Upcoming Books to Films

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By Diana Cheng

Autumn ushers in major film festivals, a springboard to the Awards Season. The following is a list of new movie adaptations, a few of which have just been premiered at recent festivals. Hopefully you may be able to catch some of them at your local theatres in the fall. Others are works still in development and won’t be released until 2016 or beyond, leaving you lots of time to read or reread. Hope you can find something that will pique your interest in this selection.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

A former high school star athlete, later a successful businessman living the American dream in upper-middle-class New Jersey suddenly wakes up to find that his teenaged daughter has joined a terrorist group and is involved in a bombing that kills an innocent bystander. Now she has gone underground. The setting is during the Vietnam War years, but the timeliness and parallel of this scenario to our contemporary world is chilling. A Man Booker International Prize winner (2011), Roth has several of his novels turned into films before, Goodbye Columbus (1969), The Human Stain (2003), The Humbling (2014), and upcoming Indignation (2016). But it is only now that his Pulitzer Prize winning American Pastoral (1997) is to receive a cinematic rendering. Notable too is that this is the directorial debut of Ewan McGregor who will also play the father Seymour “Swede” Levov. Cast includes Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanny and David Strathairn. To be released in 2016.

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

Australian author Rosalie Ham’s debut novel (2000) is divided into four sections named after four different kinds of fabric: gingham, shantung, felt and brocade. The historical, gothic novel has received several nominations and shortlisted for the Book of the Year Award (2001) by the Australian Booksellers Association. The film adaptation stars Kate Winslet as the dressmaker Tilly Dunnage who returns to her hometown seeking revenge for having been expelled years before, with a sewing machine as her accomplice. Sounds interesting? What more, she is a Titanic survivor (of course she is), and the plot thickens with a hearing on the doomed maiden voyage. Australian director Jocelyn Moorhouse wrote the screenplay and shot the film in Victoria. Liam Hemsworth and Judy Davis co-star. The Dressmaker had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September, will be screened at the Adelaide Film Festival in October.

High-Rise by J. G. Ballard

J. G. Ballard’s best-known novel is probably Empire of the Sun (1984), thanks to Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed movie adaptation (1987). That is a semi-autobiographical account of Ballard’s childhood years in an internment camp during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. The production is one of the better WWII, Pacific War movies, splashed with some surreal styling. Now High-Rise (1975) looks like a totally imaginative work. An ultra-modern London high-rise apartment has all the conveniences and amenities, but only lead to the isolation of its tenants, and eventually, to class rivalry and extreme violence. The building is a self-contained microcosm of our ‘civilized’ society, the story a Lord of the Flies of the concrete jungle. An acerbic satire on our human condition, the film stars Tom Hiddelston and Jeremy Irons, directed by Ben Wheatley. World premiere at TIFF this September, will be screened at BFI London Film Festival in October.

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

Hegland’s debut novel (1996) has been translated into eleven languages. It’s set in Northern California in the near future when a massive continental power outage causes the total shutdown of technology, and subsequently, the total collapse of human society. The apocalyptic story unfurls as two teenaged sisters – at first living in an idyllic, remote forest – have to fend for themselves, find food at the brink of starvation, secure safety in the wild, and in the process, grow in their relationship with each other and learn more about the human world. A coming-of-age story as well as an allegory of our technologically dependent society, the film is shot in British Columbia where, yes, there are beautiful forests. Canadian director Patricia Rozema writes the screenplay and helms the production. Rozema is the one who brought us the movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park in 1999. Popular Canadian actress Ellen Page joins hands with Evan Rachel Wood to play the roles of the sisters. World premiere at TIFF in September.

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

“Look for the, bare necessities, the simple bare necessities, forget about your worries and your strife…” Kipling’s book of stories from the early 1890’s about Mowgli the man-cub raised by a family of wolves in the jungle is about to receive a 21st Century cinematic make-over. Springing from Disney’s 1967 animation is this production with “up-to-the-minute technology”, live-action (Mowgli is to be a real boy actor Neel Sethi (right), chosen from among thousands) combined with photorealistic CGI animals and lush jungle environs. A storybook to reread for yourself, or to read to any child in your life, and then head to the cinema together and watch the story come to life on the big screen in 3D. Look at this A-list cast lending their voice performance: Ben Kingsley as Bagheera the panther mentor, Bill Murray as the Baloo the carefree Bear, Idris Elba as Shere Khan the formidable tiger, Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha the mother wolf, and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa the seductive and deadly python. Scheduled to be released in 2016.

The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett

Thanks to the movie adaptation, or I would not have known about this amazing story. English playwright Alan Bennett’s work is not fiction but a memoir. Bennett saw a transient woman living in a van on the street. Trying to help her out, he let her park on his own driveway for three weeks so she could sort things out and move on. Well, Miss Shepherd stayed for 15 years. Not surprisingly, she and the playwright form an unlikely bond of friendship. This ‘mostly true’, incredible story needs to be told for its unique human scenario; from play to film is probably the best route to reach many more. Maggie Smith is Miss Shepherd, with Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett. Supporting cast includes Jim Broadbent, Dominic Cooper and James Corden. This is the third film wherein director Nicholas Hytner and playwright Alan Bennett team up. Their previous collaborations are The History Boys (2006) and The Madness of King George (1994). World premiere at TIFF in September, will be screened at BFI London Film Festival in October, and general release in the UK in November.

Remainder by Tom McCarthy

The Telegraph calls McCarthy “a Kafka for the Google Age”. Presently, McCarthy’s Satin Island is shortlisted for the 2015 Booker Prize, results soon to be announced. His previous work C had also been shortlisted in 2010. McCarthy’s novels are described as experimental and avant-garde. Remainder is the author’s debut work (2006). An unnamed Londoner is struck by a falling object and lapse into a coma. As he awakes, he has lost all memory and needs to re-enact his past to find his identity and authenticity of being. With the large amount of monetary compensation he receives, £8.5 million, he buys an apartment building, removes all tenants, and explores the existential issues bothering him by having his fragmented memories re-enacted; while at the same time, he attempts to distinguish between reality from the re-enactments, and seek what is truly authentic in his existence. Confused? Maybe the film can clarify some notions. McCarthy’s Remainder has been compared to Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) renamed Blade Runner (1982) in Ridley Scott’s adaptation; it has also been likened to Fellini’s  (1963). Directed by acclaimed visual artist Omer Fast, and starring Tom Sturridge (Sergeant Troy of the recent Far From the Madding Crowd adaptation), the film also premiered at TIFF and will be screened at the London Film Festival in October.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

You don’t need to be hit by a falling object or come out of a coma to need to refresh your memory. Julian Barnes’s Booker winning (2011) novel succinctly describes how unreliable our cognizant faculty is. The Sense of an Ending is an intriguing work that tells the interrelationships of three friends travelling on seemingly different trajectories after secondary school, and yet the protagonist Tony finds – too late in his life – that their paths have been more intertwined than he first thought. I was amazed by Barnes’s sparing prose, telling an intriguing story in just 160 pages. The adaptation is being filmed right now. Let’s hope it is consistent with the styling of the literary source, well-paced, succinct, and suspenseful. That depends on playwright Nick Payne who writes the screenplay. But I’m most curious to see how the director of the delightful, awards winning Indian film The Lunchbox, Ritesh Batra, is handling this production as he takes the helm. What more, I am glad to learn too that Jim Broadbent and Michelle Dockery are on board.

Room by Emma Donoghue

The 2010 Booker-prize shortlisted novel by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue reads like you’d want to see it visualized. Indeed, hearing constantly the voice of a 5 year-old could have that effect on you. So here we are. A movie adaptation. Locked in a room and made captive by a psychotic abuser, a young mother gives birth and for the next five years raises her child Jack in a shed. At 5, Jack has known no other worlds, but now begins to ask questions. Ma cannot contain the make-believe anymore so she tells Jack there’s a world out there, and starts to prepare him for a possible escape. The multiple-award winning novel is written from the child’s perspective. It depicts the power of love and the indomitable spirit of resilience and hope, but may not be for the claustrophobic. The movie trailer is impressive; the 1.5 minute clip is powerful, consuming, and very moving. The film premiered at Telluride International Film Festival in early September and stunned the audience, drawing multiple standing ovations. Donoghue wrote the screenplay herself, that could well be a definite asset. Lenny Abrahamsson directs, with Brie Larson as Ma, Jacob Tremblay as Jack, Joan Allen and William H. Macy supporting. Room won the People’s Choice Awards at TIFF. Significance? Previous TIFF winners had gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar: 12 Years A SlaveThe King’s SpeechSlumdog Millionaire, American Beauty… just to name a few.

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Diana Cheng’s alter ego is Arti of  Ripple Effects in the blogosphere.