While comic books and video games are certainly rising in the ranks, the truth remains that novels and short stories are still the go-to for movie-makers in search of material (and unwilling to take a risk on something original). To put it in a less salty way: When an adaptation is bad, it’s an awesome excuse for eye-rolling about Hollywood’s lack of ingenuity and courage, but when it’s good, it’s freakin’ transcendent. This week has given us trailers for adaptations of no less than three massively popular authors for the big and small screens over the next few months, which certainly offers us no shortage of opportunity to speculate. So without further ado, let this meeting of the Fandor Book Club come to order:
John le Carré, also known as that author your dad likes, has spawned a whole lot of espionage-centric adaptations. Among them: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), The Constant Gardener (2005), and A Most Wanted Man (2014). Back in 1984, his book The Little Drummer Girl was made into a spy thriller starring Diane Keaton and Klaus Kinski, directed by George Roy Hill (Slaughterhouse-Five, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). And now, a respectable thirty-five-ish years later, South Korea’s (and the world’s) beloved director Park Chan-wook will be adapting the book into a miniseries for BBC One and the AMC channel! This marks the auteur’s very first foray into television-based visual storytelling.
Keaton was thirty-eight when she starred as an internationally-renowned actress whose white savior sympathies draw her into a deadly game of counterintelligence, and Florence Pugh, the star of Park’s BBC One and AMC miniseries, is but twenty-two. We’re not sure what to make of that, but it seemed worth noting. As for her co-stars: Look, we’ve never met a Skarsgård we didn’t like (in this case, it’s Alexander), and Michael Shannon always, always brings the intensity. After Seven Days in Entebbe and Operation Finale, both released earlier this year, The Little Drummer Girl joins a continuum of content about the Israeli government’s machinations circa the 1960s and 1970s. It is some “hot” material, politically speaking, and given that it’s directed by “the guy who made Oldboy before Spike Lee remade Oldboy,” we’re basically already set to call this essential viewing. Tune in to this three-day “television event” that begins with a two-hour premiere on November 19, and helps prevent a terrible case of FOMO.
Meanwhile, Stephen King, also known as that author your uncle likes, is experiencing a bit of a revival lately, what with It and The Dark Tower and all. Adaptations of his many, many, many works of horror have been attempted by everyone — from Stanley Kubrick to John Carpenter to Rob Reiner — and have run the gamut from awesome to awesomely bad. You know the ones we’re talking about.
Featuring John Lithgow at his most liver-spotted yet, and really lending a much-needed air of gravitas (to say nothing of crucial exposition) to the whole affair, this new iteration of Stephen King’s lurid zombie novel nonetheless fails to capture the haunting weirdness of the 1989 version or the high-octane action of the 1992 sequel. But hey, kids in animal masks always up the ambient creep factor, so it’s got that going for it. Also — and it’s weird that we even have to say this — but the whole “indigenous burial ground” trope is a little tired of 2019, no? When it comes to supernatural resurrections, 1998’s Practical Magic really did it best. It’s a little too early to tell, but Pet Sematary might well be headed straight to the “trash” pile of King adaptations upon its April 5 release — although we have a feeling that more sneak peeks will be coming our way before then.
Haruki Murakami, also known as that author your ex likes, has not enjoyed the same wealth of works translated from page to screen as le Carré and King. The last was Norwegian Wood, and that was almost ten years ago. There’s a good reason for that, and that reason is magical realism. It’s hard to do right!
Okay, so technically we already covered this trailer back when we did our anticipatory New York Film Festival roundup, but now that Burning has a U.S. trailer, and NYFF 56 is over, we couldn’t help ourselves. We’re hyped! Here’s why: First of all, Steven Yeun admittedly stole our hearts when we saw him in Sorry to Bother You this summer, so we’re looking forward to seeing him take on a much meatier role.
Second of all, director Lee Chang-dong is a luminary. His 2002 film Oasis is considered a crown jewel of South Korean New Wave cinema, and he’s a former Minister of Culture and Tourism in his home country. But corrupt politics have kept him on a blacklist, and for that reason, we haven’t seen a movie from him in far, far too long. Starting later this month, with a New York City release slated for October 26, that’s all about to change!
There isn’t really a third reason needed, but just for good measure, here it is: Lee’s source material is Barn Burning, a short story by an undisputed master of bizarre and immersive narratives that often bleed into heavy surrealism. While you may walk out of the theater with no idea of what just happened, it’s bound to leave an intense emotional and psychological impression. And that, fellow movie lovers, is a literary adaptation at its best.
Watch Now: Oasis, the seminal South Korean film by Lee Chang-dong, is now streaming on Fandor!