October 2004

Liz Miller

hollywood madam

2005 Holiday Movie Guide

So normally, the research for this column goes fairly quickly. After all, most of the films released in this glorious rush toward awards season have strong literary roots, depending on the classic nature of their origins to inspire the viewer.

But no, this had to be the year when development executives decided that the play was the thing, and when there wasn't a play to be found, the remake was always a reliable choice. So this year, the adaptation question wasn't "how many films are based on a pre-existing source" but "how many pre-existing sources does each film have?" Of the thirteen movies profiled here, five are inspired by or directly adapted from plays (often with the participation of the playwright), four of them are sequels or remakes, and there's a fair amount of overlap between those two categories.

At least three of them also star Jude Law. I'm not complaining about that.

So as the nights get colder, the sun grows dimmer, and the bio-pics stack up like flies, behold some of the adaptations spread before you this holiday season.

RELEASE DATE: November 5th

THE SOURCE: The 1966 film directed by Lewis Gilbert and starring Michael Caine, which itself was based on Bill Naughton's stage play about a sexual overachiever oozing with charm (Naughton also wrote the original radio play upon which the stage play was based, the screenplay for the film, a novel based on the stage play/screenplay released to coincide with the film, and a sequel to the novel that was then adapted into a second Alfie film -- Bill Naughton gets around).

THE MOVIE: Um. Well. Jude Law sure be attractive, huh? This appears to be a carryover theme from my last column -- The Jude Law Exception applies even to needless remakes.

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE SOURCE MATERIAL? Nope. Doesn't even mention the original film, though its presence lingers in the minds of the audience, no question. But this is to be expected. The play flopped on Broadway, even with Terrance Stamp in the lead role,

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? Ah, this is a toughie. Without the direct Naughton touch, it's safe to say that this has deviated significantly from the source material. But that's almost fitting, given how many different sources the original film had. "Based on," I suppose. Changes will be made for these exciting modern times.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? The power of Jude Law compels me. No, really. It does. Shut up.

The Polar Express
RELEASE DATE: November 10th

THE SOURCE: Chris Van Allsburg's vaguely classic, strangely aloof Caldecott-winning children's book.

THE MOVIE: Robert Zemekis's chance to Play With All The Digital Toys, including "performance" motion capture on a much grander scale than Peter Jackson and Andy Serkis ever imagined. Starring Tom Hanks in six different roles, most of which almost sorta resemble him.

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE SOURCE MATERIAL? The teaser trailer certainly did, but the latest does not seem to. Which is odd, given that...

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? Adapted from. The look and feel of this movie are direct riffs on Van Allsburg's illustrations, and the story, while expanded for feature-length, seems to be true to the story's original spirit. A faithful adaptation if ever one existed.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? I'm honestly not sure. For one thing, I never really connected with the book growing up -- the illustrations were beautiful but distant, the story strange and a little frightening. (Get on a train with strangers? In the middle of the night? I wasn't the most adventurous of children.) But the visuals look amazing, and I'm a lot more adventurous than I used to be.

Finding Neverland
RELEASE DATE: November 12th (limited)

THE SOURCE: The play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee. I invite you to try and find information about this play. Amazon and Google failed me thoroughly. Of course, the life story of James M. Barrie and his most famous work, Peter Pan, are involved to some degree.

THE MOVIE: Isn't it nice that Johnny Depp still goes by Johnny instead of changing it to John in order to project a more adult image ::coughLarryFishburn::? The movie itself looks good, though I do hope that it's less treacly than the trailer would indicate.


"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? "Based on" would be my guess. It seems very focused on the themes of the story, with the necessary biopic slant (biopics being so very hot this award season) provided by the play and the lore surrounding Barrie's life. Because no 19th century writer's life story would be complete without some vague accusation of child molestation or sodomy.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? I genuinely like every single actor in that movie. Even the cute little kid who's going to play Charlie Bucket in Tim Burton's adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And it's hard to imagine a world where I wouldn't want to see Johnny Depp on screen.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
RELEASE DATE: November 19th

THE SOURCE: Helen Fielding's sequel to the genre-creating Bridget Jones' Diary, which in turn was inspired primarily by Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (and its BBC adaptation starring Colin Firth).

THE MOVIE: From all appearances, this film remains loyal to the wacky traditions of the first movie, including yet another spazzy man-fight. But the film's new director, Beeban Kidron, has actually made movies that didn't rely on blasting bad pop music in order to make a thematic point. So much of what irritated me about Sharon Maguire's direction of Bridget Jones' Diary might well be absent.

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE SOURCE MATERIAL? Nope. I suppose Fat Renee Zellweger is enough of an icon to identify it.

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? Adapted From, I'd wager -- it even sounds like the Thailand prison story-line's been maintained. Only question -- will Bridget Jones still interview Colin Firth?

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? I'm not going to go out of my way or anything -- but it could be fun.

Christmas with the Kranks
RELEASE DATE: November 24th

THE SOURCE: John Grisham's satirical novel Skipping Christmas ("Grisham-lite," according to the Amazon.co.uk reviewer, which just makes me laugh) about a family that decides to make a statement about the over-commercialism of Christmas by... going on a cruise instead. Yeah.

THE MOVIE: After 8 seasons of Home Improvement and two Santa Clause movies, are you still not tired of watching Tim Allen fall off a roof? Then boy, have we got a movie for you!

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE SOURCE MATERIAL? Those people? The ones who can't get enough of Tim Allen falling off roofs? I'm gonna make a judgment call here and say that the book having a different title than the movie would be more than a little confusing for them.

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? Given the wacky comedy of the trailers, the apparent lack of young lawyers triumphing over The Man, and the fact that Columbia potentially wants to make a series of movies "with the Kranks" a la the National Lampoon Vacation series, I'll give it a "loosely inspired by."

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? Well, if it was an in-flight movie, I might not walk out. But otherwise, yeah. No.

A Very Long Engagement
RELEASE DATE: November 26th (limited)

THE SOURCE: Sebastien Japrisot's 1993 novel of the same name about a young crippled woman searching to discover the fate of her fiance after he was supposedly killed in the trenches of World War I.

THE MOVIE: Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Audrey Tautou team up once again, to the delight of Amelie nerds everywhere. I'm included in their numbers.

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE SOURCE MATERIAL? Nope. But you know, it's French. I tried to watch the international trailer to figure out if that mentioned the novel, but the trailer was in French too. And my French is plus mal.

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? "Based on," at best -- if only because Audrey Tautou doesn't seem crippled at all. What with the standing and running. Though the character in the novel supposedly has "a rich fantasy life."

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? Couldn't keep me away. Seriously. I love Jeunet's films. Hell, I even like Alien: Resurrection.

RELEASE DATE: December 3rd

THE SOURCE: Patrick Marber's well-regarded play of sexual intrigue and betrayal. Well, I'm taking well-regarded on faith. My friendly neighborhood theater geek isn't around to confirm this.

THE MOVIE: Pretty much the same, directed by Mike Nichols and featuring an ALL-STAR CAST. Well, an ALL-STAR CAST and Clive Owen.

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE SOURCE MATERIAL? The trailer hardly mentions the PLOT. It's all meaningful looks and sobbing dialogue. Which is actually what made me suspect that this was based on a play.

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? "Adapted from," as Marber did the adaptation himself.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? I'm hearing great things, I'm a huge Nichols fangirl, and the acting looks superb. The Jude Law Exception totally isn't necessary here.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
RELEASE DATE: December 17th

THE SOURCE: The extremely popular, gothic young adult novels, with this movie specifically drawing upon the first three books in the series: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window. Given that eleven books have been released so far, it's safe to say that you can expect a sequel or two should this film make any money whatsoever.

THE MOVIE: Brad Silberling makes a movie where people die too young! Jim Carrey makes funny faces! Warner Brothers profits off a popular series of British children's books! It's the safest bet of all time! In all seriousness, it looks quite good.

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE SOURCE MATERIAL? The teaser does, at least, and the "author" of the books is mentioned consistently in the trailer -- in fact, the fact that this is a story being written by someone is a motif. What does that say about the film's adherence to the novels? No clue.

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? I'm going to go with "based on" -- apparently, each book is very short and thus combining three of them into one film isn't terribly difficult. But who knows what elements of Lemony Snicket's dark fables have had to be toned down? Who knows what horrors have been tamed?

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? I want to read the books before seeing the movie, and my friend Emily keeps saying that I can do it in a weekend. But will I have a weekend free before December 12th? Completely unknown. Will the power of Jude Law compel me? Well.

Flight of the Phoenix
RELEASE DATE: December 22nd

THE SOURCE: Elliston Trevor's 1964 novel about twelve men, stranded in the desert, whose only hope of survival is building a new plane out of the one that crashed. A life or death situation! Hot sweaty men! Chock full o' tension!

THE MOVIE: The premise is a great one, but there's no way this can avoid comparison to the previous 1965 film and it's a concept that lives or dies by its actors. So there's really only one question: would Meg Ryan have dumped Jimmy Stewart for Russell Crowe?

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE SOURCE MATERIAL? Nope, though the book is fairly obscure. And like all remakes, it's ferociously dedicated to burying the memory of its predecessor.

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? Normally, I'd say "Loosely Inspired." But the central concept remains intact, the major conflicts the same, despite the fact that the Disney spin seems to reek of family-friendly adventure (a genre better suited to the summer, but I digress).

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? I barely remember the original Flight -- growing up, it was one of the movies my mom loved and forced us to watch, thus handicapping our ability to actually enjoy it. But while Dennis Quaid is no Jimmy Stewart, it could still be fun -- too bad it's the winter, and a hot sunny desert is just too hard to comprehend.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera
RELEASE DATE: December 22nd (limited)

THE SOURCE: The musical that every school group in America was at some point dragged to see; Webber's work was originally based on the 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux.

THE MOVIE: I know people who have forgiven Joel Schumacher for Batman and Robin. I'm not one of them.

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE SOURCE MATERIAL? No, but that's to be expected. It's Andrew Lloyd Webber's, you know. No one else's.

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? I think at this point we're at the "Loosely Inspired By" stage. After all, has anyone ever read the book?

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? I do like musicals, and supporting the rebirth of the genre might be enough for me to slap down my eight dollars. But if you're reading this, Joel, just know: we still aren't cool.

Bride and Prejudice
RELEASE DATE: December 24th (limited)

THE SOURCE: The book by that dead English chick (who apparently only wrote one book, rather than six).

THE MOVIE: The book by that dead English chick -- with a Bollywood twist!

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE SOURCE MATERIAL? Yes. As the classic tale. "With a modern twist!"

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? "Loosely Inspired By." I think even Bridget Jones was more faithful.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? A part of me really wants to. The strictness of Indian culture seems like a natural analog for 18th century English society, and I always liked watching the Bollywood that'd pop up on the Indian channel I got in college. But there are two problems. One: it looks painfully dumb. Two: NO MORE ADAPTATIONS OF PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. No more. You want to adapt some Austen? Well, Emma has only been adapted three times. Mansfield Park's only been done twice! And what about Northanger Abbey? That was only a TV movie made in 1986! It's ripe and ready...



THE SOURCE: David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, about a man, a woman, her dead father, and math.

THE MOVIE: The man? Jake Gyllenhaal. The woman? Gwynth Paltrow. Her dead father? Anthony Hopkins. The math? The math plays itself.

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE SOURCE MATERIAL? No trailer as yet, due to the fluctuating release (I couldn't find a confirmed date). But plays don't seem to get a lot of trailer mention, I've noticed as I've worked on this column. Which, sadly, makes sense. The percent of the population that actively follows theater can only be a paltry fraction of the population that still reads. And that's a small population to begin with.

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? "Adapted from," with a screenplay by Auburn and Rebecca Miller (yes, daughter of Arthur Miller). I'm a little concerned that all that playwright-y goodness will make for a very stagey film, but given that I'm unlikely to see the play on stage, I'll take whatever I can get.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? I'm pretty interested, I must say. Then again, I like math.

An Unfinished Life

THE SOURCE: The neo-Western novel by Mark Spragg, just released this past August.

THE MOVIE: The biannual Lasse Hallström Oscar bait (his previous efforts include The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, and The Shipping News). This year, though, he's fishing with Jennifer Lopez and Josh Lucas. I'm not sure that even Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman can fix that problem.

DOES THE TRAILER MENTION THE SOURCE MATERIAL? No trailer has been released yet. From what I can tell, though, this book isn't exactly burning up the bestseller lists -- I doubt that mention of it will really ignite further interest.

"ADAPTED FROM", "BASED ON", OR "LOOSELY INSPIRED BY"? I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and say "Based on" -- there's probably plenty of ready-made melancholy to be exploited. Hallström won't need to add any.

IS THE MADAM GOING TO SEE IT? Depends, I suppose, on how it's received. I try and make it a point to see all the major Oscar contenders -- but I'm not intrigued enough to see it on its own merits. I do love Robert Redford. But Jennifer Lopez? Yeah.