo! It's Wootastic!"

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE BOOK? Yep, front and center. Or rather, "the visionary mind who brought you Minority Report and Blade Runner" is mentioned front and center.

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", "INSPIRED BY", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? Based on seems accurate. Dick stories make good jumping-off points, more than anything.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? Sure -- if only to see how John Woo's managed to fit the doves in. Futuristic doves? Maybe they're robots!

Peter Pan
THE BOOK: The classic tale of the boy who refused to grow up. Insert bad Michael Jackson joke here.

THE MOVIE: It's like Hook. Except authentic and non-crappy!

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE BOOK? The most recent one does not. But do I need to mention the classic thing again?

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", "INSPIRED BY", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? Adapted from. They're emphasizing the modern-day themes, but everyone still wears fancy duds. And, true to the original presentations of the story, Mr. Darling and Captain Hook are both played by Jason Isaacs.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? The trailers look pretty damn cute, and I like PJ Hogan's style. I'd much rather take my fictitious ten-year-old to see this than anything else seen previously.

House of Sand and Fog
THE BOOK: An alcoholic is thrown from her home, and conspires to take it back from the family who's just moved in. Another literary gem discovered by that great appreciator of the classics, Oprah Whitney.

THE MOVIE: Ben Kinsley, Jennifer Connolly, Roger Deakins, James Horner... They'll just keep throwing talent at this movie until it sticks, huh?

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE BOOK? You can hear the sobs of the ad guys, yearning to slap the Oprah pedigree above the credits. They restrain themselves, however, with "from the best-selling novel."

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", "INSPIRED BY", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? No real way to judge this one.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? I've been hearing some good things about it -- I've also heard it's one harrowing ride. Depends on whether I feel like getting good and depressed at the movies. Luckily, that happens pretty often.

Cold Mountain
THE BOOK: It's blue and black, about an inch and a half thick. The font choice on the cover is interesting. I'll be reading it in about a month.

THE MOVIE: Another sad, sad epic from Anthony Minghella. Civil war, this time, instead of World War II. But I've got no clue if the ending will be more depressing than The English Patient. Mainly because every time I try to watch The English Patient, I end up falling asleep.

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE BOOK? Hey, I didn't know that it won an National Book Award. That's pretty cool. If you like, y'know, awards.

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", "INSPIRED BY", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? The trailer says "Based on." We'll just have to wait and see.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? Yes, I am -- and I'm waiting to read the book until after. Behold: the formal announcement of the Second Bookslut Book-to-Film Experiment! Just the same as the first, but 100% Grisham-free!

Happy holidays, all! And happy movie-going!