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Home / Articles / Movies & TV / Film Festival /  Sundance 2014: By the Book
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Sundance 2014: By the Book

The source material of some of this year's literary adaptations

By Scott Renshaw
Posted // January 16,2014 -

More than most film festivals, Sundance is built on discoveries of the brand-new: rookie filmmakers, never-before-seen actors, untold stories. But occasionally, there’s a way to get at least a flavor of the movie you’re going to see: taking a look at the books they’re based on. Here’s a glimpse at a few of the source materials that inspired some of Sundance 2014’s literary adaptations.

book1.jpgSource Material: Low Down, by Amy Jo Albany
Book Overview:
This memoir tracks the author’s life with—and often without—her father, gifted jazz pianist Joe Albany, through a childhood marked by Joe’s various addictions and early abandonment by her mother. Perhaps appropriately, there’s a profoundly disjointed quality to the episodic events Amy recounts, many of which are jaw-droppingly crazy and most of which involve the young girl being in some kind of emotional or physical danger. And while they all clearly add up to a life it’s hard to imagine anyone getting out of alive, let alone unscarred, it also makes for a read that consists almost entirely of moments, with very little arc to the relationship between damaged child and even-more-damaged father.
Book Grade:
B-
Reason for Adaptation Optimism:
You couldn’t hope for a more talented pairing as Amy and Joe than Elle Fanning and John Hawkes, offering the promise of, at minimum, a great acting showcase.
Reason for Adaptation Concern:
Where the majority of the book deals with Amy’s experiences as a pre-teen, Fanning’s casting suggests they’ve shifted the emphasis to her adolescence, making many of the experiences potentially far less impactful and unsettling.
Festival Category:
U.S. Dramatic Competition
The Movie Pitch:
Bird meets King of the Hill.”

book1.1.jpg


book2.jpgSource Material: A Most Wanted Man, by John le Carré
Book Overview:
In post-9/11 Germany, a refugee illegal immigrant becomes the pivot point for a nonprofit attorney, an aging banker and multiple government intelligence agencies all convinced that the man has links to terrorist groups. The narrative is a complex tangle of characters and motivations, and fumbles a bit by trying to force romantic subplots into the story. But it’s mostly a terrific fog-of-war thriller about the politics of ass-covering vs. the policies that might really get things accomplished. Le Carré wisely refuses to make it clear who’s really a bad guy here, instead crafting some brilliantly satirical scenes of people trying desperately to convince themselves that it’s safer to assume everyone is a bad guy.
Book Grade:
A-
Reason for Adaptation Optimism:
Solid cast, led by Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the key role of a cynical German intelligence operative.
Reason for Adaptation Concern:
May not be nearly enough space in a feature film to effectively capture all of Le Carré’s intricate plotting
Festival Category:
Premieres
The Movie Pitch:
Burn After Reading meets Zero Dark Thirty.”

book2.2.jpg


book3.jpgSource Material: White Bird in a Blizzard, by Laura Kasischke
Book Overview:
In a kind of coming-of-age mystery set in the late 1980s, suburban Ohio teenager Kat Connor deals with the fallout when her enigmatic mother disappears one January day without a trace, seemingly having abandoned the family. Kasischke’s background as a poet is evident throughout the novel, as Kat’s attempts to understand what might have led her mother to leave emerge through stunningly lyrical turns of phrase. And while the author mines some rich material about the tension between a dissatisfied housewife and the daughter who represents everything that used to be possible, the story eventually drifts in a direction that’s unnecessarily darker. The last scene may not come out of nowhere, but that doesn’t mean it provides the most satisfying resolution.
Book Grade:
B
Reason for Adaptation Optimism:
The wonderful Shailene Woodley as Kat.
Reason for Adaptation Concern:
Of all the possible filmmakers to take on the story of a teenage girl’s suburban sexual awakening, it’s hard to imagine gay-cinema pioneer/expert provocateur Gregg Araki being at the top of anyone’s list.
Festival Category:
Premieres
The Movie Pitch:
The Lovely Bones meets Douglas Sirk.”

book3.3.jpg


book4.jpgSource Material: One for Sorrow, by Christopher Barzak (for the film Jamie Marks Is Dead)

Book Overview: More teen angst in suburban Ohio, this time involving a high-school sophomore named Adam McCormick who begins seeing ghosts after one of his classmates is found murdered. Barzak creates some effective genre moments in his wistful portrayal of restless spirits, but they clash awkwardly with some rote coming-of-age material and Adam’s first love. Most frustrating, though, is the attempt to turn Adam into Holden Caulfield, raging against the world and his terrible life—which, while hardly ideal, is in many ways pretty run-of-the-mill in its dysfunction. Instead of painting a convincing picture of someone for whom the idea of hanging out with the dead might be appealing, we simply end up with a teenager’s overwrought drama.
Book Grade:
C
Reason for Adaptation Optimism:
A more visual sensibility—and eliminating the majority of Adam’s
pretentious narration—could be just what the material needs.
Reason for Adaptation Concern:
Director Carter Smith’s previous work—including the feature The Ruins and the Sundance 2006 short Bugcrush—suggest that he might be more inclined to focus on the horror elements over character.
Festival Category:
U.S. Dramatic Competition
The Movie Pitch:
The Catcher in the Rye meets The Sixth Sense.”

book4.4.jpg

 
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