janeeyre2011

Jane Eyre (1990 : 2011 :: Reality : Film Adaptation)

I was a teen when I first read Jane Eyre from beginning to end. The decision to read this Charlotte Bronte classic wasn’t prompted by any authority, but sprang from personal shame. An English teacher had assigned Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, pairing me up with two other students to write a collective essay in response to the book. I didn’t read the book. It wasn’t because I didn’t try. I just couldn’t read the book. And when I went to one of their comfortable middle-class homes to huddle around one of their computers, the jig was up. I was considered an impostor, with the calumnious sigil embedded invisible on my forehead for weeks.

These two other kids were right. I am still very much an impostor. I grew up in a home sullied by blows both violent and verbal, where shrieks from other family members careened around corners and mice scurried and scratched in the walls. The garage was nothing less than a shelter for junk that my parents lacked the effrontery to throw out, and I would have to climb over all manner of bric-a-brac to get the mail (which included a clandestine Playboy subscription addressed to my name, which I read for the pictures and the articles). Embarrassed friends would telephone me, hearing screaming and saying nothing and sometimes offering their homes as momentary refuge. This made it very difficult to read or concentrate or think or feel or write.

I didn’t have a computer; just an ancient electric typewriter with a highly unreliable ribbon and jittery keys. I had learned how to type 100 words per minute in eighth grade, but the contraption made my skills useless. I would type essays on this baleful beast late at night, when the chances of shouting and interruption were slimmer, often needing an hour to hone a paragraph to make sure that the ink didn’t smudge on the liberated bond and the characters hammered to the paper properly. Even one of these very patient hours, which could only come when I was holed up in my bedroom, still required the dutiful applique of white-out (mostly stolen, not purchased; there wasn’t much money). One of my English teachers – a man named Jim Jordan fond of leaving a tally on the blackboard with my name under the heading INANE COMMENTS (he did the same thing to a nice kid named Nick Hamilton; who knows how many aspiring jesters this man tormented over the years?) and who added a horizontal slice every time I overcame my shyness, announced my associative mind, and got the classroom to laugh — decided to condemn me further when I would turn in papers labored over into the early morning. As far as he was concerned, it wasn’t the content, but the pockmarked presentation, something I couldn’t help due to the poverty of my instruments, that offended this Murphy Brown watcher’s sensibilities.

Factor in all the ruthless ribbing, and this was a tough time for me. Misery at home, misery at school. But I tried my best to see the positive side of things. One needed to develop a thick hide to survive. I figured this neoliberal teacher just hated the poor kid with the wild and crazy hair and the trenchcoat and the hat and the Looney Tunes tees (found very cheap at Marshall’s and treated with some care, given that shopping for clothes was a rare occurrence) preventing him from charming a largely middle-class group as patriarchal pedagogue. It was a wonder, years later, that I ended up finding some dodgy living as a guy who wrote about books and that any page in literature spoke to me more than anything Jim Jordan, who hated genre and hated Stephen King and rebuffed my interest in HP Lovecraft and always let the class know all this, had to say over a semester.

I felt bad about not reading Robert Penn Warren. (Years later, I read the book in its entirety.) I also felt bad when I learned that the two students, whom I thought my friends, ridiculed me to another friend, figuring that I had to be a stupid son of a bitch for not reading Warren. (This third friend defended me, in part because he was also not quite in their class bracket and had some tangible understanding of what I was going through. Vice versa. We’re still friends to this very day. Old soldiers who fought many wars together.) And so I decided to prove to myself that I could read a big book that wasn’t science fiction or fantasy. I plucked a copy of Jane Eyre from a box in another classroom and I brought it home. (I would later do the same thing with George Orwell’s 1984 and Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, both of which I was not required to read but did.)

For obvious reasons, I could relate very much to Jane’s early plight in the Red Room and at Lowood. Psychologically abusive family members, teachers who tormented me because I didn’t fit into their suburban idyllic fantasy, feeling stupid and plain – what here wasn’t there to relate to? I had no kind teacher equivalent to Miss Temple at the time, although I would later encounter a marvelous teacher named James Wagner, who not only encouraged me to write by looking upon every essay as an opportunity for fun and mischief, but who paid attention to the prose style contained in my DNA. When my sister took Mr. Wagner’s class a few years later, he said to her, “That’s what I like about you Champions. Short and snappy sentences.”

But once Jane hit Thornfield, I began to despise her and the book. I didn’t like this Rochester fellow who was trying to control her. He reminded me of too many paternal figures who wanted to correct me rather than accept me. And I didn’t like the way that Jane (or Janet, as Rochester called her; a modest corruption of her name that Jean Rhys was to investigate further in Wide Sargasso Sea) wasn’t honest about her feelings. I didn’t like the convenient fortune that Jane encountered later in the book, which seemed a terrible contrivance, and I didn’t like the way that Jane heard Rochester’s voice and how this conveniently urged her to return to Thornfield. Life just didn’t work like this. But I read it to the end and returned the book back to the box, grateful that my fury towards the book would not have to be voiced and shot down by an English teacher who didn’t like me. However, before an eccentric drama teacher (Mr. Cody), I dismissed Jane Eyre as “a Harlequin romance.” I was very surprised when Mr. Cody replied with approbation and enthusiasm.

Still, as much as I hated the book, I have to credit Jane Eyre for giving me a reading discipline I had never known before that time. It hadn’t occurred to me to look at the novel again until there came a time later, more than twice a lifetime later.

* * *

January 10, 2011. I publicly pledge to read the top 100 novels of the 20th century, as decided upon in 1998 (about eight years after I read Jane Eyre and about thirteen years before I made the promise) by the Modern Library of America. What I don’t quite comprehend at the time is that Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea -– a prequel to Jane Eyre -– is #94. (April 22, 2011 Interjection: Essay on Wide Sargasso Sea now here.) What I also don’t quite get is that there’s a new film adaptation of Jane Eyre set to be released on March 11, 2011.

A few weeks later, I make the connections. I receive an email from Russell Perreault (I’m on one of Random House’s mailing lists) about the movie tie-in edition. After my high school experiences, there’s no way in hell that I’m going to obtain a fresh copy of Jane Eyre on my own. Not from a bookstore or a library. Yet somehow I cannot resist. Through sheer folly and laziness, I send Perreault an email. Much to my surprise, Perreault humors me and a copy of Jane Eyre shows up in the mail days later. My fate is sealed. I can’t exactly ignore this polite gesture. I must reread the book. Who knows? Maybe my adult self will appreciate what my kid self did not.

I arrange to attend a press screening of the movie, with the idea that I’ll have the book reread before I hit the movie. (What I don’t count on is that all this industry triggers thoughts and feelings outlined in the first part of this essay.) I reread the book. I bang out the following Goodreads review:

It shouldn’t be thoughtless to condemn this terrible book, which I read for the second time in my life. The first time was in high school. I hated it then, but I read it to the end — unprovoked by any force in particular, aside from my own flowering self-discipline. I despise this book slightly less now. But I am now most anxious indeed to read Jean Rhys’s corrective prequel, which appears to be much shorter and has the temerity to condemn such terrible characters. Jane Eyre is almost smug in the end, after 600 pages of near helplessness (especially the unintentionally hilarious chapter of her asking around for food and a job: if she were truly smart, she would have contrived the damn escape over time; what does it say about this diabolical doormat that I longed for her to take up prostitution, hoping in vain that my memory of the book was wrong, but knowing the chirpy fate of this dimwitted damsel in distress, who requires an extra-strong dose of feminist enlightenment). Rochester and St. John are two male specimens whom I would not only outdrink, but out think and out act. When Rochester begs Janet to save him, an image of castrated Williamsburg hipsters beating him to a pulp entered my mind. Alas, such a deserved fate was not to be. Don’t get me started on the doddering St. John.

But of course, being very stubborn-minded, I read this damn book to the bitter end. My partner asked me to leave the room because I was talking back so violently to the book, making sounds resembling “Wah wah wah” or something like that when I had to endure pages upon pages of angst. A critic friend says that he never made it past the first half of this book and suggested that I read Wuthering Heights. He may be right, but I think I’m done with the Bronte Sisters for at least a year. I don’t care how groundbreaking this book was on the Gothic front. It’s just plain hokey. Convenient windfalls from dead relatives, hearing Rochester’s voice from afar. Contrived! So you can’t take responsibility for marrying the crazy woman in the attic? Cry me a river. Man up and deal. Don’t take out your problems on your poor servants, illegitimate children, a governess, and so forth. Hey, Rochester, didn’t you see the sign on the boat to Jamaica? YOU BROKE IT, YOU BOUGHT IT. The fact that you view humans as hairy beasts, sir, is part of the problem. Bronte’s understanding of people, even accounting for the centuries, leaves much to be desired too.

* * *

In high school, I understand that many people consider the book to be a masterpiece. And while I don’t share this viewpoint, I do find myself in high school obtaining a VHS copy of the 1943 film starring Orson Welles as Rochester and Joan Fontaine as Jane. I love every damn minute of it. Maybe it’s the melodrama. Maybe it’s the black-and-white. I am familiar then with Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil and the wine commercials and am only just starting to understand what a great cinematic genius Orson Welles was. (My friends only seem to know him from Transformers: The Movie.) There is clearly no better man who can channel Rochester’s oily charisma and convince us why Jane Eyre would fall victim to what would now be very serious sexual harassment in the workplace.

There is, in 1996, a lesser film adaptation with William Hurt in the role. And I learn that George C. Scott has also played him, although I still haven’t seen that version. In college years, I also discover that there’s a 1973 version with Michael Jayston in the part. (I know Jayston as the Valeyard in the 1986 Doctor Who serial, “Trial of a Timelord.”) I track some of these dramatic versions down (not an easy thing to do in the pre-Internet days of video stores and tape trading by mail), but I don’t tell anyone about this adaptation fixation until March 2011, when I write and publish this essay. Perhaps in my secret watching, I am trying my best to find ways of appreciating a book I don’t care for.

“My master’s colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth, — all energy, decision, will, — were not beautiful, according to rule; but they were more than beautiful to me; they were full of an interest, an influence that quite mastered me, — that took my feelings from my own power and fettered them in his. I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously arrived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.”

Why is Rochester the entry point? Is it because I’m a man? Is it because of this idea of loving someone without the object of your affection looking back at you? I don’t think so. I think it’s because I’m trying to understand why Jane would be so attracted. That’s one of the great narrative mysteries sticking at the back of my mind for years. Even if she doesn’t have much experience with men, and even if the times weren’t exactly friendly for women, it doesn’t make sense that someone brave enough to stand up to the abuses at Lowood would fall for some of Rocheter’s dull philosophy. Yet Rochester, plainly described in that above passage, is charming in these dramatic versions in a way that he isn’t charming in the book.

* * *

March 8, 2011. I’m in the Dolby 88 screening room. I know within a minute of first seeing Michael Fassbender in this movie that he doesn’t have what it takes to be Rochester. And it gets worse as the film goes on. He isn’t fierce enough. He doesn’t have the eyes that men like Orson Welles or Oliver Reed had; the eyes that somehow convince you to jump into an abyss before you know you’re falling. When Rochester sits in a chair, the chair has more screen presence. Poor Fassbender looks as if he’s been asked to do nothing but stare intensely at the camera. His arms and legs have pinioned by bad direction.

It doesn’t help that screenwriter Moira Buffini (responsible for Tamara Drewe) has restructured Jane Eyre so that a good portion of the St. John episode comes first (i.e., the movie begins with Jane’s escape from Thornfield, which in itself is a ballsy and interesting choice), followed by a surprising extension of the early business with the Reeds, with the Lowood stuff getting cheapened into what appears to be digital cardboard decor, which results in Rochester’s first appearance getting postponed and the narrative structure collapsing in on itself.

The “pedestal of infamy” mentioned in the book, which is a metaphor, is mentioned directly by an evil teacher in the movie. That’s how literal-minded the script is. The script also includes numerous moments where characters tell each other what they’re feeling, as if Buffini doesn’t understand that this is a visual medium. “How very French,” replies Fairfax after Adele sings a song. “You’re depressed,” says Rochester to Jane Eyre, who doesn’t look depressed. “Your eyes are full,” he also says when they’re not. “You’re blushing,” he says, when she’s not. This technique certainly worked for Lev Kuleshov, whereby Kuleshov cut a blank expression of a man with a bowl of soup (he’s hungry), a girl’s coffin (grief), and so forth – with audiences praising the blank man’s great acting. But that was almost 100 years ago and it relied on visual cues rather than oral ones. You’d think that such bad narrative dialogue would have the simple explanation of lines cribbed directly from the book. In other words, that essential exposition which works in text was simply plucked wholesale and put into the script. But that isn’t the case at all. Because none of these lines are in the book. Buffini (or some tampering studio executive) has added them. Because she (or someone) believes that the audience is a collection of morons.

There is no Miss Temple in this movie. Indeed, the movie cannot afford to offer us any nuances, anything that strays from the cliches. The red-maned Mia Wasikowska is too luminous to be so plain. The movie’s real “machine without feelings” here is cinematographer-turned-director Cary Fukunaga, who comprehends how to capture a world by lantern and candlelight, and even manages a moment of battledore and shuttlecock. But he doesn’t know that cobwebs and dust and flies often clutter up a dark and expansive mansion. Fukunaga isn’t much interested in creating visual atmosphere. He’s into fake scares through an aggressive sound mix, such as a bird flying up into the air. It doesn’t really enhance the story or the mystery or give us a reason to care.

* * *

I was an adult when I reread Jane Eyre from beginning to end, and when I realized that my feelings for the classic were just as needlessly prejudicial as the teacher’s enmity towards me. I gave it a try anyway, devoting many unknowing hours trying to reconstruct something that I had locked away in the attic of my mind. My own private Bertha was not insane and would not stay caged and would not set the place on fire. I resolved to approach Jane Eyre again in ten years, when the associations were less fresh and I was presumably more human. The next time around, I will judge it not through the prism of its dramatic iterations, but on the very novel itself. After all, wasn’t it Jane herself who said that repentance is said to be its own cure?

BREAKING NEWS: Cloud Atlas Film Adaptation in the Works

In what may be one of the oddest cinematic adaptations of all time, First Showing’s Alex Billington reports that Run Lola Run/The International director Tom Tykwer is hard at work attempting to adapt David Mitchell’s imposing novel, Cloud Atlas, for the big screen. He has enlisted the Wachowski Brothers for help. While Mr. Billington seems to possess an unfamiliarity with Michell’s great novel, asking Tykwer “which of the six he would be focusing on” (which, uh, sort of defeats the purpose), what’s interesting here is that Tykwer, who has written all of the scripts for his films, is even trying to adapt what is possibly an unfilmable novel. Whether or not Tykwer has asked the Wachowski brothers to read several books before reading Mitchell’s novel and getting to work on the script remains unknown. (Hat tip: mdash)

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Review: Choke (2008)

Writer-director Clark Gregg’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s 2001 novel has a number of things going for it. It has, first and foremost, the intriguing choice of Sam Rockwell cast as sex addict Victor Mancini. Rockwell plays this role as a strange amalgam of Greg Kinnear’s Bob Crane in Paul Schrader’s Auto Focus and Luke Wilson’s detached presence. His lanky mien suggests a Stan Laurel to the slightly chubby Brad William Henke’s Oliver Hardy. And while Henke here is not bad as Victor’s best friend and co-worker Denny, a chronic masturbator unafraid to lust after Victor’s mom (Angelica Houston), this comedic pair-up doesn’t quite anchor the film the way it should. Denny, like many wingmen before him, exists here mainly to pester Victor to move to “the fourth step,” or, in less Erhard-like terms, get on with his life or, as another character tells him later in the film, “to begin at the beginning.” With Victor, Denny attends support group meetings to help the pair get over their sex addiction. But Victor spends most of this time banging an anal bead enthusiast named Nico (Paz de la Heurta) in the backroom.

Rockwell’s look is certainly right. His shaggy brown hair, desperately in need of a haircut, frequently sticks up, suggesting a 1990s Northwestern slacker aesthetic. He wears shirts with gaping holes near the collar. He works a day job as a historical reenactor and, early on, declares directly to the camera, “I am the backbone of colonial America,” a postmodern possibility that Gregg never quite pursues that suggests that his addiction is a throwback to a more early and hypocritical age. Victor insists that he’s an asshole, but maintains a wide-eyed and bemused presence that seems perfectly aligned with the film’s often frustrating inability to decide whether it’s satirical or sincere.

No Country for Old Men‘s Kelly Macdonald appears as Paige Marshall, whose eyes were seemingly invented for the light, but who we know, upon her character’s first step inside the mise en scene, will almost certainly become Victor’s love interest and will almost certainly never live up to Bechdel’s Rule. Which is too bad. Because the more I see of Macdonald, the more I realize how much she has it. And it will take a very intelligent film director, perhaps one with more smarts than even the formidable Coens, to give her the role that will finally catapult her into the superstardom she deserves. Her presence in this film is part of the Big Reveal, which is a substantial copout. But then if you’ve read Palahniuk’s book, you know the Big Reveal already. And Macdonald likewise know it. Her character speaks in a particularly pronounced hayseed vernacular, pronouncing “traumatic” like “TRAW-MA-TIC.” But this permits her to play Paige as if she’s on the inside of a terrible joke.

The terrible joke may very well be the fact that David Fincher was not only the first director to make a film about a Palahniuk novel, but the one to transform it into his masterpiece. One cannot view Choke without being aware of Fight Club‘s imposing shadow. Like Fincher (and screenwriter Jim Uhls), Gregg has one interesting scene that plays as nihilistic absurdism. In Fight Club, it was the moment in which Edward Norton punched himself in the face to blackmail an office manger. In Choke, it’s presented when Rockwell insists to a group of asylum inmates that he’s not a good guy, proceeds to take away a walker from an older woman and smash it against a locker. But while there is something in this scene vaguely reminiscent of Lars von Trier’s The Idiots, the scene plays like some doughty transplant from a pre-9/11 America. It works to establish Victor’s internal dilemma, but it doesn’t feel particularly contemporary.

Gregg is at his best when he avoids this dated approach to shock value for the more troubling truths of the seemingly perverse, such as one moment involving a woman who Victor seeks out for a rape fantasy involving a knife. The woman sets very specific terms, speaking less like a person with fey needs and more like a human resources manager. (The safe word is “poodle.”) There’s also an interesting exchange in which Victor confronts the boyfriend of a woman who has fallen asleep giving him a hand job. Victor urges the boyfriend to turn back and walk away. But these scenes work because of their naturalistic ironies. They present moments that are not particularly normal, but frame them as if they are normal. Even when the dialogue itself feels transplanted from some banal sitcom. And to consider again Victor’s insistence that he is “the backbone of colonial America,” this suggests an American take on the many unusual situations of this type that one finds within Francois Ozon’s early, more daring films. I have neglected to point out that Victor has worked out a scam, whereby he lodges a piece of food in his throat, chokes, and wanders around a restaurant in search of the right benefactor to perform the Heimlich. He does this to earn some pocket money to help pay for his mother’s care in a hospital. It is something that occurs quite frequently throughout this film, but these moments, which should have likewise served as nihilistic absurdism, simply did not stand out for me. Part of this may have to do with Gregg’s inability to push things far enough. Gregg does not entirely understand, as Fincher did, that this is the kind of behavior must be played out as melodramatic in order to work. There is one somewhat funny moment in which the choke confidence game backfires at a Chinese restaurant. But the moment simply doesn’t have the naturalistic irony or the nuanced play of these other scenes I have mentioned. And in a film largely concerning itself with the subject of phoniness, it seems absolutely vital for a filmmaker to get the tone absolutely right.

Gregg’s film does disguise New Jersey locations somewhat successfully as the Northwest. The apartments are laced with tacky wallpaper. There are many dead patches of lawn on the historical reenactment site. There are unwashed radiators, grimy kitchen surfaces, and photographs tacked carelessly to walls. But the film’s many flashbacks to the 1970s and 1980s, containing muted browns and the kind of predictable tan jackets and vests that have become something of a production design cliche, reveal that this is more kitsch than verisimilitude. More of a time capsule than a movie of the moment.

Gregg has been mostly faithful to Palahniuk’s novel. But he doesn’t quite have Fincher’s talent to properly translate Palahniuk’s cartoonish riffs on reality to the big screen. He does have Victor and Denny frequently stare at women and suddenly see them topless, and this tic even extends to an older nun. But this isn’t really pushing the envelope, much less forcing us to ponder the perceptions we keep to ourselves. His efforts to plunge into the scatological, such as a moment in which Denny drinks out of a dish and an incident late in the film involving chocolate pudding, don’t feel particularly offensive and don’t particularly unsettle us the way they did in Palahniuk’s novel. It is also a telling sign that most of the sex scenes occur with clothes on. The vulnerable nature of being naked, which should mean something in light of the film’s dialectic between love and sex, is confined to “being in the circuit” late in the film. But it feels perfectly safe. The kind of thing you’d find within some harmless Skinemax movie from the 1980s.

If a Chuck Palahniuk film adaptation cannot unsettle us, what then is the point of making it?

enemymine

The Real Enemy Mine vs. The Reel Enemy Mine

My review of The Reel Stuff, an anthology of horror and speculative tales turned into Hollywood films edited by Brian Thomsen and Martin H. Greenberg, appears in today’s Los Angeles Times. In addition to the reading (in most cases, rereading) I had to do for the review, I watched many films: hence, the crazed kudos for Candyman posted at some ungodly hour not long ago.

Johnny Mnemonic had the consolation of some unintentionally hilarious moments and Screamers was a hoot, complete with a distinguished Canadian actor licking a knife and scowling, “It’s never sharp enough.”

But the worst film of the bunch was Enemy Mine. I hadn’t seen the film in almost two decades, but time had not been kind. Its failure, however, had less to do with its sweeping production value (even with the visible matte lines) and more to do with its almost total bastardization of Barry Longyear’s Hugo and Award-winning novella. Aside from changing the book’s ending to include a literal mine (did they really think the audiences were that dumb?), screenwriter Edward Khmara and director Wolfgang Petersen placed less emphasis on Davidge’s unexpected role as surrogate father, introduced over-the-top meteor showers, and otherwise muted the novella’s themes of war and camaraderie. There is even a terrible moment in which Pepsi product placement gets Dennis Quaid excited.

Longyear’s novella was collected in a handsome book put out by White Wolf called The Enemy Papers, which also featured two other stories, “The Last Enemy” and “The Tomorrow Testament,” set in the same universe. But this went out of print. Thankfully, the book is also available through Back in Print. Longyear also has a website and an interesting history.

There Will Be Mischief

Variety has an early review of There Will Be Blood — the forthcoming film matchup of Paul Thomas Anderson and Upton Sinclair. “Magnificently strange” is certainly a good sign. And the film appears to maintain the playful experimentation established in Anderson’s last film, Punch Drunk Love, kick-starting with “an electronic sound that soars to an almost unbearable pitch,” which throws the film’s first fifteen minutes into a narrative without dialogue. There’s also a score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. I wasn’t really on the fence in terms of my curiosity, but now I’m extremely intrigued about what Anderson has concocted here.

Jeff Bridges as Graydon Carter?

Variety: “U.K. law firm Davenport Lyons brokered the deal with majority funder Aramid Entertainment backed by hedge fund coin. Project, reputedly carrying a $20 million budget, is also being developed with the U.K. Film Council, Film4, InTandem Films and the Irish Film Board….Cast for ‘How to Lose Friends and Alienate People’ includes Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst and Jeff Bridges as Vanity Fair’s flamboyant editor Graydon Carter.”

Is a Little Seen John Barth Film Adaptation a Lost Masterpiece?

Bold words from Lee Hill:

I know this is a minority view, but I think End of The Road is some kind of masterpiece, a tattered signpost pointing to a road not taken by American cinema. The New Hollywood of the late sixties and early seventies, like most new waves, promised more than it could deliver. As great as the work of Coppola, Scorsese and Spielberg was in the seventies, their politics was often safely couched in genre or pyrotechnical display. If Road had been even a modest success, Avakian might have joined Robert Altman or John Cassavettes in creating a more rigorous brand of new American cinema.

Interestingly, the film was written by Terry Southern. Sadly, it appears unavailable on VHS and DVD.

Philip Roth Goes Hollywood

Variety reports that Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal is headed for the big screen, with Nicholas Meyer scripting and Penelope Cruz, Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson starring. Meyer previously wrote The Human Stain. No word yet on whether Meyer will be addressing David Kepesh’s previous existence as a human-sized mammary gland, but Lakeshore, the company behind this production, is also trying to get a film version of American Pastoral off the ground with director Phillip Noyce attached. So while Noyce may not be much of a breast man, we can only hope that Meyer is.

First-Person Shooter Knockoff Meets Flaacid Oliver Stone. Terrific. What a Way to Kill a Franchise!

Variety: “HBO has acquired the rights to turn George R.R. Martin’s bestselling fantasy series ‘A Song of Fire & Ice’ into a dramatic series to be written and exec produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. ‘Fire’ is the first TV project for Benioff (‘Troy’) and Weiss (‘Halo’) and will shoot in Europe or New Zealand. Benioff and Weiss will write every episode of each season together save one, which the author (a former TV writer) will script.”

Literary Adaptation Bread

KTLA: “Galled by decades of this kind of equation, New York publishing houses have launched ventures intended to get a bigger piece of the Hollywood action. And who could blame them? Publishers almost never control the film rights to the books they put on the market.”

Even more interesting is Random House putting up half the money for literary adaptations in a deal with Focus Films. One possible side effect: Does this mean more faithful literary adaptations or greater control? Or does it mean business as usual?

The Moral of the Story: Lose the Guillotine, Lose the Audience

Guardian: ” They sat in their seats and hooted and whistled and shouted and slow-clapped. It felt as though the audience was providing the ending that Sofia Coppola was too decorous to show, bringing down the guillotine on a rather silly, spoilt little film. Marie Antoinette is a poodle-brained period fancy. Part curtsy, part style spread, it tells the tale of a beautiful queen and the lovely parties she attends. If ever a movie deserved to be thrown to the mob, it is this one.” (via Romancing the Tome)

Keira Knightley + Ian McEwan = Recipe for Disaster?

Romancing the Tome observes that a film adaptation of Ian McEwan’s great novel Atonement is in the works. Attached to the project is Joe Wright and Keira Knightley, the team behind last year’s Pride and Prejudice adaptation. Knightley is playing Cecilia. Even stranger, Rue McClanahan is involved. It seems strange to me that Wright seems single-handedly committed to classing up Knightley’s career. Maybe it’s just me, but compared with, say, Sarah Polley five years ago, I really don’t see her as an actor of considerable heft.

Excerpt from Upcoming “Atlas Shrugged” Script

Starpulse: “After years of delays, Ayn Rand’s famous novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is being made into a feature film starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, according to media reports. Lionsgate Films bought the rights to the film version of the 1957 novel, considered in many polls to be one of the most influential books in history. According to Hollywood trade paper Variety, the Mr. And Mrs. Smith co-stars, who are both fans of the Russian novelist, would play the lead roles of Dagny Taggart and John Gault. [sic]”

Return of the Reluctant has obtained an exclusive excerpt of the upcoming Atlas Shrugged script, which was reportedly written by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie themselves.

INT. TAGGART TRANSCONTINENTAL OFFICE — DAY

Taggart is bent over the desk. Galt is behind her.

GALT
Your name is neither Jen nor Aniston. She is not selfish enough.

TAGGART
That’s why you came to me. It is the natural way of things.

GALT
If you do not give into your latent selfish desires, I will impregnate you again. Say it! Say it!

TAGGART
Who is John Galt?

GALT
That is quite a witticism. Again!

Galt handcuffs Taggart’s wrists.

GALT
I can’t hear you. If you do not have a response, I must ask you to whimper. I am an intense man, Dagny. Do not test me.

TAGGART
Who is John Galt?

GALT
Do you feel pain?

TAGGART
Yes. Pain is the best thing for America. Pain is the best thing for me, and therefore for America. We can build railroads. We can accumulate capital.

GALT
I am satisfied that you have come to terms with this concept. We can do more. This is a battle of wills. Who’s your daddy, Dagny?

TAGGART
John Galt!

(via Bookdwarf)

Screenwriters Not Nominated for Oscars Are Still on Safe Ground

Daniel Clowes on the Art School Confidential film adaptation and more: “But, of course, there’s some human instinct that takes over at the very last minute. As the envelope’s being opened and all of a sudden it occurred to me that without a doubt we were going to win and I was just stricken with panic. I don’t think I’ve ever been more terrified in my life. I was so happen to hear the words ‘Akiva Goldman.'” (via Fantagraphics Blog)

Beatrix Goes Hollywood

Book Standard: Renee Zellweger to Star as “Peter Rabbit” Writer Beatrix Potter.

Excerpt from Beatrix screenplay:

INT. FARM — BEATRIX’S STUDY — 1904 — DAY

Norman Warne walks in, holding a glass of sherry. Beads of sweat drip down his forehead.

Beatrix is writing.

He tightens his cravat.

WARNE
These tales of rabbits, if I may say so, Beatrix, are nice, but–

BEATRIX
They had me at hello.

Beatrix drops her quill into the inkwell and continues writing.

WARNE
This I understand. But what of me? What of us, darling? I know you like your animals, dear. But I’m tired of living a lie. This secret engagement. The rabbit noises I must make when we — er — consummate certain private affairs before their prime.

Beatrix sets down her quill and smiles at Warne.

BEATRIX
Wait a minute! Nice rabbits don’t kiss like that.

WARNE
For the three hundredth time, my good lady, I am not a rabbit! I am a human being!

Beatrix puts her fingers to her lips, extending them as if rabbit teeth, and jumps across the room like a rabbit.

WARNE
Darling, don’t be ridiculous.

Beatrix sets down her fingers.

BEATRIX
You once said you liked me just as I am and I just wanted to say likewise. I mean there are stupid things you publish. You always like the wrong book in every situation and I seriously believe that you should rethink the length of your garters. But, you’re a nice man and I like you and, if you don’t mind me saying, dear Norman, you do perform oral sex on me from time to time, which is more than one can say about most men in 1904. If you wanted to step into my bed chamber and make more rabbit sounds — perhaps you could be the locomotive and I could be the caboose, if you know what I mean — that might be nice. More than nice.

Of Course Cut Into the Major Bank That Golden’s Making Off the Movie Rights and the Pride Will Dramatically Shift

Arthur Golden writes the Washington Post about the film version of Memoirs of a Geisha: “The criticism of experts in the geisha world, as recounted in Sarah Kaufman’s Dec. 15 Style article…had little effect on the pride I feel in Rob Marshall’s beautiful and moving film based upon my novel ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.'”

Gladwell to Change His Last Name to “Livewell”

Leonardo DiCaprio, Malcolm Gladwell and Traffic writer Stephen Gaghan. You’d think these three would have little in common other than Christian names with at least two syllables. But Hollywood, being a batshit crazy place, smells a hit. $1 million has been shelled out by Universal to Gladwell for the rights to Blink. Gaghan’s getting $2 million to write the screenplay. Never mind that the book isn’t a work of fiction and that there’s no narrative thrust to speak of.

No word yet on how much the hair stylist is getting to shape Leo’s hair into Malcolm’s badass fro.